KXT Haters: Be Careful What You Wish For – Doesn’t KXT play the exact kind of music that many local music fans listen to?

There’s a music war in town. It is hard to tell when it began, but it reignited last week when Frontburner blogger Bethany Anderson expressed her dissatisfaction with local public radio music station KXT. Anderson’s post prompted a slew of comments sympathetic to her disappointment with the station. But her post was only a shot fired in a larger war. Search twitter for KXT related tweets and you’re bound to find the hash tag #kxtfail, left on tweets by everyone who seems to delight in pointing out all the songs KXT plays that local music aficionados don’t think should be on the playlist.  KXT has even earned its very own fake Twitter (The_new_KXT), an online honor bestowed only upon the most detested entities. And this grumbling isn’t coming from a few fringe complainers. Our two most prominent local music critics, The Dallas Observer’s Pete Freedman and the Star-Telegram’s Preston Jones, happily reply to and repost tweets from the unflattering fake Twitter account.

I think all of the recent bellyaching over KXT has illuminated some puzzling inconsistencies with local listening taste.  The question I keep returning to is, “What do critics and listeners expect them or want them to play?”

KXT  plays “Adult Album Alternative” much like KGSR in Austin, where many lucrative singer songwriters are made.  If an artist becomes a “KGSR act” down in Austin town, they can pretty much sleep easy knowing that they’ll be playing well-paying gigs and sharing migas with Bob Schneider or Patty Griffin in no time.  Isn’t that what everyone wants: local listener-supported programming that grooms the accessible artists you champion for local stardom?  KGSR and KXT have very similar playlists.  A quick look at both of their play-lists for January 31st reveal that they both play Classic Rock (Led Zeppelin, Tom Petty), actual “adult alternative” or modern classic rock (R.E.M., U2), safe indie rock (The Arcade Fire, The Decemberists) and even local DFW celebrities (both played Sarah Jaffe and KGSR played Telegraph Canyon).  And yet I did a Twitter search for “#KGSRfail” and came up with nothing.  Not a single angry hashtag tweet.  Looks like Austin is just a little more grateful for what they have, Dallas.  Tsk tsk.

See, I’m a little confused here.  Doesn’t KXT play the exact kind of music that many local music fans listen to, especially in regard to the increasingly happy, monocultural critical community?

When I peeked at KXT’s home page today, I saw that local critical favorites The O’s and The Orbans were featured on the front page. When Paste Magazine featured local band Seryn’s new video earlier this week, Preston Jones, Pete Freedman, and KXT all raced to re-post it on their pages. So what’s the problem with KXT again?  Do these critics have some noise habit or are really into underground dance music and I just don’t know about it?

It’s often suggested that local musician Paul Slavens could save the whole venture if only he handled most of the programming, a prospect that is only a little more unlikely than it is untrue.  Slavens has always possessed a respectably encyclopedic knowledge of music, but trying to satisfy as polarized an audience as Dallas-Fort Worth seems almost impossible at this moment in our area’s history.

The reality is, if a radio station is playing 20 percent of what constitutes your personal tastes from last year, and they post videos from the same local artists that you post, how are you not being served?  What do you expect from a radio station – any radio station?  Fifty percent of your tastes?  Eighty percent?  I would kill for a radio station that played twenty percent of my combined top ten albums and singles list from any calendar year since 1994.

KXT may be public radio, and it may not rely on advertising revenue for its operations, but the fact that we have noticed a change in its programming mix immediately after the completion of its pledge drive should set off bells and whistles. If the station is playing less than 100 percent of what self-proclaimed edgy music lovers want to hear, it is because that music mix wasn’t widely popular enough to generate financial support for the radio station. Or, the very people who are now rooting for KXT’s failure didn’t shell out money during the pledge drive back when the station did seem to play even more of what they thought it should play. Either way, the whole controversy has “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” feel. From where I’m standing, local music fans are getting exactly what they asked for.

[Ed note: Correction: It has been brought to our attention that Mr. Freedman has not reposted tweets from The_New_KXT feed, though he has used the #kxtfail hash tag. We regret the error.]

26 comments on “KXT Haters: Be Careful What You Wish For – Doesn’t KXT play the exact kind of music that many local music fans listen to?

