K-Hits gets KO’d by Entercom; flips to Classic-Hip-Hop

Move comes as Entercom takes over CBS Radio

In a surprise major shift rocking the Chicago radio landscape, WJMK-FM flipped to Classic Hip-Hop on Friday as 104.3 Jams, replacing the Classic Hits format known as “K-Hits”.

The format change happened as Entercom closed on its purchase of CBS Radio, who officially took over the company Friday. As a result, the entire team of K-Hits personalities were released, including morning personality Dave Fogel, Jefferey T. Mason and recently-hired Brian Peck. First song played on the new 104.3 Jams at 11 a.m. was Notorious B.I.G’s “Hypnotize”.

Greg Solk is remaining as program director. As custom with most format changes, the station is playing 10,000 songs in a row, commercial-free. The station’s new website is 1043jams.com.

Classic Hip-Hop has taken off in recent years with stations in Atlanta, Philadelphia, Dallas, Houston, and Detroit. But the format’s momentum has slowed down in recent months as Urban One (formerly Radio One) dropped the format in Houston and Dallas, and Cumulus pulled the plug in Indianapolis Friday, substituting Christmas music instead.

Chicago is the largest market to get a Classic Hip-Hop station.

Earlier this year, iHeartMedia’s WISX-FM in Philadelphia abruptly flipped to Classic Hip-Hop. Urban One WPHI-FM previously had Classic Hip-Hop in the market, but added more urban currents to its playlist.

WJMK also plans to change their call letters to WBMX – bringing home a name which resonated with a generation of black Chicagoans as a Urban Contemporary station on 102.7 FM from 1973 to 1988, when it became iHeartMedia-owned V103 (WVAZ-FM). The WBMX call letters currently reside with a Boston Hot Adult Contemporary station, also owned by Entercom. The WBMX.com domain is used as a Classic R&B Internet station.

A sweeper welcomed listeners from iHeartMedia’s WGCI-FM and v103 (WVAZ-FM) to 104.3 Jams, indicating Entercom would be targeting those two stations as competition. WJMK referred to itself as “The New 104.3 Jams – Chicago’s #1 for Throwbacks.”

Ratings for WJMK as K-Hits weren’t exactly strong – recent PPM numbers showed the station in eighteenth place, far behind Cumulus’ WLS-FM and WLUP-FM; Hubbard’s WDRV-FM, and Weigel’s/Venture Technologies MeTV-FM, who each play some kind of variant of the music K-Hits played. 104.3 Jams may give Entercom however, a better chance to increase revenue for the cluster by going for younger demos.

K-Hits is K-Gone.

WJMK became K-Hits in 2011, with former WBBM-FM personalities Eddie Volkman and Joe Bohannon in morning drive. But the duo was unable to recapture their B96 glory days, and the show was dropped in late 2012. Before K-Hits, WJMK was a JACK-FM Variety Hits station, flipping from Oldies after 21 years.

There were also changes in other markets where Entercom took over CBS stations. As hinted by Radio Insight earlier in the week,  Entercom indeed flipped Top 40 AMP-FM stations in New York and Dallas to Alternative – with the former gaining an Alternative station for the first time since 2012 (the AMP station in Detroit remains Top 40 for now.)

As for the new 104.3 FM Jams, this is what the station played between 5:45 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. on Friday, November 17, all in the order they were played:

Fiesta – R. Kelly
P.I.M.P. – 50 Cent
Changes -2Pac
I Just Wanna Love U (Give It To Me) – Jay-Z
Always On Time – JaRule feat. Ashanti
Ghetto Superstar (This Is What You Are) Pras feat. Ol’ Dirty Bastard & Mya
Down On Me – Jeremih feat. 50 Cent
Nothing But A ‘G’ Thing – Dr. Dre/Snoop Dogg
Freak Me – Silk
Lollipop – Lil’ Wayne
Big Poppa – Notorious B.I.G.
Life Your Life – T.I.l feat. Rihanna
Can I Get A…Jay-Z feat. Amil & Ja Rule
Tispy – J-Kwon
Home Alone – Keith Murray & R. Kelly

(Full disclosure: yours truly had to use Shazam to help identify at least four of the songs. Yes, I’m old.)

In a sense, this is basically hip-hop from the 1990s and 2000s – but no 1980s songs, a decade where the genre really took off. So if you’re hoping to hear Kurtis Blow, Whodini, Run D.M.C., or Tone Loc, you’re out of luck. Also present is a few R&B songs thrown in from the era – so hearing Mya, Ashanti, Jagged Edge, or early Beyonce certainly isn’t out of the question. As yours truly was driving Saturday afternoon, 104.3 Jams played “Real Love” by Mary J. Blige, a 1992 hit.

But the real question is – can a fifth urban format succeed in Chicago? For one, 104.3 Jams would draw listeners away from V103 and WGCI, the latter a one-time radio powerhouse. But Crawford’s Power 92 (WPWX) and Soul 106.3 (WSRB) could really feel the brunt. Ratings for both stations are hard to find, but Power 92 – which at one time came within striking distance of WGCI – is still competitive.

Also of concern is Chicago’s dwindling African-American population, as yours truly has noted on this blog recently. Adding 104.3 Jams could thin the pie even further. If 104.3 Jams is to be successful, it needs to attract listeners across many ethnic groups, including Latinos and crossover white audiences, who may remember listening to these songs originally from B96 and WKSC (Kiss FM, post-2001) during the era.

But as yours truly noted in September, the problem with the format on terrestrial radio is the limited playlists and censorship issues – one group you definitely won’t hear on these stations is The 2 Live Crew – even their most radio-friendly songs. Sirius XM (with Fly and Backspin) and several Internet channels from iHeartRadio and TuneIn seem to do the format better. As a fan, I would like to see Classic Hip-Hop succeed in Chicago radio. But Jams 104.3 is going to have an uphill climb.