Alternative air

“Millennials who care about hipness aren’t going to listen to traditional radio anyway.”

The local alternative battle between 91X and FM-94/9 can be summed up by the sentiment in the old Sparks song: “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us.”
  • The local alternative battle between 91X and FM-94/9 can be summed up by the sentiment in the old Sparks song: “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us.”

San Diego does not seem to be able to support two alternative stations. In the latest Nielsen ratings, FM-94/9 was again in a sorry 18th place among all local stations while 91X was even worse (again), ranked 20th.

Insiders assumed that it would be 91X left standing when it was announced Padres play-by-play would be moving to FM-94/9 next year, signaling that it may drop music and switch to an all-sports format before the first Padres pre-season games in March.

The future of FM-94/9 staying in modern rock seemed even more iffy when 20-year local radio veteran Hilary Chambers left FM-94/9 to return to 91X in June, and FM-94/9 went for months without a live DJ in Hilary’s old mid-day shift.

Hilary Chambers

Hilary Chambers

Why should FM-94/9 hire someone, the thinking went, if it was switching to all sports in a few months?

Recently, 91X appeared to be on a huge upswing, buoyed by the announcement that it was hosting not one but two blockbuster lineups for its “Wrex the Halls” Christmas shows at the Sports Arena. One was headlined by Beck, the other by blink-182 with support bands Pierce the Veil and Jimmy Eat World.

It also didn’t hurt that the promoters of the Bad Religion/NOFX show October 22 at Waterfront Park chose 91X to be their radio sponsor.

On its website, FM-94/9 is now featuring a homepage spread “Who is Hunter Renfroe” next to its promo on the Desert Daze music fest. (FYI…Hunter Renfroe is a Padre.)

In the alternative-radio derby all signs seemed to say that 91X would stay and FM-94/9 would go.

But now the insiders aren’t so sure. After four months of having no DJ in the mid-day hours, 94/9 finally hired a replacement for Hilary (Alyssa Haberman from Canton, Ohio), indicating that the station may be staying with music after all.

A year ago the group that controls 91X, 92/5, and Z90 (Local Media San Diego) announced it was creating a five-station radio group with KFMB-FM and KFMB-AM. Last month it was announced the five-station group would be dissolved in December after only one year.

This raises a lot of questions. The two key players who could answer those questions — KFMB stations owner Elisabeth Kimmel and Local Media San Diego General Manager Gregg Wolfson — aren’t talking.

But there is no lack of speculation about what this breakup could mean.

Garett Michaels and Mike Halloran

Garett Michaels and Mike Halloran

For starters, will Garett Michaels remain at KFMB-FM? The program veteran who spent ten years at FM-94/9 essentially created a new format in January when he joined KFMB-FM and launched a hybrid format that mixed classic-rock artists such as Journey and Tom Petty, metal bands such as Whitesnake and Black Sabbath, and alternative artists such as Oingo Boingo and The Fixx. KFMB-FM is certainly doing better now than it was last year when it relied more on modern hits. But now KGB’s more traditional classic rock often tops KFMB-FM in the ratings after the Dave Shelly Chainsaw morning show leaves the air.

Michaels was brought to KFMB-FM by the Local Media group, which will no longer be involved with KFMB-FM after December.

If Michaels leaves KFMB-FM, would he replace Mike Halloran as 91X program director?

Even though 91X has been playing modern rock for 33 years, it can’t seem to do much better than 18th or 20th place for any given rating period.

One full-time staffer at FM-94/9 said he heard from two people at 91X who called over to FM-94/9 asking if there were any openings when the deal between the KFMB stations and Local Media was called off.

Of the two stations, FM-94/9 has a much safer, conservative playlist. While both stations seem to overplay cuts by 21 Pilots, FM-94/9 plays "Stolen Dance" by Milky Chance (from 2013) and Vance Joy's "Fire and the Flood" (from last year) five times a day.

Clearly 91X is more adventurous, playing breaking artists such as Fidlar, Dirty Heads, and CRX. And each month 91X gives local unsigned artists such as Mrs. Magician, Midnight Pine, the Young Wild, and the Frights four weeks of valuable heavy-rotation airplay.

But one local radio veteran says that while 91X may be winning the hipness battle with FM-94/9, that may not matter as much as it did in the ’80s.

