February 16, 2004
A radio station I'd want to listen to

After going on an extended rant about Houston's awful radio scene and the demographics of each rock stations' listeners, the Houston Press' John Lomax comes up with a damn fine suggestion for how to create a worthwhile spot on the dial.

Take all the so-called garage bands, throw in some cool classic rock, and throw it all together with softer-edged stuff from the likes of Norah Jones, U2, Radiohead and Coldplay. Toss in some of the early punk and proto-punk stuff by Motörhead, the Clash, the Jam, Iggy and the Stooges and the Ramones, and the '80s stuff that the Point mostly shuns -- stuff like the Violent Femmes, the Pixies and the Replacements. Then there's hip-hop -- today's teenagers can't remember a world without it, so there's no built-in resistance to it, and nobody on the commercial rock dial is playing 1980s floor-fillers like Eric B. and Rakim's "Seven Minutes of Madness" remix of "Paid in Full," or De La Soul's "Me Myself and I," or the quirky John Lydon/Afrika Bambaataa collabo "World Destruction." You could throw in the edgier, backpacker-friendly mainstream stuff of today as well -- OutKast, Black Eyed Peas, the Roots. Give it a name like Rock Revolution or something like that, and as the Brits say, Bob's your uncle and Fanny's your aunt.

Imagine Jack and Meg's "Seven Nation Army" followed by Zep's "Fool in the Rain" followed by the Clash's "London Calling" followed by Jet's "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" followed by Public Enemy's "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos," and tell me that formula's not a winner. You want a Mix? We got your Mix hangin' low, buddy. A station like that would rob tons of listeners from the Buzz, KLOL and the Arrow, as well as a few who tune in to old-school hip-hop shows on the rap stations and the people who never let their radio tuner stray to the right of KTRU. Who knows, it might even win back a few people who've turned the radio off and ripped off the knob -- the CDs- and iPods-only crowd, a multitude that grows more numerous with each passing day.

If you've been reading here for awhile, you know that this is very much the sort of thing I've agitated for (see here, here, and here for previous entries). Throwing in hip-hop is not what I originally had in mind, but you know what? It just might work for me. I always thought I hated country music until I was exposed to some good country music. So who knows, maybe the same thing would work for me and hip-hop. Even if not, I'd accept that as the price to pay for a station that surprised and challenged me otherwise.

Lomax notes correctly that just doing this as a gimmick wouldn't work for long. (Note, for instance, that Country Hits is now a bottom-feeder in the ratings after starting strong, just as I thought it would.) The key would be ensuring a mix of good music, in particular a mix of stuff that would appeal to different fans without being the same old same old all the damn time. Maybe - oh, I don't know, call me crazy here - having DJs choose the music themselves instead of only playing from homogenized corporate playlists, taking requests from listeners all day instead of during prescribed and limited hours, and showcasing local talent where appropriate. What's so hard about that?

Sadly, now that we've sold my beloved old Mazda, I'm now driving a no-CD-player car, and sooner or later this forced diet of the Arrow and the Point is going to make me lose it. This experiment can't happen soon enough for me.

UPDATE: Steve points to this 1998 Spin article which covers a lot of familiar ground, including this quote: "Proponents of consolidation argue that, once the dust has settled, there will actually be more diversity..." We're still waiting. Note, by the way, that two words are conspicuously absent in that piece: "Clear Channel".

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 16, 2004 to Music | TrackBack

I know I don't live in Houston, but I think this still fits:

"Come on, Dave Herman, play us some rock and roll!"

Posted by: William Hughes on February 16, 2004 3:52 PM

There used to be a DJ programmed station in Annapolis that could be heard in both Baltimore and DC called WHFS that was very much like that. The station got sold to ClearChannel, though, and is now just another "alternative" MTV-athons.

The old DJ's, with support from the old owner, got together and bought a tiny station in Annapolis again. This one, WRNR, is not as edgy as WHFS was, tending toward the quieter, and it's definitely less experimental than that was, but perhaps that's because its listening audience has aged and mellowed. But last time I was driving to Baltimore I listened and heard Coldplay backed by The Last Hombres (give them a listen if you like roots rock - www.thehombres.com) backed by Lydon/Bambaata's "World Destruction" backed by the Dead's "Lone Wolf".

What I can't figure out is how a station that good can be forced into a niche market in Annapolis where it can't be heard in DC or most of Baltimore.

For a time, college radio served this function, but there is no college radio here in DC that can be picked up everywhere except WAMU, out of American, which is the local NPR station.

FWIW, I've become addicted to Rhapsody radio. Sure, they charge me for the privelege, but the algorithm they use to select artists like the ones I put into my stations have worked for me. I'm told iTunes has a similar system (though, having paid for Rhapsody through June, I'm loyal). I know, this doesn't help for the car, but it at least exposes me to music I haven't heard before.

Posted by: Ron Zucker on February 17, 2004 8:46 AM

I know, this doesn't help for the car, but it at least exposes me to music I haven't heard before.

Hitting WFMU or KEXP or the Cal student radio station KALX or one of Boston's fine college radio stations (WHRB or WZBC come to mind) over the Internet is also a decent answer. The downside is that when DJs program their own music, things can be very hit or miss (KEXP is the most like a unified radio station, and I find it the most boring but least likely to drive me away.)

I miss Dave's Garage and Local Heroes from back in the HFS day. Sigh.

A 1998 Spin article and some of Jenny Toomey's studies on radio consolidation over at The Future of Music Coalition make for decent reading.

Posted by: Steve on February 17, 2004 11:19 AM

Have you considered Sirius Radio (commercial free)?

Posted by: Txwoof on February 17, 2004 11:26 AM

TxWoof, the short answer to your question is that I don't spend enough time in my car to make Sirius or XM worth the price. However, if it's an option in my next car, I'll strongly consider it.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on February 17, 2004 12:00 PM


You may want to consider this:


Their not just for cars anymore! Plus, you can listen on internet full time if you are away from home.


Posted by: TXwoof on February 17, 2004 2:05 PM