The Fall of 92.3 K-Rock

I wrote this in January of 2006.


I live less than an hour away from one of the greatest cities in the world. Yes, New York City, one of the most populated, popular, and important centers of business, leisure and living space.

Wouldn't you think that there'd be one decent rock station on the air, either in or around New York City?

Well, there isn't.

Before you say "well, there's..." you should understand that I'm not talking about classic rock. The truth is, while I'll gladly listen to a bit of classic rock here and there, I'm just not all that fond of it as a genre I'd listen to regularly. Most of what I've heard seems heavy on awesome guitar and light on just about everything else, including lyrics, but that's just my opinion. (2018 edit: My opinion on this changed over time, see below)

Yes, there are a couple of good classic rock stations. But I'm referring to modern rock. The kind that they used to play on WXRK, also known as 92.3 K-Rock, before it went down the shitter and finally ceased to exist earlier this week, on January 3rd, 2006.

For years I enjoyed listening to K-Rock. They played good, new alternative rock, and stayed on the cutting edge, playing new stuff from both existing and rising stars all the time. I was glued to it during the mid-to-late 90s, and it didn't stop either during or after my college years. They played so many great songs, because there were lots of great songs to play, and they didn't play the same song seven thousand times in a row, either. They even gave their DJs a little bit of room to experiment. I still remember when Will Pendarvis (my all-time favorite K-Rock DJ), one afternoon, took a Linkin Park CD--way back when nobody knew who the hell Linkin Park was--and said something like, "OK, let's try something new. Call in and tell me what you think of this." Then he put on One Step Closer, and it rocked, and the rest was history. I think he actually played it a second time immediately afterward, because it was just so awesome that first time. I wonder if that actually caused (or helped cause) their blazingly-fast rise to fame.

The changes started... I don't know, maybe a year and a half ago, possibly a bit longer. I noticed that the range of music they were playing was narrowing, and the number of times you'd hear a particular song was skyrocketing. They seemed to be playing music almost exclusively from a specific list of artists, maybe a few dozen or so. You wouldn't generally hear music from any other artists, even if they were getting a ton of play on other stations (like Breaking Benjamin, who I heard on Binghamton's rock station at least six months before I heard them on K-Rock). They also started throwing in the occasional rap song from out of nowhere. The first time I heard Jay-Z's "99 Problems" on there I couldn't believe it. When did K-Rock become a rap station? I flipped to something else. I also flipped every time I heard the Beastie Boys--which was a LOT, way more than it ever should have been. It seemed like you'd hear Linkin Park every five or ten songs. It seemed like the same stuff over and over again, and it was all played out already!

Obviously the number of listeners dropped as a result of all the suckage. But then something new came along.

Stuttering John of the Howard Stern show had done the All-Request Lunch hour for years. All of a sudden, they dumped him from the slot for reasons unknown to me, and gave the slot back to Julie Slater, who now had the full slot from the time Howard went off the air until 2 PM. Shortly afterwards, the 12-1 hour was renamed "Resurrection Lunch" and the theme was rock from the 80s and 90s. Big surprise: the requests came in, the music was great and the ratings for that hour took off. At least half the reason the show was excellent was the fact that you finally had a break from hearing the same 20 songs over and over and over and over again; the rest of the reason was that the music was great.

A few months passed and the suckage evolved. K-Rock did get a hint from the success of the Resurrection Lunch, but it was the wrong hint. They should have realized that its success stemmed from the fact that there was actually some variety. Instead, the suckage was replaced with new suckage. The format worked like this: old song, new song, old song, new song, etc. This sounded OK, except that the old songs were generally the most overplayed of the bunch, and the new songs usually seemed to be between six months and a year old--and were ALSO the most overplayed of the bunch. A period of at least a whole month went by, and not even ONCE did I hear a song on K-Rock that I hadn't heard before. WITH THE SOLE EXCEPTION of the Resurrection Lunch hour, the entire station was playing the overplayed, and little else. The DJs seemed to know this, but I'm guessing that they had no say, and there was little they could do about it. Listener interest obviously sank to new lows.

Then, all of a sudden, in May 2005, K-Rock announced a complete format change, effective immediately. "Great Rock, Period," proclaimed the new format, which basically consisted of a huge playlist dating back to the 60s and continuing through a couple of years ago, randomly switching gears all day long. The good news was that we were now hearing more songs that weren't quite as overplayed, but the bad news was that we went from hearing very little new music to none at all. This was an obvious boneheaded decision to absolutely everyone except the people who actually made the decision. It was amusing for a few weeks, but then, it was just... old. From my experience, most people that listen to rock music like modern or classic rock, or perhaps both... but not both at once, and certainly not mashed up the way 92.3 was serving it now. Oh, and the whole "no new music" thing was kinda sorta absolutely the dumbest thing they'd ever done. Period.

With ratings continuing to drop, did they try again? Did they finally come to their senses and give listeners what they really wanted: a modern rock station blending a mix of excellent brand-new music from both established and emerging artists, with some complete unknowns on the side, sprinkled with a dash of great hits from previous years? This is pretty much the formula used by the best rock station I've listened to in a while, WKGB, based in Binghamton, NY. But no. No, K-Rock did not do that at all. With Howard Stern leaving the station, and ratings at what I'm assuming was a sad, low level... they gave up entirely.

As of January 3, 2006, 92.3 WXRK a.k.a. K-Rock is no more. It is now 92.3 WFNY a.k.a. FreeFM, a talk radio station. Yes, a talk radio station. WTF?


Since I wrote this over 12 years ago:
- The FreeFM experiment was a failure; after a brief (and lame) K-Rock "resurrection," it was replaced by...yet another Top-40 format. It remained Top-40 from 2009 through November 2017, when against all odds, the station switched to "Alt 92.3" and started playing modern alternative rock again.
- SiriusXM has several good modern rock stations of various flavors, and despite a low bitrate making it sound "mushy," they're a good choice when no FM stations are available.
- I like and appreciate classic rock a lot more now than I used to. Guitar Hero/Rock Band helped that along.