Modern AC’s Greatest Hits
First Listen: Sirius XM PopRocks
It’s pretty inevitable now that the hits of the ‘90s will continue to resurface on the radio in different ways. The R&B and Hip-Hop crossovers are already there, thanks to the throwbacks boom of the last few years. The teen pop that came and went over a 15 year stretch—from New Kids to Backstreet—is starting to surface for any AC radio station that will test it. And much of the Alternative music of the era, including Modern AC, never left. With the imprimatur of being “rock,” there was never the same programmer eagerness to turf it out as there was for, say, “Wannabe.”
If anything, the question was where the greatest hits of Modern AC would end up. Ever since the first incarnation of WNEW (Fresh 102.7) New York, now more than a decade ago, it seemed inevitable that Sheryl Crow and Matchbox 20 would be passed on from Hot to a new, more contemporary Mainstream AC. But it turned out that Mainstream AC kept contemporizing. And suddenly “I Will Remember You” by Sarah McLachlan didn’t seem like a fit in proximity to “Let Me Love You” by DJ Snake and Justin Bieber.
The group of gold-based Alternative stations that popped up in the mid-‘00s played a few of Modern AC’s greatest hits. Many years later, nobody really thinks that “Save Tonight” by Eagle-Eye Cherry or “She’s So High” by Tal Bachman are really rock records—as opposed to neutral pop records that were promoted to and worked for Alternative radio for a while. But most of what’s on Alternative radio now is poppy in its own way.
And last week, Modern AC’s Greatest Hits got their own channel, SiriusXM’s new PopRocks. The SiriusXM website describes the channel as “rock artists from the ‘90s and 2000s that make catchy, sweet, uptempo pop hits.” Industry readers will recognize these songs as the mortar of Modern AC from that format’s inception in the mid-‘90s to the time a decade later when it became clear that rhythmic pop, not pop rock, was the compelling new music, even for adult women.
The site lists core artists as the Killers, Coldplay, Sheryl Crow, Third Eye Blind, Goo Goo Dolls, Train, No Doubt, Dave Matthews Band, Weezer, and Green Day. As Crow’s inclusion suggests, there is a presence of the female singer/songwriter music that powered the initial Modern AC boom, although I haven’t yet come across the softest of the Lilith Fair-era music.
Here’s Sirius XM Pop Rocks around 8 a.m. on August 29:
- Plain White T’s, “Hey There Delilah”
- Sublime, “What I Got”
- Alanis Morissette, “Hands Clean”
- Third Eye Blind, “Semi-Charmed Life”
- Michelle Branch, “Everywhere”
- Goo Goo Dolls, “Slide”
- Fitz & the Tantrums, “The Walker”
- Barenaked Ladies, “Pinch Me”
- Coldplay, “Speed of Sound”
Modern AC “solved” Alternative’s famous “Jewel-to-Tool” issues of the late ‘90s—depending on whether you regard chasing off female listeners and becoming a hard rock format for five years as “solved.” Of the music that went under Modern AC’s umbrella, there’s still a pretty wide swath of tempo and texture evident on PopRocks. There are acts that would still be welcome in the Alternative format. There are the Michelle Branch/Vanessa Carlton records from the tail end of the format that live at Mainstream AC, if anywhere. I find myself enjoying some of these songs a lot more than others, but it probably would have been that way in 1998 for me as well.
Broadcast radio has a love/hate relationship with satellite radio (or anything else outside FM’s transmission range) and the love part is always expressed furtively. But every now and then, a station catches their fancy (think the recurring Yacht Rock popup channel) anyway, and I’m expecting PopRocks will be one of them. And whether it’s current music (Hits1, The Highway, AltNation) or gold that’s been off the radio (90s On 9), they do seem to serve as a format incubator.
When my year-end list of Most Intriguing stations comes out, PopRocks will most likely be on there. When the ‘90s are the center of gold-based formats in the not-too-distant future, PopRocks and 90s On 9 will both have had some role in them being there.