A New Aesthetic For Commercial Radio?
Yesterday’s launch of Austin City Limits Radio may go down as a flash in a pan attempt to salvage a failing AAA, but there are also multiple pieces within there that can become a template for commercial radio going forward.
In the past big local radio brands were big enough to stand on their own. Everyone in a town no-matter if they were a dedicated listener or not knew KISS-FM, 99X, K-Rock, WGN, WBLS. That started to fade with the proliferation of drop-in signals in many markets in the 1990s but with all of the digital options it is much, much harder for a new brand or format to break through. The KGSR of 2018 was a far cry from the KGSR of the 1990s and early 2000s. It had lost its way and faced increased FM competition from University of Texas’s 98.9 KUTX and the “Sun Radio” network let alone all of the streaming options in a very tech-friendly market like Austin.
By pairing with the well known Austin City Limits and tying in with their cross-platform marketing, KGSR has a leg up on any other new format launch would have. If they became “Star 93.3” or “More-FM” the common listener would have no idea what the station is prior to listening. As “Austin City Limits Radio” those who know what ACL is have a general idea on what to expect on the station before ever tuning in.
In addition to not having the frequency in the station’s branding; as most imaging simply says “Austin City Limits Radio“, the two FM frequencies 93.3 and 97.1 are only mentioned a couple times per hour. The station knows that as we enter a post-radio era, it will be just as important to be heard online as it will on-air. Emmis has had one of the biggest successes in turning an individual station into a global brand with “Hot 97” in New York. If they can duplicate that even slightly with KGSR they will be positioning the station for long-term success.
The AAA format has been one of the few to adapt to the realities that listeners don’t listen to one genre of music all of the time. ACL Radio takes that to the extreme. The playlist features Alternative, Hip-Hop, Dance, and Pop currents, Classic Rock, Blues, Red Dirt Country, and AAA gold. The station emphasizes it as being an “aesthetic” rather than a format and that makes it one of the first stations to directly recognize the importance that playlist services like Spotify have had on listeners habits.
The station also is one of the few AAA or Alternative stations to realize that Hip-Hop is something people do not mind hearing next to rock leaning songs. Childish Gambino and Drake can work next to Foo Fighters and Tom Petty if you’re seeking male 18-34 audiences. To a common radio listener who hasn’t made the move to streaming the segues may come off as jarring, but also as a breath of fresh air. One CHR programmer described the new format to me as “Hipster Hot Hits”, while WAPS Akron PD Brad Savage noted that it fits the sound heard on many European CHRs.
For more on the music of ACL Radio, see Sean Ross’ First Listen of the station.
For someone like me who observes radio stations constantly the lack of imaging after every song is noticeable. For someone who listens to radio just to hear music it gives them more of what they want with less clutter. It also makes the breaks from a host or the John Frost voiced sweepers sound more important.
The new KGSR format looks to be male 18-44 focused, which would duplicate what Emmis is targeting with Alternative “101X” 101.5 KROX. It does complement its market-leading Variety Hits “103.5 Bob-FM” KBPA as the format picks up where the other ends.
The addition of the 97.1 translator helps boost KGSR’s coverage in downtown Austin, but 93.3 holds a Construction Permit to move its transmitter just a few miles west of the translator. At that time there will be no reason to simulcast on both frequencies. A unique digital emphasized “Austin City Limits Radio” on just 97.1 will still reach Austin proper while opening up the regional Class C2 93.3 signal for a traditional mass-appeal format.
If the new brand succeeds, it will be through ancillary data points such as streams. This is not likely to be a PPM friendly station, but if there is any growth that can be measured an industry that is known for cloning ideas will be quick to duplicate some of the elements above.