iHeartMedia, Mediabase to drop “Urban”, “Urban AC” names

Move affects WGCI, V103 in Chicago – but not everyone’s on board

With racism issues in the spotlight, it isn’t a surprise some changes were due in the way music and radio in general is targeted to African-Americans.

As reported by All Access and Rolling Stone, changes are in the works by iHeartMedia and Mediabase to rebrand the format names “Urban Contemporary”to “Hip-Hop/R&B” and “Urban Adult Contemporary” simply as “R&B” (or Adult R&B.) In Chicago, there are four such stations – iHeart’s Hip-Hop WGCI-FM and Adult R&B V103 (WVAZ) and Crawford-owned Hip-Hop Power 92 and Adult R&B Soul 106.3 (WSRB).

The changes – at least as far as iHeartMedia’s WGCI and V103 are concerned, were confirmed by Robert Feder Tuesday.

The move comes as many in the industry have called the use of the term “Urban” outdated and pigeon-holing African-Americans in the music industry as Hip-Hop artist Tyler The Creator first brought the issue up after the Grammy Awards earlier this year. The term was first coined by New York City radio personality Frankie Crocker in the 1970s when he was a pioneer in Black radio, but took off when now-defunct trade magazine Radio & Records used the term to rank what stations with predominately African-American audiences as “Black/Urban Contemporary” in the 1980s before settling on “Urban”.

In 1995, Cashbox changed the name of its chart regarding Black music consumption from “R&B” to “Urban” before folding a year later. Billboard has never used “Urban” to describe Black music consumption even though their charts have gone under numerous name changes over the years. Now named R&B/Hip-Hop and Adult R&B respectively, former names include Harlem Hit Parade, Soul, Black, and R&B charts, for both Singles and Albums. Rap also received its own individual chart in 1989.

Mediabase – who was acquired by Premiere Radio Networks in the early 1990s (both are now under the iHeart umbrella) declined to comment.  Mediabase is the chart provider for All Access and was for Radio & Records from 2000 to 2006. The company monitors over 1,800 radio stations in 23 formats serving over 200 U.S. and Canadian markets, not to mention Sirius/XM and Music Choice. Mediabase’s charts are used in everything from American Top 40 to USA Today’s Life section.

Even though iHeartMedia is leading the charge on the name change, not everyone is on board. So far, no other radio groups have announced any changes – including the largest radio chain owned by African-Americans, Radio One – who often goes by the name Urban One. Several Black executives have defended the name, including The Roots manager Shawn Gee. “Who in these companies has been able to greenlight Black culture?” he told the New York Times. “That’s where the real problem lies. The problem lies in the infrastructure, in the system — not in the word.”

Last week, T Dog Media stopped referring to African-American radio stations as “Urban” and “Urban AC” and now using Hip-Hop/R&B and Adult R&B, respectively to describe those formats, similar to Billboard.

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