WHO KILLED ROCK RADIO?

Modern Rock radio once offered serious music fans refuge from the one-hit wonders, mind-numbing repetitions, and classic schlock of Top 40. Today, the format is as bland and predictable as a Third Eye Blind single. Keith Moerer plows through the rubble of the modern-rock revolution.

by Keith Moerer for SPIN -- February 1998


This particular radio station calls itself Zone 105. It happens to be in Minneapolis, but it could as easily be in Dallas or Pittsburgh, Houston or Sacramento. Every five minutes or so, the DJ promises a "new alternative." Apparently, this means 10,000 Maniacs, minus Natalie Merchant, covering a 15-year old Roxy Music song, and Blues Traveler's John Popper screeching about his "most precarious mental state." Sandwiched in between is Kurt Cobain, sadly singing "The Man Who Sold the World."

Eight months before, this same signal supported REV 105, an adventurous station that flowed effortlessly from Beck to James Brown, emphasizing emerging artists like Soul Coughing, Ani DiFranco and Portishead, and seasoning the mix with older heroes such as Husker Du and Prince. The reason why this one good station is no longer on the air, and why so many bad stations still are, says a lot about what's wrong with radio in 1998.

For anyone who loves music, most commercial radio frustrates because it's programmed for everyone's benefit -- advertisers, record companies, the most casual listeners -- but their own. REV 105, by defining modern rock in a broad but informed way, and by avoiding the mindnumbing repetition that drives dedicated music fans crazy, violated two tenets of the ratings-obsessed radio programmer: Keep your playlist tight, and pound the hits till your most fickle listeners are familiar with them. Despite a weak broadcast signal, such renegade behavior earned REV 105 respectable ratings -- at one time a 5.4 market share of 18-to-34 year-old listeners -- and a loyal, grateful following in a town steeped in a musical risk-taking tradition.

Then, last March, ABC/Disney, which already owned Minneapolis's other, larger Modern Rock outlet, the Edge, purchased REV 105 at an estimated cost of $17.8 million. Overnight, the station morphed
from an idiosyncratic hybrid programmed by veteran rock-club DJ Kevin Cole into a tightly formatted "Active Rock" station (think Aerosmith and the Stones, with a little Offspring and Everclear thrown in). Within months, ABC/Disney decided that even one Modern Rock station was one too many, nipping its Active Rock outpost to its stronger signal, and replacing the Edge with Zone 105, an "Adult Alternative" station that defined "alternative" as everything from the Indigo Girls and Jamiroquai to Sarah McLachlan and Blues Traveler. At the outset of 1997, music fans in the Twin Cities enjoyed two quality Modern Rock radio stations. At year's end, they had bubkes.

Must commercial radio suck?? Increasingly, the answer appears to be a resounding, disheartening yes. "Ratings matter, and that's all," says Shawn Stewart, who worked as music director at REV 105 in Minneapolis before it was purchased by Disney. "If you're reporting to Mickey Mouse, Mickey's got a big bottom line." Stewart now works at a public station, WXPN, in Philadelphia.

Not even Modern Rock radio's ratings champ likes what he hears these days. "In general, Modern Rock radio is boring," admits Kevin Weatherly, vice president of programming at KROQ, the top rated rock station in Los Angeles, the nation's most lucrative radio market. "There are a lot of program directors who don't even look at their own markets. They took at other stations instead." And the station they look to the most is KROQ, obsessively checking to see if 'Kevin' (as he's known, loved, and feared) has added Reel Big Fish to heavy rotation, or decreed that Prodigy be confined to the evening hours.

There are a number of factors behind the precipitous rise and musical freefall of Modern Rock radio, and they're as predictable as a new Sponge single. As alternative rock became a dominant commercial force, more and more stations quickly jumped on the band wagon. What began as a handful of quirky stations attempting to define themselves against the mainstream has become a sumo wrestling match between radio conglomerates desperate for ratings and intent on shaping rock's newest mainstream. But Modern Rock -- the radio format and the music itself -- wasn't really up for the fight, and so listeners have been left to suffer with stations that have about as much personality and originality as the acts they heavily, ceaselessly rotate. How is Modern Rock radio defined in 1998? Mostly by songs that are bigger stars than the here-today, gone-tomorrow artists who perform them: "Walking on the Sun" (Smash Mouth), "Push" (Matchbox 20), "Come On Eileen" (Save Ferris), "Fly"' (Sugar Ray).

