Saturday, February 24, 2018

Chicago Radio: WBMX Finds Success Airing Urban Oldies

Todd Cavanah
For the past few months, programmer Todd Cavanah has been experiencing something he can equate only to frequent deja vu. The radio executive will request an Uber, hop in the backseat and, like clockwork, 104.3 JAMS — the “throwback” hip-hop and R&B radio station he and his team at Entercom conceptualized and brought to market, a station that since launching in late November with no commercials or DJs has been dominating the local ratings — will be blasting through the car speakers.

“That’s when it really started to hit me,” the longtime program director for WBBM-FM told The Chicago Tribune one morning sitting in the Entercom office on North Michigan Avenue. “This is going to be even bigger than I thought.”

Exclusively playing urban music from the mid-1990s to the early-2000s — think Ja Rule or Aaliyah, Fat Joe and Outkast to The Notorious B.I.G. — WBMX JAMS (formerly WJMK K-Hits) has infiltrated the FM dial and found immediate success like few new Chicago radio stations before it.

According to the most recent Nielsen Audio ratings, JAMS was ranked No. 1 for the first two weeks of 2018, and in the second week of January alone, the station topped every age demographic, occupying a 9.8 percent market share of total listenership for the 18-34 age range coveted by advertisers. For the month, JAMS was tops in the 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54 groups. And according to Nielsen’s holiday report, JAMS’ audience was split nearly evenly among the major ethnic groups.

“We felt like it would do well, but it’s all happened really quickly,” the station’s music director Erik Bradley says. He chalks up much of JAMS’ initial success to word of mouth and social media buzz, but as Bradley shakes his head and smiles, you sense that despite plotting this project for several years now, even he is blown away by its mammoth reception. “It’s been quite the ride,” Bradley adds.

Both Bradley and Cavanah — who together for the past 25 years have been co-workers at what was formerly known as CBS Radio and is now Entercom — note how when first brainstorming the concept for JAMS several years ago, they kept returning to the longtime success of classic rock radio. But, as they are quick to clarify, it was more specifically that the “classic hits” format, like the former K-Hits, needed be reimagined. As hip-hop fans get older, they thought, the format should no longer be confined to exclusively rock music.

WBMX 104.3 FM (4.1 Kw) Red=Local Coverage Area
“It’s an emotional connection, for sure,” Cavanah says of the station’s undeniable appeal. He excitedly relays a message the station received via social media shortly after launching. “And this gentleman wrote, ‘Oh my gosh … I just discovered this new radio station 104.3 JAMS. Back in the day I was driving a Toyota Camry with a Cerwin-Vega sound system. I was that guy. Today I’m driving a Volvo with a car seat in the back and cheerios on the floor. But I’m still that guy.’”

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