Entravision Communications’ LA-based Indie Rock simulcast “Indie 103.1” has been named the “Best Radio Station in the United States” by Rolling Stone Magazine. Known for its unique playlists and renowned DJ’s with distinct points of view, Indie 103.1 has been one of the most popular radio stations in Los Angeles since it launched in 2003. The station leads the nation in breaking new alternative music while blending in a rare mix of classic alternative that is rarely played on the radio.
“Indie is a platform for music, film and artists of all kinds, because it really is about giving our audience the best of all of these art forms. Our audience is smart and expects more from us than they do from any other station—and our team works to deliver that in every show. A huge thank you to Rolling Stone for the recognition and to our audience for supporting us – it means a lot to every member of the Indie team,” said Dawn Girocco, Indie 103.1 GM.
Editor’s note: One of these stations should be found in every major an most medium markets.
Read our recent interview with Girocco below:
Getting new formats into more markets: It’s about the music
How have we strayed from radio’s roots? Radio used to be the place to break new music. Sadly, that crown has been passed to other media for the most part. Many insist that terrestrial music radio continues to push listeners away with predictable/repetitive music, formats and unprecedented clutter. And it’s not just satellite radio that’s taking in the defectors—the Internet and iPods are also major factors as we all know.
Most commercial stations won’t touch a song unless it’s already selling like hotcakes. However, we’ve found a few examples to the contrary. The Indie 103.1 simulcast in LA (Entravision’s (KDLD-FM/KDLE-FM Santa Monica/Newport Beach) and the debut of the Indie Rock format is one great example. Remember, XM and Sirius don’t own the large spectrum of music they offer. Traditional radio can stem the tide of defectors by offering a broader mix of tunes.
Remember WHFS in the DC market—the legendary progressive/free-form/alternative commercial station? Why is it so impossible to believe radio couldn’t make something like that work today? It’s about the talent—do they know their music? Could they take four hours and turn it into an adventure? It’s a new era and the standards of radio programming need to be opened up—especially to keep younger demos interested.
In 1995 WHFS had a 3.8 12+ share in the market. In 1996, Infinity bought it and turned it to a mainstream Alternative format. From 1996 to 2003, the station’s share dropped almost yearly to a 1.4 in 2003, according to Duncan’s American Radio. No wonder they changed it to a Spanish format. The WHFS calls were moved up to Baltimore for a Talk-Alternative hybrid station.
Meanwhile, CBS Radio may have seen the light in WTGB-FM “The Globe—World Class Rock” in DC. They are slowly moving more Indie Rock songs onto their Classic Rock/AAA playlist. Many indie tunes are stale by the time they make it in, but much of the local audience doesn’t know that.
Ratings in key cells are showing solid growth: From Winter/Spring/Summer (The Globe was born 2/2/07): Men18-49 moved: 2.3 – 2.6 – 3.5; and Adults 18-49 moved 2.0 – 2.2 – 2.5. In every one of these cells, cume is at yearly high. Adult 12+ cume is 353,000 per week—the highest in two years.
Ironically, two original HFS DJs, Jonathan “Weasel” Gilbert, and “Cerphe” Colwell air there today. We asked GM Michael Hughes how the songs are picked, and what they’re trying to reach. He says The Globe is focused on a demo of 20-50 year olds. The songs are selected by a local music committee comprised of the PD, the Assistant PD/Music Director and various air talent that includes veterans Cerphe and Weasel. “We use a variety of tools in that selection process, such as listener requests, store sales, music downloaded reports, various industry charts and also insight about what is bubbling up in the local DC clubs, tours, MySpace.com, etc.”
HD multicast channels
HD multicast/HD-2,3 channels are extremely important to the future of our medium. SmartMedia believes in order to effectively compete for younger ears against satellite and internet, the HD-2 stations need to offer fresh, new formats like Indie Rock, Jam Bands, Emo, etc.things that they are going elsewhere to get, in droves.
The point is, the time for trying new formats and experimenting is now. HD multicasts are one great way to do that, and it’s happening, but let’s not wait until the number of HD receivers in the marketplace—and factory equipped in cars—hits critical mass. We need to keep people from running away from traditional radio now. Let’s stem the erosion and place some of this on the main signals as well. Because the largest erosion is being seen with the younger demos, why not try a format that includes the best of the best picks from multiple genres—College/Indie, Reggae (incl. Dub, Roots Rock), Psychedelic, Drum & Bass, Blues, Alternative, Classic Alternative and deep Classic Rock? With the right programming minds, the right DJs and presentation, it can work again—just like WHFS did and Indie 103.1 in LA is doing a lot of today—even with marginal coverage of their market.
