How Many Strikes Before The Audience Bails For Good?

New Rock 101.9 WRXP Alternative Rock in New York 92.3 K-Rock WLIR WHTG With CBS acquiring 101.9 WRXP to give Sports WFAN an FM home in New York, the area will once again find itself without an Alternative Rocker just three months after its return.

The New York market has had a spotty history with Alternative as the format has bounced from station to station over the past two decades. CHR “Z100” leaned Alternative in 1994 and 1995; 102.7 WNEW filled the niche for a short term; “92.3 K-Rock” WXRK led the shift of the format from a broader mix to being fully male driven when it was paired with Howard Stern in 1996 but would eventually shift to Active Rock. Suburban stations “X107” WRGX in Westchester County, 92.7 WDRE and later WLIR on Long Island, and 106.3 WHTG-FM on the Jersey Shore filled the void in parts of the market at various times. 101.9 WRXP would fill the niche after its launch as a AAA/Alternative hybrid in February 2008 until it was sold to Merlin Media in July 2011.

Since its rebirth WRXP has risen from a 0.6 as All News to a 2.1 share in just two months with little promotion. Would it have risen much higher? The previous incarnation was hovering in the mid 2’s prior to its sale and flip. With those numbers there should’ve been a successful sales niche as one of the few stations targeting younger male audiences.

Now without another flip out of nowhere, the format will once again join Country on the outside looking up at the Empire State Building. Unlike Country which has now been gone for a whole generation, the Alternative audience has been constantly yo-yoed. They’ve shown they’ll quickly come back when presented with a station to call their own, but how many times can the radio industry show them with disdain and expect the audience to stay loyal to the medium? They’re currently just a commodity that can be called upon for a quick boost for a struggling station in New York.

There’s no reason to blame CBS for the demise of the format. They had a strong brand in WFAN that needs FM to survive into the next generation as AM heads for the wastelands after a great century long run. HD Radio never caught on preventing there to be enough signals to serve more audiences. Subscription based satellite radio is still a niche and not fully portable. We are still a couple years away from full portable digital streaming broadcasting being available anywhere, but listeners will still be at the whims of the data rate limits in place by the mobile service providers. Radio should still be the primary source of audio entertainment for all, but it won’t be if it continues to treat certain audiences as means to a goal of making as much money as possible instead of as giving them a reason to buy in.

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  1. MattParker says

    Some nits: Sports talk has been successful because it also delivers a young male audience. It was even able to do it on AM.
    Alternative is still available in New York on WFUV.
    While mobile continuous streaming is still spotty, music delivery services like Pandora and Last.FM (owned by CBS) work well as mobile apps. Music can be delivered; sports talk needs continuous streaming and so radio continues to have an advantage.
    Radio won’t be the “primary source of audio entertainment” for long, if it still is. It probably is not for younger audiences already. CBS could have stayed with Alternative for a few more years as the audience erodes to new media. Meanwhile, ESPN entrenches itself on FM and WFAN (and CBS’ new sports talk network) wastes away on AM. CBS is making a preemptive move, something broadcasters have historically failed to do.
    Giving audience a reason to buy in is the means by which stations make money. Sports talk, arguably, offers more people more of a reason to buy in.

  2. M says

    Alternative is not available on WFUV it has other programming on there as well.

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