The story of Boom 92's introduction to Houston has become something of a radio legend: The week the new "classic hip-hop" format replaced the old News 92 format on KROI, it played nothing but Beyoncé songs for seven days straight. That was early October 2014.
Today, a few days into 2017, Boom 92's short life has come to an ignominious end, replaced with little fanfare this evening at 6 p.m. by Radio Now, the type of bog-standard Top 40 format Houston has half-heartedly listened to in oil change waiting rooms for years. At the time of this writing, a Zayn Malik song featuring Taylor Swift is playing on the dial at 92.1 FM, one of the city's few radio stations that had been Swift-free for the past two years.
The novel format of playing classic hip-hop tunes was pioneered here in Houston by Radio One, which operates 54 other stations across 16 markets. Boom 92 was so well-received, even past its original week-of-Beyoncé stunt, that KROI's once-low Nielsen ratings tripled. Soon, an eager Radio One introduced the classic hip-hop format to its affiliates in Dallas, Atlanta and Philadelphia while other stations around the country noticed and quickly followed suit.
Only a few short months later, in mid-December 2014, the New York Times was profiling the pioneering format. "Don't call it a comeback!" the paper raved, noting the nascent station's tendency to buck the rigid national R&B and rap formats by incorporating local artists into their daily line-up. "Boom 92, for example, started out with a song by the Geto Boys, a Houston gangsta rap group," wrote Ben Sisario in the Times, and indeed the station continued those efforts by regularly playing UGK, Fat Pat and other classic Houston jams.
Still, only 10 days after the Times article, the cracks were showing. The Grey Lady itself ran a follow-up noting that the initial success of the Boom 92.1 may have been overstated. "Once its format flipped KROI’s audience more than tripled, going from 245,000 to 802,000, and its share — meaning the percentage of radios in use and tuned to a station — went from 1.0 to 3.2, according to Nielsen," wrote Sisario, yet: "In the four-week ratings period that began Nov. 6, the station’s audience declined by 2.6 percent to 781,000, and its share dropped from 3.2 to 2.9." Boom 92's ratings would only continue to decline from there.
By January 2015, in a scathing assessment titled, bluntly, "Classic Hip Hop Radio Format: Bad For Hip Hop, Likely To Fail," Birthplace Magazine was calling the game. "Truthfully, the decision to switch to an all-classic hip hop format is an easy, long-overdue one, but one that may not prosper once the novelty wears off," wrote hip-hop journalist and lecturer Manny Faces. "The true innovation in hip hop radio will be to not simply cram all these past hits onto a playlist, but to program a radio station that older hip hop heads can enjoy for the nostalgia, while also serving them new music that will appeal to those same sensibilities."
Radio Now is not the innovative station we could have hoped for, but you never know how these things shake out; Houston could have played a crucial role in helping to create demand for a station like the one Faces describes and we could one day be blessed with a station that plays both Run the Jewels and Run DMC. Or we could just as easily end up a city full of terrestrial radio stations playing Taylor Swift on a 24/7 loop. Hey, it sorta worked that one week with Beyoncé...