It was never on my agenda to visit a commercial radio station. My assumption has been that a corporate radio station in 2009 would be a very boring and depressing place. To me the horrors of commercial radio these days are the results of fewer and fewer station owners, resulting in tightened playlists, less local programming, and more DJ automation.
However, when I saw a panel of DJs and staff from WRXP (aka "the New York Rock Experience") at the CMJ Music Marathon in New York City last month I actually became intrigued again about the potential of commercial radio and decided that I wanted to see this New York City rock station in action.
Thanks so much to Program Director Leslie Fram for welcoming me to the station and for allowing me to be a fly on the wall during her morning show. Also a big thanks to her co-host Matt Pinfield, Producer Matt Ianni and DJ Greg Russ for talking to me about RXP.
WRXP has been around since February 2008 as a rock-oriented station in New York City owned by Emmis Communications. Previously, 101.9 was home to a number of formats, most recently smooth jazz up until to the change to rock.
I visited the station on the morning of Friday, October 23, 2009 during the last hour of the morning drive show hosted by Matt Pinfield and Leslie Fram. Dubbed "The Rock Show," it airs on weekdays from 6 to 10am.
When I arrived, former college radio DJ Matt Pinfield (perhaps you remember him from his days hosting MTV's alternative music show "120 Minutes" or from his regular gig during DirecTV's SXSW coverage) was actually selecting music to play during the final hour of the show which they call "Spinfield."
In advance, he'd creating a list of possible tracks to play and I watched him pick and choose his final selections. He changed his mind about a couple of things as he heard the music play, making comments like, "I need something kind of synthy." It was something I could relate to as a DJ and I was so happy to see him excited about crafting interesting segueways. He also seemed really moved by listener feedback and was elated when a comment came in on his mobile phone from a listener saying, "you made my day."
He played both classic (Elvis Costello) and new (Killers) stuff and even through in some bands that were completely off my radar like The Raspberries (by listener request). I was surprised and delighted to hear him throwing on one of my '80s favorites The Chameleons and impressed that on the fly he decided to nestle that next to Black Sabbath. Matt was downright giddy about that particular musical segue and it became so obvious to me that he loves music and radio. You can view his entire playlist for that hour on the RXP blog.
Although it wasn't a revolutionary hour of music, it was refreshing to see that there's a commercial station out there where DJs actually have some say over what they are playing. And....it wasn't all digital music. Matt played some CDs during the show and I also saw the 10AM DJ arriving for his shift with a CD wallet in hand.
Following my visit I talked to Leslie about this a bit and she told me over email that,
"RXP reminds me of the 'spirit' of radio when I first started. We are all very passionate about music and are excited to have the opportunity to work for a company that allows us to offer our listeners a different kind of rock radio station in the Tri-State. DJ's that can actually talk about the music, program their own features and play new music and unsigned bands!"
It was obvious during my visit that Matt and Leslie love music. They talked about artists who they were planning to see and seemed super enthusiastic and engaged.
But, as you might guess, being commercial radio it's not all wild and anarchistic. Like all stations, they have a log of "business" that they must attend to every hour, including commercials, public service announcements, ticket giveaways, etc. The producer of the show maps out the overall flow of things in advance and you can actually take a peek at what one such flow sheet looks like on this post from the RXP blog last week. Music being played also includes requests and some emphasis on local artists with their "Local Licks" selection during the hour that I was there. To get a sense of all of the music being played, you can take a look at the station's playlist archive for the past 2 weeks.
During the hour that I was in the studio, I was kind of amazed by the lengthy sets of music, with the DJs only really taking a few breaks. They called these breaks "stop sets" and they seemed to last for about 5 minutes, including DJ banter and ads.
After Matt and Leslie finished their show, I got a quick tour around WRXP. Being a part of the Emmis radio group, they share space with a few other radio stations. Greg took me around to the WRXP production studio, green room (complete with gross couches--a staple of any radio station!), and through farms of cubicles housing sales, HR, accounting, and the web teams.
Programming and Music Directors had offices with doors and I even spotted a vinyl record reflected through the glass of the Music Director's office. Although I didn't see any sort of music library, Greg did point out a locked cabinet of music for one of their fellow stations. Mail tubs full of music were also in the hallway outside the Music Director's digs.
Believe it or not RXP also has a show completely devoted to vinyl. The Sunday morning "Vinyl Experience" show airs from 9 to 10am and is hosted by vinyl enthusiast Paul Cavalconte. It actually debuted on October 25th, just a few days after my visit. Although the station doesn't have a vinyl library, they do have turntables which they set up in the Control Room for that particular show. Do you know of any other commercial stations with vinyl-only shows? I'd love it if that was a growing trend.
Thanks again to the crew at RXP for showing this college radio gal around the station's digs. Although many things are different (commercials, salespeople), many things were surprisingly the same (stinky couches, enthusiastic DJs).
Previous Spinning Indie Radio Station Field Trips:
Field Trip to WECB at Emerson College
College Radio Field Trip 2 - Cal Poly's KCPR
College Radio Field Trip 3 - Notre Dame's WVFI
Radio Station Field Trip 4 - WFMU in Jersey City
Radio Station Field Trip 5 - East Village Radio in NYC
Radio Station Field Trip 6 - WNYU in New York City
Radio Station Field Trip 7 - Northwestern's WNUR
Radio Station Field Trip 8 - Stanford's KZSU
Radio Station Field Trip 9 - University of San Francisco's KUSF
Radio Station Field Trip 10 - Santa Clara University Station KSCU
Radio Station Field Trip 11 - UC Berkeley's KALX
Radio Station Field Trip 12 - KSJS at San Jose State University
Radio Station Field Trip 13 - WBAR at Barnard College
Radio Station Field Trip 14 - KFJC at Foothill College
Radio Station Field Trip 15 - UC Santa Cruz Station KZSC
Radio Station Field Trip 16 - Haverford College Station WHRC
Radio Station Field Trip 17 - FCCFree Radio in San Francisco
Radio Station Field Trip 18 - Flirt FM in Galway, Ireland