Sacramento became the home of a new classic rock station in April 2017 with the transformation
of Jack FM to The River 93.7. From a personality standpoint, it's refreshing that Monica Lowe
is back on the air. She was a familiar voice on 100.5 The Zone throughout the 90s and 2000s.
But as far as music formatting and station positioning, it appears The River, an iHeart-owned
station, will be more of the same corporate radio that has grinded down music libraries since
the late 90s following the failed mergers that led to massive radio industry debt in the billions.
I listened to The River online on April 12, 2017, since I now live in San Diego. All I can tell you is it sounds a little like a Milwaukee station that I left in 1998 after a half year. I officially resigned but they basically told me to get out because I couldn't save their sinking ratings fast enough while it was a sponsor-cluttered alternative station. Shortly after I left they flipped the format to a bizarre mix of Beastie Boys and Crosby, Stills & Nash and sank into obscurity. What I heard on The River flowed better and wasn't as strange, but it still fell in line with predictable uncreative corporate radio.
One set I heard went from "Revolution" by The Beatles into "I Don't Care Anymore" by Phil Collins. That's fine for diehard classic rockers that like both artists, but it didn't make me go "wow." While The Beatles are timeless, Collins is more like an over-played formula artist. So if I were programming the station, maybe I'd sprinkle in better songs by Collins here and there, but I'd never play bland adult contemporary music after a meaningful Beatles rocker.
The concept of the station makes sense to a degree. Classic rock is still viable from a rock fan perspective, but the format never really evolved much. The River's brand of classic rock is to mix it with "gen x" alternative rock. That's not a bad idea, except that the branding is typical cookie-cutter corporate radio thinking that lacks creativity. The station voice sounds like the same old burnt constipated character. Radio still attracts a large audience in drive times but that's about it. Rock still has a large audience, but the music biz has failed to sign meaningful innovative acts since the late 90s after its failed mergers.
What's very disappointing about the corp radio biz is its lack of concern about creativity. It still operates on the model of repackaging and rebranding old music. It relies heavily on market research, which isn't always accurate or there would be no need to switch formats. The station features feeds from Nikki Sixx from Motley Crue, which is ridiculous if the station is trying to be "classic rock for gen x" since he was born in 1958. "Gen x" itself is a ridiculous marketing phrase that never had much meaning in the first place. Marketers tried to paint it as an angry demographic, which didn't apply to most people in that age group. It was just typical lame corporate hype. Radio is still trapped in the advertiser-driven mentality that formats should be based on demographics instead of lifestyles or cultural themes.
While it's encouraging that radio is trying to expand classic rock a little, I think it's still too early to be calling Pearl Jam or other 90s acts "classic rock." They do fit musically with vintage bands, but that's because they were retro in the first place. At the same time, they've made a lot of timeless music that easily fits in with current rock. The problem is that the music biz continues to flounder, leading washed up rockers like Gene Simmons to proclaim that "rock is dead." It's mostly been over-produced cookie-cutter bands with boring songs the past few decades. What rock radio needs is a REAL revolution.