Pop-Ed: The Death of Alternative Radio in New York…again

bill bodkin gives the first official op-ed piece on pop-break…

New Rock 101.9 we hardly knew ye.

No seriously, what was it two months?

Today, the alternative rock fans of New York and New Jersey were punched in their musical guts again as it was announced that, New Rock 101.9 would cease airing in November and it would become the new FM home for CBS radio’s mega-popular WFAN sports-talk radio station.

And unless CBS Radio decides to move New Rock 101.9’s format to one of its other radio stations (and we know it won’t be 92.3, which is currently a pop radio format), alternative rock will officially be dead, most likely for good, in the New York/New Jersey area.

This notion baffles me quite frankly. How can rock ‘n’ roll, in its most modern of forms, not be successful in one of the biggest markets in the United States of America?

I mean you can drive through Baltimore, Maryland and listen to WHFS and hearing everything from Clutch to Flogging Molly while Philly’s Radio 104.5 plays every bit of electro synth-fueled piece of hipster alt. Alt rock can make it there, why can’t it make it in New York City?

I’ve been kicking around thoughts in my brain about why and a lot of the usual suspects popped up…

There’s no good music out there. This is completely subjective, as some people think the playlists of New Rock 101.9 were mediocre at best. And this is a valid argument — playing tracks off Stone Temple Pilot’s album Core, isn’t exactly “new rock” and it’s also stuff you can hear on any hard rock or even classic rock radio stations these days. But where else on the radio dial could you hear bands like The Lumineers, Imagine Dragons, Rise Against, Bad Religion or The Gaslight Anthem — all in a row? Nowhere. (Gaslight has gotten more play down the Jersey Shore in recent months in all honesty). Where else is the new Muse or Killers singles being played? Passion Pit? Phoenix? MGMT? Young the Giant? All pretty popular bands not getting any air play on non-college radio stations in this area.

A lot of New York/New Jersey music lovers discovered The Lumineers on New Rock 101.9

Rock isn’t Popular Anymore. Even if you’re not into the top bands of today’s music, they’re still making money. The Killers just sold out Madison Square Garden in minutes. Gaslight Anthem has a three day sold out series at Terminal 5. Muse will undoubtedly sell out MSG. Silver Sun Pick-Ups had to add dates to their New York stand due to sell-outs. And those are just the contemporary bands. The “old-timers” like STP sold out in Atlantic City, Smashing Pumpkins are headlining the new arena in Brooklyn and let’s not be shocked when No Doubt and Green Day have ludicrously packed shows in the area. So what I’m saying is — if these bands are making money touring, people have to be listening, right?

Even when he was the figurehead of 101.9 RXP, not even Matt Pinfield, couldn’t even bring the masses to alternative rock

No One Buys CD’s and No One Listens to The Radio. Yes, no one buys albums anymore, we know. Just look at vinyl sales…wait a second. See what I did there. But seriously, album sales aren’t there anymore, say like they were in alt-rock’s heyday of the mid-90s to early 00’s. Spotify, Rdio, Turntable.FM and other streaming sites have eliminated the need for the office radio. Smartphones, in all their glory, have also taken a chunk out of terrestrial radio’s market as has satellite radio. But not everyone is blessed with the fortune of having these items — people still listen to the radio, don’t they?

Maybe it’s because I’m not well-versed in the world of radio, but I just can’t put my finger on why alternative/rock radio hasn’t survived in this area. 92.3 K-Rock suffered two inglorious deaths, FM 106/G-Rock Radio fell victim to format change and now 101.9 has been silenced for the second time.

In some respects I get it, sports talk radio is big business and brings in a lot of advertising dollar. It’s appeal is much wider than alternative — with listeners of both sexes and of all ages glued to the words of WFAN’s Craig Carton and Mike Francesa or ESPN’s Michael Kay and Stephen A. Smith on a daily basis. And sports, especially in this area is more popular than alternative, with the Yankees and Giants as perennial playoff contenders and The Knicks, The Mets and The Jets always in some sort of dramatic kerfuffle.

And it’s not just sports talk that’s killing alternative, it’s the mega-popularity of pop, dance, hip-hop and country, that is holding a still strong rock scene down in this area. Their numbers and the names attached to them are exponentially more profitable than those of alternative. And let’s face it, if alternative kingpin Matt Pinfield, couldn’t be the pied piper for alternative, who really can?

So today, I lament the loss of alternative rock radio in the New York/New Jersey area. I’ll miss the days of discovering new artists or uncovering long-forgotten alt chestnuts like I did on the glory days of 101.9 or even dead and buried stations like K-Rock and G-Rock/FM 106. Here’s hoping that one day, a true savior of rock ‘n’ roll can come along and re-energize this wounded musical genre and bring it back to the heights of glory it experienced for so many decades.

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site’s podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites

1 COMMENT

  1. Great article sir. This and 104.5 are the only stations I listened to frequently and a second demise makes me sad. 

  2. After doing extensive research on this, I learned that the mindset of radio corporate dudes is your second (rock isnt popular anymore) and third (no one buys CDs/listens to the radio) notion mixed together. These industry heads have this stupid idea that talk/sports/news radio will give them more ratings. It’s ridiculous. The majority dont really want to hear that stuff and Merlin’s low ratings in the past proves that.

  3. Great article man. The reason that this station is going away (again) is simply because CBS Broadcasting made Merlin Broadcasting an offer that they couldn’t refuse. $75 million.

    The station was getting good ratings and they were growing exponentially, however $75 mil is $75 mil and the tiny, floundering Merlin Broadcasting felt they had to take it to survive. Shame, I advertised on 101.9 and saw great results over the past few weeks.

  4. This change is BS. WFAN had to take my favorite station? You think listeners are on a wild ride?, I have friends that work there that have survived these perpetual changes. Their heads are spinning. Lets hope that management realizes that they have something really good with alternative and relocate it somewhere else on the dial. Alternative rock has and will continue to make money! NYC deserves more than the boring pop disco played everywhere, bring back rock, bring back alternative, and leave it the hell alone…..

  5. Thing is, alternative music WAS surviving and thriving here in NYC. When Merlin Media switched back to the alt rock format, the ratings tripled – and that was just with a skeleton crew and NO marketing behind them. The only thing I hope is that with the WRXP experient, some company realizes that there IS a market for alternative music in NYC and takes a chance.

  6. Please help them stay – we don’t call, (i do not need a back stage meet and greet) but we listen – we are rockers not out for glam or pop – but we buy music – attend concerts ( once and a while) and love listening while we commute and clean – please we need this station in the NY NJ area – or else I will have to listen my ipod.

  7. 101.9 was my favorite station to listen to. I was very dissapointed when it went off the air, thrilled when it came back and now that its gone again i am frustrated. Yeah theres always 104.3 , (cool station also), but its not the same .There are songs that i havent heard since alternative went off the air. I am still hoping it is brought back.