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NPR profiles “Neo-Radio” but is it a trend?

Here’s a link to an NPR “All Things Considered” feature on FM rock radio and neo-radio that aired on June 30. They interview consultant Fred Jacobs, Dan Michaels, PD of KQMT The Mountain in Denver, Mike Casey, DJ at KQMT and Garrett Michaels of KBZT/San Diego. Also airchecks of KQMT and KBZT.

Neo-radio is an attempt to capture what Triple A stations have stood for for years. It broadly paints commercial radio as bad, bad, bad and that smart people are listening to neo-radio and NPR.

Mark’s observations:

First, what dynamite PR for Jacobs Media, who owns the “neo-radio” moniker! JM is a great company, and I give them tremendous credit in looking forward to the future edge of Rock-related formats.

Second, you’ve got to appreciate the context of this piece and the purposes of the NPR folks running it. The tone was “Commercial Radio is getting closer to Public Radio because they’re finally becoming enlightened about what folks really want.” Fact is, Neo-Radio is a movement the way the Green Party is a movement. The JACK/BOB format (a wider variety of extremely familiar but scarcely played songs) has broader potential to sweep the country than what is being described as Neo-Radio. But “Jack” or “Bob” were two names absent from this piece. The reporter is more interested in making points with Dave Matthews fans than with Pat Benatar fans.

The stations noted in the piece, 94.9 in San Diego and The Mountain in Denver, are stations in markets that, not coincidentally, profile high in Public Radio listenership and eclectic taste in general. There are plenty of markets that don’t profile so high. In fact, most don’t. And those markets will not go “Neo” any time soon.

Third, the notion of eliminating the hype – a founding principle of these stations – is a great edge. Especially because it makes them unique. But if every station dropped the hype the edge would go to he who is hype-y. So let’s understand that being “true to the music” is really about being “true to the available marketing edge, whatever that may be.”

Fourth, the reporter actually states that “consolidation has meant that FM in Dallas sounds the same as FM in Pittsburgh which sounds the same as FM everywhere else.” This is factually wrong. Consolidation is not to blame for this sameness – we were well down the sameness road long before stations became groups. In fact, the San Diego station is owned by Jefferson Pilot, a large insurance conglomerate, and the Denver one is owned by Entercom, one of the very “consolidated groups” the piece ostensibly blames for the current state of radio. A very little homework would have illustrated this – if only the reporter had cared to do it. Instead, he resorted to a tired cliche about the evils of consolidation.

To prove my point in one of the noted markets, Dallas: Yesterday a brand new station was born with a brand new sound. And it’s owned by Infinity Broadcasting, the country’s second largest “consolidator.”

The fact is, groups everywhere are concerned about addressing their local markets. Some are certainly much more concerned than others, of course. And some stations do a much better job than others. That always has and always will be so.

Fifth, the reporter says the thinking is shifting from “tight is right” to a more open playlist. In some cases, this is true. But it’s not necessarily shifting in directions that will brighten a Public Radio listener’s heart. The general listening audience will never come around to the tastes of “Morning Becomes Eclectic.”

That said, both these stations are very well executed and targeted extremely well for their markets. But “for their markets” is the key phrase. Put “The Mountain” in San Diego and the ratings will quickly resemble “The Valley.”

An interesting piece overall. But it does have a point of view. Make sure you see it.

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