Classic Hip-Hop Format Rescuing Radio Stations

Big broadcasters frantically changing struggling stations' formats to old school rap

Atlanta's Boom 102.9 Credit: Boom 102.9

While radio stations have seen their audience decrease as tech-savvy consumers flock to satellite radio and streaming audio, broadcasters might have finally found a format that can lure listeners back to FM: Classic hip-hop. Playlists that shine the spotlight back on artists like the Notorious B.I.G., Naughty By Nature and Missy Elliott are currently sweeping the nation, with major broadcasters like Radio One, iHeartMedia and Cumulus Media frantically changing the format of underperforming stations to the sounds of classic hip-hop, the New York Times reports.

The Times focuses on Houston's KROI, a struggling Radio One-owned all-news channel that briefly – as a stunt – adopted an all-Beyoncé format. KROI was one of the first radio stations to pick up the classic hip-hop format, and over the course of two months, KROI – now dubbed Boom 92 – jumped from a 1.0 share to a 3.2 share, and their audience jumped from 245,000 to 802,000. As a result, Radio One is hatching Boom-branded stations everywhere from Houston and Dallas to Philadelphia.

Nowhere is the resurgence of classic hip-hop more evident than Atlanta, where the number of radio stations broadcasting that format ballooned from one to three over the course of a week in late-November. Old School 99.3 was the first to arrive; a week later Cumulus Media's OG 97.9 – first song played: Snoop Dogg's "Gin & Juice" – and, hours later, Radio One's Boom 102.9 were all spinning classic hip-hop in Atlanta.

"I went to work with one, I came back with three. Who's going to outlast who? I have the least overhead. I have the least amount of debt. It's crazy," Old School 99.3's Steve Hegwood told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this month. "This format hits the sweet spot of 35- to 49-year-olds, which advertisers love."

However, there is evidence that the market is becoming too saturated with classic hip-hop. While all three Atlanta stations are still standing, one of the two classic hip-hop stations in Dallas changed formats to straight urban after two weeks, the Atlanta Journal Constitution writes. The New York Times adds that while the listenership of radio stations that switched to classic hip-hop nearly tripled in some markets, those numbers have steadily declined as the uniqueness of the format wore off or, in some case, the format was copied by another station.

Still, even with the slight decline, classic hip-hop stations are still outperforming their predecessors' format, so expect even more old school rap to flood the FM dial in 2015.