As of today, the programming of music at NYC’s WRXP 101.9FM has officially ceased. Yes, you will still hear music for a little while until new station owners Merlin Media roll out their all-talk format aimed at soccer moms. But ultimately, it is the end of an era.
Forget for a moment that the one thing NYC does not need is another all-talk radio station with pundits spouting opinion under the guise of breaking news. And forget that in the last two decades, NYC has seen a turnover in radio formats as frequent as the changing of the seasons. And forget that the ratings at WRXP have recently been on the rise. Losing this station means losing a group of true supporters of all kinds of music.
Now, you may think that all radio stations must be supporters of the music they play. Not necessarily. Most commercial radio stations pick from a short list of trending bands, usually determined by their relationship with the record labels. Payola (the practice of paying off stations to play certain music) may be officially illegal, but make no mistake, it is still the life blood of most broadcasting corporations.
Under the guidance of long-time, indie-music champion Matt Pinfield, WRXP played more local, indie and unsigned bands than any other commercial NYC station, period. Effectively interwoven with signed superstars and classics, lesser-known bands could get the kind of exposure they could have only dreamed of before.
As the host of both the annual Hoboken Music Awards and Clueless Events, I was especially thankful for the existence of this station. I was lucky to become friends with DJs Steve Craig and Brian Phillips. We’d meet up from time to time at a bar in Hoboken and just shoot the breeze. And they always showed support for my (and other) events in town.
Whether it was playing local bands or simply talking about the shows, no other commercial radio station devoted as much time to introducing new music to new fans in the NYC area. And now, what do we have left? Yes, public and college stations in the area are the top in the country, but commercial radio support is all but dead.
There are those who argue that radio (much like print and television) will soon be replaced by things like internet or satellite or handheld gizmos. While that may be true in the coming years, in the reality of now, a whole lot of people still flip on over-the-air radio in their cars, homes and workplaces each and every day to listen to music.
And, while the downfall of all old media may be somewhat inevitable, the question remains; wouldn’t that hold true for the talking-head radio babble, too? After all, if we are to argue that radio is a dying medium, how is making any change going to be good? And, it’s not like someone hasn’t tried this before.
Who remembers the story of WNEW-FM 102.7FM? It went from being a station in NYC much like WRXP with a reputation for unique programming mixed with popular music to an all-talk format in 1999. Despite a mostly lackluster roster, it lasted a few years thanks in large part to the success of Opie & Anthony. Since then, it has changed formats six or seven times.
Corporations are (for the most part) run by bean counters concerned about only two things; their bottom line and what the other guy is doing. They will look at things like the people they employ or the products they sell with the same lack of passion that they do the cost of ballpoint pens. And if they see the guy down the street is making more money doing something completely different, then damn the consequences it’s time to make a switch.
The bottom line is I’m pissed but Karma dictates that I can’t wish for the new format to fail. Instead, I’ll hope that those who made WXRP a great station will find success.
WRXP will continue stream online, according to their website. Now what that means for any of the on-air personalities, I don’t know. At least the music is still available, for now.