For the most part, I ignore radio ratings from month to month as I don’t trust them and think Arbitron (now Nielsen) bears a significant part of the responsibility of the decline of radio, getting people in radio chasing the wrong metrics.
This is only day two and two large surprises. In Washington DC, the venerable and highly profitable WTOP AM/FM wound up in a tie for #1 with the rising star WAMU-FM, the NPR affiliate operated by American University. Loosely speaking, American University is the service academy for the US State Department, like the US Naval Academy for the Navy. If you have dreamed all your life of working at the US embassy in Lithuania, you probably went to American University. WAMU produces a few syndicated shows for other public radio stations, the most important one being the Diane Rehm show. The election undoubtedly is the reason for this one – a lot of people living the good life in Washington DC might be moving back to Kansas if Donald Trump is elected.
The other one is pretty stunning and since radio managers are lemmings, you’ll probably see this show up in your city. WMGC-FM is located in Detroit – it has a pretty unique history. During the heyday of the Motor City, it was a commercial radio station (WQRS) playing Classical Music. It operated out of Wayne State University and had tight relations with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. My guess is it was a favorite of GM executives driving their Cadillacs down Woodward Avenue to work. The transmitter is located in Royal Oak Charter Township, just North of the 8 mile line of death that is the wall between The City and Suburbia. The signal is solid over to Ann Arbor to the west, a big part of Western Ontario, and North almost to Flint, and all of Detroit City.
With the deregulation of radio in 1996, the station went into play being bought and sold, briefly owned by Clear Channel, but had to be divested and wound up in the waiting arms of Greater Media (the Boston based company that owns WBT-AM in Charlotte and is being acquired by Beasley).
Greater Media got the station in 1997 and thrashed around ever since, struggling to find a niche in a rapidly declining city that is racially polarized – with “Detroit City” choosing (until recently) to make white people feel very unwelcome and white “suburbanites” happy if the entire city just slid into the Detroit River (except for the sports teams). Initially, WMGC tried Alternative Rock. After two years, the station became WGRV “The Groove” playing jammin’ oldies (Motown?). In 2001, the station became “magic” WMGC, playing Adult Contemporary music.
One of the largest flaws in Arbitron is that all listeners are not created equal. Ratings give you counts, but ultimately advertisers care whether the listeners have the money and desire to buy their product. A person living on public assistance in the city has buying habits very different than the children of GM executives living in West Bloomfield.
In 2012, the station switched to Soft Rock, trying to cling to its suburban listeners who can’t get enough Elton John and Barry Manilow. That lasted a year until the station veered off into being an ESPN affiliate. At the end in June, the station had a 0.7 rating. July 1st 2016, the station became “The Bounce”, playing Classic Hip Hop, a format that didn’t exist three years ago. For August, the station finished #1 with an 8.0 share.