A Road Trip Through Texas, And The State of Dallas Radio

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X marks the airwaves
In the last few months, research for a project has taken me across the state and, more recently, into Mexico. It may be something sentimental in me, or this weird notion that road trips are meant to be soundtracked by where you are and not by a list you cultivated online, but I noticed what was popular on the radio in these areas.

Many people have complained about what's on Dallas' airwaves, but honestly things aren't that dire. We have a great NPR station in KERA, and KXT is starting to fully understand their role in the marketplace. K104 and 97.9 The Beat both do a great job of exploring not just the mainstream hip-hop and R&B, but also music from the fringes of both genres, and there's not a sports station in the South that can come close to the Ticket.

However, it's some of the old hands in the market I'm troubled by. I'm not sure when KLUV decided their oldies programming included the likes of Cyndi Lauper and Huey Lewis, but they're a break from the traditional programming of Elvis, Elton, Elvis, Beatles. The Edge is able to sneak in the occasional M83 song and Mark Schectman has his Sunday locals show, but it has to be painful for a DJ to announce Linkin Park is coming up next.

The top 40 stations aren't worth trying to deride or comprehend; they serve their purpose and attacking them is like trying to bare-knuckle box a brick wall. I admittedly skip over the country stations in the area, since it seems each one is trying to out-Nashville each other by seeing how many times they can play Blake Shelton an hour. And stations like The Eagle, Jack FM and KZPS are just filling a slot in a market, like their brethren in every other city in the country.

Bringing Austin into this conversation would be unfair, as no city in this state would be able to compete with the variety of music offered by the stations in our Capitol. As for Houston, even with the loss of Rice radio to the murky realm of Internet-only broadcasting, and the recent change of 103.7 from adult alternative to Christian rock, their radio scene is far more eclectic than our own. There's actually an oldies stations that plays music made in the '40s and '50s, and there's classic and outlaw country stations that play the type of music Dallas concert-goers flock to, but can't find on the radio.

Even the modern adult alternative fare is more daring in Houston. Take the Alvin-based 89.7 KACC, which is slightly comparable to KXT. While listening to the station during drive time, I heard them play The Knife, LCD Soundsystem and Le Sera. This seems like something that might not happen on a non-Slavens controlled KXT show.

Recently, I found myself in the back of a car drinking a beer while my driver was buzzing through the streets of Juarez, Mexico with the type of reckless abandon you find in people in their early twenties. From the radio I heard seminal punk band X, and I asked him why he played that song. He laughed and said it was the radio. El Paso is a weird mix of conventional music stations, ballsy college radio and Spanish-language stations that would seem foreign to our Tejano-dominated air waves. While in the area, I heard Carla Morrison, The Hidden Cameras, At The Drive-In, Bloc Party, Traffic, The Grass Roots, The Buzzcocks and the aforementioned X. Why El Paso and not Dallas?

Making my way from El Paso, I drove through Midland, Odessa, Abilene and dozens of small towns. I came across at least 20 publicly funded stations that played classic country, golden oldies and the occasional new wave hit. I grimaced when I lost TCU's station while passing through DFW airport, and I was thankful American Roots was on when I finally switched to KXT.

There's a lot of good here, but it could be improved by stations taking more risks. We're the dominant media city in this state, and it's time our radio stations caught up. Check back here in the next few weeks, as we'll be discussing Dallas as a radio market with locals, and how Internet stations like Radio UTD and Indie-Verse affect the discussion.

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15 comments
todd
todd

I struggle with the notion that radio's job is to introduce new art as opposed to entertain the masses, and I'm always on the fence about this matter.  While it is entirely too easy to plug in the iPod and entertain myself, I occasionally find myself enjoying the "fact" that the DJ played the perfect song for the moment, just for me.  On the other hand, I absolutely adore New Music Monday on KXT and often feel that same imaginary connection when the DJ plays something new that I really like.   

wbass67
wbass67

What about the weird and wild world of a.m radio. There is Soul 730. Bobby Patterson is a Dallas gem. More people should be exposed to him. Then there is the old white man version of Soul 730 a couple of turns of the dial at the Legend 770

