Each month the Radio Survivors will count down our most (or least) favorite radio things. Last month we covered our favorite radio programs. This month we’re sharing our favorite commercial radio stations. As regular readers might expect, coming up with this list proved to be more of a challenge. All three of us tend to be big listeners to community, college and public radio…. commercial radio, not so much. Beyond the quality and variety offered by noncommercial radio these days, I think we’ve all been turned off by the homogenization and delocalization of commercial radio brought on by consolidation. Nevertheless, we put our heads together and came up with five stations we can safely call favorites, even if some of them are no longer around.
I’m starting off the rundown with a station that was my favorite as a high school and college student in Northern New Jersey in the late 80s and early 90s. Dover’s WDHA-FM bills itself as “The Rock of New Jersey,” and continues to stand out by refusing to give in to the trends that have ruined so many other rock stations. In an area dominated by New York City stations serving the nation’s largest radio market, WDHA survives by remaining steadfastly local in its outlook.
Where other stations would have brought in voice tracking and more syndicated programming, WDHA is staffed with live local DJs and produces its own specialty programs, like Friday night’s Metal Mania. The metal show has been in that time slot since I was in high school, only then it was hosted by Eddie Trunk who is now the host of VH1 Classic’s That Metal Show and has a show on Sirius/XM. Looking at WDHA’s current air staff I see names I still remember like Terrie Carr, who apparently left to do stints on Sirius and VH1 Classic before returning to DHA. You don’t see that too often in commercial radio anymore.
Nobody is going to confuse WDHA’s playlist with one from a cutting edge college station, but it’s also decidedly more varied and interesting than your typical Clear Channel rocker. WDHA delivers a mix of classic rock tracks–with an emphasis on “deeper cuts”–new hard rock, some “classic alternative” from the 90s along with local favorites like the Smithereens. Again, nothing cutting edge, but as a former Jersey-boy I can say that WDHA’s playlist still looks like a good representation of what I imagine the average North Jersey rock kid is into.
The WDHA I remember from the early 90s was still a station where I could hear new artists who hadn’t yet made it onto the playlists of bigger stations, or who were crossing over from college radio. I recall hearing the likes of Soundgarden, Nirvana and even Lenny Kravitz on WDHA before they became fixtures on the Billboard charts. I’m not certain if WDHA is still ahead of the mainstream curve in breaking new artists. But I have to admit that I’m also more out of touch with what’s mainstream and near-mainstream rock than I was in 1991.
I also remember being able to make requests and having a good chance that they would get played on air. Sure, you probably wouldn’t hear your Dead Kennedys request, but something a little more mainstream–but far from a hit–still had a shot of making it on air. I don’t know if this is still the case nearly 20 years later, but on its website WDHA does say that if you email or text them, “we will do our best to get that on for you!”
Twenty years ago I’m not sure I would have considered WDHA so unique, although even then I think it stood out from the “big city” stations in New York and Philadelphia that I listened to otherwise. But that was before the Telecom Act of 1996 and the ruination of commercial radio brought on by Clear Channel and their brethren. Nowadays, simply remaining locally owned as part of a cluster of just six stations (!) sets WDHA way apart. Compared to most stations, WDHA has changed relatively little in the last twenty years, and in this case that’s a good thing.
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