The Trouble with Alternative Radio


If you know longer listen to the radio as many of my friends claim they don’t then this observation probably will not interest you.  But, then again if you add up the number of iPods/mp3 players, and satellite radio receivers purchased up this point they still don’t amount to the number actual people who use radio on a daily basis… not even close.  StRaNgE BuT tRuE!  I guess all my friends are electronic deviants of society.

There are still enough citizens who flip on a clock radio in the morning or take a gander of the radio dial while driving to and from work to warrant trying to improve a medium that has fallen overall into a sleepy, lethargic malaise.  So with that said…

We’ve come to a fork in a Rocky road.  Many stations in the Alt Rock genres have chosen to try to navigate both paths (Rock and True Alternative).  This results in a station that neither goes right or left at the fork. These stations end up driving between both paths in the weeds.  Another analogy for this is something I call “turd in the punchbowl.”  There are those out there who like Seether, Puddle of Mudd, 3 Doors Down and their ilk.  Then there are those who see Alt as bands like  The Bravery, Death Cab for Cutie, Radiohead, Shins and their band of brothers.  In many markets these two distinctive styles don’t mix much better than oil and water or a “turd in the punchbowl”.  The argument works for either camp.  The punch may be tasty until you see the little turd (music style you don’t like) floating in the bowl.  Then no matter how tasty the punch is you can’t bare to drink any more because their was a turd in it!

The real problem for alternative stations overall is that they are a mish mash of musical styles that don’t say anything in particular to the listener about what kind of community the station stands for. CHR and their ilk can get away with it. They are pop culture offerings. The rock genres are narrower. A little of this rock genre mixed with that rock genre constitutes the Big Tent theory… More on that later… if you make it that far.
Instead of too broad mass appeal rock, I’m a big believer in station culture and community. The mental picture of what a station looks like is 60% of what makes an Alternative station appealing to the Alternative or Rock listener and in many cases both groups have little in common. Ask yourself the next time you’re listening to a quarter hour of your local Alternative, Active Rock or Rock station. What kind of mental picture do you get of who’s listening, what the place they’re listening from looks like and what these listener interests and values might be? Listeners adopt the station that talks to their soul and wear the station like a badge if it can be used to tell peers who they are (or would like to be). If you think I’m thinking too narrow or nutzy think about these scenarios.
When was the last time you went to the mall and saw a biker bar next to Macy’s next to a strip joint next to a woman’s plus sizes boutique next to a soul food restaurant next to an info kiosk for the KKK. That’s a mall no one will go to.
When was the last time you went to a salad bar where you could get a selection of lettuce, French dressing, bacon bits, carrots and motor oil? Mmmmm tasty.
When was the last time you organized a gathering where the PTA, AA, The PTL and the KKK all showed up? And if they did how long till there was a knife fight around the refreshments? 
When was the last time you saw a street thug in penny loafers, a doctor in black eye liner or a skate punk in Dockers? Fashion faux pas! 
I don’t care what the R&R panel looks like nor do I care what and where your station is classified. That’s more of a business matter having to do with add budgets than programming. What I would care about is what kind of neighborhood I was creating and who will propagate it. This isn’t CHR which is by nature a mish mash pop cultures and styles. This is Alternative, Rock or Active Rock and it’s a narrower field so you’ve got to build music and content quarter hours that cause listeners to listen with alacrity. If cume is tepid or has reached its apex then you’ll need to add TSL to bolster the numbers! You get buy in from focus and scrutiny. Pick a position even if it’s a bit narrower. Nobody is excited about The Cure into Avenge Sevenfold into Paramore, into Pearl Jam into LCD Sound System into Nickelback. All great artists in there own neighborhoods (I suppose) but I see a knife fight, bitch slap, I got a brain owee, mental smack down on the horizon! By the way I got that sequence of artists from a Top30 Alt station with a mid one share 12+. 
Pick Alternative if you can aggregate a large enough faction. Pick Rock if your market has that feel. Pick Active Rock if the number of roofers, farmers and mechanics outweighs the number of college students per capita. Nothing wrong with that. Whatever. Each one of those formats is valid in the rock genre. Just pick a position and super serve it. A little something for everybody leaves little impression with no one. Yeah, “Big Tent” my ass. Be careful where you step, the elephants where just in the big ring. sniff sniff…The big tent smells like ass.


For more on this and other radio industry related topics: SEANDEMERY.COM ALT ROCK COMMUNITY


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