For those that do not follow my Twitter feed or my Tumblr blog, I got yet another chance to get really pissed off at the big radio conglomerates. As a big feature of this particular blog is my list of what I consider to be the only good English language radio stations left in this world, I thought it would be a good thing to reevaluate the few “corporate radio” stations I allowed on that list, remove ones that no longer warranted inclusion, and explain why the ones remaining stayed put.
Before I continue, hardly any commercial radio station on my list is a single-outlet enterprise. Many are traditional as the owner holds one AM and one FM licence. More are held by some of the new local groups where an owner might hold three or more licenses in a market. A few others are regional where the owner concentrates on many stations in a single state or other well-defined area. Regardless of that type of ownership, I look to see if such a station is still connected to the community, is not on automation or playing syndicated programming for more than a fraction of its broadcast day, and — of course — plays a good selection of music in its chosen format.
What I am talking about here are the big media conglomerates like Clear Channel, the behemoth that has set the pace for the ruination of having radio be a local service (although no CC stations have ever been on my list and, thus, need to be removed…they are simply the best known example).
The first group of stations I need to explain are owned by Entercom Communications Corporation. Entercom is usually one of the better behaved radio conglomerates in the United States but that isn’t really saying much. It is probably my disappointment with what Entercom did to one of my favorite stations that makes me want to purge as many of their outlets from my list as possible, and I will get to that in a moment.
The first “keeper” I have from Entercom is WKQK that serves the Memphis, Tennessee market out of the suburb of Germantown. So far in my searches across the Internet for good radio, it is the only station I have found playing the “classic hits” format not owned by an even more detestable conglomerate or, perhaps even worse, using the hideous no-DJ “Jack FM” type of presentation (known in some cities under other names like “Dave FM,” “Bob FM,” etc. and even used on country stations with monikers such as “Hank FM” or “Willie FM”). For a format where the station obviously picks from only a set amount of songs, they do a very good job of it…yet another thing that is often so frustrating about Entercom stations in how they can do one thing so well but screw the rest of it up (again, more on that below).
Entercom also stays on the list for another station that is also the only type of its format that I have found passable for sharing, KNRK that serves the Portland, Oregon market but is licensed to Camas, Washington. In this case, it is the “modern rock” format which has truly lost its way at almost every other station I have found still attempting to play it. I cannot completely fathom how KNRK might still be good other than the fact that, if a station in a city that is proud to call itself weird gives itself a secondary name like “Alternative Portland,” it had better come through.
The last of the Entercom stations remaining on my list is KSEG-FM in Sacramento, California. This is an admittedly personal selection because anybody looking at my Radio list can easily see there are several “classic rock” format stations to choose from. This station has a lot going against it as it runs the syndicated morning atrocity known as the Mark & Brian Show and is what seems like one of over 9000 outlets in North America that has nicknamed itself The Eagle. What saves this station is that it is located where I went to junior high and high school and is one of the only two that has some of the great disk jockeys of “my time” left on the air (60s & 70s oldies station KCCL being the other). These are not just men that bring back fond memories, they are among the very people that made me want to get into the radio business myself and continue to have an appreciation for what makes a good announcer and overall show. Of most note to me on KSEG-FM are Tom Nakashima who was a staple on the old KXOA-FM “K-108 The Mellow Beaver” soft rock station (back when “soft rock” meant singer/songwriter type stuff instead of glorified pop) and especially Bob Keller and his signature lunchtime segment, The Café Rock, that goes back to the late, lamented, original KZAP.
