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“Classic Alternative” Blights the Airwaves

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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.

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About mike larkin

  • ski

    The truth is that most of what makes it to the radio is overhyped crap, with a very short shelf life. Take note of what is hot and hyped today, and go to a usd CD store in 3 months and see what fills the bins.
    As Webb Wilder says,”Good music is out there, and good people are making it”, but you won’t here it on the radio anytime soon.
    Thankfully, we have internet radio and wesites to find out where the quality stuff is.

  • Eric Olsen

    mike, I agree that any time stations shift from new to old it reduces the chances for new to reach a new audience, or any audience at all. But there have been oldies stations since there were oldies to play and this is just maturation of another audience into the nostalgia market. Alt rock stations have always featured “classic” or “heritage” along with the currents and recurrents anyway, this is just taking to its logical conclusion.

    I agree it’s unfortunate, but all pretty predictable.

  • mike

    Yes, I should have mentioned that’s very predictable and part of a trend. In this case, though, the trend is particularly ludicrous, since Alternative by its very nature is a current hits format.

    As I said, classic rock nearly choked off new rock in the eighties, until Guns n’ Roses blasted their way in. Not sure if that will happen again.

  • Are there no stations that play a mix of new and old stuff?

    I personally thing bland radio is the fault of those guys that change the channel the moment the station plays a song they don’t like.