It’s time to add another business to the list of things lost in the Sacramento area due to the faltering economy.
Alternative rock music listeners will have to go somewhere else to get their radio fix as KWOD 106.5 FM “Everything Alternative” shut down after 18 years on the dial. At 9 a.m. on May 22, KWOD played their last song – “Short Skirt Long Jacket” by Cake – and switched over to KBZC 106.5 FM “The Buzz“, a station set to play exclusively 90s music.
KWOD spent the last four years as the only place on the radio dedicated to playing alternative rock, a genre that spent the last few years slipping further away from the mainstream.
“Ever since 93.7 FM Howard changed over to the Jack FM format four years ago, KWOD 106.5 FM has been the only commercial alternative rock station in the Sacramento area,” KDVS DJ Ian Cameron said in an e-mail. “Emphasis is due, of course, to that word ‘commercial.‘ They operated mainly on a playlist system, with few opportunities to call in requests and their song selection has mostly been grounded firmly in Billboard Top 100 artists since they became a station in 1991.“
Although KWOD was a commercial station, Cameron pointed to its use of live DJs for most of the day and its special programming as factors that helped make KWOD something more than just another corporate rock station.
“KWOD did offer some amenities many stations didn’t,” Cameron said. “On Saturday nights, they had DJ David X play a set of very alternative music. Remixes, dance mixes and interesting music collaborations were his forte, and the show was especially important to me because it introduced me to many electronic artists like Hot Chip, who would otherwise receive very little airplay, if any, on commercial radio.“
Jesse Drew – director of the technocultural studies department – said that the switch from an alternative rock station to a 90s station is a transition driven by demographics and the hunt for profitable advertising.
“The whole notion of a 90s channel is bizarre. It’s just a bizarre demographic. Commercial radio is entirely driven by demographics,” he said. “They want to look to where the money is and in this case it’s with people in their 30s and 40s.“
A popular misconception about commercial media is that they are looking for the largest audience, Drew said.
“This hasn’t been the case since the 1960s,” he said. “They are looking for the largest number of people with money.“
This profit over popularity dynamic is best demonstrated with the classic example of Star Trek on television.
“Star Trek was the most popular TV show in American history. And it was cancelled. Why? Because the people watching the show weren’t spending money – they were young people and not part of the right demographic,” he said. “As a result, advertisers weren’t looking to buy time. KWOD probably had a similar problem targeting a younger audience.“
KWOD’s closure could also be in part due to young people turning more and more to Internet services like Pandora.com, Last.fm and iTunes in order to find new music, Cameron said.
Scott Ibaraki, a senior Environmental Policy and Analysis major, said he thought KWOD was a welcome break on the radio from Top 40 stations playing mostly hip-hop and pop electronic music.
“Although I usually listen to my iPod while driving, I would sometimes switch to KWOD to hear something a little different – some Smashing Pumpkins or Nirvana, perhaps,” he said.
Despite the Internet and the popularity of the iPod, Drew said he thinks the radio will remain an important medium in the coming years.
“Radio is powerful. The technology is over 100 years old and it’s still a viable medium because it’s so accessible and so many people listen to it. Everyone can listen to the radio. Its accessibility makes it worth fighting for.“
ZACK M. FREDERICK can be reached at email@example.com.