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Kurt Cobain would have turned 40 next Tuesday had he not, you know, shot himself. That this anniversary is going by mostly uncelebrated speaks to the relatively paltry market power of Generation X—-those of us born between 1964 and 1978. Sure, we’ve got a cooler name than the baby boomers (who don’t even rate capitalization in Webster’s New World), but when it comes to celebrating ourselves, we’re Lloyd Dobler to their Fonzie.
Radio, on the other hand, is catching on to the fact that Gen X’ers are moving into middle age (and its attendant buying power). While the alternative radio format (think the long-departed WHFS) is wheezing toward a close, classic rock is being rethought to include songs from the past two decades. No Nirvana ripoffs like Seether who didn’t stand the test of time here—-now Soundgarden butts up against Led Zeppelin and Tom Petty while Oasis dovetails with Fleetwood Mac.
One of Washington’s two remaining classic-rock stations flipped to this new format on February 2. CBS Radio’s WARW-FM became 94.7 The Globe, dropping, for lack of a better term, classic classic rock for the retooled format. For a week or two, the station had no DJs, but it’s brought back D.C. radio vets Weasel, Cerphe, and Schelby, all of whom were hosts on ARW’s previous incarnation, Classic Rock 94.7, and at least two of whom will survive the apocalypse, apparently.
The marketing hook of the Globe is that it’s a “green” station—-its signal will be powered in part by renewable energy, it will put on an annual Earth Day concert, and between songs it sometimes broadcasts like-duh energy-saving tips (turn out the lights when you leave a room; use both sides of paper). Forget the irony of blasting a 50,000-watt signal to people in their cars; I’m unconvinced that the enviro angle will even register when folks are trying to decide whether to flip to Big 100.3 during commercials.
You keep an audience with music, and the Globe’s playlist is certainly intriguing. One of its bumpers during the station’s first weeks played a snippet of Elvis Costello’s “Radio Radio” and said that the Globe had spent a lot of money on audience research only to find out that audiences don’t like research. Anyone who’s made money in radio will tell you that’s b.s.—-it’s not like radio stations are narrowly focused for no reason. People like knowing what kind of music is coming up, and they’ll stick with a station that doesn’t disappoint. (For proof that the Globe isn’t quite the amateur undertaking it would have us believe, check out Philadelphia’s Skin Radio, which tries much the same format but with a frat-boy/jam-band overlay and sounds decidedly less pro.)
Where the usual radio model (i.e., give ’em one thing and one thing only) breaks down, though, is with a generation that started watching MTV post-Thriller, for whom The Chronic was as big a deal as The Downward Spiral. You won’t hear any rap on the Globe, but you will hear proto-alt rock like Echo and the Bunnymen alongside reggae, specifically Bob Marley. Out are Weasel’s late night dissections of Steve Miller live albums (for those of us who grew up listening to the Jurassic incarnation of WHFS at 102.3, that was always a little unseemly anyway); in are some in-studio performances from the “Greenhouse,” which features—-I am not making this up—-recycled flooring.
And you will hear the Red Hot Chili Peppers. A lot. Every time, and I mean every time, I’ve tuned in, I’ve heard the Peppers’ single “Dani California,” which they performed at the Grammys Sunday night. It’s pointless to resist a song repeated with such frequency, especially one with a monster chorus, but it’s no…well, whatever, nevermind.