It’s been three months since Dallas’ KVIL-FM 103.7 switched formats. Long known as Amp 103.7, the station specialized in Top 40 playlists before a November rebrand turned the frequency into an alternative rock format dubbed Alt 103.7 — "DFW’s New Alternative.”
For a listening audience still reeling from the 2016 shuttering of dial staple The Edge (102.1 FM), 103.7’s dip into the alternative market was a welcome occurrence. However, if message boards and Reddit discussions are any indication, the grace period for the station’s new format is expiring. Many listeners are struggling to find the alternative promised in the tagline as the station loads its playlists with repetitive doses of veteran acts such as Green Day and Coldplay served alongside frequent quantities of pop-oriented artists like Bastille and Walk The Moon.
According to Jim Fox, vice president of music programming for Entercom, 103.7’s parent company, these dissatisfied fans have a voice concerning what they hear emanating from the airwaves.
“We curate music specifically for our local community and work with our listeners directly to determine what resonates with the alternative music fan in Dallas,” Fox explained to the Observer via email. “Radio is a unique medium because being live on-air allows us to have two-way conversations with our fans on a regular basis. We also employ unique tools like ctrl+ALT+del, a text-based platform we launched recently to give listeners a voice on programming by allowing them to share real-time feedback on the music they listen to. We know immediately when listeners like a song.”
The listener feedback is featured prominently on 103.7’s homepage. There, you’ll find a short video on the ctrl+ALT+del feature. While a song is playing, listeners can text “LIKE” or “DISLIKE” to 96750. The number of times a song is played can be increased or decreased by texting “MORE” or “LESS” to the same number. The site promises to pull songs receiving a particularly high number of dislikes.
Fox also addresses the other frequent listener grumble: too much Green Day and Coldplay.
“We cater to our core alternative-loving audience who has helped define the genre for decades by playing bands with alternative roots,” he says. “In testament to the power of the genre, many of today’s most popular bands, such as Coldplay and Blink-182 have emerged from an alternative perspective and have also been embraced by other genres.”
Perhaps “alternative” isn’t as cut-and-dry of a term as it used to be. Coldplay, Green Day, Pearl Jam and Blink-182 have aged into the more comfortably defined classic rock or AOR categories, and their alternative progeny have followed today’s pop-oriented trends. It can be difficult for a radio station to balance the two sides, and the genre simply has different connotations to different audiences.
“In testament to the power of the genre, many of today’s most popular bands, such as Coldplay and Blink-182 have emerged from an alternative perspective and have also been embraced by other genres.” — Jim Fox, Entercom
We utilized the playlist feature of 103.7’s website to compare and contrast the output. For back-to-back evenings, we found examples of questionable content for an alternative station — Sugar Ray’s “Fly,” Walk The Moon’s “One Foot” and way too much Red Hot Chili Peppers stood out as main offenders. There was also a good dose of Top 40 content, including Imagine Dragons, Halsey and The Chainsmokers, that would likely set off alarms for listeners preferring edgier, guitar-driven material.
Conversely, there were some examples of more outside-the-box programming, with songs by Tegan & Sara, Portugal. The Man and Chvrches popping up along the way. Deep cuts by Lorde and Modest Mouse and even a Johnny Cash song made their way onto the playlist.
Perhaps the issue lies in the tagline. Instead of “DFW’s New Alternative,” the station should think about a more inclusive title that incorporates the wide range of genres being played. Or perhaps you just can’t please everyone all of the time. In the meantime, however, spend some time texting feedback to see if the station continues to take listeners’ responses to heart.