Hey, remember the RXP Tākliberty Festival, the WRXP-sponsored day of alt-rock at the PNC Bank Arts Center that was announced last Monday and going to have Coldplay as its headliner? Well, it’s been canceled “due to unforeseen circumstances.” Which actually isn’t all that surprising given that the station sponsoring the day was sold last Tuesday to someone who is reportedly looking to ditch rock from the station’s playlist altogether.
Last week WRXP was one of three stations sold by Emmis Broadcasting (which, locally, also owns Hot 97) to a company called Merlin Media; it’s headed up by Randy Michaels, a former bigwig at Clear Channel who was most recently forced out of heading up the Tribune Company among allegations of the grossest kinds of misconduct. Michaels actually came up as a DJ who made a name for himself by, as this 2001 Salon piece on Clear Channel notes, “farting on the air, cracking jokes about gays and tantalizing listeners with descriptions of “incredibly horny, wet and ready” naked in-studio guests.” And, of course: “[He] pulled in big ratings wherever he went.” He’s a big fan of music-free radio formats, and is apparently planning on flipping his new toys so he can play with them his way—two in Chicago, one in New York—to news/talk outlets; shortly after the sale broke, Time Out Chicago‘s media reporter Robert Feder claimed that Q101, a worthy if sometimes-mockable Chicago alt-rock stalwart, would flip sometime within 45 days of the June 21 deal. It’s not too much of a stretch to assume that the similar speculation about WRXP is correct and that the station will change formats before the RXP Tākliberty Festival’s scheduled date of September 18, hence the cancellation.
WRXP is definitely a flawed attempt to make rock a viable radio format, one that couldn’t figure out exactly what it wanted to be and as a result its playlist was spread a little too wide for anyone to tune in steadily, let alone religiously. (The goodwill inspired in this listener by hearing “Hunger Strike” on the radio, for example, would quickly dissipate as soon as 311’s “Homebrew” started; surely there are listeners on whom the reverse reaction would work, or would work when AC/DC, Mumford & Sons, Live, etc., etc. were introduced into the mix. The iPod era, of course, only accelerates the impatience.) When it started in 2008, I thought it was a noble experiment because it was incorporating artists like Santogold and Franz Ferdinand into its playlist alongside the likes of the Who and Springsteen; after all, there were people whose record collections mirrored these playlists out there, especially in New York. That forward-thinking element seemed to dissipate over time, however, and more post-grunge stalwarts that are otherwise absent from radio in the Big Apple crept into the playlist, resulting in the whiplash/backlash-inducing playlists the station now puts forth.
Whether the original version of WRXP would have worked in a pre-digital music era, or would have eventually petered out the way WLIR did, is up for debate. Now, we’re left to wonder how this shift to no doubt “edgy” talk will work out in relation to the Free FM experiment of all those years ago. Anyone get David Lee Roth on the phone yet?
[NB: that Salon piece is pretty depressing reading as far as realizing how much the cultural outrage meter has shifted over the past 10 years. Like, across the board.]