Although stations with such a format date back as far as 2004, the format was first popularized in October 2014, after Radio One dropped a poorly performing news radio format from its Houston station KROI in favor of classic hip-hop. After attracting a dramatic increase in ratings, Radio One began to emulate the station's format and branding in other markets. At the same time, other major radio broadcasters began to introduce classic hip-hop stations in selected markets.
Format and targeting
Doug Abernethy, general manager of Radio One's Houston stations, described the classic hip-hop format as a parallel to the classic rock and classic country formats: these stations focus primarily on hip-hop music from the 1980s and 1990s, featuring artists such as 2Pac, De La Soul, LL Cool J, Ludacris, Notorious B.I.G., Queen Latifah, and Salt-N-Pepa. Some stations may include small amounts of R&B in their playlists as well.
Classic hip-hop stations are aimed primarily at listeners between the ages of 25 and 44; Tommy Boy Records founder Tom Silverman explained that hip-hop had "entered the realm of credible nostalgia", going on to say that "I’m sure there are kids now who think 3 Feet High and Rising by De La Soul is a rite of passage, just like Led Zeppelin is." The format also appeals to listeners who may not enjoy contemporary hip-hop: iHeartMedia senior vice president Doc Wynter explained that "hip-hop back then was about telling a story about your struggle and your family’s struggle. Now the reigning hip-hop king is a multiracial guy from Toronto who did not struggle.”
The classic hip-hop format dates back to 2004, when KZAB—a Spanish-language FM station serving the Los Angeles area, was re-launched as KDAY. The re-launched station served to capitalize on the heritage of the original KDAY 1580 (now KBLA), which, in the 1980s, was the first radio station in the United States to play hip-hop music on a full-time basis. After the station's sale to Fred Sands in 1991, the station dropped hip-hop and switched to business news. The new KDAY originally focused primarily on classic hip-hop music: over the following years, it backtracked on its gold-based format, before reinstating it in 2009. The station's initial success was hampered primarily by its signal, which did not cover all of Greater Los Angeles (a rebroadcaster, KDEY-FM, was also established to improve the station's reach in the Inland Empire), along with the music itself, as hip-hop music from the 1990s was not yet nostalgic to listeners.
However, the new KDAY still enjoyed a cult following: after it was announced that KDAY would be acquired by the Meruelo Group, owners of Spanish-language television station KWHY-TV, it was speculated that the station would drop hip-hop and revert to a Spanish-language format to compliment KWHY. Following the establishment of a "Save KDAY" campaign on Facebook led by Dr. Dre (who was among the artists popularized by the original KDAY), the station's new owners confirmed that they would maintain the hip-hop format, citing the "value" of the KDAY brand, along with plans to broaden the station's audience to include Hispanic listeners.
2014: mainstream adoption
On October 13, 2014, after having dropped a low-rated all-news radio format five days prior in favor of all-Beyoncé music as a stunt, the Houston radio station KROI, owned by the urban-oriented radio group Radio One, launched a classic hip-hop format branded as Boom 92. Radio One stated that the format was the first of its kind among major-market stations in the United States, and would serve to compliment its other urban-oriented music stations in the market. Listenership of the new format saw a dramatic improvement over its previous all-news format: the following month, KROI improved its audience share of 0.9, 26th place among Houston stations, to 3.2, 14th place among Houston stations.
In response to its success, Radio One began to flip further stations to the Boom format and brand, including Philadelphia's WPHI-FM and Dallas's KSOC. At the same time, other station groups, including iHeartMedia, Cumulus Media, Univision Radio, and Cox Media Group, began to slowly introduce classic hip-hop formats of their own. In November 2014, WTZA became the first station in the Atlanta market to adopt classic hip-hop: a few days later on November 25, 2014, both Cumulus Media's W250BC and Radio One's W275BK flipped as well, with the latter using the Boom branding. Some stations, over the 2014 holiday season, shifted towards classic hip-hop as a temporary format.
Edison Research analyst Sean Ross compared the growth of classic hip-hop to the emergence of classic rock, which came during a similar youth-oriented shift in mainstream rock towards glam metal bands and grunge.
