Hot97 FM

Creating an Industry-Leading Website for an Iconic Hip-Hop Brand

Hot97 needed a new digital platform that was not only reflective of their status in the hip-hop community, but also provided tools to help move the needle on strategic business objectives.



The Hot 97 website didn’t reflect its iconic brand, regularly crashed from big traffic spikes, and provided a poor UX that didn’t build channel loyalty. 


COLAB created a digital design system that embodied the brand’s energy and applied it to a flexible CMS built to accommodate future growth.


The new site design earned Webby Award Honoree status and created a scalable platform for accomplishing the organization’s strategic initiatives.

WQHT HOT 97 FM is the world’s first all Hip-Hop station and has held the dominant position in New York radio for over twenty years. HOT 97 is best known for its celebrity on-air talent, such as Ebro and Funk Flex, and being the world’s premier source for Hip-Hop music culture.

In addition, Hot 97 FM is a content powerhouse, creating 350+ articles per month and 35+ original videos per month. In 2022, they averaged 13.8 million monthly views on youTube and 14.1 million views on Facebook, but most of their content engagement was outside of their own channels.

Legendary Rappers Housed in an Uninspiring Wrapper

Hot 97 was using a templated WordPress platform targeted to radio stations. While it provided the ease of use for which WordPress is known, it limited Hot 97’s ability to customize the UX and connect with users through their well-established brand. The resulting user experience (UX) limitations meant their site looked similar to all the other radio station sites on the platform.

In addition, their site regularly crashed from traffic spikes if any of their content went viral. Each time the site was down, Hot 97 missed out on not only the ability to monetize the traffic via ad revenue but also missed opportunities for user engagement. The latter was also damaging to their brand reputation.

COLAB’s goals were to bring the iconic Hot 97 brand to life in the digital space, improve the user experience, provide new tools to increase the speed of content creation and bring stability to support site traffic growth. In short, further establish as THE destination for hip-hop music, culture, and celebrity news.

A Fresh User Experience to
Match the (Always Fresh) Content

Hot97's distinctive new style

After a comprehensive visual and technical audit, COLAB designed a distinct design system for the new site. It aligned with a new information architecture (IA) designed to simplify user navigation. The content was restructured to live under applicable taxonomies (“Watch” and “Read”). Then, categories were used to drive engagement on the homepage, funneling users to their desired content type. “Read” content images were masked in a circular shape that mirrors the station’s logo. For “Watch” content, the play icon was layered on top of the image mask and connects users to the music via a subtle nod to vinyl records. Groupings of tiled photos and ripped textures brought street vibes (inspired by urban poster campaigns) to the digital realm.

Hot97 on desktop and mobile

To highlight their well-known on-air talent, COLAB designed talent-related components to reflect the personality of the hosts. Profile photos placed at various rotations help users to quickly differentiate this content from other types of content on the site. In addition, the talent section included show and schedule information for each on-air personality. Each talent bio page has the ability to relate content by tags, enabling users to easily find content related to a specific show host.

To avoid any downtime due to viral traffic spikes, COLAB partnered with Pantheon, moving the site to their platform. Pantheon was chosen in part due to its ability to seamlessly support unexpected high traffic volume. Pantheon’s ability to temporarily scale hosting resources, as needed, without compromising the visitor experience was a critical feature to ensure Hot 97’s website stability.

Hot Results


visitors in the last 12 mo.


site uptime on Pantheon

Webby award nominee

Not only did the new design and functionality resonate with users, but it also resonated with The Webby Awards judges. Out of more than 14,000 applications submitted in 2023, the site was named in the top 20% of all submissions, earning Honoree status in the 2023 in the Websites and Mobile Sites, Music Category.

From their new web platform, Hot 97 is leveraging both UX/UI and technical enhancements to capture user engagement and capitalize on the value of their content. Content editors now have time-saving tools for creating engaging content through their customized administrative experience. To maintain a consistent UX, the site automatically applies the necessary design styling based on the selected content type. This allows editors to skip manually styling or formatting content, so they can instead focus on producing it.

And now, after the new content is published, Hot 97 no longer has to worry about viral content taking the site down due. With the highly stable infrastructure in place, they can feel secure that the site will be available to users 24/7. Beyond uptime, visitors experience a performance improvement of up to 3x faster speeds than the previous site (according to core web vitals data), allowing for more immediate access to content and an improved UX overall.

The business also realized their goal of expanding revenue generation opportunities. New digital ad placements were strategized and the site now features digital ad placements on all “Read” content, pre-roll video ads on all “Watch” content, and audio ads within the live-stream radio feature. By leveraging automatic ad placement tools for articles, it ensures that placements are consistent globally (for both advertisers and users).

COLAB is extremely proud of this award winning design and the ability to help support the digital growth of this leader in the hip-hop industry.

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