We Want the Airwaves!
This past New Year's Eve afternoon, as classic-rock fans across Houston were putting on their faux pre-distressed Led Zeppelin '77 tour T-shirts to head out and ring in the new year (and presumably to rock and roll all night), they might have been shocked when tuning in to KKRW 93.7 FM The Arrow.
Instead of hearing familiar tunes from the Stones, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, AC/DC or even Loverboy, they got an earful of Rick Ross, Beyoncé, Jay-Z and Drake. None of whom, I should mention, have ever covered "Sunshine of Your Love."
In one of those no-warning, no-quarter moves that happen all the time across the dial, the Arrow was no more, with hip-hop/R&B-formatted "The Beat" now broadcasting on the frequency owned by Clear Channel.
That suddenly left Houston's other classic-rock station, Cox-owned KGLK 107.5 FM ("The Eagle"), as the sole practitioner of the continuous format on Houston terrestrial radio. This excludes multiple classic-rock Sirius/XM satellite stations, specialized KPFT (90.1 FM) programming and the classic rock of Alvin Community College's "Gulf Coast Rocker" at 89.7 FM.
So what happens when your direct competition suddenly...disappears?
"I heard rumors of a potential change for KKRW in early October. Then the news began to leak from good sources a day or two before the flip," says Mark Krieschen, vice president and Houston/Galveston market manager for Cox. "But I wasn't surprised. When you look at where the station was ranked in the ratings...it made sense to change direction."
The Eagle's morning team of Dean Myers and Roger Beaty — who did the same duties at The Arrow for 12 years until 2009 — were similarly not shocked. But they immediately thought of former co-workers.
"We heard over the holidays, and our first thoughts were for Kelly [Ryan], Steve [Fixx] and the Colonel [St. James]. It's horrible getting fired at Christmas," the duo says. "But they hadn't been doing so hot [in the ratings] as of late."
As a radio format, "Classic Rock" debuted in the early '80s, playing music mostly from the years 1967-1977. As time progressed, more hitmaking bands from the '80s, such as Journey, Guns N' Roses and U2, joined the mix.
"They are the bands that can still fill arenas and the music that inspired today's artists as well as what we and our listeners grew up with," offer Dean and Rog. "And that can range from Beatles and Zeppelin to Skynyrd and the Allmans to Boston and Aerosmith."
However, if you think not having any direct competition on the dial means that the Eagle will expand their playlist to include, say, deeper cuts by artists they already play (like Zeppelin's "The Rain Song" instead of "D'yer Maker") or lesser-known classic-rock artists along the line of Cactus or Wishbone Ash, think again.
"We tend to play songs that were true hits. The music is timeless and a soundtrack of our listeners' lives," Krieschen offers. "Overall, our formula has worked. I don't anticipate major changes in the product offering."
He points to the weekday "3:00 Pick Me Up" hour, where listeners can program the station via the Eagle's app, as about as far out as the Eagle will get in terms of bands and songs. Though he adds that the station will test music and listen to audience feedback as well, and not take the market's "product exclusivity" for granted.
As to how the Houston market is in terms of popularity for the classic-rock format, Krieschen says the station's weekly "cume" rating is healthy, so there is an appetite for the genre. And compared to other Texas cities?
"Obviously, we are better than Dallas," Dean and Rog sum up. "And not just in radio. In everything."
Beats by the Pound
Dr. Dre's new streaming-music service enters a crowded marketplace.
A year ago, Beats by Dre headphone giants Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine announced the next step for their brand was to launch a digital-subscription music service. The news was not met with overwhelming approval.
After all, the existing marketplace — already crowded with Pandora and Spotify, relative new kids like Rdio and Google Play, and godfather Rhapsody — had been contributing to many fans' large music libraries for years now. Why did these two guys, who had already pocketed millions and redefined how we hear music, need to jump into this world?
Last week BeatsMusic debuted as a free download on multiple mobile platforms from Android to Apple's iOS. Subscriptions range from $10 per month to $15 for AT&T's family plan. The service offers more than 20 million songs on demand, the ability to follow fellow users (much like Spotify) and the ability to download tracks for offline listening.
But this isn't just another celebrity-sponsored music service, with Nine Inch Nails front man Trent Reznor as chief operating officer. Much the same way Beats redefined how you listen to music — and how you look wearing the product as a fashion statement — the service itself is specifically geared toward you, the listener.
Beats' "Intro" playlists give users the feel of getting to know an artist their friend just turned them on to. So, you Coachella-bound hipsters who remember OutKast only from Stankonia or "Hey Ya" and "The Way You Move," there's an "Intro to OutKast" playlist to smarten you up.
The first thing you notice after downloading the app (I used the iPhone version) is its crisp and smooth design. A pop-up bubble interface asks you to narrow down your own personal music preferences before you even hear a single song, then shifts to an artist-building platform based on those selections. You'd be hard-pressed to see Drake grouped together with Rage Against the Machine, Lou Reed and Jerry Butler very often, but here we are.
Finally, the main screen tinkers with your own personal preferences with a variety of options like "Just for You," a library built selectively from your initial choices; selections and playlists from industry bigwigs and magazines; and a typical search according to genres and activities, so you'll never have to hear Steely Dan's "Do It Again" in an awkward moment at the gym. A "curators' tab" even highlights new songs, playlists and artists from some of the best experts in the music world.
But one of BeatsMusic's niftier aspects is the "Sentence" tab, which Mad Libs a scenario and gives you a song for it. For example, it's relatively tame when you start up the app: "I'm on the Streets and Feel Like Driving With Your Mom to Jazz." For the "quiet storm"-inclined, it can be configured to say, "I'm in Bed and Feel Like Getting It on With Myself to Rap." The playlists get so nuanced and synchronized that you wind up turning into a digital crate-digger, listening to songs that sampled one singular artist.
Simplifications of certain aspects, such as saving those carefully manicured playlists, may be key in updates, but for an initial rollout, no music service has stepped on the block and forced its competition to figure out something new to keep its subscribers. BeatsMusic isn't looking for people to test out its flashy new product; it's looking for long-term commitments.
If Dre and Iovine have already hooked the world on their line of headphones, they may be even more serious in their ambitions to change how you listen to music in this aspect. The $10 fee is standard for all services, but compared to what the other streaming platforms offer, Beats may cause plenty of other streaming subscribers to make the switch.
Ask Willie D
Scared of Commitment
A reader thinks he's met the love of his life...but he's awfully young.
Dear Willie D:
Willie D, I need help. I am 19 years old and ever since I can remember, I have had no interest in having a girlfriend. I love women, but basically I never saw the point in being with just one.
The idea of being with someone exclusively scared the heck out of me until I met my current girlfriend. We have been together nearly a year. I love her; I really do. However, it scares me even more that I think I have met the girl I want to marry at 19.
The old me wants to break free and live it up, while the new me wants to stay with her. What do I do?
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Don't overanalyze this. You're afraid because you're not ready. But you don't have to be ready. You're 19 years old. You have plenty of time to get serious and fall in love. I know it's easier said than done, but talk to your girlfriend and tell her how you feel. You never know; she might be having the same reservations.
Staying in a relationship out of obligation can be suffocating and can cause resentment on both sides. So take it slow and easy. When you're undoubtedly ready to be committed to one girl, wild horses couldn't drag you away.
Ask Willie D appears Thursdays on Rocks Off.