B96 changes course, adds more rhythmic-oriented “flashbacks”

Legacy Top 40 station shakes up playlist in order to lure back listeners

There was speculation several weeks ago that a major change was coming to either one or two Audacy-owned stations in the Chicago market. After a few behind-the-scenes changes, Friday saw contemporary hit radio/Top 40 B96, or WBBM-FM add more gold hit product to its current hit playlist, including some dance-leaning hits from the 1990s and 2000s with the tagline “The music you’ve always loved and the best of what’s new” and sweepers including “Chicago’s favorite radio station is back!” (has it really went anywhere?)

B96 also reverted back to its previous logo, with a modified look. 

Here’s a listing of what B96 played in the 4-to-5:30 p.m. CT timeframe on Friday, courtesy of Online Radio Box:

Taylor Swift – Lavender Haze
Outkast – Hey Ya
Ginuwine – Pony
Britney Spears – Toxic
David Guetta / Bebe Rexha – I’m Good
The Weeknd – Earned It
T.I. – Whatever You Like
Miley Cyrus – Flowers
24KGoldn / Iann Dior – Mood
Edward Maya – Stereo Love
Doja Cat / SZA – Kiss Me More
Destiny’s Child – Soldier
Usher / Ludacris – Yeah!
Sam Smith / Kim Petras – Unholy
Eminem / Rihanna – Love The Way You Lie
Taylor Swift – Lavender Haze (second time in an hour!) 
Jay-Z / Alicia Keys – Empire State Of Mind
Justin Bieber – Ghost
2Pac – Keep Ya Head Up
Lady Gaga – Bad Romance
Metro Boomin / The Weeknd / 21 Savage – Creepin’
Next – Too Close
Snoop Dogg / Pharrell – Drop It Like It’s Hot

The changes come as in the March PPM rankings released Monday, B96 tied for nineteenth place with a 1.9 – behind rival iHeartMedia-owned Kiss 103.5 (WKSC-FM), who ranked thirteenth with a 2.7 (iHeartMedia’s WLIT led the market overall with a 6.7 rating and tops the key 25-54 demo.) 

The format adjustment (not “change” as some are putting it) means B96’s playlist is somewhat identical to those of classic hip-hop sister station 104.3 Jams (WBMX), with the exception of the current hit product and Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber, of course. What makes this hard to analyze is even though this shift could eliminate 104.3 Jams’ format, WBMX posted some positive demo numbers last month, finishing fourth among adults 18-49 with its highest share in over a year while finishing fifth in the 25-54 demo and sixth among adults 18-34. 

This is the second station to add more retro product to its playlist in the last year in a bid to attract more nostalgic-minded listeners who generally snub their nose at the current chart scene. Last August, Hubbard’s WSHE-FM made a format adjustment to add more 1990s and 2000s hits to its rotation. So far, the moves haven’t paid off in the ratings as like B96, WSHE is floundering in nineteenth place. 

Some changes were expected after longtime Audacy exec Todd Cavanah exited the cluster April 4 after 33 years, as he got his start at B96 when the station was owned by CBS. Cavanah was succeeded in his position by two people: Molly Cruz, who takes the reigns as brand manager at B96 and Erik Bradley taking the same position at 104.3 Jams. But his promotion came with an “interim” tag attached to it, fueling speculation 104.3 Jams may not be long for this Chicago radio world. 

B96 is one of Chicago radio’s most heritage brands, dating back to the early 1980s when they adapted a Top 40 hits format. B96 – along with KPWR Los Angeles and WQHT Hot 97 in New York – became successful blending Top 40 with dance and hip-hop hits and led the industry to split the contemporary-hit format into two formats- one with traditional pop and one whose stations who lean more “rhythmic”. B96 has waivered between the two over the years, but Friday’s move signals they are firmly back in the latter camp with those hits many listeners grew up with in the 1990s and 2000s. 


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