HITS Daily Double


By Ted Volk

Congrats to Capitol’s Gary Gorman for guiding Beck’s “Up All Night” to #1 as the year comes to a close. It’s Beck’s third #1 at Modern Rock. In 2005, “E-Pro” went to the top spot, and of course, there was 1994’s “Loser.” It’s hard to believe that was 23 years ago, when I was in my second year doing national Alt promo for DGC Records. It’s something I’ll never forget: watching Beck for the first time at a bowling alley in Pasadena while “Loser” was #1. On that night, we knew he was special, and now he’s a Hall of Famer.

Speaking of #1 records, it sure isn’t easy to get one. This year at Modern Rock, we saw a mere 12 songs get to the top spot. As 2017 started, I found myself defending the Alternative format on a daily basis. I’m not a negative person, but there was too much gloom and doom in the air. I kept hearing comments like, “The format doesn’t break records,” “Streaming numbers are low” and “Why does the format play so much classic rock?” It felt like these comments were being thrown around on a daily basis. They weren’t all wrong. I do believe more songs could be crossed over to Top 40 if that format were more willing to accept them. In today’s Top 40, an Alt song needs to be a giant to cross over, as my boss Lenny Beer likes to tell me regularly. I’d like to disagree with him on this point, but he’s right. It shouldn’t be that way, and I do believe that all the new stations signing on will help by giving the Alt hits a bigger platform to succeed than ever before. I’m a big fan of audio streaming, and I hope it catches on even more so with the programmers at the format. I realize it’s an urban/hip-hop culture we now live in, but the numbers are going up at Alternative. The new stations coming in will only increase the viability of the format moving forward.

A big thank-you goes out to Entercom and iHeart for getting involved in the arms race to sign on Alt stations in markets that lacked them. In the last month, we’ve seen New York, Dallas, Orlando and Detroit come aboard. It’s been a while, but Madison returns with a new Alt station, called The Resistance. Earlier this year, Lenny Diana, who programs WLZX Springfield, was ahead of the curve and moved the station to Alternative from Active Rock. And who knew Norfolk was an Alt hotbed? But we now have two stations there with a new iHeart sign on. As we approach having 80 stations in Alternative, it wouldn’t surprise me if we ended up getting to 100 a year from now. Why the sudden surge in new stations? It’s not an expensive format to operate, for starters. And the true music fans are out there. For example, if you were in Philadelphia in June, you would have joined 25k people at WRFF’s Birthday Bash, which featured The Killers. It’s safe to say that’s not a niche product. And it’s not just the large markets having success. I was in Tulsa the other day for the KMYZ Xmas show and watched a sold-out crowd of 2,000 people lose their minds to Phoenix. I thought I was at Woodstock!

In my opinion, the lack of consensus about the music is the format’s biggest enemy right now. If you go market to market, every programmer may have a different point of view as to what’s right for them. It’s not uncommon to go Top 10 and still have 15% of the format not playing a song. It’s the only format where something like that occurs. In most cases, once you go Top 15, a holdout station will yell “uncle.” At Alternative, you may still be getting started.

That said, if you have a great record, the format will find you. This week at Modern Rock, we have three records from independent labels inside the Top 10. Dualtone’s The Lumineers are wrapping up the most successful independent campaign ever at Modern Rock with two #1s—“Ophelia” and “Cleopatra”—plus a Top 5 hit with “Angela.” I can’t wait to see what 2018 will bring.

In other news, raise your hand if you read with interest about Lisa Worden leaving KROQ after 20+ years to join iHeart. I remember the first record Lisa helped me break at KROQ: Elastica’s “Connection.” Lisa’s rare ability to hear songs and lead are just a few things that will make iHeart Alternative prosper for many years to come. With Lisa leaving KROQ, it does open the door for a new star to emerge. If you want that job, my best advice is: Don’t be shy.