Modern Rock programmers say it's the music's fault. "By the time we played 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' for the thousandth time, it didn't smell so good any more," explains Brian Philips, who program directs at Atlanta's powerful Modern Rock outlet, 99X. Many of the bands he counted on three years ago have broken up or are in seemingly permanent rehab. And, he says, "in a bleak pop music environment, you really are forced to look for the quick fix, the sugar high, the record that gets through the next 30 days. We're succeeding right now with songs that are huge and of the moment. When they're gone, they won't be back."

It's a shame, really, because six years ago, Modern Rock radio seemed so promising. Sure, stations were too devoted to white boys with guitars, but didn't bands such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam rewrite expectations about what commercial music could be? More than a musical revolution, the battle since has mostly been fought over ratings, and by extension, ad revenues. Modern Rock stations that were lucky to own two percent of the listening audience in 1991 (pre-Nevermind) now find themselves desperate to hold onto a less loyal audience twice that size. Most have done this by tightening their playlists to 35 or 40 of the surest hit singles, and embracing softer, more mainstream artists -- the Wallflowers, Jewel -- who never would have qualified as Modern Rock six years ago.

Edgier artists have it particularly hard right now. Eighteen months ago, Rage Against the Machine had their biggest radio hit with "Bulls on Parade." Today, it's doubtful that Modern Rock stations would be so supportive. "Because of the ratings crunch, these stations are steering away from anything they perceive as possibly turning people off," says Stu Bergen, vice president in charge of alternative radio promotion at Epic Records, Rage's label. "But if you worry so much about people tuning out, you don't give them a reason to tune in."

Only the most naive listener believes that radio stations are programmed by DJs plucking their favorites from a massive library of CDs. This still happens at college radio, and at good listener supported stations like WXPN in Philadelphia, WFMU in East Orange, New Jersey, and KCRW in Santa Monica, California. At virtually all commercial stations, however, playlists are determined by program directors or music directors, working with consultants paid to research how stations can reach the greatest number of target listeners-say, men 18-to-34 or women 25-to-44. Since the commercial breakthrough of Nirvana, most Modern Rock radio stations have edged closer and closer to Top 40 radio formulas established in the 1950s, pounding about three dozen "currents" (radio jargon for "current singles") plus the occasional oldie and some "recurrents" (fairly moldy hits that serve as sonic comfort food).

For any station, the trick is to play enough new music to satisfy loyalists (a station's score ), while snagging channel-jumpers who tune in to six different stations and never stick around longer than a song or two (they dominate a station's "cume" or cumulative audiences). Some commercial stations play as few as 20 currents, and a few play as many as 50. Very few stations, such as WOXY in Oxford, Ohio, play more. I asked a dozen different programmers, radio consultants, and trade journal reporters why, and heard the same answer phrased in slightly different ways. Because listeners can only absorb so much new music. Because it's the only way to make a difference with record sales. Because it works, dammit. The most telling answer came from Kevin Stapleford, who programmed 91X in San Diego for six years but is now a consultant with his own firm, KDK Media. "Radio isn't really meant for people who listen to it for hours," he explained in a voice hovering between acceptance and despair. "Radio is designed for people who listen for ten minutes at a time."

At a typical station, only three new songs are added each week. Over the past five years, the number of singles competing for those slots has grown dramatically, as record labels have scrambled to cash in on the Modern Rock boom. "Just because the amount of music has tripled doesn't mean we have three times better music to choose from," admits Weatherly of KROQ. "All that's happened is that there's a lot more mediocrity." Adds A&M Records Chairman and CEO Al Cafaro, a former radio promotion executive, "The record industry has consistently gone for the short term."

But cynicism is not always a guarantee of success, either. According to Los Angeles radio consultant Jeff Pollack, a song has to be played for "at least four weeks" before stations can start testing its commercial viability, and six weeks or more before they know if it's connecting, To determine whether to stick with a song or not, stations weigh several factors: the number of phone-in requests, local CD sales as tracked each week by SoundScan, and call-out research, in which listeners are asked to rate songs for favorability, familiarity, and burnout. Programmers always add that gut instinct factors in somehow, but it's hard to imagine it being a match for the mathematical certainties of market research. Consider the press-time numbers for "Semi-Charmed Life" by Third Eye Blind: Familiarity is strong (88.9 percent), but favorability is way down (3.62 percent), and total burn is up to a disturbing 28.1 percent. Is it time to jump and hope for the best from the Kottonmouth Kings' new single?

