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The death of radio, part 572

I’ve lost track of how many articles I’ve seen predicting the death of old-fashioned commercial radio, but here’s another one with some interesting tidbits in it.

Broadcast radio faces challenges from satellite radio companies for listeners, from the Internet for advertisers and even from automakers who are making it increasingly easy for drivers to turn their car stereos into mirror images of their iPods and skip the radio altogether.

Cutbacks haven’t worked out so well, serving only to speed the exit of listeners and making it harder to maintain smaller and smaller profit margins. Increasingly conservative playlists have made radio less essential to even the most casual of music fans, who don’t feel like they’re missing anything if they don’t listen every day since the same 10 or 15 songs are in heavy rotation for a month or longer.

In the name of cost-cutting and a jaded belief that listeners would tune in to whatever was on, CBS Radio eliminated New York’s heritage oldies station WCBS for a DJ-free hits format called Jack, and turned its alternative rock station K-Rock into an all-talk channel, leaving New York without a rock station at a time when the city’s rock scene was in the midst of a resurgence. Both moves failed and both stations have since returned to their original formats, losing listeners and momentum along the way.

Perhaps it’s because it didn’t replace anything worth remembering, but I think the Jack station here has been the best thing to happen to Houston radio in the 20 years I’ve been a resident. They have a broader selection of classic rock than The Arrow as well as a deeper playlist of 80s tunes than The Point. I’ve yet to say to myself “geez, give that one a rest already” since I started listening to it. It’s not perfect by any means – more new music would be nice, though with the usually-preferable no-DJ formula, you’d only learn about the titles and artists via the Internet, which isn’t much help if you listen while driving. I may yet as sick of this setup as I’ve gotten of others, but for now, it feels like a breath of fresh air. If they resist the urge to cut back the playlist, it’ll stay that way for a good while.

All these previous mistakes seem to be on the mind of the folks behind the new rock station WRXP, “The New York Rock Experience,” which replaced lite-jazz station WQCD on Feb. 5.

At a time when most radio stations around the country try to seem like they could be from anywhere, RXP is pledging to focus on New York area artists and songs about New York. It’s starting with a wide playlist that looks to combine alternative rock, mainstream rock and oldies in a way that will appeal to the 18-to-44 demographic, especially at the wealthier older end.

It’s a good plan to try to introduce Led Zeppelin fans to White Stripes, to let Depeche Mode fans know about The Killers and The Bravery, to let Pearl Jam fans discover Spoon. It’s also an interesting idea to remind rock fans that New York still is a breeding ground for loads of great new bands, including The Hold Steady and The National, who have both found homes on the station.

KACC is your best source of local music – okay, only source – though even they tend to play the same cuts from the local artists they feature – if it’s Sisters Morales, it’s “It Can Only Get Better”; if it’s Bert Wills, it’s “No Other Way”. But hey, at least they play ’em. Honestly, this is so obviously a good idea for both the station and the local music scene that it’s hard to believe no one else does this, even in this homogenized, cost-minimizing age. If nobody in the industry can figure that out, then it deserves to die.

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4 Comments

  1. Michael says:

    KACC is your best source of local music – okay, only source

    Did KTRU and KPFT finally stop playing new local stuff?

  2. Justin says:

    Houston is supposed to have a vibrant rap scene. Surely there’s a radio station which plays local artists of that genre.

  3. Laurissa James says:

    A few places have good local radio. KNBT out of New Braunfels plays a bunch of fantastic Americana/Roots stuff, including a huge playlist of local artists. They also feature a fantastic show on Tuesday nights called “Roots and Branches.” It’s hosted by Ray Wilie Hubbard at a local bar. And KGSR out of Bastrop has been doing the local artist thing since at least the early ’90s. The Outlaw, (I think it’s 95.1) also plays primarily a Texas-heavy list, but it’s got a much more limited range–I can’t even pick it up in SA most of the time. Still, all those stations are Americana/Roots/Texas Blues, and I can’t think of single station that plays local punk, jazz, or rock, and I’d love to hear that, too.

  4. Michael – They may still be playing local stuff. I confess, I’ve never listened to KTRU, and only rarely to KPFT.

    Justin – No clue. Someone like John Nova Lomax at the Press could tell you.

    Laurissa – Good info! Glad to hear this stuff is being done somewhere.