I felt like such a traitor this week. Instead of keeping my radio dial locked to college radio, I decided to delve into commercial territory and see what was going on at San Jose station KSJO 92.3 FM. Rumors were afoot that they were about to change formats after their recent station sale and curiosity got the better of me.
Back in my junior high school years I was a KSJO listener. At the time, the station was a rock powerhouse, blasting out all the Styx and Led Zeppelin that any adolescent rocker could handle. We used to beg our school bus driver to play it on our morning ride and occasionally he relented. After several decades of rock, KSJO worked its way through a number of formats including modern rock, contemporary hits, Spanish language, then back to modern rock starting in fall 2009.
When I tuned in to KSJO on Tuesday night I was surprised to hear a commercial-free mix of music that seemed atypical for commercial radio. The Smiths, Sonic Youth, Replacements, Pavement, Elliot Smith, and other college radio staples from back in the day could be heard on 92.3FM. I also caught a segment hosted by musician Kevin Devine, in which he shared some of his favorite songs. He’d pre-recorded his segment and it had a non-professional feel to it that reminded me of both satellite radio (XMU in particular) and college radio.
Although the mix of songs wasn’t necessarily all that adventurous, for commercial radio it seemed refreshing. Later in the evening, I was particularly excited to hear them play the Dead Kennedys’ punk classic “California Uber Alles,” but that was followed up by a random mix of styles, including funk, some more mainstream acts like Cee Lo Green, and classic New Order. By that point, the commercial-free, DJ-less KSJO was starting to sound like an iPod on shuffle. Throughout the broadcasts, promotional announcements directed listeners to SaveAlternative.com, saying, “alternative is a lifestyle, not a genre of music.”
It turns out that this Save Alternative experiment on KSJO was simply a temporary promotional opportunity while the station was in-between formats following a station sale (which became final on February 28, 2011) from Aloha Station Trust to Universal Media Access.
As of yesterday, KSJO is now airing an all-Chinese format and I have been catching a range of Chinese pop sounds over their airwaves (and still no commercial announcements). They don’t seem to have a new website up yet, so details are sketchy as to what the goals and format of this new KSJO will be.
Save Alternative is going to continue as an online-only enterprise and will also air programming over HD and over the terrestrial airwaves on Principle Network-owned Spanish language station KCNL 104.9 FM on Saturday and Sunday nights from 8pm to midnight. Although Save Alternative purports to have indie-oriented goals, RadioInsight sleuthed out the fact that Save Alternative is a riff on similarly branded (they share the same logo) commercial radio format Shore Alternative in New Jersey which airs over HD and is owned by Millennium Radio New Jersey, which has investors in common with both Principle Network and Universal Media Access. So, it seems likely that the Save Alternative folks were simply testing out their format over 92.3 in order to get some buzz and attract listeners to their website, HD stream, and evening broadcasts on KCNL.
It was interesting for me to hear some unexpected sounds over commercial radio this week, from both the odd mix of genres on Save Alternative, to the Chinese pop on the “new” KSJO. But the biggest bonus of all: no commercials on either station. I wonder how long that will last?