Like a wound that never truly heals, the sorry state of commercial rock radio around here continues to be a sore point for many Houstonians. Not a day goes by that several people search for 103.7 FM on the Houston Press Web site -- almost two months after the station changed formats from Adult Alternative to Christian rock.
Just this week, a post to the Reddit's Houston subgroup called "Why does Houston radio suck?" drew almost 200 comments. With today's vastly improved mobile and wireless technology, people seem to be abandoning terrestrial radio in general in favor of satellite radio, custom streaming apps like Pandora and Internet stations like the recently revamped Rock 101.
But there is one FM station in the area that is "Texas Loud, Texas Proud" - it just happens to be a low-power station on the campus of Alvin Community College, almost entirely staffed by students at the two-year school. That would be 89.7 FM KACC, the "Gulf Coast Rocker," and it's not going anywhere.
Longtime KACC station manager Mark Moss is in a better position than most to know that Houston has a rock-radio audience that feels its needs aren't being met. He's doing everything short of sending up signal flares to remind people that KACC is over there. Somehow a lot of them find out anyway.
"All the radio stations are rated by Arbitron, and for years we didn't even show up on the scale," Moss says. "And now we are. It's a small share, but nonetheless it's still the fact that we're there. If you start looking, we're actually rated better than other stations that are much higher-power than us."
Because it is supported by Alvin Community College, KACC is not beholden to advertisers for revenue, which means that it can be a little looser and more experimental with its playlists. Moss emphatically believe the chokehold local commerical stations exert on their rotation, limiting air time to only a few well-known hits, is a big reason many listeners continue to abandon terrestrial radio.
"I mean, you can only hear the same song so many times before you switch the channel," says Moss. "You know, I think "Hotel California" was a wonderful song. And it was well-written, but after about 15,000 times of hearing it, I really don't need to hear it anymore. And the Eagles did so much more than that.
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I love Led Zeppelin, but if I never hear "Stairway to Heaven" again, I'll be perfectly fine with that," he adds.
KACC starts with songs known in radio lingo as "deep tracks" and goes from there. It's not unusual to hear the Allman Brothers' "Ramblin' Man" or something from The Who's Tommy, but 89.7 plays a wide swath of rock from the '60s all the way into the present, including local artists (those who bother to send in their music, chides Moss). Remarkably - and proof just how bad the other stations really are - Moss say his students tell him it's their favorite radio station, period.
"My audio production class, I just recently asked, 'Tell me about your favorite radio station,'" says Moss. "With the understanding that a lot of them are kissing up, a lot of them said KACC. A lot of our music was out long before they were born, but they just like the station.
"These are college-age kids," he adds. "They shouldn't be listening to us."
Beyond that, listening to KACC feels like a real radio station, starting with all the public-service announcments and ACC-directed bulletins that substitute for commericals. The station is at the hub of its community, the way every radio station used to be.
"Radio has started to become outdated," It's sad, but if radio doesn't go back to the local level and people don't feel like they trust their radio broadcasters, it may get worse."
Of course KACC does have a few drawbacks. The big one is that it only broadcasts at 5,600 watts, a fraction of the power a station like 94.5 The Buzz puts out. (About 6 percent of the Buzz's wattage, actually.) It used to be less than 1,000 watts before it upgraded the signal and switched frequencies from 91.3 to 89.7 in 1992, says Moss, who is KACC's lone employee and thus program director, music director, station manager and everything else.
However, KACC is usually audible in central Houston, and can be quickly and easily streamed on Windows Media Player via the station's Web site.
More importantly, KACC is secure. Its position as a student laboratory for the art (or science) of radio broadcasting means it's hands-off as far as any outside interference goes; Moss says he's never heard of any big Clear Channel-like companies sniffing around.
It can also afford to have a sense of humor about itself. One promotional bumper brags about playing "less music by angry baldheaded guys."
"I mean, we make fun of ourselves," Moss says. "We just have a good time."
True, sometimes you might tune in and hear the Goo Goo Dolls. No station is perfect. It's staunchly album-oriented rock, with current indie bands like Grizzly Bear or Animal Collective as nonexistent as any serious metal. Female artists might as well be -- though we did hear an Evanescence song once -- and if KACC does play the Ramones, practically a classic-rock band at this late stage of the game, we haven't heard da bruddahs recently.
But that's just a matter of personal taste. One time Rocks Off clicked over to KACC and heard Uriah Heep, which made our entire day.
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HEAVY ROTATION Ten songs we heard on KACC Tuesday afternoon:
Beatles, "Lady Madonna" Oasis, "Wonderwall" Red Hot Chili Peppers, "The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie" Foghat, "Slow Ride" Soundgarden, "Spoonman" Collective Soul, "Breathe" Skillet, "It's Not Me, It's You" AC/DC, "Thunderstruck" Mountain, "Mississippi Queen" The Black Crowes, "Hard to Handle"