HITS Daily Double


A few months ago, I was told by an artist manager that what I do (radio promotion) “doesn’t matter.” According to him, “we” (Alternative Radio) don’t sell records or concert tickets, and our streaming footprint is negligible. The radio format I’ve devoted my 35-year career to, is, if I were to believe him, the sound of one hand clapping. Meanwhile, back in the trenches, those of us with no other discernible career options fought the good fight on behalf of artists.

Breaking artists at Alternative Radio is a Sisyphean challenge: Unlike other formats, there’s never that tipping point where a song is acknowledged to be a format-wide “hit,” and 100% of the reporting stations then fall in line and play the record. You can have a #1 song and still be missing 10-15% of the reporters. The reliance on MScores, in lieu of empirical evidence from streaming and Shazam, kept songs from The XX,Spoon, The National, Arcade Fire and LCD Soundsystem, among others, from their rightful place in the Top 10. The aforementioned artists’ most recent albums debuted at, or close to, #1, which broadened the disconnect between what radio programmers thought were hits and what was happening in the real world.

“Play fewer currents” was the mandate, but, thankfully, artists Portugal. The Man, Alice Merton, Judah and the Lion, Rag ’N’ Bone Man, The Revivalists and AJR, to name a few, were able to have breakout hits. Still, Ted Volk and I would have late-Tuesday- afternoon conversations about the sustainability of the format, which made me feel about as ill as when I had my gallbladder removed in June. BUT THEN!!!

On 11/14, it was announced that Lisa Worden had been named the VP of Programming for ALT 98.7 in LA, as well as iHeartMedia’s Alternative Rock Brand Manager. This news was bold and exciting, giving us trench-dwellers reason to believe her appointment meant that iHeart is committed to the format, especially knowing that Lisa is empowered to implement progressive changes as she sees fit. Will other new-music initiatives be created beyond On the Verge? Knowing Lisa’s passion for music, this certainly seems likely.

Meanwhile, at the completion of the CBS and Entercom merger, Entercom chief David Field appointed Michael Martin to be format captain for the radio group, and then promptly launched Alternative stations in New York City (WBMP), Dallas (KVIL) and Orlando (WQMP), which had previously been AMP stations. Now, why would Entercom invest in this format, in major markets, no less, if we were headed toward extinction? For one, David genuinely likes the format. He’s been hugely supportive of KNDD, KNRK, KBZT, KRBZ, WLKK, KKDO and WSFS. Also, from a financial standpoint, a 2-share in a market without direct format competition can be far more profitable than being the second or third pop station in that market. Add the CBS powerhouses KROQ, Live105, WXRT, plus KXTE and WRXL to the original seven Entercom Alternative stations, along with three new ones—and the potential impact of this collection of stations is exhilarating to consider! In a few short weeks, songs from The Lumineers, AJR and Alice Merton are already Top 50 Shazam in New York, Dallas and Orlando, which is a wonderful glimpse of things to come.

Lisa spent the first days of her new job in Detroit to oversee the sign-on of Alternative outlet WDTW. There had been an Alt station there before—89X—but it was programmed out of Canada and had never, as my teachers used to say to me, worked up to its potential. This week, WNOH Norfolk was also added to the iHeart Alt roster, with many other markets rumored to be joining the ranks in the upcoming days. Cumulus launched WZRH in New Orleans recently, while Mid-West Family in Madison introduced WRIS. WLZX Springfield and WNFZ Knoxville were unveiled this year, as well.


However you were trained to program radio 10-15 years ago, STOP THAT NOW. Focus on the COMMUNITY, not your counterintuitive methodology. It only tells you how to be mediocre. Utilize new technology like Alexa. Become the arbiter of new music. Pay attention to streams and use Spotify to post weekly playlists. Pay attention to the programmers at Apple, Sirius XM’s Alt Nation and XMU, Spotify, WWCD, WEQX and KRBZ. They are the first to know if a song is a hit—I trust their research implicitly. Pay attention to your female listeners—they determine the hits, and it’s their word of mouth that will attract new listeners. Have more female voices on the radio, both on-air and in the music you play. Seize the opportunities in front you with graciousness and respond by doing good business. Let’s do this.