It'ês been a tough couple of weeks for local radio in Seattle. KING-FM is having financial problems. Marty Riemer got canned at KMTT. And the pledge drive has started up at KUOW. It'ês enough to drive anyone to an AAA (Alternate Audio Appliance).
And traditional radio — the kind that many grown-ups still listen to in their cars or their kitchens — takes a lot of battering these days. All the big consultants say that the medium is dying, that the younger generation has not embraced radio the way their parents did just 15 years ago, and that they'êre not likely to, given the clueless approach of most commercial stations.
I try to avoid buying into this cynical opinion and believe that every generation eventually comes around to regular old radio. And I believe the picture changes (and the time and ability to manipulate Alternate Audio Appliances shrivels) once somebody begins hauling around little kids in a car, or performing domestic duties on a daily or, with those same kids out of the car, hourly basis.
So I was pleasantly shocked a few days ago when I literally stumbled across another reason to be encouraged about radio'ês future with the under 20-set: Bellevue High School'ês KASB 89.9 FM.
When pledge drives and the hipper-than-thou sophistication of listener-supported stations and the mind-numbing commercials of most stations leave you hungry for some real radio, the students of Bellevue High School are standing by right now at KASB 89.9 FM. I can'êt vouch for its signal strength in all parts of Seattle, but it comes in pretty well in Wallingford and the University District, and is worth tuning in — for the music, but also for the goofy promos and random public service announcements spun by the fightin'ê Wolverines of Bellevue High.
The KASB playlist feels teenybopperish and the deejays sound like teenyboppers, mainly because, I suspect, the deejays are teenyboppers. And the songs that I'êve heard in the evening and during the day tend toward folky pop and poppy rock (like Jack Johnson, Weezer, and U2) and they tend to repeat. And repeat. On a series of short errands earlier this week, I heard three separate songs at least twice each over the period of an hour. I felt like I'êd been transported back 30 years to the twilight of Top 40 AM, when KING 1090 and KJR 950 battled each other for local teenybopper loyalty, and those Top 40 songs played over and over again (and we loved it).
On a side note, the 89.9 FM frequency used to be solely occupied locally by KGRG, the station operated by students at Green River Community College in Auburn. Since the late 80s, KGRG has made a name for itself as a cutting-edge station that plays lots of new material by bands not getting airtime anyplace else. They'êve also minted a number of deejays and other radio types who'êve gone on to local fame and fortune (including Marty Riemer, formerly of KMTT). KGRG'ês signal, which used to come in fairly well in my old Queen Anne neighborhood, is now pretty much eclipsed by KASB, which moved to 89.9 a few years ago as a result of a complicated frequency swap overseen by the FCC.
The next time you'êre folding laundry or hauling the kids to school or soccer, tune in KASB 89.9 FM. It'ês like a pep rally for the future of radio. Go Wolverines!