The Great Americana Radio Format and Why It’s Gone

The high point of my radio career was somewhere around 2002. The corporation that owned us happened upon their one good idea…to let me be more creative and have more control of my radio show. They also decided that on Sunday evenings they would play 2 hours of “Americana” music.

Americana falls somewhere between the triangle of folk, rock, and country. It would be an awesome format to work for if radio was indeed experimental in that way anymore, which it is not. You literally play the cleverest lyricists, the best musicians, and sometimes the deepest music. I know there’s KPIG in Monterey, but that is the exception to the rule. They have done a fantastic job staking a claim in the world of Internet radio before anyone else did. They play new music by Americana artists and throw in some classic rock songs. You really can not predict what you’re going to hear.

When we did this format, I was fortunate enough to get a lot of the Cd’s that were sent to us. I still have them, and still listen and party like it’s…well, 2002.

Here’s my WHAT THE HECK!?!…Some time in 2004, idiots in corporate decided to clamp down. Actually, the guy they put in the position to do it at the local level ended up being pretty cool, and he was successful in explaining to me his reasoning for executing corporate’s wishes. Clutter and consistency were the main words he used. My question in hindsight though is what did we sacrifice creatively by making those changes? The actions we took ended up making radio more repetitive and less unpredictable.

“Well, listeners like predictability. Radio should be an appliance. When you flip a light switch, you expect to see light.” The day radio was explained to me as an appliance was the day I should have bailed. That was NOT what I signed up for. I like radio because of its potential: you could paint a million pictures and stretch the imagination from your words and by playing with sounds. Some DJ’s used the music itself to paint a picture or make a comment. Those days are gone.

By the way, KPIG is the perfect example of what I talked about in a previous blog: how radio stations will die and be taken over by one main station…the “Radio Unification Theory,” if you will. KPIG started out on just one frequency in Monterey at 107.5FM. Now it can be heard on 4 more frequencies throughout California including 94.9FM in San Luis Obispo and 1510AM in San Francisco; basically covering most of California’s coast. The last “group-thunk idiot company” I worked for would never take a chance on a station like this. I have heard people that worked at the corporate level that said “that format doesn’t work” and they should have long since given up the ship. Yet this format has now grown to 4 more frequencies and has built a business model that only shows it can spread to MORE stations. Looking at my ex-employers and how they’ve forced mandatory furloughs on their employees showing how their ship is in its final mount before the whole thing goes underwater at the foot of the iceberg, I would say they were wrong yet again! Corporate radio has no incite in matters like this, and thus its current down spin.

Look up Americana on the Internet. I’m sure you’ll find a group worth listening to. The cool thing is a lot of these artists tour frequently and EVERYWHERE so you’re bound to see them in your local (or somewhat local) venue soon. Till then, I’ll be pulling out The Gourds or the Old 97’s out of my CD rack and giving them a little listen…probably ripping them to my computer so they’ll come up in my Windows Media Player. At least my WMP has good taste in music.