- Being music director at KALX is a coveted and important job.
Ian Hetzner shares that job with Paul Koehler. Among their duties is to compile a weekly list of the station’s top thirty albums and send it to hundreds of other stations, record labels, music writers, and promoters in a mass e-mail. They also send their list to the only centralized verification center for college radio airplay, CMJ, or the College Music Journal.
Most music aficionados are familiar with the yearly CMJ Music Marathon, where hundreds of bands play showcases all over New York City. But for radio stations, CMJ is the organization that documents their work. Each week its trade magazine, CMJ New Music Report, prints the playlists of more than 1,200 stations across the United States and Canada, which pay a $345 yearly subscription rate for the service. CMJ New Music Report is the Billboard magazine of college radio, and earlier this month, Ian Hetzner made its publishers very, very uncomfortable.
It all started when Hetzner decided to double-check the station’s playlist in the back of the magazine. Everything looked fine, except for one thing. Listed in position 19, where KALX had charted East Bay country outfit Loretta Lynch, was a CD called Certain Damage.
Obviously there’d been some mistake; CMJ had somehow replaced a local disc with something that might be mistaken for a mid-’80s hardcore compilation. But Hetzner recognized the interloper immediately, and he was pissed. Certain Damage is a commercial sampler that bands and their labels pay CMJ up to $3,000 to be on. To the majority of college music programmers, the comp is a throwaway. “They are pretty much worthless compilations,” Hetzner says. “CMJ doesn’t go, ‘Oh, I love this record, let’s arrange to put their tunes on our compilation!’ No, it’s record companies approaching and paying to put their songs on the compilations. As long as you have money, you can get your shit on CMJ.” Having the record on KALX’s published playlist was not only incorrect, it was embarrassing.
Hetzner decided to go back and check CMJ’s KALX charts for several weeks, and discovered that similar swaps had been happening over a period of at least two months. Loretta Lynch — a band so sweet that its members actually gave out pieces of pie at the end of one of its shows — was replaced twice; an R&B compilation from King Records was replaced twice; and local band the Advantage also lost its position on the playlist. In every case, the chart entry had been usurped by the same album: Certain Damage. [Eastr Bay Express]
If CMJ doesn’t have integrity, it doesn’t have anything.