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Rock of Ages

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.

krock.jpgFor 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 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
04:21 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.

Why the format change? Well, if I want to know anything about New York radio, I can bet that Ed has blogged about. Yep, he has.

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.

More here.

About Michele Catalano

  • Eric Olsen

    what a bizarre and interesting selection! You rarely hear that kind of time range on any kind of radio station (other than classical!). Thanks Michele

  • Richard Porter

    I listen to K-Rock here in NYC and I noticed the change too. Obviously, the station is finally realizing that there is and has been outside competition creeping up on them rapidly and that competition would be satellite radio.

    Competition always breeds creativity and a better overall product for the consumer.

  • Mikey McClenathan

    This is another instance in a series of disturbing format shifts away from “modern rock.” Hartford, DC, Philadelphia, Miami, and now NYC. All of these are large markets (well, maybe not Hartford) that have lost their modern rock beacons.

    And you’re right, modern rock as a format has grown stale. That’s why I do internet radio now instead of conventional.

    What’s distressing is that most of the format changes I’ve mentioned above are straight to urban, or pop, or something else altogether un-rock. At least K-Rock is giving rock another go, albeit a scattered one. But, like you say, this is not a tweak. I’m skeptical they’ll continue to pay homage to their old format as the new one takes off. You’ll hear LOTS less new rock on K-Rock in the coming months, as management starts to realize that the people who are tuning in for Twisted Sister are tuning out when they hear Hot Hot Heat.

    Here’s to hoping it’s not just another classic rock station in two months.

  • michele

    Mikey, I hope that’s not the case. I’m one person who is thrilled to hear both Hot Hot Heat and Twisted Sister in the same set – I just hope there are enough New Yorkers like me to keep this format alive.

  • Nigel Pond

    Nearly the same thing happened here in the Phildelphia area. Our only alternative/modern rock station, Y-100, changed format without any warning to hip-hop. The excuse was that the mornning show DJs, Preston Elliott and Steve Morrison, had signed contracts to move to WMMR, and that the station in its old format could not survive. I say that’s b******s — Philadelhia, the fourth or fifth largest market in the US cannot support a single alternative/modern rock station?

  • Paul Roy

    It’s not so much the change from modern rock to hard rock, or whatever, but it’s the need for some friggin’ variety. I haven’t been able to stomach ANY radio station for the last 10 years because they just repeat the same 30 song playlist over and over and over and………. Internet radio has been my savior lately for learning about new bands and songs, and I hope to switch to satellite radio soon – especially when Stern moves. Hey, I have an hour morning dirve to work.

  • Dan Birchall

    Out here, it’s the opposite. “B97″ (KNWB) is ostensibly a classic rock station, and okay, I’ll grant that they play Loverboy songs I didn’t know existed (I’m not saying this is a good thing, mind you, but it’s true), but they have no qualms about playing new tracks by 3 Doors Down or whoever. I listen to it in the car, but wish I could get them to play anything at all by Queensryche.

    There’s one station in town – I can’t remember the name of it, but it’s what my wife set the clock radio to play – that’s more of a mix. Disco, modern rock, you name it. That’s a step in the right direction.

    But… I’m not going to hang up my iPod shuffle. Sure it only holds a couple hundred songs, but that’s more than I’d hear in a given day on a radio station, and is damned close to the entire catalog of the average station… and in my case that’s pulled at random from almost 600 songs I’ve rated 4-5 stars, or over 1000 songs I’ve rated 3-5 stars. And genre-wise? Ha. Give me a station that’ll play The Kingston Trio, Stratovarius _and_ Richard Cheese, and we can talk.



  • Mark Sahm

    The things stations will do to reach a wider audience, eh? I was driving to the store last night and heard “Jamie’s Cryin’” by Van Halen. While it made me feel like I was 12 again, I’d rather leave that to the more classic stations. Is the current rock music so disposable that there can’t be an entire station devoted to it?

  • Sfc Ski

    Yes, the current music is that disposable. Faceless soundalikes. These days you have to dig to find the good stuff, then burn it to your iPod and unplug your radio.

  • Anti-Smuggler

    I’m a little pissed about the website. I used to go there all the time and get playlists, and links to bands … now its gone … and worthless.

  • Onthetop

    Anyone can say that bands that belong to the same genre sound alike. Poison sounded like Warrant sounded like every other hair band to people who didn’t care for it. There’s only so much of this old stuff they could play before people get sick of it. It belongs on a separate station. It’s almost schizo.

  • Harry

    I am really disapointed with the k-rock flip. I don’t want to listed to that old crap. The online radio station is excellent. They could have went with that and a 90′s tune every now and then and it would have been good.

    There is no modern rock/new rock station in NY. Hopefully someone decides to do that. Krock in LA is awesome. They play lots of new music and lots of local music. It’s a shame.

  • AJ

    I had actually personally requested KRock play some more older stuff, because I like having a sense of rock history and there’s no better test of a new song than to play “Take Me Out” right next to “War Pigs” and see if can stand up at all. But I’m strangely dissatisfied with the new station now that I’ve had time to hear it. First of all, there’s a lot of overlap with Q104.3, and even though we still get our Queens of the Stone Age fix, we don’t really need two stations playing The Doors and Guns n Roses, etc. But then there’s also the benefits of the limited playlist — something I used to be annoyed by but now miss. Mainly, that it really gives you a chance to hear many times and learn brand new songs, and has kept me more up-to-date in modern music than I’ve ever been, even as a teenager. Now the playlist is so broad and the emphasis isn’t on the new music, even if they still play new songs. No more “Here’s the new song by…” intros, no more excitement about each new band. I mean, if you don’t like modern music, fine, but rock cannot survive on the classics alone. It needs to breathe and grow and expand, for better or for worse, and I think I’d rather look blindly forward than inclusively backward. Lastly, are 92-minute-rock-blocks gone? I don’t think I’ve heard the phrase, and THAT would certainly be a shame.

    P.S. Does it seem to anyone else that the DJs don’t really like the new format? We may have a whole new slew of them in a few months, I think.

  • jase

    well im pissed at the fact that i have to hear 80s metal, and 70 classic rock. i have no use for this music at least not mixed with a spase assortment of new stuff that buy the way gets old quick because krock likes to play those few bands/songs to death… ex: the new green day album… and they arent even a new band! the truth is that there is a very exciting modern rock movement going on right now. but it’s not getting exposed because of program directors and dj’s who are a half beat behind on the pulse of today’s music…great rock period my azz.

  • Johnny Wadd

    Great rock, period my ass. Some of the music they have been playing is just crap period. Bon Jovi? Cheap Trick? come on.