I haven’t listened to the radio – in my car, at least – since I bought the iTrip. So I was in for a great surprise yesterday when, driving my son to baseball practice, I decided to give the radio a try. I flipped on KRock and heard:
There’s a place I like to hide,
A doorway that I run through in the night
Relax child, you were there
…and I did a total WTF? Queensryche on KRock? Surely Booker is playing some kind of joke.
For those out of my area, let me explain. KRock (home of Howard Stern) is (or was) what one would call a “modern rock” station. Lots of new music – Jimmie Eat World, The Mars Volta, etc. – mixed with the core of recent rock and roll – Nirvana, Jane’s Addiction, Red Hot Chili Peppers, etc. It was an ok station and I listened to it mainly because the only other rock alternatives in New York (WBAB and Q104) play mainly classic rock and there’s only so many times a day I want to turn on the radio and hear Freebird.
So, curious about why I heard Queensryche yesterday I pulled up YES.net this morning, a site which lets you see what a certain station was playing at a certain time (great for those what the hell song was that and why won’t the DJ say what it was moments). I pull up the playlist from around 4:50 yesterday, when I was in the car:
04:56 PM AUDIOSLAVE Show Me How To Live
04:50 PM QUEENSRYCHE Silent Lucidity
04:46 PM NIRVANA Lithium
04:42 PM RATT Round And Round
04:37 PM HAWTHORNE HEIGHTS Ohio Is For Lovers
04:32 PM THE MARS VOLTA The Widow
04:27 PM TOADIES Possum Kingdom
04:24 PM THE JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE Foxey Lady
04:21 PM SYSTEM OF A DOWN Chop Suey!
04:18 PM GUNS N’ ROSES Used To Love Her
I don’t think I have ever heard Hendrix on KRock. The other bands, yes, when they were doing the special hair metal weekends. Honestly, I never heard Hawthorne Heights (a new emo-ish band) on KRock either. So, what gives?
I went to the KRock website this morning and all that was there was this. If you fill out their little mad-lib form at the end, you get a similar page that says “thank you” with a graphic of a guy holding up a cigarette lighter. And nothing says “we’re going to be playing lots of cock rock” more.
“K-Rock is always looking for opportunities to further connect with our listeners,” said Rob Cross, Operations Manager of the station.
“Enhancing our playlist, while simultaneously launching a web stream whose sole purpose is to feature breaking music, enables us to serve a wider audience with the music most frequently requested without changing the fabric of the radio station.”
Well, I’m going to call this a little more than enhancing the playlist. It’s an outright format change. And the seeds of it were planted long ago, probably before Howard Stern decided to leave the station.
It was obvious (to me, anyhow) that all those specialty weekends of 80′s or 90′s rock were the station’s way of testing the waters. Obviously, those playlists got a positive response and the station acted accordingly.
How much did Stern’s departure have to do with this? In a way, I can see the management trying to figure out ways to hold onto the demographic that listens to Stern (and lots of Rush and Black Sabbath will help with that), but I also think management realized the station was getting stale. How many times a day can you play Stone Temple Pilots before the listeners get bored? And how many times can you drag out the Toadies’ Possum Kingdom in an attempt to appear creative before the listeners figure out that the “hip” playlist is etched in stone and boring? (I wrote about that here)
Before I get bogged down in the business side of this, let me just say what this means to someone like me: It means I will use the iTrip less. A station that plays Ozzy and Taking Back Sunday? Queens of the Stone Age and Iron Maiden? That was made for me. I’ll listen to that in the car (and at least have the iPod so I don’t have to listen to twenty minutes of commercials and promos) and the house. But I have to wonder, how many people are there like me, who crave both new music and old rock, both 90′s techno and 80′s hair metal? How many listeners who tune in for the modern rock playlist are going to stick around if they have to listen to Pink Floyd and Billy Squire to get to Audioslave? Especially when there are now alternatives like iPods and satellite radio?
I have to give props to the station for their new web format. First of all, you could never stream KRock before, which I thought was a bad move on their part. Now they’ve introduced streaming radio and it’s format will be different than the radio format, which is a brilliant idea, really. The webcast will give bands like Taking Back Sunday and Arcade Fire more exposure and give fans of the more alternative side of KRock a place to hear their favorite bands without having to sit through Bohemian Raphsody.
It must suck to be in the radio business these days. I imagine it’s hard to come up with a format that will keep listeners from moving over to satellite. However, if in the case of KRock, the listeners are getting satellite just to listen to Stern, a format change like this one (and stop calling it a tweak or a fabric change, it’s much larger than that and we’re not stupid) might the key to getting them to turn back to your station at 10am. I’m still inclined, however, to believe this is about way more than post-Stern ratings worries and more about figuring out what the people want. Apparently, it’s not wall to wall Stone Temple Pilots (I swear to, they played that band every five minutes).
I know I’ll be giving it a try. But the second I hear Freebird, I’m out of there.