Somewhere in college, those of us arts and humanities types who were passionate about music, but knew we were not talented enough to perform it professionally, eventually wandered into the journalism school or the student radio station. Everyone else must have wound up in a marketing classroom.
That scenario is as good a thumbnail as any to explain what happened Thursday afternoon, when Houston's No. 2-rated country FM station, 100.3 KILT, rebranded itself from the ambiguous "real country variety" to the even more ambiguous but oh-so-masculine "The Bull."
It's almost too easy, really. Rocks Off tuned into The Bull all Friday morning, and one of its self-touting commercials (known in the biz as a "bumper") announced the station as "the new bull." Irony really is dead.
When another bumper announced that The Bull was "Jason Aldean's kind of party station," I hated The Bull immediately. Jason Aldean works my last nerve. Even if I did party -- and I used to party all the time -- I don't think I'd want to party with him.
Evidently this "Bull" is a new kind of format spreading across country radio, with the dubious catchphrase "less twang, more bang." Supposedly Bull country -- see, the jokes write themselves -- is going for a "grittier, more rock-oriented pop-country vibe."
First of all, any country station that thinks "less twang" is something to be proud of needs to be avoided right away. But this is the way people with marketing degrees actually think and talk about music. Everything must be researched and demographiced down to the last market share, and results in maneuvers like Thursday's rebranding. "More twang" would skew "too rural," you see.
This immediately makes me think about the old saying about rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, which is probably lost on today's marketing grads, because nobody rearranged any chairs in the 1998 Leo DiCaprio movie.
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Because the music, mind you, is more or less the same as the old KILT. But branding itself after one of the most masculine representatives of the entire animal kingdom does not speak well of what The Bull must think of its lady listenership. This morning it's played Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood and two songs by Little Big Town, which is half female. Oh, and Lady Antebellum (one-third female).
But other than that, it's been lots of bros going on about trucks and beer, which not by coincidence is probably almost all you'll be hearing about when KILT starts playing commercials again Monday morning. The "new" is true anyway; all morning, I didn't hear anything older than Tim McGraw's "Live Like You Were Dying."
Much more grievously, this morning KILT went for hours and hours and hours without playing a George Strait song, which should be unconscionable for a commercial country station in Houston. Same goes for any of Strait's fellow Texans, although surely Eli Young Band will be along eventually.
Imagine something like The Arrow rebranding itself "A Different Kind of Classic Rock" and playing the same tired shit it has been for however many years, because all it did was roll out a new logo and made some new T-shirts, and cut a bunch of new promo "bumpers." How much sense does that make to you?
But before The Bull was a radio format, it was just a freakin' animal, one that happens to be the mascot of Houston's NFL team, whose games happen to be carried by KILT. KILT must think by aligning itself with the Texans even closer, it might be able to catch 93Q/KKBQ in the ratings. (In the most recent Arbitron PPM survey, KILT ranked several spots below KKBQ, which was No. 7 overall.) Too bad it had to do that the week before the Texans were due a playoff appointment with the
guillotine New England Patriots.
It doesn't have to be this way. After the switch, my colleague Craig Hlavaty and I started talking about how cool a fictional Houston country station could be by combining classic rockers like the Eagles, Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top and even Led Zeppelin's rootsier tunes with the country-legends crowd à la Willie, Waylon, Conway Twitty and the Hag. I'd toss in Janis Joplin, Tanya Tucker, the Judds and Reba, too.
It could work as easily with a station that programmed newer music too, maybe Eric Church next to Kings of Leon next to Miranda Lambert next to Alabama Shakes. All that market research never seems to uncover the fact that people will always respond to music with a pulse. Or they ought to, anyway.
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Instead it continues to treat music as nothing more than something to fill up the space between commercials. So please, please tell us. readers: If you have a curious mind, and are interested in music at all -- country, pop, rock, whatever -- why are you still listening to Houston FM radio?