V-103: AIR POWER Station gets on listeners' wavelengths to become No. 1 in Baltimore market


To its staffers, the station is known simply and affectionately known as "The V."

V as in WXYV-FM; V as in V-103.

Lately, however, the letter has come to take on an added meaning: V as in Victory.

Indeed, the urban contemporary station, 102.7 on the dial, has emerged over the last year as a clear-cut winner in the local radio ratings wars.

By any reckoning, V-103, a consistent top-five finisher over the past decade, has become the No. 1 station in the Baltimore market.

It has finished first in three out of the last four quarterly Arbitron radio ratings reports. Only news/talk WBAL-AM, boosted by listenership for its Baltimore Oriole broadcasts, managed to break V-103's string of first-place finishes in the spring.

And V-103's 9.5 share of listeners 12 and over for the recently released summer ratings period was the highest in the station's history -- and put the station within striking distance of becoming the first Baltimore outlet since the mid-1980s to get a double-digit overall audience share. (Each share point represents approximately 3,600 listeners in an average quarter hour.)

In the less widely used Birch Radio ratings, V-103 has fared even better, finishing as the top-rated station for the past five consecutive quarters by a wide margin.

"Basically, I believe the station in the last couple of years has been the station in sync with what's happening around it, musically and community-wise," says program director Roy Sampson.

Mr. Sampson says V-103 -- whose current play list includes such artists as Paula Abdul, Prince and Lisa Stansfield -- is playing "the artists you see all around you in major videos" and that their music "is getting stronger in appeal" to the station's predominantly black audience.

As for being in touch with the community, Mr. Sampson says "The V has always been a community-oriented station," putting it in a position to take advantage of the increasing emphasis on local issues such as recycling.

Roy Deutschman, vice president and general manager of V-103 and country station WCA0-AM, says the station has also benefited from stability in the type of music it plays and its on-air personalities. While other stations have changed formats, personnel and call letters, V-103 has continued to play what used to be known as R&B; or soul music, often by many of the same disc jockeys. Morning show hosts Randy Dennis and Jean Ross, for example, have been together since the mid-1980s.

"Who's been the consistent radio station?" Mr. Deutschman ask rhetorically, adding, "People want to be able to have a certain expectation when they turn on the radio."

Industry observers say the station's ratings are no fluke.

"What I think they're doing is super-serving a segment [of the audience]," says C. Peter Clough, director of client services for Pack Media, a regional marketing and advertising firm. "It's not just one thing; it's a lot of things they're doing right. The music is right, the personalities are right, the promotions are right."

Walt Love, an editor at the trade publication Radio & Records, says urban contemporary stations are "extremely strong" in cities with large black populations where the station's owners have made a financial commitment to promotions and quality air personalities. Currently, he says, stations with urban contemporary formats are No. 1 in New York, Chicago, Atlanta and Miami as well as Baltimore.

Mr. Love praises V-103's parent company, Atlanta-based Summit Broadcasting, as a "top-notch organization" and calls program director Sampson "one of the most intelligent programmers around. He's willing to listen to what his listeners tell him and refine it."

An example is the institution of the "Slow Jam" show weeknights at 10 p.m., which features softer artists such as James Ingram and Quincy Jones for listeners who, in Mr. Sampson's words, "want to mellow out late in the evening."

With an estimated 85 percent black listenership, V-103 makes a point of getting involved in events, such as last spring's AIDSWalk, that it feels are of particular importance to the African-American community. It also frequently has guest interviews -- such as the one yesterday with actress Cynda Williams, who starred in Spike Lee's "Mo' Better Blues" -- with a particular black focus.

But Mr. Sampson says the station also has a broader reach.

"Everyone's concerned about the same traffic jam; we cover that," he says. "I think more and more people regardless of race are listening to this station as a contemporary radio station."

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