When “Oh Wow” Is Part of the Plan: Fresh Listen: WQKX Sunbury PA
I’ve been writing a lot about radio road trips lately. As a kid, the objective was to hear new songs before they played in my market. Once I better understood radio programming, the goal was also to hear gold titles that you couldn’t hear on New York-area radio.
There was no better place for this than Northern Pennsylvania radio, thanks to roughly a handful of stations heard on I-80 between the Delaware Water Gap and the Ohio border. One of them was “94KX” WQKX Sunbury PA, which I remember as being a lot of fun for both newer and older titles.
About ten days ago, ROR reader Brendan Joseph tweeted me. “Want to hear a trainwreck of throwback goodness? @94KX is doing an ‘80s/’90s weekend.”
The first song I heard was LL Cool J, “Mama Said Knock You Out.” I knew the station was serious. Looking at its website, I saw that I’d missed Belle Stars, “Iko Iko”; Wreckx-N-Effect, “Rump Shaker”; Poison, “Talk Dirty to Me”; and Breakfast Club, “Right on Track.” But I did keep listening and hear Firehouse, “Don’t Treat Me Bad.” KX and I were back in business.
When I first started my I-80 road trips, there was a presumption of guilt if you heard “oh wow” songs on a smaller-market radio station. It must not have the access to research that those more programming-savvy major markets have, right? Then certain things changed. In the post-Bob- and Jack-FM-era, “trainwreck” was less of a pejorative and more something a programmer might do for effect.
Also, a lot of the “oh wows” that punctuated my road trips aren’t so “oh wow” anymore. I remember hearing “Hungry Like the Wolf” on an I-80 drive during the mid-‘90s. At that moment, Duran Duran were already beyond their comeback, and that song was absolutely not the AC and Classic Hits warhorse that it is today.
Plus, I work with an all-‘90s station that plays some of these songs all week long. Some are starting to test again, and often quasi-novelty ‘90s are testing better than the “quality” AC ‘90s. Some songs are just there because they sound good on the radio. The trick is in the proportion. You might feel more comfortable never playing “Rump Shaker,” but in this case it’s a definite part of the plan.
I still hear other stations in Northern Pennsylvania that might benefit from focusing and pruning their library. But the day that the ‘80s/’90s Weekend began, Sunbury/Lewistown got its book back. WQKX was No. 1 in the market, up 11.8-13.6. That answered any question of whether the provocations were deliberate (and an additive part of the station). It was time to take a “Fresh Listen.”
First, that ‘80s/’90s weekend. When I heard it on Friday, there were more party songs — a lot of dance and Hip-Hop. I listened again on Sunday and there was a little more ‘90s Modern AC of the “Iris”/“3 A.M.”/Sister Hazel, “All for You,” variety. But the party songs were still present. Here’s what I heard starting at 8 P.M., January 12. (I listened on and off for a two-hour stretch, roughly coinciding with this one. What I heard is augmented by the log on the station website.)
- LL Cool J, “Mama Said Knock You Out”
- Violent Femmes, “Blister in the Sun”
- Paperboy, “Ditty”
- K.C., “Give It Up”
- Naughty by Nature, “O.P.P.”
- Marcia Griffiths, “Electric Boogie”
- P.M. Dawn, “I’d Die Without You”
- Midnight Star, “No Parking (On the Dance Floor)”
- James, “Laid”
- Lou Bega, “Mambo No. 5”
- New Edition, “Mr. Telephone Man”
- Black Box, “Everybody Everybody”
- Alice in Chains, “No Excuses”
- Cathy Dennis, “Just Another Dream”
- Kool & the Gang, “Let’s Go Dancin’ (Ooh La La)”
- Color Me Badd, “I Wanna Sex You Up”
- Herb Alpert, “Diamonds”
- Firehouse, “Don’t Treat Me Bad”
- Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam, “Head to Toe”
- Sneaker Pimps, “6 Underground”
If I had kept listening, I would have heard “My Kinda Lover” by Billy Squier. Then “Every Day of the Week” by Jade.
I came back this week to hear regular programming. The “oh wow” ‘80s and ‘90s weren’t entirely gone. This time on the station’s logs, I saw Michael Jackson, “Remember the Time”; Violent Femmes, “Blister in the Sun”; and Bon Jovi, “Runaway”—songs that do sometimes test, but aren’t on every Adult CHR these days, either. There were also teasers for the next special programming: the “Nothing but the ‘90s Weekend.” If you’re reading this column, you may want to hear that one.
One of the things I noticed about KX was that it had become more rhythmic over the years. Northern Pennsylvania used to be the place where I heard “Call It Love” by Poco on the radio, back when the big-market CHRs were becoming mostly rhythmic-leaning. But WPLJ New York, once billed as “no rap,” is more rhythmic now. (WPLJ has been at the vanguard of bringing songs back to the radio on a few different occasions.) And KX is still using the “best songs on the radio” line that WPLJ made famous years ago.
Here’s what I heard PD Kyle Alexander playing at 10 a.m. on Jan. 22:
- Selena Gomez & Marshmello, “Wolves”
- Sam Smith, “I’m Not the Only One”
- Drake, “One Dance”
- Edward Maya, “Stereo Love”
- Hailee Steinfeld w/Alesso & Florida Georgia Line, “Let Me Go”
- Real McCoy, “Another Night”
- Camila Cabello, “Havana”
- Outkast, “The Way You Move”
- The Weeknd, “I Feel It Coming”
- Imagine Dragons, “Thunder”
- Ed Sheeran, “Thinking Out Loud”
- Chainsmokers f/Daya, “Don’t Let Me Down”
- Dua Lipa, “New Rules”
- The Fray, “How to Save a Life”