List of stations airing the format
- KDAY - Los Angeles ("93.5 KDAY")
- KNRJ - Phoenix ("101.1 The Beat")
- W250BC - Atlanta ("OG 97.9")
- WSOL-FM - Jacksonville ("V 101.5")
- WHBT-FM - Norfolk ("92.1 The Beat")
- KHYL - Sacramento ("V101")
- W275BD - Indianapolis ("Boom 102.9")
- W293BV - Columbus, Georgia ("Hip Hop 106.5")
- WQKS-HD2 - Montgomery ("Yo! 100.5")
- WJKS - Keeseville, New York ("Kiss 104.3")
- WCHZ-FM - Augusta, Georgia ("Hot 95.5/93.1")
- WGHL - Louisville ("G105.1") (formerly "Old School 105.1")
- W282BR - Erie, Pennsylvania ("104.3 The Vibe")
- KSZR - Tucson ("97.5 The Vibe")
- K276EX - Oklahoma City ("V103")
- WGVX - Minneapolis ("105 The Vibe")
- KRBQ - San Francisco ("Q102")
- WMGC-FM - Detroit ("105.1 The Bounce")
- KFVR-FM - Pueblo, Colorado ("94.7 & 93.9 The Beat")
- KWQW - Des Moines ("98.3 The Vibe")
- KNEV - Reno ("95.5 The Vibe")
- K223AL - Reno ("Power 92.5")
- W288CX - Columbia, South Carolina ("Throwback 105.5")
- K297BE - Kennewick, Washington ("107.3 The Beat")
- WGBL - Gulfport, Mississippi ("G96.7")
- WFQY - Jackson, Mississippi ("BDay 99.1")
- WJXN-FM - Jackson, Mississippi ("Hot 100.9")
- WTMP - Tampa ("AM 1150")
- W233AV/W290BJ - Tampa ("Throwback 94.5/105.9")
- KCBR - Colorado Springs ("Blazin' 98.5")
- KRUZ - Oxnard ("106.3 Spin FM")
- WXYY - Savannah ("G100")
- W282CA - Richmond, Virginia ("G 104.3")
- W254CV - Bluefield, Virginia ("G98.7")
- WNGY - Peoria, Illinois ("G102.3")
- K256AS - Honolulu ("99.1 Jamz") (leans Rhythmic AC)
- K242CE - New Orleans ("Throwback 96.3")
- WLOR - Huntsville, Alabama ("98.1 The Beat")
- K277CX - San Antonio ("G103.3")
- W288DD - Miami ("Throwback 105.5")
- WBMX - Chicago ("104.3 Jams")
- W248DA - Hanover, New Hampshire ("Hot 97.5")
- KWME - Wichita, Kansas ("92.7 The Blast")
Satellite radio stations
- Classic Hip-Hop - operated by Westwood One
List of former stations airing the format
- WQKS-HD3 - Montgomery ("Yo! 107.1") (format revived in 2014 on sister WQKS-HD2)
- W271BN - Birmingham ("Power 102.1")
- KLIF-FM - Dallas ("Hot 93.3") (aired for the 2014 holiday season; shifted to urban contemporary and has since transitioned to Top 40/CHR)
- WCFB - Orlando (aired for 3 weeks in November 2014 before returning to previous Urban AC format)
- WRWM - Indianapolis ("93.9 The Beat") (has since transitioned to Rhythmic AC, and has since flipped to Top 40/CHR)
- WTZA - Atlanta ("Old School 99.3") (went off air due to interference complaints from WCON-FM. Would later shift to WTBS-LP and flip back to urban oldies.)
- W275BK - Atlanta ("Boom 102.9") (flipped to urban oldies in December 2017)
- CFXJ-FM - Toronto ("Flow 93-5") (shifted to Rhythmic AC in February 2016, and has since transitioned to Rhythmic CHR)
- WIVG - Memphis ("Bumpin' 96") (formerly "Boomin' 96") (flipped back to alternative rock in February 2016)
- W272BY - Cincinnati ("102.3 The Beat") (shifted to mainstream urban in March 2016)
- K246BR - Honolulu ("Hot 97.1") (shifted to all-80's hits in August 2016)
- WPHI-FM - Philadelphia ("Boom 107.9") (shifted to urban contemporary in September 2016)
- KMJM-FM - St. Louis ("100.3 The Beat") (shifted to urban contemporary in September 2016)
- KJZN - Fresno ("Rewind 105.5") (flipped to Soft AC in January 2017)
- KROI - Houston ("Boom 92") (flipped to Top 40/CHR in January 2017)
- KENZ - Salt Lake City ("94.9 The Vibe") (flipped to Top 40/CHR in January 2017)
- KDEY-FM - Riverside, California (synchronized repeater of KDAY; split from the simulcast and flipped to Rhythmic CHR in February 2017)
- KMYO - San Antonio ("Yo! 95.1") (flipped to its previous Spanish Top 40/CHR format in April 2017)
- KFCO - Denver ("Flo 107.1") (formerly "Fly 107.1") (began adding currents in the summer of 2017)
- KSOC - Dallas ("Boom 94.5") (flipped to Urban AC in September 2017)
- WKIM - Memphis ("98.9 The Vibe") (changed to Christmas music in October 2017)
- KKRG-FM - Albuquerque ("Yo! 105.1 FM") (changed to Christmas music in October 2017)
- WBMO - Columbus, Ohio ("Boom 106.3") (changed to simulcast of sister station WCKX in November 2017)
- K273BH - Minneapolis ("Hot 102.5") (shifted to urban in February 2018)
- "Former news station turns to 'classic hip-hop'". Houston Chronicle. 13 October 2014. Retrieved 2 November 2014.
- "Classic Hip-Hop Is Spreading on the Radio Dial". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 December 2014.
- "Could Dr. Dre save KDAY?". LA Weekly. Retrieved 11 January 2015.
- Ross, Sean. "Classic Rock and Classic Rap". Edison Research. Retrieved 8 January 2015.
- "Classic L.A. hip-hop station KDAY sold to Meruelo Media". Los Angeles Times. December 11, 2013. Retrieved 11 January 2015.
- "KROI (92.1 FM) announces format change, lays off 47 workers". Houston Chronicle. 8 October 2014. Retrieved 2 November 2014.
- "Boom! Atlanta Gains Third Classic Hip-Hop Signal". Radio Insight. Retrieved 26 December 2014.
- "Classic hip-hop OG 97.9 replaces Q100 at 97.9, then 102.9 went Boom!". Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved 25 December 2014.