Can Lisa Worden Fix Alternative Radio?

No pressure, but the new Alternative Brand Manager at iHeart might be able to take advantage of a big opportunity at Alternative — one that the consultants and corporate guys have been missing…

Lisa Worden

Lisa Worden

By Paul Marszalek

New converts to Alternative in New York, Dallas, Detroit, and elsewhere have cranked up excitement and expectations for the format among radio and music industry folk.

But will a flawed product excite the audience beyond a middle of the road performance?

I’ve written recently that I’ve been in Qdobas that sound better than most Alternative stations. Last week, when I attended my daughter’s high school dance recital, I had that same feeling. How is it that the recital, filled with dreampop and chillwave, ranging from Halsey to a deep track from Jamie XX, was more musically refreshing than what I can find on New York radio?

All of the music was highly accessible, it was cool, and it was all picked by high school kids.

And it pointed out the missed opportunity at Alternative Radio.

In New York, Entercom flipped an also-ran CHR to Alt 92.3, currently running a 10,000 songs-in-a-row stunt. It’s early, so we’ll give them a pass.

But the station, like so many of its brethren, is mis-firing on the music mix, which currently consists of a peculiar and sometimes confusing collage of Smashing Pumpkins, classic grunge, The Lumineers, and what can only be called white tween pop songs.

Nothing against Walk the Moon — they have a finely crafted pop song. But the track has much more in common with Hanson than it does anything Alternative.

Songs like it would not likely survive a library cluster analysis, and this leads me to believe that no one at Alternative is actually doing a cluster analysis.

Songs like it also make liars out of stations that position themselves as Alternative – especially among the upper end of the audience.

And the upper end of that audience could be critical to the next level success of the format.

That’s because right now, there is an amazing opportunity to put together not only the fabled mother/daughter coalition, but incredibly, the father/mother/daughter/son coalition.

I grew up on WXRT (and later worked there), my wife grew up on KROQ, my son plays Dispatch on his college radio show, and my daughter is dancing to dreampop and SZA.

Few stations seem to be putting these pieces together. Alternative is driving off the upper end with corporate rock and out-of-place tweenpop; Triple A drives off the younger end with tired classic rock and low-tempo, soundalike, singer-songwriters.

One market where sharp programmers are nailing it is Portland. Mark Hamilton’s KNRK has the right feel, with all music delivering on the discovery/alternative promise. Sean Demery’s Triple A KINK is nearing a 5-share with an alternative/classic-alternative lean. A music explorer would be blessed to live in this market.

Now, back to Lisa, why her?

With Alternative’s near addiction to major label product, it suggests to me that the purveyors of Alt playlists, whether they be consultants or corporate PDs, are much closer to promotion executives than they are to the street. The music is there – it’s just not on the radio.

Alternative needs a prominent taste-maker — and one with influence over more than one playlist. Lisa Worden is now uniquely positioned to be that person.

No pressure.

Filed Under: Actual NewsFeaturedNewsRadio and Records


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  1. Jim says:

    Agreed. Alternative is in a dire state. How ridiculous is it that many of the most important indie and alternative acts of this century (Grizzly Bear, Kurt Vile, The National, Fleet Foxes, Arcade Fire, the New Pornographers, Ryan Adams, Future Islands, the XX, Real Estate, etc. etc.) have been outcast by Alt radio and only accepted on AAA where they have to share airspace with the likes of Adele and other bland mainstream acts.

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