“Hipness is not a factor like it was,” says the insider. “Millennials who care about hipness aren’t going to listen to traditional radio anyway.”

And regarding the fact that 91X has been getting hooked up with all the big shows, the insider says: “FM-94/9 is owned by a major corporation [Entercom] who probably tells the promoters that they won’t touch the show unless they spend money [in advertising] with the station. I’ll bet 91X said they would present those shows just for the sake of getting tied in with such big shows and for the chance to give away tickets on the air. The promoter probably went with them because they didn’t have to spend any money to advertise on radio.”

The mix of alternative music and live Padres on FM-94/9 seems to many to be an unlikely eventual outcome.

One theory is that Entercom will eventually either buy or lease another local station to accommodate the Padres and an all-sports format and leave FM-94/9 in alternative music.

But most radio insiders say that the two-station local alternative battle can best be summed up in the sentiment in the old Sparks song: “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us.”

The ratings performance of both 91X and FM-94/9 are dwarfed by harder rockin' Rock 105, which currently has about double the listenership of either station. Rock 105 is known as an “active rock” station, versus 91X and FM-94/9, which are classified as “alternative.”

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Oh, please. There is no such thing as "alternative" in radio. It's all corporate marketing all the time. Certainly 91X and 94.9 cannot be discussed in any rational way as some type of "alternative to the mainstream," as 91X and 94.9 are the mainstream. What, who's more popular than twenty one pilots, Green Day, Foo Fighters, and Beck?

"There is no lack of speculation about what this breakup could mean."

No truer words ever spoken, you couldn't get a single person to go on record with their thoughts. Which is weird, until I realized that your sources are Tyler Durden-esque manifestations of your sad aged frustrations over not being a somebody in any arm of the music industry. Now it makes sense why they tell you things that just don't work that way in radio at all, along with compliments like "you're a great writer, Ken" and "you're not well past your expiration date appearing at any venue in town" and "you don't sweat too much when you drink, Ken, people aren't staring."

It's okay, despite what all of San Diego thinks, your writings are valuable. Your niche columns about a middle-aged dad's perspective of the local music scene are as relevant to millennials as your steadfast opinion that oatmeal is too spicy. Keep doing you, brother.

sounds like one pissed off, laid off (or about to be laid off) employee at an obsolete radio station who doesn't matter. Or it sounds like a blogger who wants to write, but, um, well, let's just say you better stick to concert listings. It was hard to understand what you were trying to say but I think with "Now it makes sense why they tell you things that just don't work that way in radio at all..." you were trying to say what I wrote isn't what is going down. Hard to tell what you were trying to say. I hate to break it to you but this is the real gig. I got the quotes from someone who has a real job in radio and because they have a real job in radio, they don't want their name to used. You tried to go after me which is fine, but you didn't deny that anything I said was not true.

You know, it kind of defeats the purpose of saying "ah I know exactly who you are" when you just name everyone it could possibly be (and fail. HARD).

Here's the thing, Kennyboy 5000, I could say some is not true, only 1 or 2 things arent true, or the whole thing isnt true, but then that would make me a better source than whatever former pissed off DJ who couldn't land an overnight gig after being unable to keep up with fickle millennial tastes you got as your source. That is, if it they are not indeed what I said about it being a hallucination. You did not deny that either. Can you go on record and deny that? It would be the first thing you've gone on record for in this whole thing. Anyway, for the sake of argument, and because you will anyway, pretend nothing I said is true. Reality will continue on without you, and time will forget you ever existed.

By the way, it's truly hilarious that the doofus who spells with preteen texting grammar, and who throws out sentences like "they don't want their name to used", is going to try and take a potshot about not understanding what was being said, but I guess that's just a sign of advanced aging. Or hitting the bottle at 6pm on a Friday. Couldn't score free tickets to the Belly Up, so you're taking your abuse out on your keyboard?

PS: The hits you and I have given this article for this little flamewar has to account for 80% of all traffic this niche column will ever reach.

PPS: How's your lawsuit against Fox going for Family Guy stealing your likeness?

