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Former Rock Station KSJO Morphs into Chinese Pop

Save Alternative's Foray into Bay Area Airwaves

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, 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?


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3 Responses to Former Rock Station KSJO Morphs into Chinese Pop

  1. Michi Eyre March 18, 2011 at 9:12 am #

    I personally think that Chinese pop music will go over well in the Bay Area. There is definitely a significant Chinese community in the Bay Area and C-POP is a very fresh modern format. As one of the most significant programmers of Japanese pop music outside of Japan I can tell you that we have a fairly big English speaking audience. This is mainly because of the diversity of style of J-POP and the overall love of Japan’s pop culture. Even though our listeners may not understand the lyrics, it is a significantly different sound than western (America/Europe) genres.

    As much as I would not like to see the old format go away, esepecially with the other format rugs that have been pulled from under us in the Bay Area, I feel the time is right. I know there’s Chinese AMs in SF but I am not aware of any other Chinese FMs (I may be wrong here).

    Best of luck to them!

    Michi Eyre

    founder, REC Networks

    director, J1 Radio

  2. Michi Eyre March 18, 2011 at 9:22 am #

    Also, keep in mind of another thing.. there have been a couple of stunt formats that involve Chinese music such as the infamous “Kung-Pao” flips that took place in Virginia Beach and Sudbury, ON back in 2009.

    I am thinking this format flip though is a bit more sincere due to the extremely significant Asian audience. I hope this station does well and they are able to book revenues in a limited but significant audience.

  3. Dennis January 17, 2012 at 11:06 pm #

    I remember back in 1970 when KSJO was up on the side of a hill in east San Jose up Aborn road about a mile from White road. This wonderful little station played the best underground rock in California. We use to go up there and listen to music and do things people did in the late sixties and early seventies when they were kids. We would look out over the valley and the view was quite good. As we talked quite smart and spoke of things like gold and red and wondered if Nixon would be our next president. It saddens me to see the format change with KSJO being such a rock icon over the years. We liked the little station on the hill and noticed the station change as more and more money was needed to maintain the new building down time. More and more ads filled the air and the underground radio stations became a thing of the past. Life was fun and easy then and I am glad I was there to live it. Cheers!

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