Friday, January 30, 2009

More Perspective on the Demise of Indie 103

A former Program Director for recently departed Los Angeles commercial station Indie 103 adds some perspective on the evolution of the station and why its eclectic format ultimately failed in the ratings. In Max Tolkoff's piece in the Huffington Post, he explains that the goals of the station were always commercial:

"...It's pretty much business as usual for radio as practiced in the United States of America today. It boils down to: formats that make money stay; formats that lose money go away.

Let me tell you what INDIE was not. INDIE did not spring from the fever dream of some enlightened station manger who woke up one morning convinced that L.A. needed another alternative station...

INDIE wasn't even independent. There was no pirate ship of swashbuckling programmers and music heads beholden' to no one, ravaging the high seas and singing Vampire Weekend songs while drunk on grog. INDIE 103.1 was the creation of Clear Channel..."

He points out that part of the station's downfall was its broad programming:

"By this time there were now 18, yes, eighteen specialty shows on the station. The music was, to say the least, eclectic. It was hard to believe this was an actual commercial station and not NPR, or college radio...It was just too much for the average listener. A plethora of riches that appealed to the very few, and the very hip. After the initial check-out people went away and did not come back. The station was too difficult to listen to for long periods of time. Too unfamiliar. At times even difficult to pin down what the station actually was due to too many specialty shows clogging up the format."

We've heard this before, that commercial radio is all about narrow playlists and familiar sounds. According to former PD Max, as "Indie 103" started programming more like a college station, with a variety of specialty shows, its ratings began to suffer. And, bad ratings mean the death of commercial stations. He writes:

"If your content can't get ratings, and sales can't sell it, you disappear from the airwaves. Even though you know, because listeners swarm to your events, clog your blogs, and buy the music, that you have a viable audience. But if Arbitron can't track them they clearly don't exist. And that's the shame of American radio today."

I guess college radio is lucky that we're not beholden to ratings. And, my assumption is that college radio listeners are very different from commercial radio audiences. Fans of college radio often "ride it out" through unfamiliar sounds because of the adventure and the joy of discovering new musical treats.

What do you think? Is it easier to listen to commercial radio or college radio? And why is unfamiliar music seen as so scary?

No comments: