The mother of all oxymorons: “Classic Alternative.”
According to Rolling Stone, “a hot new radio format has hit the FM dial.” Stations like KBZT in San Diego, KNDD in Seattle, and Indie 103.1 in Los Angeles are spurning new metal and other current rock for early nineties grunge and alternative.
“Limp Bizkit, Korn, and Godsmack are out,” the magazine declares breathlessly. “Nirvana, the Pixies, and Pearl Jam are in.”
On the one hand, adios to Limp Bizkit. On the other, this format change can’t be good news.
It’s never a good sign when a radio format turns retro. Classic rock nearly killed rock music in the 80s. Oldies formats are for older adults, who tend not to buy new music and prefer to re-live the music of their youth.
Part of the reason for the change is economic. “In September, the beer industry–which spent $18.3 million in 2002 on radio ads–declared it would buy time only on stations with an audience that’s seventy percent age twenty-one or older.” Previously, the cut off was fifty percent.
But economics are only part of the story. The truth is that rock music these days is tired and passe. Rap rock is faded, and emo is too wan to appeal to most rock fans. That leaves grunge, which is indeed emerging as a golden age of rock, perhaps the genre’s last hurrah.
Rock may not be dead. But if “classic alternative” is any indication, it’s desperately short of breath.