Alternative radio rivals KROQ-FM 106.7 and KYSR-FM 98.7 in Los Angeles split a 6.0 share in the Arbitron ratings. Both stations offer a steady diet of 1990s-era Modern Rock music.

But is this “Alternative” anymore? Where’s the new music?

On March 4, industry blog Ross On Radio looked at why the 1990s dominate Alternative radio. Many commented on the subject, including JakeAdams founder Adam R Jacobson, who notes:

“Many a programmer will tell you that Alternative is soft right now and there’s not a lot of product out there. But according to who? [It’s the] fortysomething programmers that can no longer program a true ‘alternative’ to the abundance of pop and Hip-Hop that most listeners 13-27 are listening to today . . . It’s time to hand Alternative music formats over to the next generation and come to grips with the realization that U2 and Stone Temple Pilots are to today’s college student what Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin are to today’s 40 year old male.”

That was just a little bit of what I had to say on the subject.

Stations like KYSR, KROQ and (especially so) WRFF-FM 104.5 in Philadelphia are relying on what is now “Modern Gold” to drive up ratings and keep the core happy.

This is dangerous; this is predictable.

Yet aside from MGMT, Silversun Pickups, Weezer, Vampire Weekend and Phoenix, what is “alternative” music today? What should an Alternative station play?

I must go back to the often misinterpreted “Year Arc” – something that Oldies/Classic Hits programmers have abused and fail to understand and something that Alternative programmers of today need to understand and grasp — before their stations become the Gen-X Classic Rocker.

What do I mean by “Gen-X Classic Rocker”?  I mean that no Alternative station should be playing anything but the very top-testing records released between 1992 and 2000. Period.

Why? Think of my target audience. I want to attract men and women between 14 and 34 years of age. Thus, my median listener is 24 years old and was born in 1986. Assuming most people start liking music around age 9 or 10, that puts us at 1996-97.

What does this mean? This means that the following records are Oldies to my core audience and must be played as if these are the sacred songs of one’s childhood – the foundations of the music they like today:

RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS    Under The Bridge
PEARL JAM  Jeremy
NIRVANA  Come As You Are
PEARL JAM Evenflow

Ladies and gentlemen, the above songs came out when my typical listener was six or seven years old.

Other songs now considered “classics,” because my core audience was in elementary school, include:

STONE TEMPLE PILOTS  Plush
PEARL JAM Daughter
SMASHING PUMPKINS Today
OFFSPRING Self Esteem
NINE INCH NAILS Closer
GREEN DAY Basket Case
SOUNDGARDEN Black Hole Sun
SUBLIME What I Got
FOO FIGHTERS Everlong
BLUR Song 2
BEASTIE BOYS Intergalatic
CAKE Never There
BLINK-182 All The Small Things

How many programmer directors would be freaked out right about now?
Well, my friends – this is a reality check: All of these songs were released before the majority of my target audience graduated high school.

Alternative must become a “21st Century Format” and play nothing but 2000s and now. It must be more adventurous, embrace new music, and hark back to the days when radio was relevant because it connected with the audience. And, it should play currents in a meaningful rotation.

I experimented one recent evening with coming up with an Alternative format that could embrace its heritage while superserving today’s college-age student. Pick a market like Washington/Baltimore, Miami, New York, or Atlanta.

I came up with a current-focused format that was truly Alternative in nature. I also like what stations like KBZT/San Diego are doing at late-night hours, and have always admired the creativity of Jim Ladd. What if we were to combine the two concepts, while borrowing from Nick The Nightfly at Radio Monte Carlo – a champion of NuJazz, Chillout, Ambient, and Brazilian Pop?

The target age of my audience is 14-34, while appealing also to the 18-49 demographic. Hence, there are some Triple A currents and gold mixed in – also because of the East Coast nature of the audience and difference in what is familiar compared to West Coast stations and tastes.

Here’s what I came up with for my imaginary station –

101-7 The Pod Alternative Music Now.

20:00

TEMPER TRAP  Sweet Disposition   C
DANDY WARHOLS Bohemian Like You  G
VAMPIRE WEEKEND Cousins  C
BIG PINK Dominos  C
WEEZER I Want To  R
MUSE Starlight R
SPOON Don’t You Evah   R
– 4 min. break – SPOT
MGMT Time To Pretend R
GOSSIP Heavy Cross  C
TV ON THE RADIO Wolf Like Me  G
ONE ESKIMO Kandi  C
20:48    SET BREAK
JULIAN CASABLANCAS  Out Of The Blue  C
KILLERS Somebody Told Me G
SILVERSUN PICKUPS Panic Switch  R

21:00

KIDS OF 88     My House                            C-Add
MATISYAHU    One Day                            R
MUMFORD & SONS    Little Lion Man                        New-Test
R.E.M.    Losing My Religion                            G
ELLIE GOULDING    Starry Eyed                        C
PAUL OAKENFOLD f/CRAZY TOWN    Starry Eyed Surprise            G
TIESTO f/TEGAN & SARA    Feel It In My Bones                C
– 4 min. break – SPOT
FRANZ FERDINAND    No You Girls                        R
THE WHITE STRIPES    Seven-Nation Army                    G
PHOENIX    Lisztomania                            C
LINKIN PARK Feat. JAY Z    Numb/Encore                    C
21:46    SET BREAK
RISE AGAINST    Savior                                R
GREEN DAY    Boulevard Of Broken Dreams                    G
DAN BLACK    Symphonies                            C

Then, at 10pm, I went with a nighttime chillout show that doesn’t have to be 100 percent sedate and can even include some older songs with a hard edge that can fit texturally. I’m looking to an audience of late-night workers, students, a soundtrack for a romantic night and perhaps a savvy 30-something audience. Note the current material as well:

22:00   The Pod Lounge

RYUICHI SAKAMOTO Opus
ZERO 7 Swing
GABIN  Doo Uap
BEBEL GILBERTO The Real Thing
PETER GABRIEL More Than This
CORINNE BAILEY RAE The Blackest Lily
ROXY MUSIC Love Is The Drug
MASSIVE ATTACK Paradise Circus
MUSIQ SOULCHILD Silky Soul
– 3 min. break –
NOUVELLE VAGUE I Melt With You
OASIS Wonderwall
THE XX Crystalized

23:00

TRIBALISTAS Velha Infancia
CELLAR 55 With Or Without You
MIRIAM MAKEBA Pata Pata
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG The Songs That We Sing
LADY ANTEBELLUM Need You Now
KATE BUSH Cloudbusting
GORILLAZ Stylo
MOBY South Side
SNOW PATROL Just Say Yes
– 3 min. break –
COLDPLAY Talk
TALKING HEADS Burning Down The House
DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE Meet Me On The Equinox

We are in 2010 and at a crossroads with technology, and with music.

New blood, new ideas and new music are the key solutions to making Alternative music formats relevant to the 18-34 and 18-49 cell.

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