Country radio prevails in area's ratings race

Posted

Saturday, January 3
ALBANY, N.Y. — While the official numbers won't be out until late January, trends in upstate New York radio station ratings show country music station WGNA-107.7 FM, owned by Regent Communications Inc., a Cincinnati-based company, heads the list. While the station is based in Albany, the signal reaches Southwestern Vermont as well as the nearby upstate region.

Tom Jacobsen, operations manager at the station, said Friday that data for the months of September, October and November show the station with a 10.5 share in the ratings, up from 9.9 over the summer. The quarterly report, or "book," which comes out in January, will drop the month of September and take December into account. Jacobsen said that with the interest in the elections cooling down in December, the ratings could shift somewhat.

Even so, the second place station, WYJB-95.5 FM, was behind with a 6.7 share of the ratings. WYJB is a soft rock station and one of WGNA's competitors. Jacobsen, who became the station's operations manager in April, said the popularity of country music can be attributed to what he called a paradigm shift in people's taste in music over the past two years.

He said many 18- to 49-year-olds find the new sound of rock today to be a little too wild, crazy and just plain "out there." Meanwhile, older rock songs, after being heard so many times, begin to lose their luster. He said that for listeners searching for something new, but not too new, country music fits the bill because much of its core sound is similar to rock n' roll.

"A lot of guys who used to listen to The Who are listening to Toby Keith now," Jacobsen said, and added that country also has a broad appeal for many demographics. "People who drive a Lexus and voted for Barack Obama listen to country, right along with those driving Ford F150s who voted for John McCain," he said.

The idea that country music is listened to by political conservatives, Jacobsen said, is something of a myth. He said people associate country music with countryside, which they then associate with political conservatism. As far as WGNA goes, he said the goal was to entertain people and give them a good time, not tell them what to think.

Since he began as operations manager, Jacobsen said he had done a few things with the station itself to capitalize on the genre's growing popularity. He said the station tries to cater to both men and women equally, with 51 percent of the station's listeners being women and 49 percent men. The company that tracks WGNA's ratings, Arbitron Inc., will sometimes weight a rating calculation if it can't get an even sample. For a station with something like a 65 percent ratio of female listeners to a 35 percent male audience, the results can mean a lower rating, Jacobsen said.

Keeping young people interested is something he said is important to building an audience. Artists such as Taylor Swift, who's self-titled album has sold roughly 5 million copies since its release in 2006, see air time on the station. Jacobsen said the age of callers has been dropping, which shows a shift to a younger demographic.

Taking requests

The older people haven't gone away, Jacobsen said, and because of that, the station offers a four-hour talk and request show at night. He said many stations are cutting back on such shows, and by adding the extra hour, he said his station fills a gap.

Many listeners, he said, have become frustrated with a decline in the public's accessibility to radio personnel, with more stations using automated music players instead of disc jockeys. He said his station tries to be there for listeners and gives people an outlet to vent their frustrations. Jacobsen said that while the station's on-air personalities have a lot of freedom, being negative at a caller or listener's expense isn't something they're allowed to do.

Jacobsen said he had tried to embrace new media technology, as opposed to resisting it. He said some people in the radio industry have the impression that things like iTunes and mp3 players would cause people to listen to the radio less, but his reasoning is that the radio can act as a kind of sampler, playing new music and telling people where to go legally download it. He said the station has online streaming and has tried to keep up with software technology so the station can be heard on someone's iPhone.

An added benefit of having online streaming, Jacobsen said, is that the station has received e-mails and calls from troops stationed overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan who are from the Albany area and can still listen to the local station.

According to Arbitron Inc., the top five rated FM stations in the region for September, October and November were: WGNA-107.7 FM, country, 10.5 share; WYJB- 95.5, adult contemporary, 6.7 share;

WRVE- 99.5 FM, adult contemporary, 6.4 share; WPYX-106.5 FM, classic rock 5.9, share; WKLI-100.9 FM, easy listening 5.3, share

The top rated AM stations in the region were WGY- 810 AM 7.9, share; WGDJ-1300 AM 1.9, share; WROW- 590 AM 1.9, share

Contact Keith Whitcomb at kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com.


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