Does this sound bloodless? It is, and never more so than now. Radio stations once used index card systems, with each song coded for tempo, style, end frequency of play. Music directors spent entire afternoons planning the next day's log, a run sheet plotting out which songs would play when, what ads would play in between -- even those spaces where DJs could speak. It was a slow, archaic system, but it was human and open to quiet subversion by DJs who might "misplace" an Alanis Morissette card, or mistakenly play two "red" songs in a row.

No more. Today, almost every station uses a software program -- the most common is called Selector -- which requires music directors to code each song as before, but sequences a station's playlist by computer. As Tom Zarecki, marketing director of Radio Computing Services, proudly boasts of Selector, "You can program 24 hours in less then a minute!" Just press F10 and shuffle 40 of the most overplayed songs in America.

For fun, I downloaded a demo of Selector from the company's Web site and tested the software myself. I've never worked as a programmer (computer or radio), but had no trouble categorizing songs by basic tempo or the more refined beats-per-minute. Other codes proved more vexing. On a scale of one to five, how would you rate the Foo Fighters' "Everlong" for mood? Apparently, Selector is there to serve as a kind of audio Prozac ("can be used in Iyric intensive formats to keep the music from becoming too depressing, too uplifting, or 'rollercoastering' back and forth between the two").

Though Selector claims its software contains no inherent bias, it's only as noble or flawed as the programmer who uses it. For example, stations skewed toward a male audience can count on Selector's support to guarantee they play "no more than one female in a row." To prevent the unthinkable that the computer would simply spit out an alternating boy-girl lineup -- Selector assumes skittish programmers that they can set an hourly maximum of female artists. After 15 minutes of programming women out of my mythical radio world, I felt incredibly guilty for not making it to Lilith Fair last summer.

To understand how we've reached this point, consider a bit of radio history. Back in the late '60s and early '70s, AM radio was where the listeners and money were. The newly emerging FM stations were low-risk experiments in free-form radio, melding anti Vietnam War sentiments and the emerging drug culture to a dizzying array of musical choice -- everything from Sun Ra to Jimi Hendrix to the Turtles. White it's tempting to pine for the sweet smell of anarchy, such pioneering FM stations as San Francisco's KSAN were only as good as the DJs programming them minute to minute deeply personal and captivating when they connected, wildly self-indulgent when they didn't.

Radio consultant Lee Abrams was the first to suggest bringing order to this chaos, which he did in the mid-'70s by persuading ABC to buy into his idea of a Star Station, which eventually calcified into research-driven album-rock radio -- you know, Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, the Stones. Until KROQ became the first '"commercial alternative" station in the late '70s, it was one of the last free- form stations around, a failing Pasadena, California, enterprise with a weak signal and not much to lose. Guided by rock radio veteran Rick Carroll, the embryonic KROQ played Tom Petty, the Cars, and Oingo Boingo along with British new wave artists such as the Cure and Depeche Mode.

While AOR radio played it safe in the '80s, courting an older audience that radio advertisers love, the post-punk underground was nurtured by college radio and edgier commercial stations such as WFNX in Boston and 91X in San Diego. Part of their appeal was what they played artists like the Minutemen and the Replacements that no one else would touch and that they played them with less repetition than commercial stations with bigger Arbitron numbers to protect. Even at the time of Nevermind's release in 1991, there were only about two dozen alternative-rock stations in the country, ranging from big stations such as KROQ and WHFS in Washington, D.C., to small independents like WOXY and WEQX in Manchester, Vermont. "If you talk to Kevin Weatherly or Oedipus [at WBCN in Boston], we all kind of miss those days," says Jim McGuinn, who was program director at WEQX before Nirvana broke. "In 1991, you could play a Billy Bragg record and not worry about it because the AOR station was playing the worst hair metal, and the Top 40 station was playing Paula Abdul. It's definitely tighter now. There's more at stake, more competition."

