More on the shutter of Los Angeles freeishform radio station Indie 103.1, which had its format go online-only earlier today: The semi-bewildering goodbye notice running on the terrestrial station, which bemoans their having to “play the corporate radio game,” is apparently at least somewhat rooted in the radio-ratings company Arbitron replacing the old “diary system” of recording listeners’ radio habits with devices known as Portable People Meters (PPMs), which track said habits electronically. These devices have caught some heat for underrepresenting minorities and younger listeners; the sample size in the Los Angeles area was about 2,750 people around the time of launch. It may not surprise you to learn that the switch proved to be disastrous for the station’s numbers (“LITERALLY a 0.0,” according to owenmeany), and a former specialty-show DJ wrote about it on the Los Angeles Times‘ music blog:
In what amounted to a bleakly amusing mea culpa on the part of chain owner Entravision, it admitted that the station had been forced “to play the corporate radio game,” and that the retooled station of recent months — shorn of several specialty shows (including mine) and pumped up with KROQ-style ’90s hits — was little more than a “version of Indie 103.1 [that] we are now removing from the broadcast airwaves.” …
For most of its existence, Indie 103.1 advanced a style of radio in its specialty programming that hadn’t been seen in a major radio market for eons. What was heard on the air was a reflection of the individual jocks’ tastes and passions. The amount of liberty I enjoyed was unbelievable. It was a throwback to the free-form style I grew up with, which held sway briefly in pre-“album oriented” radio in the ’70s; the maverick early KROQ flashed the same gunslinging approach.
And, until desperation set in during the late going, the station’s regular rotation sported some provocative tracks and off-the-wall features that Indie’s crosstown rivals wouldn’t touch. (The choice of “My Way” as a farewell track recalled the era of Indie’s “Furious Frank at Five” — a daily afternoon dose of Sinatra.) But, as station management learned the hard way, cool programming alone can’t trump 30 years of listener loyalty, marketing money and a strong signal.
Meanwhile, our own Ned Raggett has figured out a pattern of sorts for the life cycle of Indie 103.1-type stations:
* General sense among just enough people complaining ‘what about the music *we* like,’ matched with research into a sliding demographic scale that says ‘hey there seem to be a reasonable number of well-off ex-rocker/ex-college radio/ex-goth/ex-indie/ex-whatever people around that will pay for the products advertised on a putative station.’
* Station launches in blaze of glory, rapidly develops cachet among vocal subset of folks and/or gets a ‘well it’s better than anything *else* on the radio’ reaction, has enough random sessions and characters on it to thrive for a while.
* The demographic identified at the time and place proves to be not as interested in paying for the products advertised on the station for any number of reasons while the station never entirely develops its own identity. Attempts to ‘refocus’ result in the sharper edges disappearing or isolated, turning off younger listeners who go back to college radio (or these days college radio streams or last.fm streams or…)
* Station dies and its frequency goes to a station aiming at actually pulling in enough listeners to make it viable, leading to the shattering discovery among a lot of people out here who should know better that Spanish language radio is in general far more viable than English language radio (exceptions being the news/sports blowhard hell).
* Cultural amnesia sets again and the cycle begins anew.
Will history repeat? (And is this cycle restricted to LA?)