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Doomed to Repeat It

Modern rock is the past and classic rock the future for FM radio stations bent on capturing the most lucrative demographic

By David King

Recently I found myself having a conversation with my radio. As a 20-something, I have begun to feel a bit alienated by my radio. So I said, “Radio,” I said, “Radio. . . . I thought we had a deal. Sure, it was a long time ago and I was young and naïve, but nevertheless, I thought we had agreed. I wouldn’t complain about that Alice in Chains song you play to death. I would put up with the Stainds and the Creeds of the world, and the fourth-generation grunge that dominated your airwaves. I would simply cringe while you played Good Charlotte. I would praise you on those rare occasions when you played a song by a new band that actually deserved to be heard, and in return I would never, ever, ever, ever have to hear Journey again. But that’s all over now! Isn’t it?”

You may have noticed it, too. “Classic” old rock is eating up the airwaves, insidiously chewing up and spitting out the modern-rock and -pop stations of the area. And why is that? Why is modern music dying? Frankly, because it sucks. No, I’m not saying all new music is bad. Only the inoffensive drivel the new-music radio stations will take a risk on playing.

I’m talking to you, Three Doors Down.

I mean, let’s be honest here. There are not a whole lot of people running out to follow Trapt around on their world tour, and I don’t know anyone claiming to be a Bizkithead.

In my disappointment, I decided to continue my conversation with some of the people responsible for my radio’s failure to keep up its end of the deal.

Explains Shawn Murphy of Q103, the ’80s-rock-formatted station that was once the modern-rock station the Edge, “New music is not as a good as it used to be. It doesn’t have the appeal it used to have. It used to be that on a modern-rock station, eight or nine of the A-listers were playing arenas. Now, active rock’s A list are playing bars.”

Murphy notes that active-rock and alternative-rock stations are disappearing all over the country. And John Cooper, station manager of classic-rock mainstay PYX 106, agrees. Says Cooper, “There hasn’t been a good solid rock rebirth since grunge. There has been some good stuff, but I don’t think there’s been quantity and quality.”

Realizing that there are good reasons not to play modern rock, I decided I could forgive my radio a bit. But still, I wondered, why not just play hiphop, rap or R&B—the stuff the kids are really into?

According to a recent article in Rolling Stone, classic rock is big with the kids. Suddenly rock artists from the ’60s to the ’80s are chic. The article explained that a whole generation of teens are discovering their parents’ rock albums. Since Rolling Stone hasn’t exactly been in touch with the youth culture for some time, I thought I better do my own poking around.

There are some signs that would seem to corroborate Rolling Stone’s opinion. If you go to a Hot Topic, the corporately packaged home of rebellion, latex and mascara, right next to the Atreyu shirts and the Slipknot jackets, you will see Rolling Stones T-shirts, Iron Maiden wrist bands and Jimi Hendrix caps. Go ahead. Go! I’ll wait.

OK, now that you’re back, now that you’ve seen it, isn’t there something a little suspicious about this? Something a little creepy? Is there really a new wave of interest in classic rock among teens? Let’s be honest here, folks. Classic rock is called classic rock because it is a staple, because it is something that transcends generations, something that people of generation after generation pick up and discover. Classic rock is not the underdog, and it has not been for a while, if it ever was. Don’t act surprised that teens are digging Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, Queen, or even Boston. These are bands who have a solid corporate image, who have become a part of the rock canon. Have things radically changed? No. Today’s teens are simply keeping up on their musical vocabulary.

So why are there Stones shirts in Hot Topic? Because the Stones know how to cash in.

And so do radio stations. Classic-rock radio stations are not shooting for the youth market. Would they be glad to see a sudden taste revolution, with teens trading in their 50 Cent CDs for the Eagles? Of course they would. However, they are quite satisfied with the market they already have, and that is why more and more stations are looking for a piece of it.

Cooper explains that since the ’70s, the rock market has undergone a number of fragmentations of style. “With each fragmentation,” he says, “there was less of an audience for rock.” Therefore, rock stations that focus on the ’60s, ’70s and even the ’80s are still more likely to have a wider, more encompassing reach than any modern-rock station.

Says Murphy, “There is a contingent of listeners who want to hear new music, but there aren’t enough of them to make it happen. The bottom line is, radio is a business.” And it seems that business is good, because the audience for stations like PYX and Q103 is not teens who blow their allowances on video games. These stations are marketing to well-established folks with mortgages, large paychecks and 401ks. People, as Cooper explains, who are “between 35 and 55 years old. A broad range, a lot of people that have kids, married people with children that listen in the car.”

Who would want to advertise to these financially secure people? Beer companies and car dealerships, that’s who. Says Murphy, “We’re reaching out to people who spent high school and college in the ’80s. People who want to reach this demographic are generally beverage companies—beer companies are big. The demo lends itself to car dealers. These are people who now have more and more disposable income each and every year. High-end vehicles, oftentimes investment firms, because people who spent their high school years in the ’80s are more prone to prepare for the future.”

