What you need to know about black radio
Here are all the numbers on how many listen, what they listen to
June 29, 2016
By Court Stroud
This is one in a number of stories on radio in Media Life’s ongoing series “The new face of radio in America,” examining all the changes taking place in the medium. Click here for earlier stories.
Don’t blame Cookie.
Hip-hop seems to be everywhere, from the Broadway stage in “Hamilton” to the No.1 TV series on broadcast television, “Empire.”
But the mass appeal of crossover music–black music–began long before Cookie Lyon took over as head of artists and repertoire at the fictional Empire Entertainment.
The current rise of hip-hop is just another sign of the mainstreaming of black culture, a process set in motion by the birth of commercial radio nearly 100 years ago.
Even in its earliest days radio was influenced by African-Americans through the music of Duke Ellington and other black band leaders and musicians. Still, all actors, announcers, management and owners were white. Then in 1929, Chicago’s WSBC launched “The All-Negro Hour,” the first program to feature only African-American performers.
It took another twenty years before a station hit the airwaves with an all-black on-air staff, WDIA in Memphis, which influenced a young Elvis Presley. That same year, 1949, Atlanta’s WERD became the nation’s earliest black-owned radio station.
By the 1960s, over 100 stations targeted African-American audiences and played a vital role during the civil rights movement. In Birmingham, black DJs sent out coded messages to reveal the times and locations of upcoming marches, as well as police roadblocks. Black radio also broke down racial barriers as whites tuned in to hear popular rhythm and blues artists, helping, for example, to undercut support for segregation in the South.
By the 1970s, over 250 stations programmed for black audiences, but the popularity of music genres like disco among Hispanic and white listeners broadened the format’s appeal to mass audiences.
New York’s WBLS became the most-listened-to FM station in the country in 1976 by mixing the R&B of artists like Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye with the jazz sounds of Grover Washington, Herbie Hancock and others. DJ and programmer Frankie Crocker described his music mix as “what’s happening in the city” or “urban contemporary.”
The name stuck. Today, there’s almost no reference to black radio, but over 300 urban radio stations broadcast across the U.S.
Here are five things you should know about black/urban radio.
1. Radio reaches African-Americans
African-Americans are a devoted audience, with 91 percent tuning into the radio each week (roughly even with the percentage for all U.S. radio listeners.) In the past five years alone, audiences are up 5 percent, growing from 29.8 million to 31.3 million, according to Nielsen.
TOP 25 AFRICAN-AMERICAN MARKETS
Credit: Nielsen Audio Spring 2015 Metro Market Rankings and Populations
2. Urban radio is an Eastern thing
States with the top shares of African-Americans listening to the urban format are concentrated in the mid-Atlantic and Southern regions of the United States. Only two states west of the Mississippi River — Arkansas and Louisiana — index higher than average.
Credit: Dan Kopf, Priceonomics; Data: RADIO ONLINE
3. Popular formats are ageless
Even across the generational divide, black audiences show huge loyalty to their favorite radio formats. Urban Contemporary and Urban Adult Contemporary alternate as the top two choices from ages 12 to 69, with Urban AC taking the No. 1 slot for older demos.
Credit: Nielsen Scarborough
4. Black radio users index equally by gender
In a comparison to heavy media users, black radio listenership is more equal by gender than other media. Black radio audiences are more likely to work full or part-time than those of TV or newspapers.
Credit: Nielsen Scarborough
5. Hip hop is hot
Urban Contemporary Radio has been integrating music and audiences for over four decades, putting the format at the cutting edge of popular music. But the format has leapfrogged in ratings, especially in the past two years.
Urban Contemporary’s core audience of 18-34 has grown, but the increase among 25-34s has been particularly dramatic, growing 35 percent from 2011 to 2015.
Court Stroud is a writer and a longtime media executive who has worked for companies such as Univisión, Telemundo and several digital startups. He most recently served as Azteca América’s EVP of network sales and digital. Stroud holds degrees from UT-Austin and the Harvard Business School. Follow him on Twitter: @CourtStroudNYC
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