Radio rankings change little despite new turf

Charlotte radio stations are generally holding steady in rank, despite a key change in Arbitron ratings last fall that broadly expanded the geography of the sample area.

In September, the radio ratings agency added six counties around the core Charlotte market to its sample, a move that increased the market population by nearly 20 percent, to 1.9 million from 1.5 million. It raised the question of whether some station ratings might be diluted by a new demographic mix.

But in the Arbitron rankings released this month, top stations in the area retained their general rankings from the same period a year ago, a sign that the larger sample tracks previous trends.

All seven of the top stations in the winter 2007 rankings were in the top seven of the latest sweep.

WBAV-FM, falling from No. 1 to No.6, was the only station that showed major movement. It was the first time the station had fallen in rank since adding Steve Harvey's morning show to its lineup in November 2005. It was unexpected because the station's powerful signal reaches well into the annexed counties in the Arbitron sample.

WPEG-FM, WSOC-FM, WKKT-FM all moved up one spot in rank while WBT-AM and WLYT-FM moved up two steps. WNKS-FM dropped two pegs.

While year-to-year audience share figures are unreliable because of the different sample size this year, station-by-station rankings show that little has changed in overall popularity of leading stations from a year ago.

One aspect of the larger geographical market is that stations in outlying markets – like WTHZ-FM, a Lexington-based oldies station, and WSPA- FM, a Greenville, S.C.-based adult contemporary station – are showing up more in Charlotte ratings, said Bruce Logan, regional vice president of programming for Clear Channel.

Although the ratings sample period ended before the N.C. primary, WBT- AM moved up in rank, probably a sign of talk radio's strength in a contentious election year.

“With this being the first time in decades for an important N.C. primary, I'm not surprised that news-talk stations have shown significant increases,” said Nancy Haynes, a principal in the Charlotte ad agency Collins Haynes and Lully. “I'm seeing it not just in Charlotte, but in Raleigh and the Triad as well.”

Beginning with the autumn 2007 radio ratings, the counties of Iredell, Stanly, Anson and Cleveland in North Carolina and Chester and Lancaster in South Carolina were added to the core Charlotte market counties of Mecklenburg, Cabarrus, Rowan, Lincoln, Gaston, Union and York.