Does New Times Hate 103.1 the Buzz?
Last week, a perhaps well-meaning commenter using the handle "Chris R" leveled the complaint that New Times is a bunch of "indie kids" who "only like indie rock and talk down on anything mainstream or successful," and eventually got to what seems to be the root of his argument: "Writers at New Times seem to hate The Buzz and pretty much every band
they have on their annual Bake Sale, and a great deal of the artists on
In the interest of responding fully to the long-developing comment thread on the subject of West Palm Beach rock station WPBZ found at 103.1 on the FM dial, and called The Buzz by most -- found under the recent blog "Guns N' Roses' Use Your Illusion Created Appetite for Nirvana 20 Years Ago" -- County Grind has decided decided to extend the remarks here.
Maybe Chris R is using a roundabout way of telling us that he'd like to be the new mainstream rock correspondent, or maybe he has a point. Instead of providing a blanket statement for every New Times writer who contributes to the music section, I decided to ask 12 of them point blank how they felt about the station.
So, New Times writers, do you hate 103.1 the Buzz?
A few actually do.
Erica Landau: "Yes."
Ryan Burk: "Yes, emphatically."
David Von Bader: "Yes. Especially in contrast to satellite radio."
Several more do not.
Jose Flores: "Don't hate it."
Lee Zimmerman: "No -- don't hate."
Monica Uszerowicz: "I don't even listen to the radio! So count me in on the 'no.'"
Stefan Kamph: "I don't think I've ever heard it, so I guess that would be a no."
Christine Borges: "Hate is a really strong word, isn't it? I'd think indifferent
would be a bit more fitting. I recognize that they're there and I'll
listen to them occasionally, but overall I'll stick with my iPod."
Arielle Castillo: "Absolutely not. Not sure if I count in this argument since I live in
Miami and only get to hear it when driving into North Broward/West Palm
Beach, and I've never specifically written about it. I always enjoy
catching it, especially during the blocks (Sunday nights?) when they
play new and/or local music. It's definitely the only area radio station
that plays either and the Bake Sale is pretty decent at introducing a
mainstream audience to newish acts (even if the lineup always seems kind
of random). In any event, it's wayyyyy better than 93 Rock was in its final throes."
For others, it's complicated.
Travis Newbill: "Growing up down here I only hated that we couldn't pick up on the Buzz this far south. They were always way better then 94.9 Zeta. These days I am indifferent as I still can't pick the station up, and I probably wouldn't listen much anyway as I don't listen to much commercial radio because there are too many commercials and not enough music that I enjoy."
Adam Smith: "I do NOT hate the Buzz. They serve a purpose and
do a lot of their target music community. It is rare that I listen to
the radio, and even more rare that I will find my self dialed into the Buzz,
but the times it does happen I welcome a dose of whatever "new"
alternative is out there -- mostly for curiosity's sake. I am also a huge
fan of their promotions program and have been lucky enough to win
tickets and things like a Captain Morgan booze cruise during SunFest.
I will say that the station used to be what determined the climate
of the South Florida alt rock scene, but now the inverse seems to be
true, with the South Florida youth's affinity for cheap indie rock and
revamped nu-Metal bands reliving their heyday being what the Buzz
caters to in order to keep their listenership happy."
New Times Editor Eric Barton even wanted to weigh in: "When 103.1 first went on the air back in the mid-'90s, it was true alt
rock -- stuff you couldn't hear anywhere else on the radio. They played
grunge and ska and big-band before it became a trend. You could listen
all day and not hear the same song, and you got the impression that the
DJs made the call on what they spun. Over time, there's no doubt it has
become more and more corporate, playing the same Incubus-to-Nirvana
playlist hourly and recycling "alt-rock" from the '90s over new music.
But there's also no doubt it's still South Florida's best radio station."
My own thoughts.
Echoing many of the writers above, we can all remember a pre-internet era when radio was the prime source of new music, and loyalty ran deep for the station that best matched and enhanced a person's personal music taste. As I said last year when 93 Rock hit the skids, South Florida (and the world) is an increasingly tough market for mainstream rock radio.
Bader's comparison to satellite is always worth considering. For those who
subscribe to SiriusXM, it's more than 100 channels of radio service
that is commercial free, and is never out of range. What listeners give
up is a direct tie to local South Florida and what can be a prohibitive
$13-17 per month. It's a different type of model than a radio station that everyone can hear for free, but it is the preferred model for many. "People want radio
tailored to what they already like -- which is why you don't hear the
next Korn or Smashing Pumpkins," Smith says. "We can blame my generation for that." According to Castillo and Newbill, we can also blame the signal range, because no one wants to listen to fuzzy songs when they can pull out an iPod.
So, taking a look at the Buzz 103.1 playlist for the weekend, the vast majority of the songs listed are by established artists like Green Day, Seether ("Tonight" was played several times), Red Hot Chili Peppers, and yes, the two artists that got this discussion going in the first place, Nirvana and Guns N' Roses. There are some newer artists mixed in, but you're looking at a crop of musicians that have been around for a decade or more, in many cases. I was excited to see Cracker in there, but it would always be nice to hear deeper tracks than just "Low."
If there's anything to hate (it is a strong word) about the Buzz -- and I bet that the people who work there would agree privately -- it's the change that Barton points out about moving away from "never hearing the same song." The pressures of corporate radio mean that every song is meant to be an obvious access point for a listener to keep them situated -- part of a "core" of tracks that signify what the station is about and work listeners into a happy trance so that they'll wait until the end of a commercial break for the promise of more of what they want.
"Hell, it's our only station playing new rock music," Barton says. "And for that, it's
worth ignoring the many flaws of corporate radio for a hint of that old Buzz from the early days."
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