Boston’s “rock station” abruptly stopped playing new music a couple months ago.
Oddly, no one seems to have noticed.
There are plenty of places to hear rock music on traditional broadcast radio in Boston. It has very good Alternative and Adult Alternative channels, at least two Classic Rock outlets and several college radio stations. But Boston hasn’t had an Active Rock station in years.
Until June, WAAF was the only broadcast station in Boston playing new “Mainstream” rock. But even then, not that much of it. WAAF is what used to be known as a Heritage Rock station, a useful label that’s fallen out of favor in recent years. Until its abrupt programming change, the bulk of its playlist was devoted to older material, with new and recent songs making up about only 20% of the music heard on the station.
So possibly many observers could be forgiven for not noticing that, in early June, new and recent music disappeared from WAAF’s airwaves. There was no announcement. The station’s web site still discusses a variety of artists releasing new music. It’s just not playing any.
WAAF didn’t become a Classic Rock station, though that’s a significant element of its mix. It’s been focusing on a broad range of rock from the early ’80s through the late ’00s. Classic Rock acts are well represented, but the station’s also playing artists that are marginalized or entirely absent from that format. That includes Hair Metal (Bon Jovi, Poison, Motley Crue), rock-oriented rap (Beastie Boys, House of Pain) and a variety of ’90s and ’00s Alternative (Third Eye Blind, The Killers, Counting Crows) and Hard Rock (Disturbed, Slipknot).
Since the switch, WAAF has played little to no music released in the past five or so years. And predictably, WAAF’s playlist aggressively lacks diversity, with few songs from non-white or female artists popping up.
In the absence of an explanation from WAAF, one can only assume that since competing with streaming/internet and satellite outlets has become increasingly difficult, the station has chosen not to compete at all.
Given the increasingly defensive nature of traditional broadcast radio, especially Rock radio, that’s not a shock. Newer options have been pressuring broadcast radio for years. Abandoning the field of new music seems like it would create a spiral of self-fulfilling prophecy.
If stations feel like they can’t compete with new media for younger listeners, they’ll double down on an older audience, one less likely to be engaged with new technology and looking for more of a nostalgia experience. It might stem the bleeding in the short term, but that’s an approach whose returns can’t help but dwindle steadily.
There’s a place for traditional broadcast radio in the changing media landscape. But withdrawing from the fight isn’t going to help those stations find it.