It turns out that 2019 is becoming a very good year for music. The bonus is that it’s also the year radio returned as a force in music. Who knew the OC was the place providing the much-needed changes. The catalyst was one of the most successful low-power FM radio stations in the U.S., and they’re here in our own back yard… the station is KX935 in Laguna Beach.
Here’s the skinny, radio has been suffering an identity crisis. So-much-so, the broadcasting industry started losing listeners to online music services. Sure, the reason was self-inflicted; radio stations, in general, were responsible for their own demise. The knock was music on the radio lost its bite. Station-after-station started sounding the same, playing the same songs over-and-over. Listener interaction became nearly non-existent. As a result, it was almost foreseen that the days of radio being a force in music were numbered.
Today, radio is on the rebound, music no longer sounds like an iTunes program, and listener interaction and community outreach is back! There are some major market stations out there that saw the writing on the wall and did something about it. However, giving credit for the turnaround solely to the behemoths of the industry would be disingenuous at best. It was the smaller players who took the bull by the horns and elected not to give in to the corporate music mentality. One of the stations that caused this seismic shift is Laguna’s ONLY FM, KX935. (Full disclosure: I’ve proudly served as their weekend on-air jock every Sunday for a few years)
Today, KX935 is one of the most successful radio stations anywhere. It literally competes for the same listener with their big market brothers. Success didn’t happen overnight; it’s hard to believe, but KX935 isn’t owned by some corporate entity that cares more about profits over content. NO, this station is independently owned. GM, Tyler Russell has much to do with this success story. The idea of starting his own radio station hit him years ago. He noticed a few things back then; first…good music was out there, but it wasn’t being played. One big reason was too much of it didn’t fit the corporate model as to what “big brother” felt listeners should hear. Second… interaction with listeners spiraled to the extent live DJ’s were becoming extinct like dinosaurs, and listener calls were ignored.
With de-evolution of broadcasting on his mind, Russell got together with a few of his trusted friends and launched KX935 in 2012. Like anything worthwhile, the challenges were monumental. Being a Low-Power FM radio platform, there were obstacles Russell knew they would have to overcome if they were to have a fighting chance. First, he wanted to make sure their production was industry quality. That means broadcasting equipment, jingles, and other on-air tools had to be in place so the station sounded legit. Second, he wanted to make sure he had the staff and DJ’s in place that shared his vision of giving the listeners back the airwaves while playing music that needed to be played. Last but most important, it was imperative that the station has listener interaction, and develop a relationship with the community; that was vital to the plan.
It hasn’t all been candy canes and rainbows, not everything went as planned. Somehow, some-way, the grey clouds parted and the soon-to-be radio juggernaut was born. The underlying plan that doesn’t get the credit it deserves is Russell hired well. He has a great staff from top to bottom, featuring great weekday and weekend DJ’s. Russell is an experienced DJ himself and does middays, but their morning show is top notch featuring stand-up comic Ed Steinfeld. On the other end of the day shift is Music Director, Alyssa Hayek. She’s a new addition, she recently came from Thunder 106.3 in New Jersey, which ironically is a Country station. However, her love and passion for the station and its vision worked perfectly. She’s brought her infectious personality to the airwaves. Along with a great ear for new music, while programming classics we can all appreciate.
The night shifts and weekend staff may be the most eclectic and dynamic you’ll hear anywhere. Those shows feature reggae, blues, new wave, and electronica programs. A few standout shows include a new music show called GO DEEP with Bruce Rave, there’s Coast Highway Shuffle with Steve Reid, Americana Radio with John Ford, The Real McCoy with Martin Hanlin and then there’s TNN RADIO who puts out a great ALT Rock show. Here’s the thing, the station doesn’t just play music, it also has high-profile interactive live talk shows. There’s Awakening Code Radio with Eric Rankin and Michelle Anderson, they cover every topic under the sun, while Rock to Recovery features former Korn guitarist, Wesley Geer. Wesley talks cover serious topics in a way we can all relate. He also features interviews with rock stars, celebs, people that have overcome their demons to thrive in an industry rife with challenges. Then there’s Inner Journey with Greg Friedman, he gives life advice and touches the hearts and souls of all that tune in.
In a recent chat with Freidman, we asked him why he believes the station has been so successful, his answer was simple. He said “we’re successful because the DJ’s here don’t have to play the same 25 songs over and over, Tyler provides us the ability to express our passion about music, or whatever we can bring to the listeners to benefit us all… that freedom creates great broadcasting.”
It’s no fluke that KX935 has become a leader in the radio broadcasting industry. Mostly because they stuck to the plan. They engage with their community, they play new music while breaking many bands, and they have local bands and some of the biggest bands in music grace their airwaves. In the end, the Tyler Russell radio re-connection experiment paid off. Not only is KX935 the station he envisioned it could be, but the broadcasting industry as a whole is also shifting, and now, there’s station-after-station that’s following the KX935 model. Who takes credit for that? Russel doesn’t care, he just wants to make sure that in his neck of the woods, they never forget the listener or their community. It’s a family concept that’s paid off.
So what’s left? The finances of course. There’s a reason countless stations were playing that corporate model of music. It’s because “big brother” paid the bills. Many of low-power FM stations have this same dilemma… how to pay the bills, stay on the air and play kick-ass music? Despite the advances radio has made the last two years, they’re still competing with online music sites for listeners and contributions. With that in mind, KX935 created a great stream site that allows their listeners to contribute to the cause and tune-in anywhere. In return, they get a ton of cool swag and get to attend station events throughout the year. That’s only part of the story, KX935 puts on a few fundraising events each year. Their next event is called the KX TAKEOVER. This event allows listeners to donate and also be an on-air DJ. The listener gets to do an air shift, and everyone is encouraged to call in and make a donation. In regards to the fundraiser, Russell said he wants to give listeners a great experience no matter what it is, tuning in, or donating. The Takeover is just another way this station keeps on broadcasting while entertaining its loyal fans.
The takeaway is that lots of people talk about doing something special in broadcasting, well… Russell and the KX935 staff aren’t just talking; they’re doing something about it. The KXTAKEOVER starts Monday, March 25th at 8 am and continues through the 29th. The FM signal can be heard in Laguna Beach city limits, but anyone else can stream the station anywhere on the planet at kx935.com, on the Android iPhone/Android apps, Tune-in, and iHeart Radio. Check this radio station out, you may be pleasantly surprised.