LeroyJenkem
LeroyJenkem

Hey, I'd LOVE to see this happen, Jaime-Paul. I really would. I've been hoping that this would happen for most of my life. The only thing worse than the Nineties-retread "Mommy won't let me buy heroin with her credit card!" whiner rock played on KEGL and Jack as much as the FCC will allow is the Nineties-retread whiner rock prefaced with 45 minutes of yammering from some anencephalic who thinks it's still 1984 and we don't have a choice. The problem is that radio station managements, particularly at ClearChannel, think it _is_ still 1984, and they're selling to audiences who want a return to that nice safe stuff that played on the radio back then. We're currently living through one of the greatest explosions in music accessibility our species has seen since the development of sheet music, but terrestrial radio in Dallas is still overseen by people who play Nickelback because Phil Collins and Huey Lewis are far too hardcore. (Of course I kid about that. The problem is that once you start bringing up words like "payola" and "coke and strippers in exchange for play", those same Nickelback-loving programming directors get a bit butthurt. It's like when the nearly universal complaint against Dallas radio is the lack of variety in each format, and the programmers start crying about how "If we offer anything new, then listeners will tune out." It's just pure coincidence that the "anything new" that _does_ get played is a Pearl Jam knockoff accompanied by Candi and an 8-ball.)

 

The problem here is, strangely enough, what you related. Dallas is the biggest media outlet in Texas, which is why we're so homogeneous. It's an absolute that local radio stations only get better when there's nothing left to lose: it's only when the ratings are in the absolute dumps after years of yammering deejays that the managers fire the idiots, bring in a new crew, and promise "More Music in the Morning!" to convince listeners not to plug in the iPod. Most of the markets you mentioned are just like that, where the market is small enough that the station owners don't care what's on the air so long as it brings in listeners and advertisers. That's how Dallas's AOR market started back in the Seventies. The problem with Dallas radio, though, is the same with anything interesting or unique in the area: you have to keep the MBAs away from it to prevent it from being ruined. The moment a station comes up with a unique format and starts to jump up in the ratings, that's when the upper management decides it has to mark its territory and make "improvements". They then blame everyone else for the failure, and the cycle continues. And so long as participating in terrestrial radio is so expensive, don't expect this to change any time soon.

MattL11
MattL11

There are good radio stations in Austin? Which ones?  

nakedlens
nakedlens

"There's a lot of good here, but it could be improved by stations taking more risks. We're the dominant media city in this state, and it's time our radio stations caught up. "Here, let me help you a little bit...http://www.knon.org/ 

will
will

 @gordonhilgers because some people cannot get spotify on their car radio....also, there is the idea that the radio DJ has an opportunity to introduce somebody to songs and bands... or remind us of groups we haven't heard in a long time. Spotify is insular. you hear only what you want to hear, you find out only about things you want to find out.... the radio (usually doesn't but) can show you something that you wouldn't have played on spotify, or heard about from a friend, or known about in any other way.... most radio stations in dallas (KXT) don't bother to do this very often, but they CAN... and in my opinion, should.

mewkins
mewkins

KNON needs to take a look at KSYM in San Antonio. They'd get alot more support. Hell, if they were half as good as KSYM I'd pledge regularly.

gordonhilgers
gordonhilgers

 @will I agree, Will.  I don't have a car, so I don't have to mess with car radios.  I enjoy some of what KXT does, particularly some of its national programming, especially the ones that specifically introduce new music to us.  However, I do realize KXT has some restraints--due to Dallas' typically conservative outlook: KXT, in order to attract listeners, has to play a lot of stuff that's literally been played to death on other stations.  Otherwise, people used to the same-ol' same-ol' will be bewildered by songs they've never heard before.  That's an OK strategy.  I usually listen to music I profile on Spotify, and if I like it a lot, I'll buy it--thus supporting those musicians. 

nakedlens
nakedlens

 @MattL11 Which would still make it one if the best radio stations in Dallas 25% of the time.Of course that also depends on what you consider "crap".

Chuck_Schick
Chuck_Schick

 @gordonhilgers Love KXT on the weekends. But drive time, when they play the tunes that "attract listeners?" Not so much.

movinondown
movinondown

 @nakedlens  @MattL11 They need to hang most of the staff and it's small listener base off the transmitter. Worst station. Worse fans.

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