Take a ride into Philadelphia on any given day, and you’ll be inundated with a bevy of cultural artifacts. Stand in the middle of Center City, close your eyes, throw a rock, and you’ll hit some historical icon that’s probably over 200 years old. If your thing is art, you’re in luck. The Philadelphia Museum of Art houses one of the great art collections in the world. Food? A quick jaunt to South Philadelphia and you can do the Pepsi Challenge with any one of a list of great cheese steak joints that deliver the original in all of its unmistakable glory. History? Please. No city in the USA can touch us. The country was born here, literally.
Philadelphia now has the unfortunate distinction of being linked with another cultural artifact of days gone by; alternative rock on the FM dial. For a city known for breaking new music (American Bandstand, anyone?), the absence of this genre on the airwaves is stunning. If you want to hear alt rock on the radio now, you'd better have XM or Sirius and be willing to fork over $10-$13./month for the privilege of hearing it.
Until February 25th of this year, though, alternative rock ruled the radio in Philadelphia, thanks to the efforts of Y100. In addition to delivering alternative music to the airwaves, the station also created Y100 Sonic Sessions, which attracted some of music's best artists to unplug the guitars for a lighter take on their tunes. The station also hosted the yearly Y100 FEZtival which was the summer concert event in Philadelphia, with a day long dose of hot new bands and established standbys. The station was the victim of a format change to urban/hip hop in February, a casualty of out of touch corporate forces.
Y100, on the air since 1993, was owner Radio One’s most profitable radio station in Philadelphia before the format switch. In court documents filed shortly after the switch, Radio One cited problems with replacing top rated morning men Preston and Steve, who were headed to mainstream rock station WMMR (93.3). However, the more likely cause was Radio One’s desire to have all 3 of their Philadelphia stations operating under relatively similar urban formats, which would help with ad sales. The Beat moved up the dial from 103.9 to 100.3, kicking out y100 and making way for a new gospel station at The Beat’s old frequency. As displaced y100 DJ Brett Hamilton put it at the time, “Essentially, I lost my job to a gospel station.”
Philadelphia, the No. 6 ranked market in the country, is now the largest without a modern/alternative radio station, at least on terrestrial radio, that is. I got an opportunity recently to discuss the format switch with y100’s program director at the time of the switch, Jim McGuinn, who is now leading the station on internet radio with an eye on bigger things in the future.