Although the specter of advertiser "no urban" policies continues to haunt the format, more advertisers are embracing urban radio, lured by the African-American community's $560 billion in buying power.
"Many advertisers undervalue the African-American listener," says Marv Dyson, president-general manager of Clear Channel Communications' WGCI-AM/FM and WVAZ-FM, two urban format stations in Chicago.
"In a lot of markets, quite often non-urban radio stations with less ratings are able to demand or get higher [ad] rates than an urban-formatted station with higher ratings," he says. "Those of us selling [ad time] perhaps are not answering questions as well as we could or explaining the power of our product as well as we should. But we have made some gains. The `no urban' dictates are not nearly as big of a problem as they used to be."
Advertisers that take a closer look at urban radio will discover that the format isn't monolithic-it embraces about eight subformats, featuring artists from the Isley Brothers to Destiny's Child crooning rhythm & blues, hip-hop or gospel. Ratings for urban radio place the stations first or second on the charts in four of the top 10 markets.
The rise in the number of urban stations is a sign of advertiser support. There currently are 330 urban stations, according to trade publication Radio & Records; radio ad sales rep Interep, whose client base is about 10% urban, says there were 284 commercial stations with urban formats in 1989, and it anticipates continued growth.
Radio One, the U.S.' largest black-owned radio group, has the second-largest number of urban stations at 26, representing about 8% of the urban stations in the U.S., according to Radio & Records. But topping Radio One is the U.S.' largest radio company, Clear Channel, with 37 urban stations, about 11% of the nation's total.
In January, mainstream media giant Walt Disney Co. entered the arena when ABC Radio Networks, the No. 2 radio company, launched Urban Advantage Network, signing advertisers including J.C. Penney Co. and Pfizer's Warner-Lambert. UAN signed 161 affiliates for its urban programming, and at the time, Darryl Brown, exec VP-general manager at ABC Radio Networks, said: "The African-American consumer is being revalued in the advertising community."
"Having more mainstream companies focus on urban radio will absolutely enhance the legitimacy of it long term," says Scott Royster, exec VP-chief financial officer at Radio One. "One of the best things to happen to black media is having Viacom own [cable network] BET. That will ultimately help us as well."
MORE AD SUPPORT
"There is much more advertising support for urban radio than there was five years ago," says Byron Lewis, chairman-CEO of African-American specialist agency UniWorld Group, New York. UniWorld, partially owned by WPP Group, buys urban radio for AT&T Corp., Burger King Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Pepsi-Cola Co., among other clients.
The ad dollars are there because "clients are permitting larger budgets," Mr. Lewis says, "and because the urban cultural phenomenon from music, video to fashion has brought many more players into the advertising mix beyond mass merchandisers and superstores."
"We are seeing a growth from the pharmaceutical sector, a traditional non-spender in the African-American community," says Vernon Wright, senior VP-marketing and sales at American Urban Radio Networks, the only African-American-owned network syndicating programs-more than 260 a week-to about 350 radio affiliates. Advertisers on AURN include Kraft Foods, McDonald's Corp., J.C. Penney and Procter & Gamble Co.
"We do find that radio today is a way to reach African-Americans well," says Reyn Leutz, senior partner-director of national radio at WPP Group's MindShare USA, Chicago, which buys urban radio for all its clients, with Sears, Roebuck & Co. leading the pack. "If we buy 100 points of African-American radio, we are typically delivering 100 points."