Home / Philly Has No Alternative: Interview–Y100Rocks’ Jim McGuinn

Philly Has No Alternative: Interview–Y100Rocks’ Jim McGuinn

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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.

Can you give us a little history about the station?

The station became alternative in 1993, I joined in 1997.

Can you tell us how you found out that y100 was being pulled off of the air?

I had a suspicion in early February, but we weren’t officially told by the corporation till the day it happened.

What was the reason given by Radio One for getting rid of y100 and moving the “Beat” over?

They wanted to focus all their Philadelphia properties on the urban segment of the market, which is their specialty. It didn’t matter that we were doing better than any of their stations in terms of ratings or revenue.

How much of this was about Preston and Steve and the lack of desire on Radio One’s part to start up another morning show? There was also talk that Radio One was concerned about the format’s viability. Isn’t this contradictory considering y100’s place in Radio One’s pecking order of profitable stations in Philly?

We had a new morning show ready to go and were ready to make an offer for them. You would have to talk to radio one about their reasons – I am the last person who can speak to their motivation.

Did the staff immediately decide to start something up on the internet and try and keep it going?

Yes – why not? We also figured our best bet to get a new station going would be to create a space where former listeners could congregate and offer up some proof as to the actual viability of the format in Philadelphia – honestly, many many people in radio are shocked that this plan has not worked yet.

Is the show broadcast from one studio, or everything done remotely?

Most broadcasts are from our ‘bunker’ but we are soon to move to a space our own, and at that time, my goal is to make this a real community based operation. We’ll see how far we get…

How is the staff balancing making money vs. working on the station? Is the ad revenue generating enough at this point to exceed whatever operating costs you guys are dealing with?

We cover our operating costs, but no salaries.

What are your thoughts about the outpouring of support from both the listeners and the bands that you guys have played, or worked with on the FEZtivals?

It’s been incredible! The passion from both the artists and fans for this music – another reason why it is astounding that we can’t figure out a way to get it back on the dial. I was talking to Dave Grohl about it last night – growing up in the DC area, he just can’t believe that both WHFS and Y100 are gone.

What’s coming up for y100? Is internet a long-term solution? What about satellite? Is a return to FM a possibility?

We are looking at several different ideas… everything is on the table, and this journey has introduced me to some interesting new technologies, and companies that I never would have worked with or known were it not for all this happening.

Have you perused any of the fan blogs out there?

Some, but honestly, I have enough trouble keeping up with my emails – but I’ve gotten so much response and email and love from listeners – in a weird way it feels like this entire thing has been a blessing – like I’ve gotten to realize I had so many more friends than I ever knew!

Did you ever imagine that the fans would take to this so much?

I knew there would be some response – but not like this!

Are the DJs finding more latitude in terms of playing music that may have been tougher to fit in on FM radio? Are there any other plusses to internet radio compared to FM, other than avoiding the FCC?

Um, I don’t go out of my way to play songs with obscenities in them, but it is nice to not have to edit them when you do. The main thing has been that we’ve been released from having to deal with consultants and corporate watchdogs and been allowed to program music simply cause we like it and think the listeners will like it too. That’s been the best thing!

Y100rocks.com is one of the most popular alternative rock radio stations on the internet. It can be heard here. More information about the stations history and fight to get back on FM radio is at their homepage, Y100 Rocks.

More complaining about corporate radio at The BM Rant.

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About Matt Freelove