One of my favorite musical developments of 2012 involved the return of alt-rock radio to New York City—after an abortive year as an all-news station, 101.9 FM flipped back to music, with the call letters WEMP and a playlist that, while not perfect (all those campfire-ready singalongs from Mumford & Sons wannabes!), provided the occasional surprise both new and old. While I’m awash in music “discovery” all day, from the promos I recieve in my physical and electronic mail to the songs tweeted at me by hopefuls to recommendations from friends, there’s something about hearing a fresh-to-my-ears track sandwiched in between some old reliables that still makes me more excited to drink in the new.
Of course, the romance didn’t last long; in October CBS announced that it had acquired the station from Merlin Media, a company headed by former Clear Channel cronies, and would be moving the sports-gab stalwart WFAN from its crackly home at 660 AM to WEMP’s sparkling, middle-of-the-dial FM spot. In the time between the announcement and the format change WEMP was stuck in a weird purgatory, pumping out the jams, adding songs to its playlist, and continuing to use all those promos that call the station “New Rock 101.9” even though it had an imminent expiration date.
WEMP was the second prominent FM station in New York to flip from a music-centric format to talk (specifically sports talk) in 2012; back in the spring, the black-radio powerhouse WRKS (Kiss-FM) had its programming glommed onto that of its former rival WBLS in a merger that shocked and dismayed many. WRKS was located at 98.7 FM, and moved way down the dial to 107.5; in Kiss’s place was the New York home of ESPN Radio, the Worldwide Leader In Sports’ national network of places to argue about coaching hires and field goals with the likes of Michael Kay.
The slow colonization of FM radio, once heralded for its ability to make music sound crisper than AM, by talk-centric formats is dismaying in a couple of senses. [...]