Same Ratings, So Where’s The Mystique?

This article originally appeared on Edison Research’s InfiniteDial.com on Feb. 14, 2007.

I was intrigued by today’s news that Jim McGuinn, former PD of WPLY (Y100) Philadelphia, who now oversees an Alternative rock bloc on Triple-A WXPN Philly called “Y-Rock on XPN” was planning a salute to another former employer, Philly’s former modern rocker 103.9 WDRE, commemorating the 10th anniversary of that station’s demise.

McGuinn told All Access, “I still hear from ‘DRE listeners who thought the station was incredibly special and loved it passionately. Even after all these years people still say, ‘I miss WDRE.’ I think that’s a testament to the music we played, the DJs who worked there, and our ‘little station that could’ mentality. Plus, our signal was terrible, so you really were special if you could listen to WDRE.”

WDRE was, as it happens, one of the last of the entrepeneur-owned market rimshotters that typified Modern Rock radio before Nirvana and Pearl Jam got the group owners interested and ushered in the new rock revolution of the mid-’90s. Increasingly, as the footprint of all of Rock radio dwindles, many alternative stations are becoming what they were in most places in the late ’80s/early ’90s, lower-rated stations that specialize in a body of music not heard elsewhere.

What’s missing now is the cachet. You’d like to think that somewhere an 18-year-old is raptly attentive to this great station that plays the Shins, the Kaiser Chiefs, and the Raconteurs when nobody else in the market does. But today’s Alternative stations are in a trick bag. Listeners already think of them as part of the radio establishment. And broadcasters think of them as failures because they have only a 2-3 share instead of the 5-6 share they had a decade ago.

Author’s postscript: a decade later, McGuinn is PD for non-commercial Alternative/Triple-A hybrid KCMP (the Current) Minneapolis. Non-comm Triple-As taking on a greater prominence in recent years (especially since they became part of the Triple-A charts), and KCMP is considered the format showplace. With Triple-A now dabbling heavily in Classic Alternative, it is as if the format has returned not just to the time when it was on indie-owned outlets like WLIR Long Island, but to a time when Alternative music existed primarily on non-comms.  

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Sean Ross is author of the Ross on Radio newsletter and VP of music and programming of Edison Research.

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