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History of Alternative Radio and Music
by Alex Cosper


Freeform radio in the sixties was the seed to alternative radio. Stations like KMPX and KSAN in San Francisco and KMET in Los Angeles were among the first freeform stations on early FM stations to experiment with wide open formats. These stations provided the ultimate music fan's dream format of several styles with a rock core. The sound of this format communicated a state of independence from the national networking that takes place in the marketing of popular culture. It created a closer bond with the community. This was accomplished by KZAP in Sacramento and WHFS in Washington, DC. The freeform format peaked in the early seventies and began to be overtaken by industry consultants who pushed the format toward a standardized national chart.

In the late seventies KROQ in Los Angeles began to experiment with a more commercial-friendly version of alternative developed by Program Director Rick Carroll. In the eighties his format was called "rock of the eighties" as he started to network with stations through his consultancy. One of his clients was market dominator 91X in San Diego. Carroll even consulted MTV. By the end of the decade there were about a dozen "modern rock" commercial radio stations in major U.S. cities. Carroll and other KROQ staff members including Rodney Bingenheimer helped find the early modern rock hits, as was the case with Oedipus at WBCN in Boston and Steve Masters at Live 105 in San Francisco.

The alternative format escalated in ratings for some stations across the country beginning in the early nineties. From this point on, KROQ became a much more structured station with less jock freedom and a tighter playlist, although a much more successful station under the programming of Kevin Weatherly. WHFS was also one of the first of the original pack to tighten their playlist under new ownership and the programming of Tom Calderone and then Robert Benjamin and Bob Waugh. The Rise of Alternative Radio is a story that picks up from there and documents the development of the alternative radio format at KWOD in Sacramento and alternative stations around the country such as KROQ, WBCN, Live 105, 91X, The End in Seattle, Q101 in Chicago, 99X in Atlanta and others.