February 14, 2005
We know Houston radio sucks, but how much does it suck?

My hat is off to John Nova Lomax for spending 24 hours doing nothing but listen to Houston radio in order to try and measure just how much it sucks. The verdict: Other than the pop, country, rock, oldies, 80s, and right-wing-talk stations, it doesn't suck that much.

Couple of quick hits:

"Houston radio sucks." You hear that truism everywhere you go. Google that unique phrase, and you get no fewer than 44 hits, and that doesn't count all the people who share the sentiment if not the identical phrasing of it.

I'm proud to say that as I write this, I'm the number four result for that search.

11:07 a.m.

KTHT/97.1 FM, Country Legends Conway Twitty croons "Rest Your Love on Me Awhile." Not a horrible song, but Cox, the owners of this station, pissed away a golden opportunity here. When Country Legends debuted, it shot straight to the top country slot. A slow slide set in thereafter. There is only one DJ on the station -- the rest of the week, Country Legends is simply a jukebox, one that spits out the same lame songs way too often. ("Hello Country Bumpkin" once an hour, it seems.) If Cox had given this station even a little TLC -- hired some old-school country DJs, involved the listeners a little, played less country-pop pap -- it coulda been a contender.

I just want to say that I called that from the beginning.

3:38 p.m.

KACC/89.7 FM, the Gulf Coast Rocker A hidden gem for lovers of pure, unadulterated rock, Alvin Community College's station follows the Doobies' overfamiliar "China Grove" with the Wallflowers' "Three Marlenas." Nice variety, kids. This is one of those stations that choice-loving preacher could have been talking about. It's good rock radio, full of surprises but not as liable as KTRU to slip into intentionally hideous caterwauling.

I'd been meaning to program a spot on my dial for KACC for awhile now, and finally did so this weekend. So far, so good. My main complaint is that it has a really weak signal, and this is on a receiver that can pick up the new 97.5 with no problems.

Speaking of the new rock station, 97.5 KIOL, Lomax's Racket column deals with it.

Rock 97.5 seems to have gotten the fact that people are burned out on the likes of "Paranoid," "Back in Black" and "Jump," and seems to recognize that its fans are savvy enough to know more than just the smash-hit singles. Also, "Alive" by Kenny Wayne Shepherd was tossed out as a sop to the Stevie Ray-lovin' bluez dawgz, and somehow the Talking Heads' "Burning Down the House" slipped into this rough-and-rowdy company.

And so we come to the verdict. Right now, I'll give their transmitter a solid D. I'll give their music a C-plus for the moment, but I will say this: It's already shaking up the Buzz and the Arrow, even if their method of fighting back is to declare over and over again that nobody will out-AC/DC or out-Zep them -- expect an all-out war, or, if you will, a Battle of Evermore Zep and AC/DC.

And all of those stations are focused on the past, except for the Buzz, which might as well be, for as little relevance as it has. So anyway, rock is all but covered. Now all we need is something new, something exciting, something that will make what few tourists trickle our way and turn on their radios think this place is something other than a cultural backwater. If only the Point would flip to that blend I've been touting -- that Franz Ferdinand-Kanye West-Modest Mouse-Roots-Interpol-OutKast-'80s alternative-classic rap thingy -- maybe then I'd be able to move on from writing these columns, the Point wouldn't ever have to play "Tainted Love" again, and a new format would be born, one the whole entire world could be proud of.

As far as I can tell, KIOL's general manager Pat Fant must have kept some copies of the KLOL playlist circa 1995 or so, because that's what about 90% of it sounds like to me. Not that this is a bad thing, especially since their old-stuff list is (so far) mercifully short on the likes of Bad Company, but it's not exactly groundbreaking. It's got what seems to me to be a lot less of the obnoxious metal music that helped drive me away from KLOL in the post-Stevens and Pruett days, and at least for as long as they're DJ-free they're playing awfully long sets. This could be what the current "classic rock" format eventually evolves into - basically, the same familiar stuff plus whatever Nirvana/Pearl Jam/Stone Temple Pilots the focus groupies think we can handle.

Anyway. My ideal rock radio station would be similar to this, with a broader playlist among the oldies and more of a focus on acoustic/folk-type rock of today; some alt-country might be a nice fit, too. I'm about as likely to get that format as Lomax is to get his rock/hiphop hybrid, but there's no harm in asking.

