The sounds of silence

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Turn on the radio and you’re bound to hear renditions of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” or “Santa Baby,” as Christmas songs dominate the radio format during the holiday season. While seasonal tunes are a constant year in and out, the Rock format has seen better years.

Rock Stations Changing Format

Rock Stations Changing Format

In early 2009, New York’s WXRK-FM and Los Angeles-based KLSX-FM switched to Top 40 formats, with KLSX becoming KAMP-FM. Several months later in August, Boston’s WBCN-FM followed suit by eliminating its Rock format and adding a Sports Talk station to its Boston market. The iconic Rock station is credited with being the first to play many big-name artists like U2, The Clash and Pearl Jam. In an article from, Worcester-based WAAF program director Ron Valeri said that the changing of Rock formats was not a trend. Instead he told the publication that the problem lies with the “execution of a format.”

Yet in August, radio listeners of WQWK-FM in State College, Pa., were greeted by Conservative Talk one Monday morning. The station, which had been Rock for almost 40 years, had flipped formats, converting to WRSC-FM overnight. “Like any other media, whether it is the CDT (Centre Daily Times), the (Altoona) Mirror down here or another radio station – you really have to look at what market is being underserved,” Forever Broadcasting’s Dave Davies told the Centre Daily Times. “And obviously, Talk is really hot these days … certainly there is an explosion in Talk in the United States.”

Meanwhile Topeka, Kan., added another Country station to its broadcast area when KMXN-FM flipped its Rock format in October. One listener voiced displeasure on the Kansas City Web forum, KC Talk: “I don’t like Country, so I am biased a bit. But there are already three stations serving the Topeka area and three in Kansas City. Do we really need another Country station?”

Despite an obvious following, Rock stations do appear to be dwindling. Sean Ross, executive editor of music and programming for and author of Ross on Radio, a twice-weekly newsletter on music and radio programming, said it’s because Rock music has fragmented. “The last Rock product that most people agreed on was grunge,” he said in an e-mail interview. “‘Alternative’ radio today is split into multiple camps to the point where one Alternative station in Chicago is holding five different Christmas shows instead of trying to have Shinedown, the Bravery, Rise Against, and Breaking Benjamin all on the same show.”

Older rock music, like Pearl Jam, Green Day and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, is more popular than today’s rock music, Ross continued. Add to that the shrinking number of

Diminishing Rock stations

Diminishing Rock stations

Diminishing Rock stations can be attributed to multiple factors, Ross told the Centre Daily News in a previous interview, including the introduction of satellite services and Internet stations, as well as a lack of “super-groups” in the rock genre. Despite all this, he told inVocus that he doesn’t think Rock radio will ever vanish completely. “There were similarly dire predictions in the mid-’80’s when Top 40 exploded, and again in the late ’80’s when Classic Rock was born. All formats are cyclical. Better product and galvanizing artists fix a multitude of problems,” he said. “If nobody sees another Nirvana on the horizon, nobody saw the original one as driving an entire radio format in 1990 either.”

— Katrina M. Mendolera

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