Radio Waves: 3/1/19

Best station in the U.S. found in Waterloo, Iowa

My wife Jean and I took a trip out to Grinnell, Iowa to see the Midwest Conference Championships for collegiate swimming and diving. No it wasn’t just to visit the snow … my son was competing in the event and it was the only meet we were able to attend this season.

While there, we sampled the local radio stations that could be received in the area. They had an Alt 106.3, just like here and I am sure owned by iHeart, just like our local Alt 98.7. Even had the Woody Show. Boring … I don’t want to hear the same station I listen to at home … I can already do that online. National branding (and carbon-copy versions) of stations by the likes of iHeart, Cumulus and Entercom are  one of the reasons for failure of iHeart, Cumulus and Entercom. But I digress.

There were the typical talk stations. A few country stations. But the one station that stuck out as vastly superior was one we almost didn’t find because it is so high up on the dial, and I almost settled for another station first. Both Jean and I are glad we didn’t.

What may be the best rock station in the country is found in Iowa. Based in Waterloo, Rock 108 — KFMW — is so vastly superior to anything currently in Los Angeles that the majors could learn a few things.

First off, the station is local. It is owned by a NRG Media, a company that owns only 45 stations total throughout four states: Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Illinois. That’s more than I think is optimal, but far less than the majors. 

Right on the NRG Media homepage, the company says it “is dedicated to providing great local radio and is committed to being an active and integral part of the communities in which it serves.”

Wow … providing great local radio. You won’t find any such mission statement on the pages of stations from iHeart, et. al. And yet this one exudes it. Once we found Rock 108, we never stopped listening any time we were in the rental car.

What made it so great? First off, they play great music. New music, along with seasoned oldies that fit the feel of the Active Rock format they run. It was so refreshing to hear music that wasn’t the same repetitive sound so often heard in Los Angeles. Active Rock isn’t as limiting as is Alternative, and I heard no Twenty-One Pilots the entire weekend. It was magical.

The DJs were good, and didn’t sound canned or limited like you might expect in a smaller town. They were every bit as professional — maybe even more — than the DJs here in Los Angeles. There wasn’t a single syndicated or prerecorded program on the station; indeed, all the personalities are live and local as well.

The station is also actively involved in the local communities it serves, including the promotion of local music at venues around the area. In a nutshell, the station is exactly what radio is supposed to be: entertaining, creative, and broadcasting to benefit the local community. No wonder they are so popular; in the recent ratings report they were the 3rd most popular station in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area. 

Improved Reception

I tend to tune around when I get the chance. Perhaps not as much as when I was younger and found it so exciting to find hidden treasures on the radio, especially when a good signal would skip through the atmosphere and find its way to my radio from far, far away. Such as the times I was able to pick up WCCO/Minneapolis-St. Paul, KBOI/Boise, or WLS/Chicago from on my old Marantz receiver (bought from the old Wallach’s Music City in Torrance!) from my home in San Pedro.

Lately I noticed something interesting: the AM radio reception on the factory radio in my Mom’s Chevy Cruze is phenomenal. I am able to pick up K-SURF (1260 AM) fairly clearly, even at night. Other stations are just as clear, with no interference from the car itself and excellent selectivity. I’m even picking up a country station at 550 AM fairly consistently, even though it does fade away every time right before they mention the call letters.

Fidelity is awful, but no worse than is typical these days. I may have to get back into long-distance reception again, just to see what is still out there. If you do the same thing, let me know what you pick up. And when.