So with all the industry talk out of the way, I had just one question for the guys who make my radio tick: How hard does your station rock? Since PYX and Q103 focus on music from slightly different eras, I presented two different-but-equal scales to compare them. On a scale of Aerosmith as the lightest, Led Zeppelin as medium rockage and Black Sabbath as bash-your-brains-in heavy, Cooper was not willing to pinpoint his station’s hardrockingness. However, he did note that his audience enjoys the “meat and potatoes” rock—the hits from Zeppelin and Aerosmith.

On a scale from Journey as not-so-much rock, solo Ozzy Osbourne as medium rockitude and Iron Maiden as complete hard-rock, thrashing pandemonium, Murphy said his station rocks in at about solo Ozzy.

My radio and I are doing better lately—we have come to another understanding.

The kids these days are not getting their music from the radio. They are getting it from Bittorrent, Soulseek and iTunes, and they are listening to it on their iPods. Radio is playing what it needs to play to keep its base audience. It is doing what it has to do to survive.

My radio has its interests, and I have mine, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get together from time to time. I don’t ask it to play me the new Flaming Lips single and it doesn’t try to make me listen to Puddle of Mud. And on those lazy summer days, while cleaning the car or hanging around in the park, it will be there for me, letting me hear Bowie’s “Changes” or Sabbath’s “Iron Man” roll through the speakers in metallic waves and out into the summer breeze one more time.



CLASSIC ROCK HEARTS THE EROTICS Those cuddly Erotics are just bubbling over with news lately. Here are a couple tidbits for you (beyond the fact that you can now hear the Erotics every time the phone rings—go to and download ringtones—and that you can now download the Erotics music at What is the world coming to?). The band are featured on the cover-mount CD in the April issue of the United Kingdom’s Classic Rock magazine (available here at Borders, Barnes & Noble and the like). Also, in next month’s issue of Classic Rock, we hear that there will be a full-page feature about the Erotics. For more information on the Erotics or to check out their music, visit,, or

YOU SAY YOU WANT A REVOLUTION (HALL) After some time spent out of commission, Troy’s much-loved River Street music venue Revolution Hall is set to reopen this Saturday (April 15) with a new sound system, new staff and an upgraded lighting system and higher stage. The first band to take the stage after all of these changes will be popular local Irish rock band Hair of the Dog. SOS Recording Studio proprietor John Chiara is the new renter and booking agent for the venue; he’s renting from Brown’s Brewing Company owner Garrett Brown.

Prominent local musician Ralph Renna also will book shows on the Revolution Hall stage through his new business, Say Uncle Productions, beginning with the Clay People on June 23. For more information on show dates and ticket info, visit www.revolution

THE ILLUSTRIOUS LUSTRE KINGS The Lustre Kings, arguably the busiest and hardest-working local rockabilly outfit, are about to embark on an end-of-April tour of the Northeast, with some very special guests: world-renowned rockabilly trio Bones Maki & the Sun Dodgers. Two of the Sun Dodgers live in Detroit; the third—who happens to be local celeb Graham Tichy—in upstate New York (we’re thinking that may have had something to do with the band joining our Lustre Kings for this particular tour). The trio play a stripped-down type of rockabilly sans drums—all their sound comes from two guitars and a bass. For more information on the Lustre Kings or their upcoming tour, visit

SARATOGA SPRINGS’ BRITISH INVASION Take advantage of a rare opportunity to have a firsthand glimpse into Britain’s rich recording history tonight (Thursday, April 13) at 8 PM at Skidmore College’s Filene Recital Hall, when three prominent British session musicians have a roundtable discussion about their recordings. The event, called Red Light Fever: British Musicians Remember the Sixties, will feature Big Jim Sullivan, whom George Harrison (in the ’60s) claimed was one of his favorite guitarists; Vic Flick, who’s best known for the James Bond guitar theme; and Andy White, who recorded with the Beatles (he was the drummer on the best-known version of “Love Me Do”; Ringo was on tambourine). The musicians will perform a short concert after the roundtable. For more information on this event, call 580-5322.

OK, YOU CAN PLAY ONE, BUT CAN YOU MAKE ONE? At 11 AM next Thursday (April 20), Hudson Valley Community College will host a lecture called More Than Just Wire and Wood: The Fine Art of Guitar Building, featuring acclaimed luthier Michael Collins. Collins will discuss the ins and outs of making a guitar, such as what different sounds come from different types of woods, and other nuances that bring an instrument to life. The free lecture will take place in the Bulmer Telecommunications Center Auditorium on the HVCC campus (80 Vandenburgh Ave., Troy). For more information on this and other events at HVCC, call 629-4TIX.

—Kathryn Lurie

Got Rough Mix items? Contact Kathryn Lurie at or 463-2500, ext. 143.

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