Perspectives, News & Opinions From The Researchers At Edison

Closing In On a National New Music Channel

Entry by Sean Ross | Friday, May 2nd, 2008 | Permalink

By themselves, Clear Channel’s much heralded eRockster.com and CBS Radio’s soft-launched Ampradio.com make a lot of sense.
And it would perhaps make even more sense if somebody combined the two concepts.
Launched at the Coachella Valley Music Festival, eRockster is a national station — built mostly around Indie Rock — that will stream, but also be heard on Clear Channel HD-2 multicast stations in a number of markets, overcoming some of the group’s previous hesitance about using those frequencies for a national brand.
Ampradio, programmed by KROQ/KCBS-FM Los Angeles PD Kevin Weatherly and heard on KCBS’ HD-2 channel, skews older than Radio Disney but younger and poppier than crosstown Top 40 powerhouse KIIS. (It’s along the lines of BusRadio.com or Corus’ brief-lived BoomBoxBaby.ca.) Ampradio is a mix of mainstream Top 40 music, Radio Disney music and, so far, just a few things that are falling through the cracks at mainstream radio. While it has great untapped musical potential in that regard, it is certainly on the right track in going after one of the constituencies that has been disenfranchised by radio and has responded in kind.
Like some of its Clear Channel Adult Modern cousins, eRockster has an older skewing, more library-driven feel. But it is built around a significant body of music that only leaks through to other formats in smaller doses — a Snow Patrol here, a Silversun Pickups there. It’s positioned as a national music community–competing in that regard with CBS’ Last FM; (Ampradio is heard in only one market, but there’s little that’s L.A. specific about the station or its Website at the moment.)
So what if you had a station that was targeted to a younger audience and served a need for new music that wasn’t being played anywhere else? What if there were a national youth-music channel that sounded different from the way Top 40 is being done now?
There certainly seems to be a need for it. No matter how much one likes KIIS, WHTZ (Z100) New York, WKQI (Channel 955) Detroit, WXKS-FM (Kiss 108) Boston and a handful of others, they have effectively become the gatekeepers for much of the format. And no matter how those stations differ from each other, their additive effect on the national charts has created a national template that is still fast on rhythmic pop and slow on everything else, particularly Rock, even after several years of musical change at radio.
With ever declining young-end listening, the current Top 40 template is clearly leaving both audience and music on the table. “Handlebars” by Flobots, which shot to No. 2 at Alternative in four weeks, is getting all of 18 spins at Top 40; Weezer’s “Pork And Beans,” which is No. 1 at Alternative after two weeks is getting 29 spins. And those are records that are at least being played somewhere – as opposed to being missed by radio altogether. An infusion of new music doesn’t need to usurp what’s on Top 40 now as much as it is needed to augment it.
What might a national youth music channel sound like? The closest analogy is Britain’s BBC Radio 1 which has, over the years, been more aggressive on music than its commercial Top 40 counterparts. (There are complaints that Radio 1 isn’t cutting-edge enough at the moment, but the one we’re talking about is the one that has cheerfully played Arctic Monkeys and Sugababes together for many years.) Radio 1 is, obviously, available on the FM dial throughout the U.K., but has also been aggressive about pursuing new platforms as well.
Radio 1, with its talkiness and its eclecticism, is hard for many American programmers to parse or appreciate. But it uses its national superstation status so effectively that commercial broadcasters are now creating their own national programming not to save money — or so they contend — but to more effectively compete in terms of guests, content, promotions, etc. (The same goes for the impact of eclectic AC sister Radio 2.)
The closest thing we’ve ever had to Radio 1 in the U.S. was MTV a decade ago when there was still enough of a music component for its spins to drastically change a record’s fortunes in callout. These days, the closest thing we have in terms of reach and unique music mix is Sirius Hits 1, which plays imports (early on Duffy and Leona Lewis), finds its own hits, including unreleased music, and sounds nothing like the major-market template. Right now, it’s walled off–known mostly to subscribers, still as much a channel as a community–but a Sirius/XM merger would certainly increase its influence (depending on whether it’s SH1 or XM’s “20 on 20″that endures).
The concept of a national youth-oriented, new music channel is a key here: It would allow records that wouldn’t otherwise be on the radio achieve critical mass (as one person singing Jeff Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah” on national TV has shown). It also would allow for the kind of promotional and staff resources that certainly wouldn’t go to a single station’s HD-2 channel. It would make it easier to create a community around the station. And it would allow broadcasters to finally research younger listeners, something that hasn’t been a top priority for most, even in the face of declining listening levels.
This isn’t to say that there’s not a place for a national adult channel that plays music not found on the radio as well, like eRockster or an American version of Radio 2. The new growth spurt at Triple-A (new in New York and Los Angeles and now present in about two-thirds of the top 20 markets) speaks to that need as well.
It is, in any event, nice to be able to write about broadcasters moving in the right direction. What stations like Ampradio or eRockster need is a sustained push and the resources to be able to ride whatever wave they happen on to.

6 Responses to “Closing In On a National New Music Channel”

  1. Bus A Move

    As long as we’re on the subject of ampradio.com and a national younger-skewed music channel, it’s worth a mention of Busradio.com, the Boston-based service that offers three channels of audio for school buses and is now streaming what appears to…

  2. Michael McDowell/Blitz Magazine says:

    Actually the idea of mixing perhaps the likes of the Cynics and/or Jeremy Morris with Selena Gomez or Miley Cyrus isn’t that farfetched and certainly is no more out of line than the Blues Magoos and Bobbi Martin sharing the top 30 in 1966. I’m all for it, and it’s about time that diversity was back into the mix!

  3. Jay Philpott says:

    Sean,
    Your article focuses on a national new music channel, but it seems that these creation are all featuring releases from the major labels. I think any comprehensive discussion on this topic should also include Bonneville’s iChannel.fm, an international new music channel that features unsigned and independent artists from all 50 states and 29 countries! While I work for Bonneville, my duties do not include any work with iChannel, but I’m a devoted listener and I’m sure PD Ken Williams would be able to fill you in on more about this new audio entertainment creatiion!

  4. Sean Ross says:

    Jay, ichannel.fm was actually mentioned prominently in the profile of eRockster.com on InfiniteDial.com earlier this week. They certainly deserve credit for being there first and for being a much more elaborate effort than many. What I was trying to suggest in this article was a format that finds and plays everything that a disenfranchised 16-year-old listener likes–some of which would be unsigned and independent artists and some of which would likely be some music that is on the radio, just deployed differently. But they are certainly important for the choice they offer.

  5. Jay Philpott says:

    D’oh! How did I miss that? I’m a faithful reader, really. Thanks Sean! (Are you coming to Conclave?)

  6. jean says:

    In the meantime, there’s Triple J, radio One, XFM london, INdie 103, KEXP, KCRW, and Yrockxpn + some rad shows on public radio like soundcheck to keep me entertained. YROCK is the best example of the new radio- love it. they have personalities and its internet only- for the most part.

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