Nostalgia wave boosts Chicago radio stations

Break out the leg warmers and Rubik’s Cubes : WDRV, WLS-FM score record ratings

There must be gold in retro music – because it is paying dividends for several Chicago radio stations.

And it is for two stations in particular: Hubbard’s Classic Rock WDRV-FM (The Drive) and Cumulus’ Classic Hits WLS-FM both scored their highest rankings ever and their highest numbers in years. Both tied for second behind iHeartMedia’s WVAZ-FM and ahead of Entercom’s WBBM-AM and Hubbard’s Hot AC WTMX-FM (The Mix.)

In fact, WLS-FM scored a ratings victory in a major daypart. As reported by Robert Feder Tuesday, midday jock Greg Brown finished first , inching ahead of WVAZ’s Bionce Foxx overall. Both he and The Drive’s Bob Stroud tied for first in the key 25-54 demo.

The success comes at a time when a nostalgia wave is sweeping through pop culture – particularly when it comes to the 1980s, evidenced by the ongoing reboots of TV shows from the era, including Magnum P.I., DuckTales, Double Dare, Dynasty, Roseanne (until the star of the show blasted Valerie Jarrett on Twitter), and Murphy Brown, while others such as ALF and The Facts Of Life are already in the works.

Both stations play some variation of ’80s music: WDRV playing more rock-based hits from the decade while WLS is focused more on 1980s pop hits, though some 1970s and 1990s hits are mixed in.

WLS-FM’s success is ironic given the station (then known as WZZN) launched an all-80s format known as The Zone in 2001, before evolving into a more gold-based Hot AC station. In September 2001, the station flipped to Alternative while keeping The Zone slogan, and ran for four years. Oddly, the last time the 94.7 frequency saw this much ratings success was in the early days of WYTZ (branded as Z95) with a Top 40/CHR format in the late 1980s.

While you can credit the demand for anything from the Pac-Man era, both The Drive and WLS-FM benefited from the demise of WLUP-FM and WJMK-FM. And their success – and of WBMX-FM (which focuses on 1990s-2000s-era hip-hop/R&B music) stands in contrast to the struggles of their more contemporary peers, including WBBM-FM (B96), WKQX-FM, and WGCI-FM – a signal today’s music isn’t exactly catching on with audiences, especially those in the older demo.

Chicago is not alone in seeing their radio stations ride the nostalgia wave to success. In Philadelphia, Classic Hits outlet WOGL-FM surged to the top, while 95.7 The Spot in Houston finished a strong fourth overall with KLUV-FM in Dallas-Fort Worth doing likewise. In Atlanta, Classic Hits station¬† (WSRV-FM) tied Urban WVEE-FM (The People’s Station) for second place.

So why the nostalgia kick? Given the depressing times we’re living in, audiences are escaping to a more happier time: our fondness for everything spandex is a refuge from the barrage of negative headlines we’re seeing on a daily basis. Based on this, you certainly can’t blame anyone for wanting to relieve their youth – and it’s a niche The Drive and WLS-FM are filling nicely. After all, the celebration of The Big Hair Decade now has some Big Ratings to go along with it.

Gag Me With Several Spoons, Man:

Here’s a sample of what was played on both The Drive and WLS-FM on August 7. As you can see, both stations are heavy on 1980s hits. The lists are documented from their respective websites.

The Drive between 7 and 9 p.m. (partial; excludes deep cuts)

We’ve Got Tonite – Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band
Victim of Love – Eagles
Hush – Deep Purple
Runnin’ With The Devil – Van Halen
Your Love Is Driving Me Crazy – Sammy Hagar
Amazing – Aerosmith
Maggie May – Rod Stewart

WLS-FM between 8:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.

I Love Rock N’ Roll – Joan Jett and The Blackhearts
Life In The Fast Lane – Eagles
I Melt With You – Modern English
Feels Like The First Time – Eagles
Small Town – John Mellencamp
My Sharona – The Knack
Maneater – Daryl Hall & John Oates