Last word to Lomax, from the first article:

Houston radio is all about the burbs. National radio consultants come down here, host their focus groups and determine that we are a bunch of rustic SUV-driving simpletons begging to hear more Sting, more Sade, more Chesney, more Yes and more Nickleback clones. We don't want to be challenged by new music -- leave that to the cool kids in Austin and L.A. We don't want to hear rap and rock side by side. What we want is radio that looks like our neighborhood: a deed-restricted, master-planned, cul-de-sac'd purgatory where nothing bad happens but nothing much else does either. Meanwhile, satellite radios positively fly off the shelves back here as people walk away from the whole mess.

Focus groups don't work for radio. People don't know what they like until they hear it a few times. Sure, you can test new music on them in a focus group, but that's no way to hear new stuff. You need to hear it at home, in your car or in a club. And relying on focus groups over a period of years -- as big radio has done recently -- is going to ensure that fewer and fewer new artists get on the air.

Sad but true. And I think the less practice you have at hearing new stuff, the less likely you are to respond favorably to it, at least in a short period. Which just drives the cycle further, and this is where you wind up. Blech.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 14, 2005 to Music | TrackBack

I think Houston could easily support a station similar to San Francisco's KFOG. They play a pretty wide variety of stuff. For instance, their website says the lat five songs they played were by Blues Traveler, Queen, Bob Marley & the Wailers, Blue Merle, and Peter Gabriel. They're not afraid to mix old and new music.

The 80s station is really beginning to creep into the 90s. My bet is that the creep will be a format change within a year.

Posted by: Sue on February 14, 2005 7:12 AM

i'm with you. more folkie-influenced music. and, hooray for alvin community college's radio efforts!

Posted by: banjo jones on February 14, 2005 9:43 AM

Here in San Diego we have KPRI, which is similar to the description of KFOG above. In the last hour or so they played:

THe good news is they webcast so you can listen in Houston (if you can stand hearing our weather forecasts...) http://www.authenticrock.com

Posted by: C on February 15, 2005 7:17 PM

I live in Houston, and for the most part I agree with what you posted in this article, but there's a few minor things I'd like to touch on. The new 97.5 is about to boost their signal, and possiblu move to 103.7 as well. They are about to have the Walton and Johnson show, and a couple of the DJ's from Rock 101 KLOL. I MUST defend the Buzz. They are the best damn alternative/rock/punk mix station I have ever heard ( I'm a truck driver and have heard about 75 percent of the stations in the US, so I'm pretty sure I know my stations ). How many other stations can you name that have an event as big as Buzzfest, an all day event with no less than 14 (usually kick-ass) bands? The Buzz is a VERY big and significant station. When people heard it was going to go off of the air about 8 years ago, the vast majority of the citizens here in Houston signed a petition that saved the station from doom. Yes, I admit, the morning show is a little childish, but it is still amusing. I'm not really trying to say you are wrong, everyone has their opinions, but it takes more than a measly 24 hours to know how good any particular station it, so next time your in town, give it at least a few days, then maybe you will understand how I see things.

Posted by: Kiljoy on February 21, 2005 5:31 PM

I agree with most of what you said, 97.1 would be the best country station in Houston if it would actually try. It is the only country station I can stomach. 93.7 and 94.5 seem to have split the music that 101 used to play and 97.5 has come along and swept up the pieces of 93.7, 94.5 and 101.1 and put it all into a barrel and come up with what the old 97 Rock (KSRR) would probably sound like today. The downside of any rock station in Houston seems to be that they target the 14-19 year old male group w/ every topic finding its way to sex. As a 34 yo male, I outgrew that long ago and just want to hear good music. 97.5 sounds like they want to play good music, but as soon as I heard Walton & Johnson on there this morning, I changed the station. I outgrew Stephens & Pruett in my early 20's and I listened to W & J a couple times and figured out that I'm more mature than that.

Posted by: ctwrench on February 23, 2005 4:02 PM

I agree that Houston radio stations completely miss the mark. They have always sucked, from day one. The best radio station that we have ever had was 1070am Z-Rock back in the 80's. The people who run our crap radio stations here, I wonder what they think when they are driving across Texas and hear all of the good radio stations that other towns have. San Antonio, Austin, Corpus, and Dallas all have radio stations that are 100% better than ours. I could go on and on about the radio stations all over the country that are better, but I don't have that much time. For now and for as long as I live in Houston I will just have to listen to my CD'S

Posted by: pete on March 11, 2005 3:31 PM

radio in houston still slucks ! the best stations
of the last century were KAUM, KPFT, KILT KLOL and asurprise from the east KGRA NOVA 104 from Lake Charles, Louisiana who beat Houston stations intothe ground, "hands down". you could pick it when conditions were good. sadly Nova 104 is "no more."
there is nothing left but kids with computer keyboards and top 100 hit sheets to program stations by....
you punks suck