Hey pal you are a little hard to follow, but in all your Trump like silly rage you seem to be avoiding the one key point: what did I write that wasn't correct: That 949 plays a three year old song five times a day? That Rock 105 has twice the audience of either 91X or 949? That Padres plus alternative is considered by pretty much everybody to be a complete mistake? That 91X is getting some great shows but their ad income sucks? That hipness in radio just doesn't matter like it did thirty years ago? That it is becoming increasingly clear that two alternative stations can't survive in San Diego? What exactly is it, Mr anonymous tough guy, that I got wrong? You write: "That is, if it they are not indeed what I said about it being a hallucination. You did not deny that either. Can you go on record and deny that?" What exactly do you want me to go the record about? I'm trying to help you here. What is your question? Are you trying to say I made up that quote? Absolutely not. I gladly tell my editor or publisher at any time who my unnamed sources are. That person is employed in the radio industry. Second, what is it that person said that you say is not true? I'm so glad you feel good about yourself because you think you triggered so many hits on this article. You go girl! You have said absolutely nothing to contradict anything I wrote. Were you one of the people who were shipped out of the 91X offices last week after the joint agreement fell through? Or are you one of the folks who work at 949 who is about to be part of the biggest radio punchbowl turd in years? Which is exactly what will happen if Entercom does not get another station. But then again, I wonder, why would Entercom want to get another station just to save a two-share station? That would seem more like an ego move and Entercom is a bottom line company. Both stations are failing but they are both holding out to be the only one left in town in alternative. It seems 949 already gave up when they bought the Padres. Nothing says millennial like play by play Padres! That's a party!

It's astonishing how bad your reading comprehension is, old fella. At the very least, you couldn't even grasp when I said this article isn't reaching anyone except for me and you bickering. Your abilities are downright remedial in everything you try, including your second bad attempt in a row at playing Guess Who for my identity. Keep f-cking that chicken.

Let me close by laying this out for you: I will never, ever tell you what the truth is, what you're wrong about, what your "source" is wrong about, who it is wrong about, or which side of your face has something crusty on it that you really should get checked out. Choose not to believe that I have the truth housed in my head and that you will never hear it, it truly doesn't matter to me what a heavy-breathing bozo like you thinks. But that feeling nagging you, that you aren't in on the whole story? That's the wall that separates the real industry from what you do. Much like you often hear at the concerts you cover, your name's not on the list, wait in the line with everyone else.

That said, I acknowledge you probably won't lose any sleep over this whole thing. Instead, as always, you'll be losing sleep due to drinker's false dawn. Bye bye, Kenny boy.

For different reasons, both stations are tanking. Part of it may be the state of alternative music. Part of it may be those unbearable Mexican PSA's on 91X which today, with so many other options, are even harder to sit through. Part of it may be that 949 is so boring and conservative. Part of it may be that radio in general is less important. Part of it may be that both stations have weak morning shows. Look, all I know is that Rock 105 has double the ratings of 91X and 949. And that things are so sad at 949 they announced that Padres play by play will join the station. Even if Padres end up somewhere else, Entercom apparently didn't mind giving the snub to 949. I just heard one rumor that says that Entercom may have supplanted the 91X stations as the new KFMB group participant. What if The Padres end up going to KFMB-FM? DSC in the morn, and Padres in the afternoon/night. Don't know. But that is an interesting concept. But remember, like that great philosopher said, "I have the truth housed in my head and you will never hear it."

What a battle royale this is! It was so enjoyable reading the vicious tirades exchanged between Ken Leighton & the inscrutable Boomer_Trashperson, who probably is just a janitor who sweeps up the trash in the radio station breakroom & decides to pretend he "knows" something. Loved it!

Tray....glad to provide enjoyable entertainment. But I don't think I was tossing "vicious tirades."

I was told tonight that Bay Area venture capital company Thoma-Bravo has its three stations (91X, 9.25, Z90) up for sale. The only problem....who would want to buy what they are selling which is just the right to license three Mexican transmitters and not really own anything at all. 91X sucks in the ratings, and for me to bring that up and indicate that there is no future for 91X may have prompted the tirade.

You are really busy, Ken. Best wishes on your NC paper adventure. As for Thoma-Bravo, the VC would like a return on their money. Even as storied as all three stations are, radio is not what it used to be. What is the CUME for 91x vs 94.9SD?

The marketing rights for the three are most likely not worth what TB bought them for.

Again, best wishes.

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