Analysis: BBM Summer 2003 Radio Survey

It turns out Torontonians do know JACK.

It turns out Torontonians do know JACK.

JACK FM, Rogers’ retro ’80s hybrid station, which launched to much fanfare in Toronto in June and set off a chain reaction of host and format changes in its wake, was the prime focus for buyers poring over numbers from BBM Canada’s summer ratings report.

The format, which, true to the tagline ‘Playing what we want,’ boasts a wide-ranging playlist, did exceedingly well for Rogers in Vancouver and Calgary, ranking number one with the 25-to-54 demographic in both markets during the summer period.

Toronto, however, proved more challenging. Although JACK increased its average quarter-hour share (6.4%) of listeners 25 to 54 by 72% versus summer 2002 (3.4%), when it was still contemporary hits station KISS FM, it failed to reach its ratings targets. Rogers guaranteed JACK would do 1.3 rating during the summer book, but fell well short with a 0.7 rating, forcing it to compensate buyers with free ad time.

‘I think they were overly ambitious,’ says Louisa Cherubin, media manager at Toronto-based Sharpe Blackmore EURO RSCG. ‘Toronto is very different from those markets. You already have several similar stations here competing with what JACK offers.’

Predictably, with JACK’s arrival some adult contemporary stations battling for the all-important 25-to-54 demo took hits.

Though still number one, CHUM FM’s period-on-period share of the demo fell from 14.3% to 13.4%.

Sixth-ranked Standard Radio’s The MIX also saw its ratings dip, from an 8.5% share to a 7.2% share. Though new morning host duo Humble and Fred (formerly of Corus’s MOJO) joined the station in late August, buyers feel that they came on too late in BBM’s report, which surveys listeners two weeks in June and two weeks in August, to accurately gauge the impact. Nonetheless, Kandy Walker, media supervisor at Cossette Communication Group, predicts that the MIX is most likely to lose listeners to JACK, since it plays similar music.

Standard Radio’s CEO and president Gary Slaight, however, downplays the JACK threat. Along with the addition of Humble and Fred, the company also tweaked the station’s music mix to give it more of a rock sound, changes that Slaight says will minimize any challenge it faces from JACK this fall.

Fourth-ranked soft-rock station CHFI suffered the largest ratings decline, dropping from a 14.1% share to a 9.4% share. In a bid to grab younger listeners, last June Rogers jettisoned popular morning host Erin Davis in favor of KISS FM’s more youthful sounding tandem of Mad-Dog and Billie, a move that has yet to show upside.

‘Anyone who didn’t think this would happen should see a doctor,’ says Cossette’s Walker. The new hosts, she says, represent a major cultural disconnect with CHFI’s soft-rock brand of music and its core of gray-haired listeners, many of whom reside at the older end of the 25-to-54 demo.

For his part, Gary Miles, CEO of radio for Rogers Media, is preaching patience, adding that it will take at least until next spring before the industry can fairly judge the changes.

The biggest beneficiary of CHFI’s hemorrhaging was Standard’s EZ-Rock, which shot up to third spot with 25-to-54s, scoring a 11.6% share, up 2.2% share points from summer ’02. Corus-owned Q107, which many buyers pegged to be a likely JACK casualty, also had a strong book, ranking second with 13.1% share compared to a 12.1% share a year ago.

In Canada’s second- and third-largest markets, there wasn’t nearly the same amount of activity. In francophone Montreal, adult contemporary station CITE Rock Détente held down top spot with a 24.9% share of the 25-to-54 audience, while in Vancouver Rogers’ JACK station scored a 2.49 rating, moving up slightly from the spring period, during which it recorded a 2.25 rating.

On a national basis, radio operators continued their migration away from youth. Along with JACK, other formats such as CHUM’s BOB, for example, have been finding success in Winnipeg and Ottawa by appealing to an older demo with a similar retro ’80s proposition. Prior to flipping formats many of these stations, notes Walker, had been younger-skewing contemporary hits stations. While it’s true youth have been tuning out from radio anyway, Walker says, the programming trend is more likely based on simple economics.

‘Only 3% of ad buys,’ she says, ‘are done for the 12-to-24 demo. So even if you own that demo, you’re not making any money off this segment.’