Today, there are about 130 Modern Rock stations, 109 of which report to Radio & Records, the national radio trade journal. Every city of any size has one such station and many cities claim two or more. But with rapid growth came growing pains. As Modern Rock ratings increased, so did ad rates; with bigger ad revenues came new competitors, who poached some of the format's music. Active Rock stations -- essentially retooled AOR outlets -- try to woo teenage boys who like Nirvana and Led Zeppelin. "Modern AC" stations serve women who like Sarah McLachlan and Jewel, but don t know what to make of Beck or Prodigy.

With so many stations going after the same audience, the bottom nearly fell out of Modern Rock radio last winter. Stations that had doubled their ratings overnight found them cut almost as quickly. Between the spring of '96 and spring '97, KNRK in Portland, Oregon, saw its Arbitron ratings slide from 4.4 to 2.9 percent of the listening audience. WDGE in Providence was down from 3.0 to 1.7. WMRQ in Hartford, Connecticut, down from 5.7 to 3.9. KEDG in Las Vegas, down from 7.0 to 4.1. Even KROQ took a hit. By the fall of '96, the station had fallen from a high of 4.5 the previous summer to a shaky 2.9. As Sky Daniels, alternative editor for Radio & Records, puts it, "I felt like I was in the Red Cross, wiping the brows of the wounded."

On the surface, things have improved in Modern Rock radio this year. Thanks to stations like KROQ throwing its weight behind the Orange County ska scene, and aggressively looking to break new artists as quickly as possible. "It's too early to say we're on an up cycle," says Weatherly. "We don't have a lot of artists that people are passionate about like they were three or four years ago, but we do have a lot of interesting songs out there."

But chasing after one-hit wonders is precisely what ails the music industry, says Gary Spivack, head of alternative radio promotion at Atlantic Records. "You have about three weeks to bust a record," he complains. "If you don't, you have to move on. [Radio] stations don't give a shit about artist development. All they care about is advertising revenue." (Atlantic, counters Weatherly, "is the epitome of a hit-driven company.")

"Everybody is sick of what's happening at modern rock radio -- all the one-hit wonders," says one major label vice president, who feels the music industry should be held to equal blame. "Everyone says that they're interested in 'artist development' -- radio programmers, record companies -- but nobody does anything about it. There's an enormous amount of pressure to make your numbers [every 90 days], but that's a stupid way to run a record company, because the way you make money is through catalog sales The same is true at radio; they're under the same pressure to keep ratings as high as possible and take as few risks as possible."

The record industry went through its own wave of consolidation in the late '80s and early '90s, when new
multi billion-dollar empires such as Time-Warner were built end artist-oriented labels such as Warner Bros. Records were dismantled. A&M Chairman/CEO Cafaro says the need to keep short-term label profits high has never been more intense -- and not just because most record companies now answer to Wall Street: "Thanks to the use of SoundScan by journalists and broadcasters to quantify who's hot and who's not, the industry has developed a Hollywood blockbuster-type mentality, with an emphasis on who opened big and what records quickly 'fail'. But some artists have to develop off the radar screen. You need space to make certain things happen."

More than anything, the tortured relationship between radio and the record industry resembles that of a codependent couple deeply in love when things go well, but bitter enemies when they don't. Record executives may complain about tight playlists, but they love them, too. "Repetition is what makes radio powerful," says one major-label chief. "As an executive, you're all in favor of repetition as long as it's one of your artists being played.

"Look, modern-rock radio is simply a business," he continues. "If they feel they have an audience committed to artists, they veer toward artists. If they get research telling them their audience is more into hit songs, they'll go that way."

Weatherly says that these arguments aren't fair. While KROQ has an obligation to play the hits, he insists it also has an incentive to develop long-term artists, among which he counts such recent breakthroughs as the Wallflowers and Fiona Apple. When it's suggested that these artists might not have qualified as Modern Rock five years ago, Weatherly jumps to their defense. "I totally disagree! What's the difference between Fiona Apple in 1997 and Tori Amos in 1994? You can compare the Wallflowers to R.E.M. Look, I don't know if we'll see the next big cultural revolution, like '91 and '92, for 15 years. Part of what we do is strike that balance between satisfying the cool, cutting-edge core of our audience, yet at the same time not blow off a big potential part of it."

Put another way, Modern Rock has largely become Top 40 radio, driven by hit singles instead of artists or albums. There's nothing inherently wrong with this: in the '60s, Top 40 found enough room for the Supremes and the Beatles; in the '70s, it was open enough to accommodate Al Green and Neil Young. The best example of Top 40 today is probably MTV, which has a playlist as tight as most Modern Rock stations, but is more expansive about what it includes: hip-hop, R&B, hard rock, teen pop, over-the-top balladry. Anything, really, that the kids wanna hear.

