Music News

The Real Alternative

Page 2 of 3

Mac: We call ourselves "the alternative," and I believe we are the only alternative out there. The other stations call themselves alternative, but they've taken a Madison Avenue approach. Actually, I don't really look at the Edge as a competitor, and that's not a slam on the Edge. They're good at what they do, as far as being a pop station.

NT: The need to draw listeners seems to compete with the need to maintain any kind of idealistic integrity. How do you find the balance?

Strong: We carefully weigh it out.
Mac: Yeah, we weigh it out, because you know you have to have some ratings. You have to, or you won't have a radio station. They'll come down and they'll pull the plug on this as quick as anything if we're not at all successful. And we don't have to be huge. We're never going to beat the Edge on that angle, because they have an FM signal, and they play pop music, which tends to get more listeners than a station playing underground music.

Strong: That's because they cater to the comfort level of your average American white-collar yuppie.

Mac: And we cater to an audience that wants to be challenged, whether it be by punk, ska, rap, industrial, gothic or elements of heavy metal--because heavy metal is the new underground.

NT: You mentioned something about the benefits of an FM signal. Any chance KUPD will throw down the cash to take the Q stereo?

Mac: We don't need to push them. They are also very interested in that. They want us to do well, and they realize we would be doing a lot better if we had an FM signal. It's like when you have a stick and someone else has a bigger stick, it's not a fair fight. We need to make our stick bigger, and that need has been recognized, but it's a matter of time and proving ourselves.

NT: How are you different from Jonathan L.?
Strong: I think we're a little bit more open to possibly some more ... (pause). This is a delicate shading. We don't want to take the feast that Jonathan prepared and change it, but we might spice it. For example, you may begin to hear Cocteau Twins in the morning, where you didn't before. He didn't think it fit, but we do.

Mac: Jon is a music man. And one thing we're trying to do that's different is promote the station more. We're trying to get out there in the street. And some of our hard-core fans have backlashed against that: "You're trying to turn into the Edge." But I believe there's Edge listeners who listen to the Edge by default, who've never had a reason to go over to the AM, who don't even know we're here, and I want to change that.

NT: What's the first thing you would do if your budget was doubled overnight?

Mac: I'd pay the people who work for me. We've got people here who've been working for free for a year. And they love working here. Right now, we're kind of like a college radio station run by two professionals.

NT: Arguably the most critical role of college radio is to support local music. As a commercial station with a college/underground format, what do you plan to do for Valley bands, if anything?

Mac: I know we play at least 20 local bands in current rotation.
Strong: But in the year that we've been back on the air, we've probably played more like 40 or 50. What we've always done that's different from other stations is we've never segregated--local music has never been just on a once-a-week program. We highlight local bands within regular rotation. It's not like "this person in the front of the bus, and this person in the back."

Mac: There are some bands we've played that have actually gotten adds on the station into heavy rotation, like a national act would get or an indie band. I like to look at a local band as an indie band that just happens to live in Phoenix. If it's a good song, it's a good song. Some local records will even get up to 30 spins a week.

Strong: N17 and Lemon Krayola have enjoyed that ... and we're playing the Drakes out of Tucson in current rotation.

Mac: And Earl's Family Bombers out of Tucson.
Strong: They're punk-psychedelia. They're really cool. And one of the new specialty shows is called Al's Demo Hell, and I invite the listeners, if they hear a song on one of those specials ... we want to know, "Did you dig that? Did you really hate that?" Because stuff coming out of that show may end up in rotation. We found that by having all these monthly specialty shows, we are actually listening to more and more varied types of music. And we might find the hits of tomorrow. I don't pretend to be an authority, I just get the music out there.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.