Like something out of wrestling, in which the famous Monday Night Wars era defined WCW’s ratings battle with WWF (at the time), the on-air smackdown between New York City’s Hot 97 (WQHT 97.1 FM) and Power 105.1 (WWPR 105.1 FM) radio stations has always been the transparent counterpart.
Over the past decade, the two hip-hop stations have added a new meaning to the phrase friendly competition. Engaging in what’s been dubbed the “NYC Radio Wars” since Power emerged in March 2002, the two sides have thrown everything from on-air insults to rants, subliminal jabs, as well as making special radio edits of certain songs where one of the stations are mentioned (ex. Power 105 editing out the "Hot 9-7" reference in Puff's “It’s All About the Benjamins”). The war even played a part in the legendary Jay Z and Nas battle.
But, while both stations have made adjustments these past couple of years in order to better strengthen their respective positions in the ratings war, Power scored the ultimate play this week after announcing the addition of Angie Martinez — one of Hot 97’s strongest assets and a longstanding fixture in New York radio — to it growing roster.
The news arrived just a day after the reigning “Voice of New York” resigned from her Hot 97 post, where she had been cultivating her radio following since 1996. Nearly two decades on the air, Angie Mar transformed her 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. into one of the most talked-about programs that brought in A-List artists like The Notorious B.I.G., Jay Z, 2Pac, Big Pun, Lil Wayne and many more for one-of-a-kind interviews. Of course, there were a multitude of memorable moments produced on the radio series, including the epic Lox and Puff standoff and Angie bringing together A$AP Rocky and Rakim for the first time. But now with Angie's depature, "the station where hip-hop lives" has lost a pivotal piece to its long standing life force.
So now, not only has the next phase in the “ratings war” begun, but the central focus will not be on the on-air jabs but, more specifically, what becomes of Hot 97 and New York radio?
Evolution has always been the name of the game for just about any and everything. And how you adapt and evolve during those changes have always been the true measurement of success. Just think about it. Perhaps a great example of this would be how Nas and Jay fought for supremacy during their epic rap battle for the New York crown, and in the end lead to both emcees respectively transforming from local superstars at odds to genre-defining kingpins. Or when The Source and XXL engaged in an epic battle for rap mag sovereignty (man, those were the golden days), which in the end produced some of the most incredible magazine cover stories and editorials in recent memory.
For years, Hot 97 has stood as the Smithsonian for hip-hop, carrying a strong legacy that has attributed to the admiration the station gets from, not just rappers but, musicians around the globe. Established in 1988, the hip-hop station has stood as the staple that most artists pray and dream to get their music played on. Whether it's getting Funk Flex to blast your songs with his signature bomb drops or sitting with Angie Mar for an interview, the station has earned the reputation of being a rite of passage for artists. And this rich history happens to be the one thing Hot has over Power 105.
But how long can they cling to that fame? As Jay Z pointed out on “Most Kingz,” once when you're the star, you become the biggest target. So when everyone’s on the court, all crosshairs are placed on you with the intention being only to take that spot and upstage you in the process. With the strategic moves by Power these past few years, whether it was grabbing Angela Yee, DJ Envy and Charlamagne Tha God for The Breakfast Club or now poaching a legend like Angie, who practically helped keep the lights on over at Hot 97, it appears that as Power’s brand continues to get brighter, Hot 97’s is slowly dimming. Now, the new task by Hot will have to be carrying on to make newer legends and finding out a way to maximize the influence of the stations remaining heavyweights: Funkmaster Flex, Miss Info, DJ Enuff, Peter Rosenburg, and Cipha Sounds.
One can only imagine who will be filling Angie’s open slot, which has a good shot of going to DJ Enuff.
But back to the topic of evolution. Though the bombshell decision was abrupt, everyone will know that it had to be something on the table for some time now. Angie may just have realized the growing potential of being at a place like Power. Hot 97 is owned by Emmis Communications, which has a smaller broadcasting chain that stretches through the Tri-State, while Power’s Clear Channel operates more than 800 stations throughout the United States. Not to mention, Clear Channel’s streaming service iHeartRadio serves as an outlet throughout the country, averaging 143 million hours of listening per month last year, according to its year-end regulatory filing in February. Per the company’s CEO Bob Pittman, the online service makes “hundreds of millions” of dollars in annual revenue, which is a major feat that pits it in the range of Internet radio leader Pandora.
And while the Clear Channel has found multiple avenues for continued growth, Hot, which in the most recent Nielsen ratings maintains a slight lead with just under 2.9 million people in the greater New York market, is still struggling. It’s hard trying to maintain a legacy during an ever evolving landscape like music. Everything is digital, from the business to the accessibility it creates for fans, it’s hard to beat. And Hot 97 isn’t the only one struggling to uphold that legacy while trying to cross the digital hurdle, just ask print mags like the XXL’s, the Source’s, etc. It’s a cycle that’s inevitable.
Hopefully, Hot can get in the groove to make that jump and carry on that golden streak. But, they'll need to do it fast, because as of now all eyes and ears will be on Power 105.1.