But Modern Rock radio has deeper ties to the free-form FM '70s, and the belief that artists are worthy enough to feature three or four of their tracks at a time -- not just the hits -- and that rock'n'roll stands for youth and rebellion and uncompromising personal visions. That's the formula, or idea, on which the commercial alternative format was launched," says Philips of 99X. "When Jimi Hendrix's debut came out, there
was no place but progressive-rock radio for it. One of the things that attracted me to Modern Rock was the goundswell of very active records that weren't reflected anywhere else on the dial."

And now? Philips is willing to settle for being the first to play a freak hit by the British collective Chumbawamba, which was quickly appropriated by the stadium sports crowd. "It's funny, I was in South Florida," he says, "and the Top 40 station was using 'Tubthumping' as the Marlins' comeback theme song. At that point, it belongs to the world, I guess. But a few songs like that keep us in business. To miss a few of those would put us in serious jeopardy."

What's distressing is not that Philips knows a good sing-along when he hears one. It's that artists whose work defines Modern rock in the late '90s -- Bjork, let's say, or Prodigy -- are relegated to late-night play or light rotation on the older-adult-leaning stations, if they're played at all. Philips sounds like the stodgiest Top 40 programmer when he talks about why a typical Prodigy song doesn't work well on 99X: "What are you supposed to do to it? There's nothing to sing along to; there's no lyric per se. There's no traditional melody or harmony. It's a little bit... abstract to work as a traditional radio song."

Tom Calderone of Jacobs Media, which consults 18 stations that answer to the Edge name, argues that any musical compromise has been minor compared to the popular gains in market share made by Modern Rock radio. "I think it's better that the audience is bigger now," he says, "because you're still exposing new music to more people, and that's a great thing. But with that comes responsibility to the ownership -- and ownership supersedes consultants, programmers and everyone else."

Increasingly, those owners are shareholder-driven conglomerates such as CBS's radio division, which boasts 173 stations with $1.4 billion in 1996 revenue. By comparison, sixth-ranked ABC is a relatively small fry, with just 27 stations and $306 million in 1996 gross revenues. That Disney/ABC were permitted to purchase REV 105 and their three signals, when they already owned KQRS, KEGE, and KDIZ in the Twin Cities, is a direct result of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Previously, no company could own more than four signals in any one market, and no more than 40 stations overall. The first rewrite of broadcast law in 62 years, the Telecom Act allowed companies to own as many as eight stations in a market, and completely lifted restrictions on total station ownership.

In the two years since the federal Telecommunications Act went into effect, nearly a quarter [note: currently 43%] of the nation's radio stations have changed hands in deals totaling close to $25 billion. The new buzz term in the industry is "cluster group," with companies attempting to cover, say, all the male beer drinkers in a market. According to a 1997 study by BIA Research inc., the top five companies already control 45.4 percent of the radio revenue in the Top 100 broadcast markets. The Wall Street Journal noted in September that the nation's two biggest radio players, Westinghouse (since renamed CBS) and Chancellor Media, control more then 50 percent of radio revenue in the country's top six markets (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Detroit).

Proponents of consolidation argue that, once the dust has settled, there will actually be more diversity because CBS is going to make certain its eight stations in Boston are all different from one another. The counter argument is that companies are likely to own a wide variety of station types nationwide -- Modern Rock, Modern A/C, Active Rock -- with little to distinguish individual stations market to-market. Shawn Stewart of WXPN contends that radio clusters will inevitably produce bland programming engineered for maximum financial pleasure. "The only thing consolidation is good for," she says, "is people who are purely in the business of radio."

There are two things Dough Balogh won't part with. "I won't sell my dogs," he says, "and I won't sell my radio station." So far no one's offered to buy his Airedale or pair of Welsh terriers. His station, WOXY of Oxford, Ohio, is another matter. In the last year alone he's been approached by four potential buyers of his station, 97X, which serves a college town of 26,000 plus half of Dayton and two thirds of Cincinnati. When he and his wife, Linda, bought WOXY in 1981, they paid $375,000 for it. He figures they could get three million dollars today. "We couldn't have afforded to buy it at that price," he says, sounding sadder about how radio has changed in recent years than excited by the prospect of cashing in. "We certainly couldn't do what we're doing now.'