Posted by: Ben There Done Thad on March 23, 2005 10:43 PM

Within the past 20yrs the Houston Radio market has sucked. We seen the fall of one of Houston Oldest station a few months ago. I have to say that Clear Channel and Cox and etc. Have screwed up Radio all over town. I miss when disc jockeys were not afaird to play new music. I think the DJ should be the person to spin what they want to, Depends on the format of the station of course. I was in San Antonio last weekend and heared Jammin 94.1 the format is most baby boomer classics of the late 60's 70's early 80's dance, soul, pop of that time period. Song after song was a JAM. I was hearing songs from Malo and Grand Funk to Earth,wind,& fire and The Commodores. Im hispanic and houston is over populated with "latin stations" I didn't grow up listen to spanish music neither did my family it was either Rock N Roll or Motown Soul to disco / Funk and Jazz. I think Houston need to be more creative in the radio department.

Posted by: houston radio CaCa on April 18, 2005 7:29 PM

Kiljoy sounds more like a radio exec than a trucker to me. Yes Houston Radio sucks, and has done sucked for years now. I live in Euroland now and radio is much better over here by miles. I like Lomax's combo idea. I also think DJ's should decide what's played. Top down control from Cox and Clearchannel is only speeding the destruction of the traditional radio market.

Rejoice my friends, in a few years all these stations will be dead and buried. Replaced by the long tail of choice offered by free satellite radio, wireless internet radio and HD Radio. When this happens... and it will... We will finally live in the paradise that is radio democracy.

Posted by: Marc on August 27, 2005 9:53 AM

89.7 the gulf coast rocker is hands down the best radio in houston. They actually have DJ's you aren't gonna here the exact same stuff every time you turn it on. You're gonna here that DJ's prefrence. Another show I would reccomend is uncastrated classic rock on kpft 90.1 fridays 3-5

Posted by: me on September 14, 2005 8:22 PM

ya your right it sucks out here but more than that i fell like a man w/out a country. i know that im a freak BUT this isnt right. what if it was you? how it would it be them. i just wnat it to stop these people have posined mt food chrushed glass in the ice and feed me somthing but not dope so i have gave ENOUGH when i get clean its just a matter of time till someone gets it out at work and you know the rest. any help would be appreciated.

John Finklea

PS i am not 007 i read english i was never told how to be a spy. so word and numbers work best THANKS

Posted by: john finklea on September 17, 2005 8:39 PM

Try listening to 93.7 the Arrow weekday mornings. The Dean and Rog show is fucking hilarious, the news girl is HOT and the classic rock music is the best in Houston. So much for ALL Houston radio sucking.

Posted by: jazzycat1 on January 23, 2006 12:18 PM

Houston Radio Sucks. This is quickly overtaking "Space City" as the slogan associated with Houston. If only KGSR-FM and Jody Denberg could jack up their signal from the Capital City. I think the fact that there is no real music scene in this town (Sorry, clubs owned and booked by Clear Channel or Dennis Lange's top 40 cover bands don't get it done) is a large reason why there is no good radio in Houston. I do have to agree with many of the other postings that KACC-FM is the only station I will tune in on my dial. Thank God for CD players.

Posted by: The Dude on February 5, 2006 1:57 PM

Oh Baby! Radio sucks EVERYWHERE!!! I started in 1965, one of the big voiced jocks that did top forty radio and talked about the lyrics in the songs...did the show for the LISTENERS!!!
Then came the "weenie jocks" era of FM radio...little pre-pube boys that talked on the radio...then the girl jocks...that did a little better...then came the consultants with the card readers..."You're rolling through a fifty minute music hour on suck radio FM you just heard them and thus before that more..." God spare me...

Five or six companies own 80% of the stations...they all sound the same...morning zoos that suck...verbally masturbate...ad nausium...and then they run "voice tracking"...the rest of the dayparts that is as exciting as stepping in dog doo...

I ONLY listen to AM and shortwave these days...
Radio is majorly messed up...listenership and revenues are down...satellite penetration is dismal...not improving...the CONTENT sucks...the music gags us...

And Thank God I have a nice business doing television voice overs...cause radio sucks!

I could go on and on...but there is no place for me in it anymore...glad I'm done with it.

Posted by: Ralph Allen on November 17, 2006 11:59 AM

I live in WI and was in the Baton Rouge area for a month lending a hand after Katrina. We quickly became Walton and Johnson Fans and sorely miss their morning show. Seems they aren't on the air currently but will be back. You guys are lucky! They were great!
Rosie H.

Posted by: Rosie Hollenbach on December 21, 2006 10:20 AM