We asked Indie 103.1 Station Manager Dawn Girocco: How have we strayed from radio’s roots? “Radio’s roots lie in discovering and experiencing music,” she said. “It was based on the passion of the jock in the studio –and a way to share that with listeners. It was all about the music.”
What made radio great that we see less and less of today? “Taking risks and standing behind your product,” she says. “I love what we do at Indie. I am very fortunate to work with a group of people who absolutely take our responsibility to our audience, artists, company and team as seriously as I do. Everyone understands that we are incredibly lucky to have this once in a lifetime opportunity. Every day there is a new challenge—and with it a new
reward, groundbreaking event or artist that defies the current standard.”
It’s a philosophy
What’s the philosophy on running Indie 103.1? Girocco says they are a platform for artists—and that includes musicians, directors, writers, actors, photographers, visual arts etc. “We understand that the audience—which includes the staff—has an innate curiosity about so many different things. It means not being satisfied by the ordinary. Every single person at this radio station contributes in many ways. Ideas and opportunities come from every department. If it is appealing to the audience—we find a way to do it.”
The experience itself is also key. They do lifestyle marketing, probably more than any station in the city—and with one of the smallest staffs. From the very beginning they’ve have had listeners tell them that they came back to radio. “With a lot of the formats—I think we vastly underestimate the audience. Everyone has different backgrounds, different tastes—and different levels of curiosity about music. But music is the one thing that is universal on any level. It is one of the best ways to share with others. Social networking sites and station websites extend the artists’ ability to share their work with others.”
On that note, Consultant Point to Point Marketing created even more interest in the station, Dawn noted. “Successful communication is all about target identification and message content. Indie is not the kind of station you can blast a ‘normal’ radio message to just anyone and expect results.
Helping Indie filter the massive LA market down to compatible lifestyles and households coupled with great art direction and impacting copy ideas from the station created a successful campaign,” Mark Heiden, COO/Point-to-Point Marketing, tells RBR/TVBR.
Indie 103.1’s hiring of Steve Jones, guitarist of punk band “The Sex Pistols,” for a lunchtime show has turned out to be a huge hit—Jonesy’s Jukebox. He plays his own picks and bringing on his own guests—often well-known/respected musicians and actors. On a given day, Jones will spin dub reggae, goth-punk, psychedelic/acid rock, a little known Stones song and a retro hair band song from the 80s—it’s totally unpredictable, other than they often have some common theme. Talk about “Playing Whatever we Want…!”
We asked Girocco about the great success of Jonesy. Not only does he play whatever he wants (in the “real” sense), but he’s very entertaining and pulls great guests. “Jones is absolutely one of a kind,” she attests. “Jones prepares for his shows thoroughly – and he absolutely plays music based on whatever mood he is in – or whatever catches his eye and ear that day. He has everything on his show. Sometimes he has themes. Animal bands, electronic, glamrock. He is the embodiment of what the station is about—we appreciate the music. So does the listener.”
So much so that Indie did an outdoor campaign with Jonesy across the nation in NYC for their streaming audience there (Hint, Hint to NYC stations—remember the wild success of puny-signaled WLIR?). “NYC does not have a station like ours and it is an incredibly diverse market. It is also office based—perfect to promote online listening. We targeted high impact areas—Times Square and The LIE. NYC is the second largest city for us in terms of our streaming audience.”
This can be done in every market
We asked Dawn to dispel some myths why new formats like Indie Rock won’t work and why many broadcasters are afraid to touch them. “Indie 103.1 is alternative in its truest form,” she explains. “Indie is not a music moniker for us—it is the whole thought process behind the station. Our particular format does work in Los Angeles and will work in other markets. Music is global, thanks to the internet. The challenge for the manager is aligning revenue with the risk you take in doing a format like this. There are so many entertainment choices today—and so many ways to get the entertainment. There is absolutely room in every city for station that is adventurous and out of the standard mold. For as many listeners as there are that are perhaps satisfied with the standard formats—there are so many more who are not passionate about their stations and do not identify with any of the stations in the market.”
She’s had clients tell her that the way their listeners talk about the station is like a badge of honor. “Our audience is passionately involved with what we do – and their willingness to go to our events, listen to our recommendations in music as well as participate with suggestions and feedback is what makes us successful. Our audience is very much a tastemaker audience—one that every advertiser, label, studio and artist would like to reach.”
