Tuesday, May 15, 2018


As the Triple A music community arrives in Philadelphia for the 18th Annual NONCOMMvention, the “music discovery” format continues to establish itself as a major player in public media. In late April we featured the schedule for the NONCOMM [link].  A good place to see what is happening is the Top 22 blog [link].

Consultant, researcher and blogger Mike Henry recently told All Access Media for a “Ten Questions” interview [link] that homegrown radio curators are keeping the format vital and compelling:

“I foresee a bull market for this format for years to come. The main reason is that we have the best PDs in the country. This is the hardest music format in radio to program because programmers start for scratch everyday.”

Mike Henry
“I would hold up Rita Houston, Amy Miller, Jesse Scott, Matt Reilly, Jordan Lee, Willobee Carlan, Bruce Warren, Mike Sauter, Kevin Cole, Jon Hart, David Christensen, Sky Daniels, Benji McPhail, Mark Keefe, Jim McGuinn, Brad Savage and the other PDs in this format up against any PDs in the country.”

Henry feels the noncommercial, non-profit nature of public radio is a perfect fit with music discovery:

And lest we forget, this all within the world of non-profit, non-commercial radio, where success means more than simple ratings growth.  A local “mission” is what drives these stations, and growing up means getting serious about sustainability and survival for the good of the mission.

Though big ratings are not the end goal, the most recent Nielsen Audio PPM data indicates that noncom Triple A, Alternative Rock and Americana stations are being embraced by growing numbers of listeners.

According to analysis by Spark News, two-thirds of Triple A music stations in PPM markets increased their estimated weekly listeners in the past year.

The chart on the left shows listening data for 19 Nielsen subscribing stations in 18 markets. 

WFUV, New York had the biggest numerical gain, adding over 100,000 new weekly listeners in March 2018 compared with March 2017. 

Other stations with nice gains included Alt Rock WERS in Boston, WYEP in Pittsburgh, Americana KDRP Sun Radio in Austin, WMNF in Tampa, KTBG The Bridge in Kansas City, Americana WMOT in Nashville and WSGE near Charlotte.

Spark News tracks 11 full-time and five dual-format Triple A stations in Nielsen Audio Diary markets. Over half of these stations increased their estimated weekly listeners in March 2018 compared to March 2017.

The top full-time music stations in Nielsen diary markets is WNCW [link]. licensed to tiny Isothermal Community College in Spindale, North Carolina (population 4,300). WNCW may be in a small town but the station is a giant in the Triple A music business. WNCW transmits from Clingman’s Peak (6,634’ above sea level), and covers portions of five states.

WNCW also has enviable private support.  According to the stations 2016 audit in FY 2016, WNCW had annual revenue of over $1.6 million. Underwriters provided $634,000 (40%) the station’s revenue.  Members kicked in another $570,000 (36%).

WXPN also has a significant number of estimated weekly listeners in two Diary markets outside of Philadelphia. WXPN had 245,400 weekly listeners in Philadelphia (measured with PPM methodology) in Fall 2017 for an unofficial total of 314,200 weekly listeners.

KJAC – The Colorado Sound – also has a large base of listeners in the Denver-Boulder market. According to Nielsen’s PPM data for Fall 2017, KJAC had 59,000 estimated weekly listeners for an unofficial total of 83,100 weekly listeners in the two markets.

The next chart shows dual format stations.  All of these content providers combine music with NPR News/Talk programming.

Iowa Public Radio’s (IPR) Studio One program stream reaches much of the state and includes IPS’s two big sticks: KUNI-FM and WOI-FM. According to Nielsen, Studio One reached over 180,000 estimated weekly listeners in the Fall 2017 sweeps.

It is no surprise that KCRW has lots of listeners in LA’s suburban and exurban areas. Listening to KCRW outside of the Los Angeles metro continues to rise.


Not every Triple A music stations subscribes to the Nielsen Audio ratings. Though Nielsen’s PPM system gathers data for every encoded station, Nielsen only posts the results for paying customers.

KCSN/88.5 FM, Los Angeles tops our list of wanna-sees. Sky Daniels and company were doing well before the signal merger with KSBR in Orange County.  Now that the two stations, both at 88.5 FM, are simulcasting folks in most of LA now have broadcast access to 88.5 FM.  Our guestimate of 88.5’s weekly listeners at 200,000.

WAPS The Summit [link] covering Akron, Canton, Youngstown certainly has a substantial listening base. Brad Savage is the driving force behind WAPS. We guestimate WAPS has 50,000 weekly listeners. 

KXCI in Tucson [link] subscribed to the Nielsen ratings until recently.  In Spring 2016 they had an estimated 30,000 weekly listeners. 

1 comment:

  1. While KIWR is correctly labeled Alternative rock, I would consider 89.7 The River's subformat to be actually ROCKternative. KIWR still holds on the spirit of the Alternative format in the 1990's. Thanks to Seattle's grunge movement finally hitting mass appeal via the break out of Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Soundgarden the so called Alternative Rock was able to break out and kill Album Rock's love affair with "Hair Metal" so called.

    Lately Alternative has welcomed back the females in their demo that Hot AC took away in the 1990's with that format's passion towards the pop alternative music especially Alanis Morissette's popularity. Those stations coupled with the grunge craze drove the Alternative format to go more hard rock in their approach and they did get for the most part a male demo. Meanwhile the Active Rock's were slowly evolving and eventually many moved away from the preoccupation with 1985.

    So KIWR's sound is now uncommon with overall personality of the Alternative format, and not just because its a College Noncom. KFMA/Rock102 in Tuscon and WBUZ/The Buzz in Nashville are commercial stations that broadcast a Rockternative format. KPNT in St. Louis is not as Rockternative as they used to be, but they have some of it in their programming.

    While their are Alt titles, ROCKternative it sill appeals to the contemporary Hard Rock/Metal listener with titles from GnR (their "new" single), Five Finger Death Punch, and Godsmack. Most of those artists are now seen as Active/Mainstream Rock.

    To tell the truth I do like the ROCKternative and its sad to see a handful of them left. Many like KXTE in Las Vegas were ROCKternative but evolved to more of that male/female ratio as Hot AC embraced the rhythmic product that Top 40 plays. However, I like were the Active/Mainstream Rock format were it is now.