Ive been following the evolution of K-Rock (97.5 FM) since it was launched in February of 2002. The station came on strong right from the beginning, biting off a significant piece of the ratings pie in its first BBM ratings.
At the time, the station switched its format, from adult contemporary to classic rock. It was edgy and played all the best-known tunes, from AC/DC to Zeppelin. However, the format began to wear on me quickly.
I complained several times, in my media column in The Express, that the playlist was too limited and thus repetitive. Even the best classic rock songs will wear thin if played too often. The last straw for me was hearing Nick Gilders Hot Child in the City three times in one week.
However, my last mention of this was five years ago. It was time for a revisit. I tuned in to K-Rock more frequently, especially while driving the car and walking the dog, and it seemed to me that things were different. The playlist was more diverse, with less repetition of songs.
I placed a call to Chris Batstone, Assistant Program Director with K-Rock, who was happy to talk about his stations musical evolution.
In the beginning it was very important to establish our identity, Batstone said. I think thats why we kept the playlist pretty tight, to basically jam out the biggest songs in classic rock to establish us as a format. Once the station got rolling, and people got used to us being the main provider of classic rock on the Avalon Peninsula and right now all of our K-Rocks across the island are classic rock then we were able to expand the format a little bit.
Batstone said the station has done this by adding lesser-known tracks from famous rock albums by AC/DC, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Springsteen, and other monster acts. Were especially proud of the Deep Cut feature, which plays every hour, in which we highlight a song that may not have been a big hit, but was on a great album or was a fan favourite, Batstone said. If youre a big Springsteen fan, you know Rosalita even though it wasnt really a charted hit Its a bit of a clich, but we really do love this music as much as our audience., so its important for us, just from a sanity point of view, to keep playing different stuff, to keep ourselves interested as well as the listener.
Batstone said there is a core collection of tunes the station will always play, standards like You Shook Me All Night Long, Stairway to Heaven and Sunshine of Your Love. And, while the precise mechanics are proprietary information, the stations playlist has easily tripled since 2002, Batstone said.
Theres a well-established stable of songs that will get played in this format. And we do have that. But we (the K-Rock deejays and programmers) have also lived in St. Johns all of our lives, weve always been here, so we have a good bead on what the market is and what albums people like. For example, a song like Pretty Vegas by INXS not exactly a classic rock song and probably wouldnt appear on any other classic rock station anywhere in the world was a huge hit in St. Johns. You would hear it in the clubs and get requests for it on air. So we said, we gotta play this one, its particular to us, to this market. We base our playlist as well on requests. People do request those songs that are the biggest Hotel California, Stairway to Heaven, Thunderstruck, Crazy Train but then we do get requests for other songs that I call deep cuts, such as Space Truckin by Deep Purple, and we get on that too. We do our own independent research as well to find out what people think of the format, the music and we adjust our playlist accordingly.
Its encouraging, I noted, that the stations programming and playlist is not being dictated by consultants in Los Angeles.
Its definitely homegrown, Batstone said. Thats not to say that there are no similarities between our playlist and classic rock stations in other markets. Theres a certain amount of songs that you are definitely going to play. We are part of a national company, and our director of country-wide programming is Steve Jones. We keep in touch with Steve and he gives us advice, but he in no way dictates our playlist. K-Rock in Fort McMurray plays a radically different playlist from ours, because they do their own research and find out what songs people like there. For example, theyll play Doug and the Slugs because its popular up there, whereas we dont play it here You have to put it through the local filter. You need personalities in the local market who know the market and are willing to listen to what people are requesting and go by gut instinct as well.
To keep listeners guessing, there are substantial portions of the programming day where anything goes. We have a huge library. And we have the All-Request Nooner, which is two full hours of listener requests ever day. Pretty much anything that is classic rock we will play. And Saturday in the Shed with Big Tom is a huge program, and that is 12 hours of requests.
I asked if there are guidelines in place that limit or constrain what requests make it to air.
Not really, Batstone said. Its very rare that well reject a request unless its outside of the classic rock format. We wont play the Backstreet Boys, for example. We have to stay within the identity of the station.
The time of day does have an influence on the intensity of music that gets played, he added.
We wont go really hard rock in the daytime though we will play AC/DC all day, because AC/DC are just huge with Newfoundlanders. But in the daytime we wont spin any Iron Maiden or Motorhead. We save that stuff for the night. In radio, you operate with such a large audience, so you deal with generalities. You establish some parameters on your playlist and operate within those.
Within those parameters, there will be some repetition of songs the classics that people want and expect to hear. Now, if we get a request for a song like Thunderstruck, and it was just played a few hours previously, then we wont play it. But we will play it a couple of days later. And at a different time. We move it around to make sure that we cover our bases, and then spice it with the variety of album cuts.
Batstone said its been a long time since theyve received a complaint about playing a song too often. And thats a good sign. Thats a really good sign.
Its no secret that K-Rocks target audience is largely though not exclusively males, aged 25 to 54. (HITS FM is focused on winning a female audience.) And K-Rock has been doing a good job in attracting and keeping that audience, Batstone said.
Weve been doing well in the ratings, with an upward trend in the last three books, Batstone said. As far as Steele Communications goes in the St. Johns area, we are top three in the market, with VOCM being number one, K-Rock number two and HITS FM number three. In the previous book, K-Rock was number three and HITS number two, so we seem to go back and forth there.