Call it new-wave deja vu or just a sign of the times, but something very strange is going on at KROQ-FM, Los Angeles' longtime bastion of New Music programming.
When we tuned in KROQ the other morning, the deejay serenaded us with a excerpt from the Bee Gees' "Night Fever." Don't worry--the ROQ isn't going disco after all these years.
But KROQ does have a new format, which should intrigue rock fans almost as much as it will probably outrage record executives. After years of being the most adventuresome station in town, KROQ has gotten into the oldies business. Calling its format "Klassic KROQ," the station has switched to a play list equally divided between new hits and new-wave oldies (songs that were KROQ hits over the past decade).
"We've sort of rediscovered our heritage," said Program Director Rick Carroll. "With a lot of other stations in town playing 'power' songs--the big new dance hits--we feel it's a great way for us to compete by dipping back into the vaults and playing our old hits. We did a 'Classic Rock Weekend' a few weeks ago and we got such an enormous response that we just decided to make it a regular part of our format. I think it'll help distinguish us from the competition and pay off in the next few ratings books." (In the recent spring Arbitrons, KROQ scored a 3.8 rating, beating its album-rock rivals but lagging far behind "hits" stations like KPWR-FM and KIIS-FM.)
While the emphasis on new-wave oldies may help KROQ with its ratings, the move couldn't come at a worse time for the record industry, which is reeling from the proliferation of oldies-style format on radio stations around the country. The KROQ programming shift highlights the growing disparity between the aims of radio whose advertisers want to attract an older, affluent audience and the music industry, which relies on younger listeners to help break records by new, lesser-known bands.
According to record company execs, radio's fondness for oldies is a disturbing trend with grave commercial repercussions. "It's really scary and potentially destructive to record sales because stations like KROQ have always been the key places to break new bands," said Geffen Records exec John Kalodner. "You have to wonder where we're going to be able to develop new artists. Look at this week alone. There are new songs out by Billy Idol, the Talking Heads, Cyndi Lauper, Rick Ocasek and Billy Squier. And if there's only three or four slots for new songs in the play lists, who's going to take a chance on a new band?"
Even Carroll acknowledges that the new format presents something of a freeze-out for new groups. "This will prevent a lot of new bands from getting added (to the station play list) right away. In fact, we're even going to have a tough time accommodating new songs by better-known artists like the Talking Heads, Rick Ocasek, Billy Idol and the B-52s. But we'll still be listening to the new groups. We just may not be able to add them right away--they're going to have to wait a few weeks, instead of going on the play list right away."