Last DJ Out, Turn Off the Transmitter
There's a great piece in the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot by Clay Barbour about the shifting sands in the Hampton Roads radio landscape, which invariably mean, like any other town, uninspiring formats, tight-as-a-drum playlists and fewer DJs saying next to nothing.
All have these changes have supposedly been ordained by the research gods. Actually, they're decreed by station managers and owners who are in a panic trying to save their skins. The younger demos no longer make radio a must-go-to medium, if they make it at all. They download. They stream. They listen to whatever station they want online wherever it may be. Maybe they have a Sirius XM subscription. But terrestrial radio? Nah.
And it's hard to blame them. The formats are bland, stultifying and often played on stations with 15-18 minutes of spots an hour. Most commercial FM rock stations have long since stopped being a place to discover new music. Or even old music. Many classic rock stations have a few hundred songs in rotation, at most.
A happy exception is the AAA, or adult album alternative, format. The Hampton Roads market, as the article notes, has a relatively new AAA station, 102.1 FM The Tide. Think of the format as the 21st-century version of the progressive rock stations that were birthed back when FM was a radio afterthought. The playlists--if they exist at all--are usually expansive, with a mix of old and new, platinum sellers and the undeservedly obscure. The DJs, who know and love the music, can say things other than what's prescribed on so-called liner cards. And stations invariably develop deep connections with listeners.
These are the kind of stations that will usually never be #1 in their markets, but the listenership is loyal and doesn't rush to turn the dial when a commercial airs because, frankly, there's no place else for them to go. AAA stations may not get the most listeners, but they get the right listeners, especially within the 25-49 demo most coveted by advertisers. That's enabled AAA stations like 107.1 The Peak in New York's northern suburbs, to recently celebrate its 10th anniversary.
So why don't more stations try AAA? Because they're afraid. Because they feel it's a niche that won't bring in wheelbarrows of cash. Because they just don't know any better.
Fortunately, Local Voice Media, which owns The Tide, is an exception, and folks in places like Norfolk and Virginia Beach are that much luckier, at least those who are still listening to the radio.