The Great 91 X-periment
The Great 91X Experiment, in which San Diego’s XETRA (91.1 FM) has become what the program director calls a format of one is quite intriguing. Many observers are trying to pigeonhole the format by calling it “classic alternative,” but that misses the point … and honestly proves that many supposed insiders really don’t understand the format.
91X, like KROQ (106.7 FM) here, didn’t start as “alternative.” That description is more recent, and reflected a tightening of the playlist that came long after the initial success. The stations began as a “rock” or rock and new wave, playing music that was really meant to be cutting edge, heard first here and later on other stations. Rick Carroll, who was the programmer that brought KROQ to its heights in the 1980s and was an early consultant when 91X adopted the format, actually considered it a form of top-40, but both stations were definitely close to mainstream.
To borrow the slogan from UCLA’s student station, the idea what they were playing “tomorrow’s sound today,” i.e. the songs that you’ll hear on other stations later. And it was true. KROQ and 91X were both early players of Prince, Pet Shop Boys, The Clash, English Beat, Duran Duran, The Cars, Sparks, The Police and Devo, all the while still playing mainstream artists such as the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys.
Something happened along the way, and I don’t know why. The playlist got tighter and tighter. Eventually, rather than being the station where you’d hear music months before it was played on other stations, it was the music you’d hear only there.
So while the observers have a point – there is more “gold” in the 91X format now than before the switch, the reason has a very positive potential. The songs being added — primarily from the early 1980s, in place of more recent alternative hits — are being added in part because the audience loved them during an A-XYZ special the station ran, playing songs that had not been played win the air in years.
And there’s the rub. Many listeners are so young, they never heard the songs in the first place. Talking Heads. Adam Ant. Ramones. Red Hot Chili Peppers. And if listeners respond positively to songs they never heard before — new to them — that means there is the potential to add new songs without, as programmers always fear, scaring them off. New music is new music.
91X has the potential of becoming a radio station that actually attracts younger people back to radio. That would be a good thing. I’ll be watching this closely … stations around the country will be as well.
Slightly off topic but still related … the 91X website is well-designed and fun to visit, easy to navigate and informative. Check it out at 91x.com.
Boss Radio Request Line
“I recently read your tribute article to Sam Riddle. I was hoping you might be able to help me with a riddle of my own. I am the owner of the KHJ Boss Radio’s Surfin’Bird, a 1956 Thunderbird built by legendary customizer Bill Cushenbery, given away by the Boss Jocks in August of 1966.
“In combing through known radio broadcasts, etc I have been unable to find out who originally won the car. The promotion ended August 8th with the winner being announced on the Dick Curtis 18 to 34 Show.
“I am unable to find any radio spots that mentioned the winner, which is odd, as most contest winners were mentioned on air. I was hoping you might have have some insight as to how to contact Gary Mack or Johnny Williams. There are many great stories surrounding this great promotion, and unfortunately all the people that know are leaving us.
“Here is a links to information I have compiled to date around this great moment in radio history. And help or ideas are greatly appreciated.” — Kevin Bennett
The links Kevin provided are: https://kustomrama.com/wiki/The_KHJ_Surfin%27_Bird\ and http://thesurfinbird.weebly.com/history.html … if you or someone you know has the answer, please let me know!