Posted in The Sands Report
Date: February 20, 2020
Written by: Richard Sands

This week, we wrap up our deep dive into stations that play more new music from newer artists. As we found out last week there are a group of stations where their specialty is “music discovery.” In many cases, these are listener-supported stations. While writing about this subject I heard from one station that is both commercial and listener-supported that plays only currents. That’s right—no recurrents or gold at all! They’re called “Farm Fresh Radio” and are located in Burlington, Vermont.

Chip Morgan

“We seek the newest music and put it on immediately if it fits within our fairly broad alternative format,” says GM/PD Chip Morgan who has been with the station since 1999. (He’s also worked in Harrisburg and San Francisco.) Morgan thinks of the station as an early rock station—the kind that might have existed way back in the 1960s—competing against the staid old school stations by playing only the newest cool music.

“Needless to say, with nothing but currents, the record companies and promoters love us,” he continues. “We don’t have to take music calls…we’re always very early on everything. The   audience is thrilled. Most of what we play isn’t heard anywhere else in the market—giving us a very fresh cool sound.”

Farm Fresh Radio lives in the AAA world, but Morgan watches the Alt charts and station playlists, always on the lookout for new music.

So, what do other “music discovery” stations think of the Alt format? I asked Jim McGuinn of KCMP-Minneapolis. The Current PD told me he doesn’t feel that connection to the history of the format, back when we were trailblazing artists, and neither does he get a sense of that “smart fun” that used to exist.

Mike Henry with multi-earworm feature, Rob Drabkin

McGuinn states, “I think about the clever promotions, the programming stunts, the musicality of the format in the early days, and these are the things that I miss, maybe because commercial radio stations are so short-staffed now….maybe the corporate theory is that the audience doesn’t care anymore, maybe the stats prove that you don’t need local humans to win on the commercial side.

“And I have to say that to my ears, too much of what I hear on Alt radio sounds Popternative—it’s like an alternative version of Top 40—pop music for people that don’t want to hear HipHop or Urban music. Of course, I’m well past the 18 to 34 demo those stations seem to be chasing, so it could also just be me.”

Mostly though, McGuinn loves radio. He says, “The vastness of choice in the Spotify world proves we still need trusted filters to help us wade thru life and listen to the best music possible—their algorithms have not won—they have not matched the feeling of a great host setting up a new song that blows my mind, discovered together by thousands at the same moment in time. But so many stations are failing to do this as well as they could be, at least to my ears.”

McGuinn told me he was really sad to see the job cuts at iHeart and feels horrible for so many peers who are losing their gigs and/or have lost local autonomy. But McGuinn has a ray of sunshine to offer if you are one of those people who recently lost a gig: The Current is right now looking for a new Music Director! So, if you’re reading this and feel inspired by what they do in the Twin Cities, now is the time. McGuinn says, “We need the best MD in the world to come help us head into the future. Get us your stuff and let’s rock!”

At Indie 102.3 in Denver, former Alt PD Willobee Carlan understands the constraints most programmers are under so he felt it was a tough assignment to assess our format, but he took a stab at it. “I don’t see an adventurous spirit like when I first got into Alternative. I think the format is being stifled and over-thought. Some of the big companies are way too tight and afraid to take the lead on artists. While smaller independent companies allow for more freedom, they are not represented fairly on the charts,” he asserts.

Willobee still has a fondness for the format. “I just want to say how much I miss all my friends and col-leagues in the alt world. I also want to send my thoughts out to all those who have been dislocated and wish them all to stay strong.”


Matt Reilly

Matt Reilly is the PD at KUTX, the music discovery station in Austin, Texas. I asked him his impression of Alt radio and he told me, “I was in high school in the early ‘90s, so I was there for the birth of the format and it’s a part of my musical DNA.

That said, I hear an inordinate amount of ‘90s bands in any given hour. I get the ratings game and if that works, then it works. You don’t want to mess with it too much because you’re talking the bottom line in a very tight industry.”

Another thing that strikes him is how similar commercial Triple A and Alternative are now. He laughs, and jokingly says, “I blame Mumford and Sons.” He then quickly added this observation, “I used to hear harder and more experimental music and, with some exceptions of course, it’s melded into a gentler sound.”

In closing, Reilly shares some sage advice for PDs everywhere. “Your audience is your north star. Don’t let the labels dictate what you do. Take your time. Your audience will wait while you breathe. Listen to your gut—the labels may not vote to give you MD or PD of the year at the next convention in the hotel ballroom, but your audience will appreciate you more and they’re the ones that matter. Dare to be interesting. Do more events. Kiss more babies, shake more hands. Have a solid musical knowledge base of many genres—it’ll make you more hire-able when your corporate overlords flip your format into smooth jazz.”

Read original article here.