Now I come to the two Entercom stations that I felt had to be removed from my list. Perhaps one of the greatest disappointments in my entire life of radio fandom was listening to how Entercom ruined KQMT in Denver and its other “The Mountain” branded stations including KMTT in Tacoma/Seattle. This was especially true of KQMT because it became my favorite station in Denver even before I moved there for a while in 2004. It was everything I could ever ask for out of a commercial radio station — distinctive promos, bumpers, and station IDs that were effective without being overwhelming…disk jockeys that were connected to the community, knowledgeable about music, and that talked like real people…and, most of all, a rock format that was a great blend of old, new, and obscure. It was the kind of station I had not experienced in years — one where I would not mind sitting though a song I did not like as something good was surely coming up next. Even though KQMT got very good ratings, Entercom couldn’t help but try to make it “better” and, thus, fucked it all up every which way from Sunday. They went to a strict classic rock format that was not much better than their Clear Channel competitor down the dial, alienated most of their best talent (most of whom seem to have escaped to “adult alternative” stations up in Aspen and Vail), and are now to the point where there are now only two live hosts with the remainder of the day being automated while churning out what now sounds like a crappy iPod. I don’t think the fall at KMTT in Tacoma/Seattle was quite as bad as they kept a little “AAA” around plus one more disk jockey. Still, what happened on these and all of Entercom’s other stations branded “The Mountain” ripped listeners’ hearts out who originally flocked to these stations in droves as an oasis in an otherwise barren radio landscape. I simply cannot in good consience steer my readers to them anymore even if they do still have times of occasional competence. The other “classic rock” and “adult alternative” staions on my list are just too much better to leave KQMT and KMTT up on my Radio list.
Getting back to a radio conglomerate station that will remain on my Radio page, this one is owned by Saga Communications which, for some reason, seems to fly under the radar as far as making news for itself. They own one of the two country stations that I can still tolerate, WVVR that is licensed to Hopkinsville, Kentucky and serves the overall market of Clarksville, Tennessee. I am not keeping this station on the list just because it’s in my home state of Kentucky and the mascot leads itself to an almost infinite amount of double entendre jokes (which the station uses to perfection even with it lying in the heart of the Bible Belt). The Beaver truly is a good country station, something amazingly lacking in North America considering it is the most popular music format found on the radio dial.
One more station owned by a conglomerate that will remain on my list was a surprise to me when I spent two weeks being able to listen to it over the air in the summer of 2010. KZOK is a “classic rock” station in Seattle and owned by CBS Radio. Not only is the music selection not as repetitive as many of their ilk, KZOK is one of the last stations even in a big city to have a live disk jockey on at all times except during its very few syndicated programs and specials. While many might find this surprising, KZOK recently hired Danny Bonaduce as its morning man. For those not aware of this, the former “Danny Partridge” has been in radio for a while now and I thought he did a very good job during his time in Los Angeles on KYSR and never understood why he was let go. After a stint in Philadelphia, it will be interesting to see if, on KZOK’s second attempt to do so, Bonaduce is the man to fill the shoes of the person that was on mornings at KZOK for ages, Bob Rivers, who most people know as the guy that does funny Christmas songs. Aside from all that, KZOK is the only decent thing I can find in the CBS Radio stable that is not an all-news station. It might not be my first choice for streaming a “classic rock” station, but it is still worth recommending.
The final station owned by one of the “big boys” that will remain on my list is owned by Sandusky Radio. KSLX is a “classic rock” station licensed to Scottsdale, Arizona serving the greater Phoenix area. I don’t know why other Sandusky outlets of a similar genre can’t do the same, but KSLX is deeply embedded in its community. It is also one of the few stations that still retain a “live “graveyard shift” disk jockey. Like KZOK, it does a lot better than most at not being too repetitive with its song selections.
So…why do I even bother with these very few stations held by radio conglomerates? While my Radio page does focus on smaller and non-commercial stations, I think it is also important that it focuses on good radio. Despite the owners, these stations are good. While I am certainly a supporter of the movements going on these days against too much centralized power of all types, I also believe it is only fair to point out that not every big corporation is always bad and not every small one is always good. I also believe it is important to recognize when a big company does something well as there might be a small chance it takes hold and they start doing better everywhere they do business.
All of that being said, I would not be honest if I also did not say that all of the stations featured above are always on a very short leash with me at all times. With the owners of these outlets more beholden to the whims of all too many overly-selfish shareholders instead of the public (or, at least, the audience ratings), they are always in danger of turning bad on a moment’s notice. That’s one reason why I so often close my posts on this blog by saying, in one form or another, keep sticking it to the man…because — especially in radio which has always been a flighty business — if you don’t stick it to him first, he will surely stick it to you. If you don’t believe me, just ask Jim Ladd and “The Tribe” that used to listen to him on KLOS.