There was a time when 106.7 KROQ was an important part of my self-image. I was 14 years old, and kids were not just forming cliques, but subcultural scenes. A big part of that was what radio station you chose: Power 106 (hip hop), KIIS FM (pop) and KROQ (alternative rock.) There was overlap in the audiences of Power 106 and KIIS FM, as hip hop had become an accepted part of pop culture, while guitar music seemed too niche and white. So while the average person would listen to both Power 106 and KIIS, the ones who listened to KROQ listened to it exclusively. It was a strong enough in its cultural identity - a mainstream, sanitized vision of "alternative" - that that it inspired loyalty from its listeners.
Today, the importance of radio and even just the music monoculture is beyond dead and buried, yet the thing still remains on the dial of my car's unused radio. The way stations have dealt with the splintering and liberation of music has been a bit like watching a fish flail in a boat. They've propped up apps like iHeartRadio to maintain their technological relevance, and I suspect the nostalgic resurgence of bands like Incubus and Linkin Park goes hand in hand with their aim of remaining cultural (and therefore economic) forces.
But whatever KROQ once was to me as a kid will probably never be again. Their playlist these days confirms it: It's a confused mash up of today's youth culture with one desperate, gnarled hand still clinging to the alt-rock it helped define a couple decades ago. They bet the whole game on that post-Nirvana "Alternative Rock" label, and they rode that wave high and well for many years until it crashed upon the shores of the internet. All stations had to deal with new competition in music availability, but only KROQ had to deal with their audience's tastes shifting with increased music access.
Pop music, and therefore competitor KIIS FM, didn't really have to deal with that. Top 40 fans like Top 40 music, no matter what it is so long as it's popular, fun, and modern. They can get away with a diverse identity of R&B, rap, pop and EDM. KROQ was placed as a reaction to that kind of broadness, pretending rock & roll was a niche. It at least had an aura of rebellion, even if it was manufactured. Suddenly, their counterculture audience found actual counterculture in the internet's plethora of music choices and KROQ had to accomodate not just their existing base, but the folk rock, indie & dance music that became favored.
In order to keep up with the times, they've added to their rotation mainstream bands that were reasonably related to EDM & indie, but when you slam it up against the Linkin Parks & Incubuses, it loses all identity and is a bit like the friend who insists he likes whatever you like, he just wants to be cool. A cursory glance at their playlist reads like a schizophrenic music festival: Mumford & Sons, Chevelle, Imagine Dragons, Sublime, M83, Linkin Park, Fun., Eminem, Of Monsters And Men, Bush, Passion Pit, 311 — I can't imagine the type of person that loves all of these bands. Maybe some kind of hypothetical die hard KROQer that subscribes to whatever they do. The type of guy that tells people at parties that AMELIE is one of his favorite movies right after DEUCE BIGELOW because he thinks liking one popular artsy movie is enough of a curveball to diversify his personality in between keg stands.
The Tom Waits case for radio makes a lot of sense, where he remembers DJs as curators that impart a diverse and discerning taste. But that's not what's going on at KROQ. It's eclectic, but not in any meaningful way. There is no personality behind their spins, just a lot of shit thrown out there from an ever expanding bin. It's not Stryker drawing from his refined tastes. It's Stryker trying to form a youth culture where his bosses are still of import.
The way it is right now, the average guy hears one song he likes and then 5 songs he hates. You know there are Puddle of Mudd fans out there that think it's bullshit how KROQ has gotten all wussy with this Foster The People crap, and Foster The People fans who can't stand that Korn is still around.
When I was a 14 year old KROQ fan, their music was current. It was all from 1993 and beyond, with occasional throwbacks to The Ramones and Depeche Mode. For the most part, everything was still part of the Nirvana family tree, and so it felt like this was the flagship of an imagined alternative culture. Today, it's still '93 and beyond, but juxtaposed hilariously with folk/indie/EDM. It's bloated. Their web page today is covering Daft Punk news as if it was under their umbrella, when they never mentioned it when they were around in the late 90s.
It brings to mind the image of a man realizing he is no longer young, and so he makes a self-conscious, unconvincing final go at youth culture.
Their goal now seems to be attaining the same all-encompassing character that pop music has, but it's harder to do when you were envisioned as the counterculture. They want to be a bizarro mirror image of pop music. The other side of a coin, rather than a too cool for school reaction to it. I don't see the point - we already have pop music, we don't need a distant cousin of it. But it's okay. It's not a holy institution. It's happening this way because we didn't need them anymore.