What WOXY does now is what it's done since 1983, which is program for "educated, socially and environmentally concerned... serious music lovers." This comes from 97X's rambling mission statement, but it's those last three words that are particularly important. When the Baloghs interviewed Miami (Ohio) University students shortly after buying the station, they discovered two things: that their potential audience wanted to hear new music, and they didn't want to suffer through the same few songs over and over. In the beginning, WOXY was a carbon copy of KROQ. The first three years, the Baloghs lost money: they spent the next three trying to break even. Though he won't specify how much, Balogh says 97X has been profitable ever since, each year making a little more than the last.

But forget financial success; it's WOXY s programming that stands out. Today, KROQ could take some cues from the Oxford station. First, look at WOXY's play list for the last week of September. There were 86 "currents," including a number of artists that never, or rarely, get played on KROQ: Spiritualized, Stereolab, Cornershop, Luna, Guided by Voices, Richard Thompson, Patti Smith, Portishead, and Barbara Manning. The station added 12 new songs that week, and played only one track, Bjork's "Joga," more than two dozen times.

Now look at KROQ's playlist for the same week. Only two new songs were added to the station's rotation, "Please" by U2 and the Verve's "Bitter Sweet Symphony." Its currents total about 45 songs -- a little higher than the industry average. And KROQ "pounded" each of its six top songs more times than WOXY
played "Joga" -- a brilliant track the L.A. station had yet to add to regular notation.

From a business standpoint, there's no contest. KROQ may be the most profitable rock radio station in the country. In 1996, CBS bought it through a merger with Infinity Broadcasting that totaled five billion dollars, and the station is now the flagship of a Modern Rock radio empire that also includes K-Rock in New York, Live 105 in San Francisco, WHFS in Washington, D.C., WBCN in Boston, and KOME in San Jose, California.

But for radio listeners who love music, especially new music, WOXY is the more interesting station. It's not so much that good radio is the province of small, independent stations such as WOXY. KROQ actually got better musically, and also prospered financially, when it was swallowed by broadcasting giant infinity in 1986. But what is clear is that stations are now trading for ridiculous amounts of money, which, obviously, makes free-form radio almost impossible. Radio properties that were bought for two million dollars three years ago have traded for as much as $18 million. Stations that were once sold at prices eight times their annual cash flow are now trading at double those rates, meaning that the new owners have crushing debt to retire and enormous pressure to boost ratings to maximize profits.

When Balogh is asked if WOXY could be programmed the way it is now if he'd just bought the station at today's market rates, he doesn't hesitate: "Absolutely not! Debt is a great inhibitor of creativity. As business people, my wife and I have a responsibility to make money."

Balogh used to work for Westinghouse, so he knows how even the best large corporations are run. Asked what he would do if he headed a company that owned dozens of stations around the country, Balogh says, "If I had 25 Modern Rock stations, I would spend the next year putting together the best possible syndicated Modern Rock format I could, and then feed it out to all 25 stations by satellite."

As radio stations continue to trade for astronomical prices -- in September, CBS acquired four stations in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the nation's 117th largest market, as part of an $18 million deal -- some indie owners are sticking to their guns. One former program director, currently looking for a home some where else on the dial, recently asked a small New England station owner if he'd sell his FCC license for $20 million. "Fuck no!" said the owner. "I'm holding out for $30 million."

The way Daniels of Radio & Records sees it, Modern Rock radio is in danger of becoming the '90s equivalent of the AOR dinosaur that alternative rock supposedly made extinct. By programming conservatively to more mature listeners, Modern Rock is cutting itself off from the next generation, which has grown up on hip-hop as much as rock. He keeps waiting for an adventurous programmer, probably in some small town in the Midwest or South, to stumble onto a new rhythm oriented alternative, one that makes the connections among electronica, hip hop, and such beat-oriented rock outfits as Soul Coughing. The problem, he admits, is that there's no such thing anymore as a cheap radio station.

"You have 500-watt AM stations going for ridiculous amounts of money," he says, but he's crossing his fingers that the old formulas stop working so some new ideas can prevail. "Now is a good time," Daniels says, "for someone with a vision looking for a station owner who's desperate." As for desperate listeners, don't expect real change to happen any time soon.

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