There are two headlines from the last 10 days that are worth considering together.
KITS (Live 105) San Francisco, which garnered immediate headlines by returning to the Alternative format in June was up 3.4-4.0 6-plus in the October PPM. Live 105, one of Alternative radio’s first success stories in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, was sixth in the Bay Area overall with a best-ever topline share, meaning that the station is doing better playing the Strokes in 2023 than it did in 2003.
Sirius XM’s PopRocks, the ‘90s/’00s format that we first wrote about in 2017, was one of the winners in their extensive Nov. 8 channel shuffle, moving from Channel 12 to even more prominent real-estate at Channel 6. (The relaunch was heralded with a “takeover” from members of Eve6, who described themselves as the channel’s new “overlords,” focusing on music from 1996 to 2006.)
In addition, SXM debuted Alt 2K, joining Y2K Country, Pop2K, and similar new R&B and Hip-Hop channels. With PopRocks often seeming like a throwback to late ‘90s/early ‘00s Modern AC radio, the two channels sometimes converge (“Steady as She Goes” by Raconteurs on PopRocks; “Hard to Explain” by the Strokes on Alt 2K), but not always (“Shake It Out” by Florence & the Machine on Alt 2K vs. “I Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty on PopRocks.)
Early-to-mid-‘00s Alternative’s continuing footprint has been clear since the late ‘10s when a lot of it re-emerged in music research at both pop and Alternative stations, particularly Panic! At the Disco’s “I Write Sins Not Tragedies.” At the time, the pop/punk of the mid-‘00s seemed like part of Alternative’s “true.alt” efforts to move away from Active Rock, but it was really the last moment of guitar rock that everybody could agree on.
Mid-‘00s pop/punk had the advantage of being the last rock music ratified in a consistent way by Top 40 radio. (It’s slightly off-topic, but it was fun to hear Cobra Starship’s “You Make Me Wanna” on San Francisco’s KMVQ [Now 99.7] this week as more from the turbo-pop era that followed makes its way back to the radio.)
Even more significantly, the resurgence of ‘00s pop/punk is also a reminder that Alternative was the first music to emerge from social media and streaming, in advance of being discovered by radio. What was a sea change in 2004 is the record industry’s game plan now, and it’s particularly confounding for Alternative that the “first-music-to-stream” has become “the music that doesn’t stream.”
There are two more recent developments that might now be worth considering together.
One is Noah Kahan’s “Dial Drunk,” a streaming success that came from Triple-A and Alternative, but seems to cluster as much with the between-Country-and-Triple-A success of Zach Bryan, and a lot of Country’s new Active Rock edge, including overt Nickelback-throwbacks like Jelly Roll’s “Need a Favor.” It’s hard to say what Alternative might do with that now, but it was a reminder that some of the late-‘90s/early-‘00s rock coalition can also regroup twenty years later.
The other is that Live 105 didn’t quite become the station everybody expected. Live 105 is as or more aggressive on new music as its Audacy brethren While the station is (like its siblings) still very gold-based, there are about 20 currents getting significant airplay on Live 105. While it’s not an excuse to now consume the entire bottle of aspirin, it is nice to see that playing a little more new rock was part of the station’s best month ever.
I seem to write the aspirational “pop/rock-might-be-making-a-comeback” article once a year. I’m always hoping that enough will emerge for rock crossovers to find a place at Top 40 again. If it seems like I’m tenaciously clinging to that last crossover moment, these two headlines show that the audience is, too. And even without having made it anywhere near power for most stations, “Dial Drunk” has been a great record for CHR in terms of expanding the notion of what a pop hit can sound like in 2023.
How could there be more and bigger rock crossovers? I keep coming back to the need for labels and ownership groups to aspire to multi-format airplay. Labels should be looking to rock crossovers (and Hip-Hop/R&B as well) to fill Top 40 and Hot AC’s lack of new product. Owners could be using both formats to help legitimize music for each other at a time when both Alternative and CHR could use a boost.
Some of the key to having more Alternative hits also lies in more cohesiveness in the format. The Beaches’ “Blame Brett,” the biggest record of the year at Canada’s healthier, more balanced Alternative format, found a first U.S. champion at SiriusXM’s Alt Nation, then at Audacy’s stations, which now seems to have put it on the track of being supported mostly by that group.
I don’t see anybody’s research, but “Brett” certainly sounds like a song that would fit on KTCL Denver or WWDC (DC101) Washington, D.C., and like a song that ought to make its way to Top 40. Alt.Nation has been a central motor for the Alternative format so long that SiriusXM can now create a channel for its greatest hits; it remains a central motor now for the format, but it would seemingly benefit all of Alternative’s groups if there were more songs that could achieve critical mass.
Here’s Live 105 at 11 a.m., Nov 8:
- Simple Minds, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”—staged as “the music that made Live 105”
- Weezer, “Buddy Holly”
- Evanescence, “Bring Me to Life”
- Blink-182, “One More Time”—with an intro sweeper from Mark Hoppus
- Offspring, “The Kids Aren’t Alright”
- La’s, “There She Goes”
- Third Eye Blind, “Semi-Charmed Life”
- Dirty Heads, “Rescue Me”
- Green Day, “Time of Your Life”
- Fun f/Janelle Monae., “We Are Young”
- Smashing Pumpkins, “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”
- Beaches, “Blame Brett”—staged with a multi-song music discovery promo
- Strokes, “Last Night”
- No Doubt, “Just a Girl”
- My Chemical Romance, “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)”
- Beck, “Loser”
And here’s SiriusXM PopRocks at 10 p.m., Nov. 8:
- Nickelback, “Someday”
- Green Day, “Time of Your Life”
- Avril Lavigne, “Girlfriend”
- Verve, “Bitter Sweet Symphony”
- Imagine Dragons, “Whatever It Takes”
- Better Than Ezra, “Good”
- Phantom Planet, “California”
- Fall Out Boy, “Sugar We’re Goin Down”
- Tracy Chapman, “Give Me One Reason”
- Coldplay, “Clocks”