K92 received a surprising gift for its 40th birthday: the No. 1 spot in the local radio rankings.
A former ratings juggernaut in the Roanoke-Lynchburg market, the longtime pop music station returned to the top of the radio ratings for the first time since 1992 when Nielsen recently released the results of its fall survey. K92 (WXLK-FM, 92.3) reached middle-age with all the strength of its glory days a generation ago, when it was the most-listened-to station for 12 consecutive years.
K92 edged out its corporate sibling Star Country (WSLC-FM, 94.9), which saw its string of 23 consecutive No. 1 rankings dating to 2007 come to an end. Coincidentally, Star Country’s time atop the radio ratings was about the same length as K92’s dominance in the 1980s and early ‘90s.
From the time K92 went on the air on Jan. 1, 1980, boasting a rowdy, irreverent crew of announcers and a Top 40 playlist broadcasting over a clear, powerful FM signal, the station ruled Southwest Virginia’s airwaves until early 1992. By then, a seemingly simultaneous series of musical earthquakes cracked the station’s supremacy. Chalk it up to grunge, gangsta rap and Garth.
Musical tastes and formats fractured as alternative rock groups such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam; rappers N.W.A., Ice T, the Beastie Boys and others; and modern country acts highlighted by Garth Brooks became huge stars and sold millions of albums. Unable or unwilling to accommodate the new listening habits of the 1990s, K92 sank to the middle of the top 10 for most of the decade, as country music station WYYD-FM (107.9) ruled.
Other stations spent time at the top spot in the early 2000s until Star Country asserted its dominance.
Like many pop music stations across the country, K92 has benefited from the fusion of pop and hip-hop — and even a little rock and country, at times — into a seamless musical genre that reaches a mass audience. The playlist is dominated by artists such as Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish, Lizzo, Cardi B, Post Malone, the Weeknd, Kendrick Lamar and a host of others who blend elements of hip-hop beats and pop melodies into songs that are enormously popular. In fact, one of 2019’s biggest songs was “Old Town Road,” performed by rapper Lil Nas X and country singer Billy Ray Cyrus.
But ratings success can be fleeting, and perhaps even open to interpretation and deeper analysis. Even though K92 squeaked out a ratings victory this time (getting an 8.6 share of the radio listenership to Star Country’s 8.3), WSLC’s combined listenership last spring and fall made it the top station for all of 2019.
Both stations are owned by Roanoke-based Wheeler Broadcasting, which had all four of the market’s top stations — Q99 (WSLQ-FM, 99.1) was third, and the Vibe (WVBE-FM, 97.7/100.1) was fourth. WROV-FM (96.3) rounded out the top five.