First Listen: Mod 102.3 New Haven

Mod 102.3 W272DO WPLR-HD2 New Haven AlternativeSo let me be clear, I like Connoisseur’s Mod 102.3” W272DO/WPLR-HD2 New Haven, Conn.,  which launched last month with a pop-leaning Alternative format that it positions on the air only as “The New Sound of New Haven.” I had tweeted my intended approval of the station’s segue from R&B artist Khalid to “The Man” by the Killers, adding “because once you decide that the Chainsmokers are alternative, keep going.”

A few hours later, Keith Dakins, PD of Mod and its Connoisseur/Connecticut rock brethren, tweeted back, “Wait are you making fun?! We never use word alternative on air and remember KROQ in the 80s played Prince, Bob Marley and more.” I tweeted, “No I’m with you. I fought that battle for years. I’m glad you’re doing this.” You can blame any misunderstanding on Twitter’s required terseness. A few more characters and I would have written “please keep going.”

There are two things going on here. One is that programmers have been struggling with the Pop/Alternative hybrid for more than 20 years. WHTZ (Z100) New York seemed to get it right for a while in 1993-94 and then listed to the extremes. Late ‘90s Modern AC was phenomenal, but ran out of defining product when Alternative tilted to the harder side. 

There’s also been the issue of R&B and Hip-Hop at Alternative. KROQ played Prince and Rick James. I even remember KROQ spiking an R-rated novelty by my ‘70s R&B hero Millie Jackson once. For the most part, though, Alternative has played the Beastie Boys and Eminem but not 2Pac and Dr. Dre. (Many years later, I saw an Alternative station test Dr. Dre and even “Just a Friend” in a library test, and, at least at that point, the audience liked both equally.) When PDs bend the format for the Chainsmokers (and, even in this case, Robyn), they do not necessarily keep going.

I tackled the pop/alternative issue 18 months ago, and even then I wrote, “How can you deny the hip credentials of The Weeknd or Kendrick Lamar?” What Mod 102.3 has done was a more-than-logical move for a format that has long become an alternative pop universe. Most of today’s pop music owes something to “Midnight City” by M83. Most alternative artists lean pop. Of course Khalid fits.

Mod 102.3 launched the same week that KSXY Santa Rosa, Calif., which had been interesting in a number of ways as top 40 Y100.9, switched to its own pop/alternative hybrid. KSXY owner Sinclair had occasionally done something similar on WROX Norfolk, Va., but couldn’t fight the rock history of that frequency. KSXY’s new incarnation as “The 101” and Mod’s appearance on a translator have the advantage of starting clean, coupled with the “bonus success” nature of FM translators, in Mod’s case.

The presentations are very different, but I’m enjoying Mod 102.3 the same way I did the early hybrid format at Z100. The latter station had Z100’s inherent Top 40 hype and swagger. Mod 102.3 talks over intros, but in a more low-key manner, similar to WRFF (Radio 104.5) Philadelphia. There are attitude sweepers — “stop listening to your older sister’s terrible music,” commands one. The current ticket giveaway was to see Phoenix — one of the bands that has been leading Alternative in a more pop/dance direction for more than a decade.

Here’s Mod 102.3 around 9:30 a.m. on October 4:

  • Childish Gambino, “Redbone”
  • Green Day, “Holiday”
  • Moontaxi, “Two High”
  • Nine Inch Nails, “Closer (To God)”
  • Coldplay, “Adventure of a Lifetime”
  • Lorde, “Perfect Places”
  • Robyn, “Dancing on my Own”
  • Vance Joy, “Riptide”
  • Sir Sly, “High”
  • Bastille, “Pompeii”
  • Arizona, “Cross My Mind”
  • The 1975, “Somebody Else”
  • Imagine Dragons, “Thunder”
  • Killers, “Read My Mind”
  • Twenty One Pilots, “Heathens”
  • Weezer, “Feels Like Summer”

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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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