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Music Savaged By The Average Beast

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for February 19, 2004

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What Are We, Drunk?
by Sean Carolan

WXRK in New York, the "alternative" station known as K-Rock, has done some musical reshuffling lately. With the appearance of a new program director, they've pulled some older library songs back into rotation, which has served to freshen its music mix a bit.
Let me start out by saying that it does what it does very well. There's no argument about that.
However, it's my contention that the term "alternative" for the format the station plays is misleading at best. There's nothing out there that it's an alternative to. What it is, is a rock station.
I'll go further than that: it's a station that tries to appeal to frat boys; to the kinds of guys that listen to Howard Stern in the morning (and the girls who dig them.) Just like WNEW did in the 80's - and when it went all-talk, what it continued to do until its biggest blunders sank it. It's the programming of a station that's following the beer money; money spent by ad agencies handling the accounts for Busch, Miller, Coors, et. al.
A while ago, when I was producing the "Spy Dispatch" for Spy Magazine, their ad sales director (a savvy guy named Michael Collins) lamented that Spy would never attract the beer money. The reason was clear to him: according to his contacts at the agencies for the beer companies, their target audience was "people who consume a six-pack of beer per day". The more your ad venue includes 6-pack-a-day beer drinkers, the more beer money you'll get. Spy, a snarky, intelligent, zeitgeist-driven magazine, didn't get much beer money.
But frat boys drink a lot of beer. (Please don't try to dispute this, you'll just look silly.) So if you're running a rock station solely to make money, your appeal to the frat boys is crucial.
And I think that's why I don't like to listen to K-Rock. I'm not a frat boy. I like a beer here and there, but not six a day, thanks. I've got a life to lead.
I don't drink a six pack of beer a day. I don't associate with people who do. I don't appreciate the programming that appeals to them. I don't appreciate the advertising that appeals to them. (Horses whose lit farts incinerate women for a laugh, such as in a Bud Light Super Bowl ad, just aren't my cup of tea.) And hopefully, because I haven't soaked my body with alcohol for forty years, I won't need the kinds of products Mike Ditka was hawking on the biggest annual aggregator for those types, the Super Bowl. (In fact, I may be the type that the Levitra commercial advises to seek immediate medical attention. Yay, me.)
Incidentally, if you're concerned that this screed is a bit one-issue, here's an item from the Seattle Times about the recent format flip for KNDD and KRQI (Seattle's new K-Rock) that more or less says the same thing, though with a twist: it's actually about why "Classic Alternative," which those stations both flipped to, is a trendlet...
An article in the latest Rolling Stone places The End in a "classic alternative" trend that kicked off in late 2002 on San Diego's KBZT. Tolkoff and Rolling Stone both point to another, less lofty, driving force: the beer industry, which is now aiming its ad money at older-demographic stations. Hence the grungy oldies.
Often, I'm mistaken for someone who wants a radio station that's actually programmed for the benefit of music fans. Honestly, that's not my intention at all. My real goal is to find the answer to this question:
Is it possible for a rock station to target non-alcoholics?

©2004 Sean Carolan

All material ©2001-2014 Sean Carolan, except as noted.


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