Overkill

This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “The Bigger Picture” series, written by Charese Fruge on January 5th, 2022 

Like many Americans brave enough to take on the virus and terrible weather this holiday season, I spent most of the holidays on the road seeing family and friends. Twice in a two-week period, I drove from Las Vegas to San Diego and back, to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Eve. If you’ve ever had to do the approximate 6-hour drive, you’ve spent a lot of time on the 15 in traffic in both directions. I have spent as many as 12 hours on the road traveling in one direction to get there and even pulled over to stay over- night in Prim, which is right outside of Las Vegas just to avoid the madness.

The drive takes you through the desert, along the outskirts of Los Angeles, through Victorville, Temecula, and San Diego. It’s not a fun drive, but one that hundreds of thousands of Californians drive, particularly over the holiday period, so they can rage like rockstars in Vegas. So needless to say, even though I am going in the opposite direction, I’ve spent a lot of time in the car listening to Vegas, Desert, LA, and San Diego radio.

While planning the topic of this week’s “The Bigger Picture,” and working on the layout, I came across Fred Jacob’s Monday Blog (01/3) “When A Format Loses Its Flagship.” It was about the Alternative format and KROQ. After reading it, I felt justified in my observations of both the format and the station in previous articles from last year from “The Bigger Picture:” Remember Free FM (02/09) and The World-Famous Comeback (11/30).

In Jacobs’ blog, he states that the key to the success of a station like KROQ back in the Glory Days, was to “not sound like every other station in the market” (Or the entire West Coast, for that matter). The best quote from the piece was, “When most of these stations were at their peaks (Alternative stations), there was a certain managed sloppiness to them that made them fun, charming, and compelling.” He’s 100% right. Ironically, Jack in LA strategically still sounds a lot like that now (Minus live talent).

So, to get to my point about “Overkill (the title of this feature),” it’s not hard to understand why the format is in danger when one of the larger companies has essentially duplicated almost all its Alternative stations across the country with national programming, and none of them have ANY sloppiness, fun, charm, or compelling content left. Making the drive from Las Vegas to San Diego and back twice in a two-week period was proof that “live and local” is a thing of the past for these stations.

Here’s a few examples of what I mean:

First, station Imaging for these brands all sound exactly alike. Even stations that are completely different formats still have the exact same Legal I.D.’s with the same copy, audio pieces, generic music clips and production style. For example, the legal idea for an Alternative Station has the exact same music clip as a station in the same company that is a Top 40 Station, Hot AC, Classic Hits, and even Oldie’s station. Now it wouldn’t be so obvious, except that it is produced as if the music clip is going into the next song on the station at the very end, and it’s quite the train wreck, when the Legal plays, the clip plays, then the station goes directly into another song, especially if the song is an older one.

I noticed this not only with all stations in the company in Las Vegas, all stations in the company in Los Angeles, and then all stations in San Diego, but also, all the stations driving through all three major cities. All the imaging sounds exactly the same in two different states. It’s Overkill. And if you think that’s not a big deal in radio, then you don’t belong in the business. The key to success is defining your brand in a way that makes it stand out among the rest. It impacts ratings on a local level, and if your one of the hundreds of thousands of Californians driving back and forth from Vegas to LA, you quickly realize that its much more fun to create your own playlist without interruptions on a competing platform for the long drive, especially while sitting in stand still traffic in your car on the 15, than it is to listen to boring radio stations all giving you the exact same music and content.

Another example of overkill was hearing the same year end countdown, on the same stations in the same three major cities at the same time, over and over again. As if they plugged the countdown into the playlist back-to-back from Wednesday, December 29th, all the way through New Years Day. It started out on my drive from Vegas to San Diego on Wednesday. It was a pretty good countdown. Good host, good content from the host, and the Top 100 Alternative songs of all time. All my favorites, and even a few rando’s that “almost made the countdown” but were still good enough to play in between (New Radicals “You Get What You Give”).

About four hours later, I reach LA, and I am listening to the exact same content (that I have already heard). Okay, I get it, not bad and its corporate radio. Songs are still hits. So, I keep trucking along. A few hours later, as I am driving into San Diego, I’m listening to the exact same content, on the exact same countdown. It had started all over again. I tuned in an out as I got bored with the same old songs and stories. I got distracted by the Alternative station in Temecula Valley (competing company) which sounded pretty awesome. Then basically, I put on some Adele to drive into the city when I lost the Temecula signal. I couldn’t do it anymore.

Now fast forward to the following day, when I have to get back in the car and drive North again to visit family friends in Temecula. Guess what? The exact same countdown, content, and songs playing on the same company’s station. This happened all weekend. It was like the movie “Groundhog Day.” I could not get away from it. Overkill!!! Sadly, I won’t be mad if I never hear another Chili Peppers hit again, and I LOVE the Chili Peppers, and ALWAYS stop on their songs.

Not only Is this type of programming lazy and cheap, but it’s also a tune out and a risk that only adds to the continuing perception that the Alternative format is dying. It’s not that difficult to have different hosts do the countdown or produce them on a local level. Or come up with other kinds of themed countdowns. I could understand Current based stations doing countdowns back-to-back because, well, that’s basically Top 40 and Rhythm Top 40 strategy (plus a few more songs). But in a format where the Gold library is a huge part of music strategy, with a Gold based countdown…..You guessed it….Overkill, which leads to tune out.

I have to believe there’s a better way to keep traditional radio relevant, even with consolidation and national programming. But it doesn’t seem like anyone is interested in making the effort. What we do is not that difficult. We’re not digging ditches. What happened to the days of passion, perfection, creativity, and attention to detail? Sadly, that doesn’t come with consolidation or automation.

If we do anything this year, it’s got to be putting local and creativity back into radio. Perhaps it’s time to go back and re-hire all those who were let go due to consolidation or the pandemic and invest more in the product instead of constantly slashing budgets. I get that these companies are in the red, but in the long run, killing the product is not the solution to making a comeback. You’re just killing the product. The definition of Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. It’s time to take a step back, strategize “different solutions” and do everything we can to SAVE the sanity of the Radio Business (not to mention the future of it).