Q-101: New and Improved? or Sinking Ship?
Barely two days after the latest Arbitron radio ratings showed that Q-101 had dropped to its lowest ranking ever in the market, Q-101 announced that it was expanding its playlist and putting everything on shuffle, iPod-style. Coincidence?? Hardly...after dying a slow death for years, it seems that the folks at Q-101 have finally woke up and realized their station is a rapidly sinking ship with no help in sight. (c'mon guys...so-called "alternative" music peaked around 1994 and was dead by 1998!) So, in an effort to actually get people listening to Q-101 again, they've adopted the "we play anything/we're like an iPod on shuffle" gimmick that's been all the rage in radio industry lately. (aka "Jack FM," "Bob FM," or "Nine FM" as its called here) However, unlike the Jack FM's or suburban Chicago's Nine FM, Q-101 will be only shuffling music that's classified as "alternative," promising to dive into their archives for 25 years of alterna-hits. While I haven't even touched the station in 5 years, I couldn't resist checking out the "new" Q-101 today…hoping it would be heavy on classic 80s alternative with a dash of the latest buzz bands like Franz Ferdinand, Modest Mouse and whatever "The" band is popular at the moment. I tuned in at 10am sharp this morning to hear the official re-launch of Q-101 and it started out great… “Burning Down the House” by The Talking Heads!!! Hell ya, classic alternative here we come! A great song to kick off a new format and hopefully the sound of things to come. Unfortunately, barely 5 minutes into the “new” Q-101, it seemed the format had already peaked… Following the Talking Heads was: a new track by Green Day, Incubus and Live. Not an awful set, but I was hoping for more...wait! here we go, "Just Like Heaven" by the Cure. Then, it really went down hill: Chevelle (after a Cure pop song?!?), Dave Matthews, and Slipknot. Now get this...after the Slipknot track comes "Birdhouse in your Soul" by They Might Be Giants. What the f#%^$*?!? This is pretty much how it went the rest of the day...a resurrected 80s classic followed by some nu-metal/aggro shit followed by an overplayed Q-101 staple. Just as soon as you start to feel a groove for a certain style, something completely jarring comes on next. Check out this brilliant set from earlier today: Saliva into Belly into Papa Roach into Depeche Mode into Bush. OK, I get it, the station is supposed to be on "shuffle," but who wants to sit through that entire set? Saliva fans sure as hell don't want to hear Belly and most Papa Roach fans probably don't dig Depeche Mode. It's almost like their trying to drive listeners away. OK, so maybe they're doing this on purpose to an extent in order to attract attention. You know, get people saying, "oh my god! I can't believe they just played those two songs together! What will they play next??" But once the novelty wears off (probably after a day or two), then what? This is what I don't get about the "we're like an iPod on shuffle" radio format. Why would you want to listen to someone else's iPod that's stuck on shuffle and doesn't have a "skip" button?? Wouldn't you rather just listen to your own iPod that's filled with all of your favorite songs. Plus, when you listen to your own iPod, you don't have to listen to squirrelly DJs and 6-minute commercial blocks. It seems to me that in trying to compete with new music technology like the iPod, commercial radio is actually driving people away to their iPods. Listening to the "new" Q-101 today was almost exactly the same as my experience listening to the new, "we play anything," Nine FM when it debuted last summer. A great song, followed by a mediocre song, followed by a really mediocre song, followed by a song that makes me want to change the station. Another great song might come on later, but all of the songs in-between are lame, so in the end you just give up and not listen to the station altogether. Sure, the concept of an expanded playlist and a wider variety of music is something that's been seriously lacking from commercial radio for years, but it means Jack shit (pun intended) if the presentation and flow sucks. Granted, I'm not an experienced radio consultant, but it seems to me that in trying to be everything to everyone, Q-101 is actually going to end up pleasing no one. I still think the station could be quite successful as a full-time classic alternative station, but if they continue the shuffle mish-mash, they're doomed for failure. -------------- Speaking of beating a dead horse and trying to recapture the halcyon days of "alternative" music, Lollapalooza is in the headlines...again! This thing just refuses to die! Much like Q-101, Lollapalooza hasn't been relevant in over 10 years, but they're going to give it a go yet another year. However, things got more interesting this week as they've announced it will only be held in one city over one weekend. And yes, that city is Chicago...with word that it will be held in Grant Park. Hmmm...could we be getting our own Coachella-caliber event?? In the heart of the city?? This could be promising... More on the prospects of Chicago's Lollapalooza on Monday.