At times I've been a vocal critic of the direction 94.7 fm KNRK . Over the past year they've changed their format, fired some of their key on air staff (most notably Tara Dublin, their only female dj) and changed the way they participate in the community.
Last September I wrote a piece in response to some of this entitled KNRK – It’s Absolutely Not Different Here. I wrote it as a listener, a life long fan of music and as someone who believed that Portland, Oregon should have a vibrant and significant alternative radio station.
While driving my kids in the car the other day I happened to switch over to Z100 (at the sole request of my kids). I was amazed at just how much new music I was hearing. I'll admit that Z100's fare isn't my genre of choice, but I couldn't help but recognize just how much 'new' I was hearing and just how much that was lacking on 94.7. For the record, I don't think new music = good music. But growing up on alternative radio I'll never forget the experience of hearing something new, exciting, and different.
I remember sitting in my car on an extremly cold December morning (in Ithaca, New York) listening as the radio station played "Smells Like Teen Spirit" for the very first time. I sat in 15 degree cold, idling my car in the driveaway just listening, realizing just how amazing the new song Iwas hearing was.
I do think that artists like David Bowie, Iggy Pop, XTC and even Bob Marley have their place in the rotation of a modern rock station. But when they make up the vast percentage of music on that station, you leave little room for the genre to move forward, for local bands to find their audience and for anything significant to happen.
But this isn't just about the music on 94.7fm. It's what happened when I expressed my frustration to them:
Now keep in mind 94.7fm is a station which has built its brand on listener feedback. They run daily promos with listener feedback and encourage people to tell them what they think. The thing is, this seems to only apply if what you say is positive.
Since this exchange was happening on the eve of the station's big benefit concert "Pet Aid", with proceeds going to Dove Lewis, I replied.
Again I was met with downright hostility:
I'll spare all the back and forth, but the capper to me was:
I emailed Mark Hamilton, 94.7fm's program director, who seemed to be as befuddled by the interaction as I was. His response:
Neither our Facebook or Twitter accounts are meant to be a forum for a back and forth with a listener.
And yet, nothing really has been done about it.
I'm writing about this interaction not because I think I'm right. There are many people out there who want a station that plays more classic alternative music than new music. Also the economics of a radio station have changed dramatically over the years, making it harder for art and creativity to have a place over commerce (look at Indie 103's demise on the airwaves as an example).
The lesson here is that a company's twitter and facebook pages ARE its face to its customers/listeners. DJ Squid (@squidvicious, who is also appearantly the person behind @947fm) literally lambasted me for my feedback and he did it AS 947fm.
All businesses will have their critics, some of them more harsh than others, but businesses can never go on the attack against them. You can't on one hand ask for feedback and then another chastize people for their feedback when they say something you don't like, or in a way you don't prefer.
With iPhones, iPods, Pandora and so many other ways of consuming music, radio stations – especially local radio stations – can only really survive if they have some sort of relevant relationship with their listeners. Firing DJs, lambasting people on twitter and dropping support for local non-profits isn't the way to build that relationship, it's the way to kill it.
I'm convinced that someday Portland will have a truly amazing local radio station committed to being the alternative. It's clear that 947fm isn't it.