CBS Takes on CC’s N.Y., L.A. Dominance

Remember the Top 40 radio wars of the ’60s? Well, they’re back in New York and Los Angeles, where CBS Radio has mounted a Top 40 challenge to two of the nation’s biggest Top 40 brands. Last week, less than a month after CBS Radio dropped FM Talk on L.A.’s KLSX-FM for AMP Radio, the radio broadcaster launched NOW FM on WXRK-FM, known for years in New York as K-Rock.

The move is bound to shake up radio in both markets, where L.A.’s KIIS-FM and New York’s WHTZ-FM (Z100), both owned by Clear Channel Radio, have dominated the top of the ratings ranks for decades (KIIS is No. 1, WHTZ is No. 2). Not only are ratings at stake, but the two stations are among the highest-revenue producers in the business. Last year, KIIS was both the top biller in L.A. and in the nation, while WHTZ was one of the top three billers in N.Y. and among the top 10 in the nation, according to preliminary estimates from BIA.

In both markets, CBS’ cluster of stations tend to appeal to older listeners, an imbalance the company wanted to address. “We felt we didn’t have enough women or enough youth,” said Scott Herman, CBS Radio’s executive vp of operations. “We looked at Z100 and saw that [Clear Channel] had it all to themselves. There’s definitely enough for everybody.”

It might also be good for radio. At a time when many have written off the medium, the Top 40 resurgence shows how important the youth demographic is to radio. “Despite MP3 players, despite Internet and satellite radio, this shows that youth [is] listening to radio,” said Rich Russo, director of broadcast services for JL Media. “Radio can’t be dead if major groups are still going after younger listeners.”

But not all advertisers think the business needs more mainstream stations, a trend that is driven by the recent transition to electronic measurement. “Broadcasters are going with the type of formats that do well in the ratings, but it could result in the homogenization of radio,” said Dennis McGuire, vp, regional broadcast director for Carat. “When was the last time we had a new format?”

Ratings won’t be out for three to four weeks, but the new CBS stations, dubbed AMP in L.A. and NOW in N.Y., are bound to do better than they did in their former formats.