Rock Radio Loses Longtime Outpost

By Sidney Kleinpeter | LSU Student

Baton Rouge's alternative rock station 104.9 "The X" will send its last broadcast across the airwaves on Sunday after 12 years on the air.

The alt-rock station will switch genres and simulcast Country Legends 107.3 beginning April 4. Two weeks later, 104.9 FM will be the new permanent home of the classic country station while 107.3 FM will change to a news talk format, said Gordy Rush, market manager for Guaranty Broadcasting.

Guaranty is Baton Rouge's only locally owned and operated radio group. In addition to 104.9 "The X" and Country Legends 107.3, the corporation runs its flagship station, Eagle 98.1, along with New Country 100.7 "The Tiger" and 104.5 ESPN Radio.

Rush said the decision to shut down "The X" was purely a business one due to low ratings. The rock station was 19th in the fall 2010 Arbitron ratings for the male between ages 18-34, he said.

"They should be near the top if not the best in that demographic because that's who the genre of music is aimed at."

Previously "The X" simulcast on104.5 and 104.9 as part of a dual station, but in December 2009 104.5 switched to ESPN Radio, becoming Baton Rouge's only FM sports radio station. Rush said the sports talk station is doing well in the ratings, but pulled some of the male listeners away from 104.9.

"There were some self-inflicted wounds," Rush said. "But we didn't expect ("The X") to bottom out like it did."

Citadel Broadcasting's Rock 93.7 in Lafayette and Rock 92.3 in New Orleans are two other rock stations which broadcast signals strong enough to reach Baton Rouge. Rush said the new competitor stations, coupled with new regulations from the liquor industry, negatively impacted the market for "The X."

Prior to 2003, alcoholic products could be advertised on radio stations when 50 percent of the audience was 21 years of age or older, but the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), the liquor industry's national trade organization, increased the number to 70 percent, according to the DISCUS "Code of Responsible Practices."

"With the large 12 to 21 age demographic we had, when (DISCUS) switched it to 70 percent we didn't meet that number," Rush said. "So all the beer companies pulled their ads."

LSU's campus radio station, KLSU 91.1 FM, plays a variety of different music genres, including alternative rock, leaving it the only rock station in Baton Rouge.

Ariel King, KLSU's station manager, said she hopes KLSU can fill the music void, but she's said she is "sad" it has to.

She said KLSU tries to be in the middle of mainstream and independent music, playing popular songs listeners are familiar with while still mixing in newer and more obscure music they might not have heard before nor get to hear anywhere else.

"Alternative is becoming extinct and it's sad because that's where new bands go before they are ever on MTV and in the main stream," she said. "It's really important for new bands to get air time because they can't get played anywhere else."

"The X" sponsored and promoted numerous rock concerts at venues across Baton Rouge including the Varsity Theatre, Chelsea's Café, Spanish Moon and the Baton Rouge River Center. In 2007 the station sponsored X-Fest, a blockbuster concert held at the River Center featuring major artists The Killers, AFI, Jet, Papa Roach and The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus.

The success of the original led to a second X-Fest in 2008 with headliners My Chemical Romance, Puddle of Mudd, Finger Eleven and Atreyu. In addition the station sponsored the annual X-Mas Bash concert every December.

Chris Lundgren, Varsity marketing directory and talent buyer, said in an e-mail a large percentage of the Varsity Theatre's business is from rock related artists, so "The X" and the Varsity made a good cross-promotional team

Without the advertising support of "The X," Lundgren said, the Varsity will explore new avenues to promote its rock shows.

"We will try Eagle 98.1 and there's also Rock 93.7 out of Lafayette that bleeds into Baton Rouge. We also can concentrate on our social media and print advertising."

King said KLSU partners with other venues to promote shows, but because the station is licensed under the FCC as a non-commercial education station it doesn't have as much freedom to promote as "The X" did due to underwriting restrictions.

KLSU is not tracked by Arbitron, but King said the station's seen a more than 90 percent increase in underwriting sponsors and donations compared to last year, and has loyal followers around the country who listen either online or through the KLSU Iphone App.

In an effort the keep some of its listeners, Rush said "The X's" main DJ, Dan Day, will host a show geared toward a younger audience called "Eagle Night Flights" on Eagle 98.1 on weeknights from 7 p.m. to midnight.

Eagle 98.1 plays classic rock, but "Eagle Night Flights" will change the playlist to rotate out older songs from the 70s and play proven hit songs from the 90s from bands such as Stone Temple Pilots and Pearl Jam, Rush said.

"Young people listen more at night, so that's a move to try and keep some of them," he said.

Lundgren said he is optimistic these tweaks will prevent the Varsity from changing the way the venue schedules bands in the future. "I hope with a more powerful signal and a ratings giant like Eagle 98.1 that our business won't miss a beat."