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NOT-SO-LITE FM

ADULT ALTERNATIVE RADIO

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You spent your collegiate ’80s listening to bands like the Replacements and the Cure, but now you’re in your 30s-too old for moshing but too young for Gloria Estefan. Where do you turn to hear music that’s relaxing and familiar, but not overly laid-back? A burgeoning radio format called adult alternative, that’s where. Stations like Sacramento’s KQPT, WKOC in Norfolk, Va., and adult-rock pioneer KBCO in Boulder, Co., are beginning to play what could be called the hip, thinking man’s lite FM: a mix of quirky modern singer-songwriters (Lyle Lovett, Shawn Colvin, John Hiatt), old-school college-radio favorites like R.E.M. and Peter Gabriel, and easy-listening alternative acts such as the Cranberries and the Sundays. ”It’s an outlet for people who like music but haven’t bought CDs in a while,” says WKOC program director Lauren MacLeash, who describes her station’s average listener as ”a 33-year-old male who wears a tie to work, has a kid or two, and is into recycling and environmental issues.” Kid Leo, vice president of album promotion at Columbia, waxes enthusiastically that the format ”could be a big force in radio. There are a lot of disenfranchised people out there, and they’re starved for new music. They want rock but not in the form of new bands, and they’re sick of the classics.” Barely a year old, the adult-rock radio concept is still gestating. The format itself has a variety of names-adult alternative, progressive adult, and AAA, or triple A (for album adult alternative)-and only 34 stations playing it nationwide, totaling a mere 2 percent of the market. (The leading radio format remains adult contemporary-the land of Phil Collins and Mariah Carey-which commands 16.4 percent.) But that should change: The radio business loves slotting listeners into recognizable consumer blocks, and the upscale, heavily male 25-to-54 listeners drawn to adult alternative are an advertiser’s dream. / Plus, as Columbia’s Leo says, ”The older you get, the more you want someone to tell you what’s going on in life.” Even, apparently, if you’ve only just retired your scuffed-up Doc Martens. -DB