Wednesday, March 11, 2009

K-Rock is Dead; Long Live K-Rock

K-Rock is no more.

The legendary New York rock station—which has gone through several reincarnations in the last few years—will no longer play rock music. Now positioned to directly compete with giant Z100 (#2 in Arbitron ratings), 92.3 FM will be Top 40, Now FM.

Radio station format changes tend to be abrupt, with notice received within a day or two of the switch. Or, as what happened in 2005 with 101.1, when the longtime oldies station just suddenly switched to Jack FM, the hot format at the time. The tri-state area was pissed, and outcries continued for the next several weeks.

The same thing is happening here. Although K-Rock, or WRXK, has been sucking for several years, it was still the default rock station, despite going through several format changes in the last decade. Most trace K-Rock’s problems back to when Howard Stern left for Sirius three years ago. Recently, it has played “classic” rock and nineties alternative, but the station had little relevance in today’s music environment, and it didn’t feed on nostalgia. Classic rock in New York is Q104.3, regular rock was 92.3. That’s how it is.

To further alienate radio fans, popular and controversial morning jocks Opie and Anthony were also given a pink slip Monday, a few hours after interviewing Russell Brand (which I happened to catch, oddly enough).

Why this change of heart? While K-Rock might have only been useful for leftover grunge fans and Opie & Anthony addicts, it still served a niche. RXP, the year-old upstart indie and alternative station on 101.9, played a vastly different type of rock, and so did Q 104. Most of the other stations on the dial were some meld of adult contemporary, hip-hop, dance, or other genres. But Top 40 is antithetical to what K-Rock has always stood for, another reason why the change feels like such a sting.

According to the Times, which broke the story, K-Rock was destroyed by the same thing that has decimated many others: American Idol. iTunes downloads and American Idol have shown that basic pop music has multigenerational appeal, and those that listen tend to purchase iTunes downloads, concert tickets and the like. So, in true fashion, they will follow the money.

Opie & Anthony had good ratings (as they point out in their Twitter post), but the station itself was ranked #21 in New York City by Arbitron. The analyst quoted in the Times article also pointed out that stations traditionally aimed at adults—106.7 Lite FM, 95.5 PLJ, FRESH 102.7—were losing listeners to younger-targeting pop stations like Z100, and that hip-hop is still very much a niche.

Radio in New York’s metropolitan area has long been a joke, an embarrassment to the city. Up until last year, unless you listened to a public station, indie rock music—even by bands as mainstream as Death Cab for Cutie—was nonexistent, and country radio has been banished for practically a decade; forget about funkier genres like ska. It’s a shame, and the internet has only accelerated the movement away from radio. New music was better off found from a million other sources, including those old-fashioned media of television and magazines.

It’s a bad move. 92.3 is so synonymous with rock that someone flipping the dial and coming across Taylor Swift or Lil Wayne will just recoil in horror and change the station as soon as their brain registers the note. To go head-to-head with a powerhouse as unchallenged as Z100 requires that the station form an identity and a difference that makes Z100 look either old-fashioned or for the kiddies (the latter point could be easy to do, if done right). Besides, the vast majority of songs Z100 plays are already spun on a number of different stations, ranging from KTU to LiteFM, and some of the lucky artists, like Rihanna, get played on all of them. Why should Now FM just be another copycat?


Emily said...

Ugh. This is the SAME THING they did with 106.3 down here. I am still so pissed about it. Do we really need THREE Top 40 stations?! I now have to resort to 95.5PLJ, which although does have some variety, is still mostly the same.

Damn you, American Idol!

John said...

"forget about funkier genres like ska." NEVER!

I was really enjoying the most recent iteration of K-Rock. The DJs had personality, some of the music picks were refreshing (not always bands' #1 singles) and when they let the listeners make whole playlists it was even better. It's a shame that RXP (and underdog station G-Rock) ended up out-K-Rocking K-Rock.

It's sad to see Opie and Anthony go. I really enjoy their style. Without them and Grosse Pointe Blank for inspiration, I never would've gotten into college radio.

Is there any word on what the original "K-Rock", KROQ, is doing? Still going strong, I hope...

MediaMaven said...

John, I put that in for you.

I'm expecting to hear some backlash against this decision, especially regarding Opie & Anthony--they're huge. The stunt that got them kicked off the air in 2002 (back when they were on WNEW, which was then 102.7; a website still lives on) is legendary. They should be back on the air at some point (even if they migrate to satellite) soon.

KROQ is a station in California. The New York equivalent doesn't exist, though there's K-Rock 2 on HD.

Emily--I first assumed you were including PST in your assessment, which we don't get up here...but that would add the count to four. Ouch. Oversaturated, much?

John said...

I'm well aware of KROQ's location, but I also remember the tales of when WXRK first became K-Rock. Apparently they stole sound clips of popular musicians saying "you're listening to KROQ" and used them for their own station, since the same parent company owns them both (I think.) When it started, our K-Rock was just an east coast copy of KROQ. Of course WROQ doesn't have the same ring to it, so they just stole the name's sound and downplayed the use of call letters.