By Sean Ross of @RossOnRadio

The stations that lead off part I of “Intriguing Stations of 2015” are broadcast stations, and they aren’t. They are broadcast stations that extended themselves into digital in creative ways. And they are digital pureplays that appropriated elements of broadcast radio. They are, in that regard, exactly what should be happening right about now. And they lead off our multi-part look at the stations that were not necessarily the year’s biggest ratings successes, but the ones that I found “Most Intriguing.”

CBS/Radio.com’s “Alpha” Stations
They were never publicized. They live deep in the “exclusive stations” pile at CBS Radio’s Radio.com app and portal. But waiting to be stumbled on are personalized online stations based on CBS Radio’s biggest brands: KAMP (97.1 Amp Radio) Los Angeles, WCBS-FM New York, KALC (Alice 97.3) San Francisco, WYCD Detroit. KROQ Los Angeles, WZLX Boston, WXRT Chicago and more. The “Alpha” stations roughly parallel the music mix of their namesake stations, but they have a skip button and fewer commercials—acknowledging broadcast radio’s two biggest vulnerabilities. It’s also worth noting that when Fort Wayne’s new Greatest Hits outlet Big 92.3 debuted this year, it did so with the Abacast player that also contains a personalized parallel version of the station—and the personalized stream was actually the default that opened first.

Beats 1
For broadcast boosters, it was further assurance that even Apple couldn’t wade on to their hosted, produced territory so easily. (All that publicity about twelve hours of original programming a day? On one channel?) But it was the first time that one of the big players had shown interest in doing so. And it’s still there, even with Apple taking its other radio-like streams behind a pay wall. Now, there are reports of Beats 2 through Beats 5 on the way. And despite that first determinedly non-mainstream hour when they launched last summer, I’ve just heard them segue from Ed Sheeran to Jason Derulo to Twenty One Pilots (admittedly, on the chart show).

Pandora Thumbprint Radio, “Serial” on Pandora, TuneIn Premium, Spotify’s New Music Friday (and Spotify’s other CHR channels)
And with apologies to Twenty One Pilots, these were four more ways in which the infinite dial became a blurry place, as it relates to the distinction between broadcast radio, personalized radio, your personal music collection, and podcasting. TuneIn’s deals with Major League Baseball and the NFL brought it closer to its “Netflix for Radio” goal. But so did the addition of “Serial” to Pandora. So did Pandora using a listener’s song rating history to create multi-genre stations. Along with the Pandora/Rdio deal, it was an acknowledgment that multiple functionalities would merge, and also that even dominant players like Pandora can use a second act after a decade.

oWow Radio, Village Radio.Net, Cheesy FM, Survivor Radio, Dustyradio 1390
At year’s end, copyright rulings had cast doubts on the future viability of independent Webcasting, just as a few of those operators reported being able to turn a profit. From a content standpoint, however, 2015 was a great year for individual online stations, including oWow, John Gorman’s Cleveland-targeted Triple-A with everything but a stick; Rick Jordan’s oldies-and-local-sports station serving a small-town in Upstate New York, a station serving cancer survivors and their families, and the return of Chicago’s R&B Oldies AM of the ‘90s to the Web. I spent a lot of time with independent online radio, so if you don’t see your station here, it will likely appear in a future article (or “Intriguing Stations, Part II”). It was proof that not only Apple could do hosted online radio, and impetus for working out any copyright issues that threaten the genre.

WPOW (Power 96) Miami
The longtime Rhythmic CHR outlet moved back to the formula that made it so distinctive over a decade ago, once again grabbing some reggae and Spanish-language titles that reflected South Florida and not the national charts. And while Miami’s three-way CHR battle is mostly a war of attrition at the moment, Power has found itself in the lead during various months for the first time in years.

KQMV (Movin’ 92.5) Seattle
By the end of 2015, it was hard to look at the monthly PPM ratings and not think that the CHR miracle of the last decade was starting to erode. Movin’ has remained the format’s best-oiled machine. Its morning show, Brooke & Jubal, seems to be moving the needle at its new syndication affiliate in Portland, Ore. And they’ve just helped force a four-way format change and rebranding across the street, which makes it noteworthy that Movin’ became a juggernaut with a name left-over from a decade-old Rhythmic Gold format.

WBEB (101.1 More FM) Philadelphia
Not every Mainstream AC could successfully follow its lead, or should have, but the former B101’s evolution brought it to a place that had barely seemed possible a few years ago, not just “Millennial AC” but an AC format in which recent CHR gold took a prominent place. It’s the centerpiece on a format landscape in which Mainstream AC, Adult CHR, and Mainstream CHR are increasingly shortspaced to each other.

KSXY (Y100.9) Santa Rosa, Calif.
They play mainstream CHR hits. They play the hits from the country chart. They play no gold and almost no recurrents (depending on how you view “Lean On”). And they’re still plugging along with that formula well after many hybrids of that sort are forced to become something more conventional.

KTBZ (The Buzz) Houston
In some ways, the rock format was divided and conquered in the ‘00s, with neither Active or True Alt stations showing the sort of numbers that the coalition stations of the ‘90s and early ‘00s had managed. After some of the evolutionary pains of other alternative stations, the Buzz ended a rockin’ alternative station again and managed to show some early ‘00s-style ratings for a while, too.

Radio Disney Country
The most self-explanatory of this year’s entries. Might prove to be as revolutionary for its support of female acts as youthful ones.

There’s much more coming from the Greatest Hits format, Alternative, Country, Classic Hip-Hop, Adult Top 40, Satellite radio, and more. And let me know what stations you think should be included among the “Intriguing Stations of 2015.”