“There's this company called Clear Channel, and they've bought everything in town, and ever since they bought 91X and [Rock 105.3], the fix is in.”
That, according to B94.9FM's general manager Darryl Gooden, was what five out of six focus groups told Jefferson Pilot Communications when they began researching the potential of switching to an alternative music format five months ago.
On Nov. 11, B94.9 abandoned its '80s format for what they're calling “alternative for adults.” Alice in Chains, Box Car Racer, blur and locals like Jason Mraz and Pinback have a new outlet. It's basically an alternative to Clear Channel-owned 91X, and B94.9 isn't coy about their opposition to the infamous corporate radio force in San Diego.
“We are taking some shots at Clear Channel on the air,” Gooden says. “Our top of the hour IDs-when you would expect us to say, ‘We're a Jefferson Pilot Communications Station'-we're saying, ‘The station is absolutely, 100 percent not owned by Clear Channel.' We wouldn't be doing that if it weren't something that the audience was talking to us about.”
Other B94.9 on-air promos suggest some local stations are run by people who don't even live here.
But “they're lying to the listeners in their promos,” counters 91X program director Bryan Shock. “I've lived here for 33 years. Their programmer just moved here last week. He probably can't even pronounce La Jolla yet.”
Shock points out that Jefferson Pilot Communications, which also owns an insurance company and two other San Diego radio stations (KSON and KIFM), “is a huge multi-billion-dollar company just like [Clear Channel].”
Regardless of whether it's David vs. Goliath or Goliath vs. Goliath, Jr., San Diego now has three alternative radio stations on the FM dial-91X, 92.1 and B94.9 (though Gooden says he's heard 92/1FM will be terminating its alternative format soon).
“We did a ‘phone out' to 700 people between the ages of 17 and 49,” Gooden says. “What came back was the taste for alternative was far and away the largest in San Diego, maybe by a two and a half to one margin over anything else. So you look at it and go, ‘OK, so there's only one station in it. That's encouraging.'”
Gooden, who ran a similarly older alternative station in Phoenix called “The Zone,” says that no station can be all things to all people. He says B94.9 aims to “provide something in that space on the young-to-old continuum between 91X and KGB and on the hard-to-soft continuum between [Rock 105.3] and Star.
“When you get a Linkin Park on 91X-the white punk rap thing-a chunk of that audience is going to tune out,” he says. “So where do they go? All of a sudden, your choice is to go really, all the way to classic rock.”
B94.9 also marks the quick return of alternative radio veteran Michael Halloran, who was fired by 92/1FM last month. Halloran will be afternoon DJ and serve as assistant program director. Gooden says he was inspired by the success of 92/1, especially considering its meager 580-watt signal and small budget.
“They kicked butt,” he says, noting that B94.9 has a signal of 22,000 watts. “And that was one of the reasons we hired Halloran. We were inspired by what they were able to do. The 18-35 [age group] numbers in North County, they were actually in a dead heat with 91X.”
Gooden says that along with a slightly older alternative demographic, they will also play deeper cuts than 91X (say, “Porch” instead of “Alive” from Pearl Jam's debut) and have “specific slots on the clock for local bands.” Whereas Gooden says 91X currently averages 16 commercials per hour, 94.9 is “absolutely committed to playing eight.”
Shock admits he feels the competition, but doesn't see what 94.9 is offering differently than 91X.
“Well, it's hard not to see it as competition when they basically lifted our entire playlist,” he says.
Whether or not alternative radio listeners resent Clear Channel's dominance of the local market, one thing is for sure: it's the first time since “92.5-The Flash” that they'll have two high-wattage options on the dial.
As for Halloran? He offers this analogy for why B94.9 kept a zipped lip about its switchover until it was actually on air:
“You suddenly appear on the mountain top and you've got all the arrows and the guy who was sunning himself down at the bottom of the creek suddenly realizes that he's in trouble.”
He's not talking about 91X specifically, he clarifies, but San Diego radio stations in general-who “happen to be owned by Clear Channel.”