She adds, “My PD, the legendary Max Tolkoff and my music director Mark Sovel, who also hosts our hugely successful local music show Check 1..2. Music is submitted for the music meeting from various conversations during the week—and is then selected and added. We never have enough room to run as many artists as we’d like. There is more great music out every day.”
Indie also hits various formats through their 11 specialty shows. This can also start an artist on the station and give them a way to get into regular rotation. The shows feature audiophiles and musicians as hosts. “Their knowledge is unbelievable and their passion and commitment to the station is incredible,” says Dawn. “As a truly independent station—this is very important as yet another method to filter music up. Some of shows are on music 6-24 months ahead of the rest of the country which is exactly what our listeners love about these shows.”
Some HD multicast examples
Stations are really busy these days creating new and unique formats—for mainstream and HD multicast signals. Of course, Clear Channel’s Format Lab is the king, but Beasley and Bonneville are two others definitely worth mentioning. When asked how the decision came to be that PD’s be allowed to program their individual HD2 channels in SW Florida, Bruce Beasley, President and COO, Beasley Broadcast Group, tells us: “Innovation is an essential element of Beasley’s HD Radio plan. All broadcasters realize that “content is king” when it comes to the side channels that digital radio provides. At Beasley we believe the best way to gauge the interests of local listeners is to encourage programmers in each individual market to create compelling HD2 content that fits their particular community.”
When designing these formats, Beasley asks his programming team to bring fresh and original ideas to the table. They’re also asked to look at all aspects of talent within their offices as sometimes the perfect creative partner is sitting at a nearby desk. For instance, the force behind WRXK/K-Rock’s HD2 channel is veteran morning man Mark Haney. His unique take on what folks want to hear in SW Florida is the perfect example of keeping the focus on “local” radio. This is a heritage classic rock station that Beasley has owned since the 80’s. Haney’s been there for 16 years. Here’s the format description they provided: “Haney’s Big House is a radical departure from commercial radio. Think back to the times when the musicians (we now call legends) were glued late at night to the pure inspiration found in between the static coming out of transistor radios…bringing home the sounds of New Orleans, Memphis and all places beneath the Mason Dixon line.
Haney’s Big House also frequently pays homage to several great Florida bands. Expect to hear Southern Rock, blues (Muddy Waters), Americana, roots music and REAL country: Waylon, Willie, Johnny Cash and a dash of David Alan Coe).”
Haney is also founder of “Mark Haney and the Buzzards,” a legendary SW Florida blues and southern rock band. Haney’s Big House actually existed as a juke joint in Ferriday, Louisiana, circa 1940’s-50’s. It became famous thanks to a young boy who claimed he used to peep through a hole in the back wall and flat out sneak in to the club to see the likes of a young BB King (long before he was famous) and other great blues and boogie-woogie musicians. That young boy was Jerry Lee Lewis. Unfortunately the original Haney’s Big House in Ferriday was destroyed by fire in 1966 (coincidentally, Haney was born in 1966).
Matt Johnson is PD for sister station B-103.9 WXKB-FM there. “Beach 103.9” is the station’s HD-2 channel: 75% reggae music, 25% adult alternative, and 25% “chill” dance music. In the design process of Beach 103.9, they were looking for a format that could really capture the vibe of SW Florida. “The beaches are our market’s largest and most popular feature – so that’s what we targeted,” said Johnson. “To create our musical recipe, we spent about a week driving to different businesses located on the beach and asking their input as to what kind of station would best encapsulate the ‘SW Florida beach experience’.”
With that in mind, they tried to design the station to please two different sets of people. The first group included people who were physically at the beach – beachgoers and businesses alike. The second group of people included those who wish they were at the beach. Whether sitting in their work cubicle or in their car stuck in traffic, they wanted these people to be able to enjoy the “SW Florida beach experience” anywhere through “Beach 103.9”.
The next phase is to network some of these multicast stations and find a way to monetize them without driving the audience away. Bruce Reese, Bonneville CEO, spoke to RBR/TVBR a bit about their multicast channel network of unsigned bands—ichannelmusic.com: “I think we’ve had a tendency to think of the HD-2 channels as somewhat having to be brand extensions of the HD-1 channels. But hey, it’s another channel—there’s nothing in it that says just because the station that’s right next to 104.1 needs to sounds like 104.1. So whether it’s targeting younger people or different people, we need to get people back listening to radio. HD2,3 is a great opportunity for us to try and recapture the 18-25 year olds.”
iChannelMusic operates out of their St. Louis properties. It’s programmed by Ken Williams. In Bonneville markets like DC, Salt Lake, Chicago and St. Louis, it’s a refreshing change from the same ‘ol, same ‘ol.