  1. As a founding member (yeah, that means donor), I’m definitely not rooting for KXT to fail, and I don’t think the people using the #kxtfail hashtag are rooting for it to fail. They are simply pointing out moments of “fail,” as the kids on the internets say these days. People don’t want KXT to go away… they want KXT to get better. And yeah, I’ve used the hashtag myself. I can’t stand Lenny Kravitz, sorry.

    As for what I’d like, I would love if KXT was a bit more like Seattle’s KEXP, another public radio station that has, in my humble opinion, the best show in American radio (John in the Morning). I’ve listened to KEXP online for years and donated occasionally (admittedly, less than I should).

  2. I second this article — I have sat idly by while this whole debacle went on, wondering what DFW would be like if there were no KXT. I have heard people bitch about KXT only playing local artists once an hour, forgetting that no other station is playing local music during the day. All the while I have the feeling that the criticism is coming from people like Pete and Preston, who might just feel left out.

    I haven’t heard from many (if any) local artists in this whole deal, perhaps because they realize how much they benefit from the station? I did see one tweet from Jonathan Tyler, who insinuated that it might not be a bad thing for KXT to grow it’s audience.

    DFW as a whole is so much better because of KXT, and the core truth is that no station is ever going to perfectly meet every listener’s need. If there was one out there, you would have never listened to KXT in the first place.

  3. Its not that KXT doesn’t support or play music from local folks, they always have. Its just that they are mixing it in with crap from the mid-90s like Sister Hazel, Sheryl Crow and even standard classics like Jimi Hendrix, which are available on 92.5 KZPS.

    The result is that KXT sounds less like a local station and more like Mix 102.9 or Jack FM…

    Its very disappointing. Especially to folks like myself who have been members since the very beginning.

    We simply just don’t want to hear Sarah Jaffe or The O’s followed by Blues Traveler or Eve 6. Its contradictory to the point. It makes people change the station.

  4. Oh and one more thing…

    No, its not bad to play artists people have heard of, but play deeper cuts that people may not know.

    When playing The Kinks, instead of playing “Lola”, play “Strangers”. People may not know it as well, but discovery is the true essence of KXT…

    Or at least it used to be.

  5. I’ll second this post. If a radio station in a major urban market could survive on nothing but deep cuts — nothing but the tunes that a relatively small contingent of bitter hipsters and local diehards thrive on — don’t you think someone would have done it by now?

    As it stands, to my ears, KXT has the widest playlist around. Sure, the occasional well-worn pop fave jolts me as much as the next bitter hipster — which is precisely why ‘narrowcasting’ was created in the ’80s. It was developed because researchers found it’s not so much the music that you love that keeps you tuned to a station — it’s the music that you hate that will make you change channels. So they developed programming that includes nothing but a narrow slice of favorites — only a certain range of country music, only pre-90s oldies, only r&b with no hip-hop, etc.

    You want that? You got it — everywhere else on the dial. You want to hear local bands, Texas bands, mixed in with a smart, wide-ranging assortment of indie rock, blues, alt-country , folk and, yes, pop hits, then there’s really nothing else currently in DFW that compares to KXT. Oh, and it’s worth pointing out: Even as supposedly ‘safe’ as KXT programming has become, it’s a non-profit. Meaning no commercial station is going to take even these risks with such a small, fickle, resentful — but deeply devoted — audience.

  6. I agree 100% with Mandy – KXT should pattern itself after KEXP. The deep cut suggestion was also good. KXT should not be playing songs readily heard on other stations in the market, which are virtually all mainstream. It seems to have (unfortunately) followed the programming trajectory of The Zone, which burst onto the scene in the late ’90s with a fresh and unique playlist, only to gradually erode into Edge Lite.

  7. There is no question that KXT isn’t what I was forgainst initially, but why can’t it play more music that I’m not wanting to be not played? SO FRUSTRATING! In conclusion, I’m leaning toward no, but with a yessy aftertaste.

  8. Wrong about KGSR. There’s an anti-KGSR Facebook group with over 1,100 members. They don’t like the recent programming choices that seem to follow exactly what KXT is doing. Probably both pay the same consultant to tell them that listeners want to hear Bon Jovi instead of Bon Iver.

  9. Re: KGSR. Search for “I want the old KGSR back…NOW!!!!!”. The comments mirror those with the #KXTfail tag.

  10. I’m sorry music nerds and elitist hipsters, but regular people don’t really want a radio station that plays _nothing_ but stuff they have never heard before. It’s tiring. It’s disconcerting. It’s hard to get into. Bringing it back home with something familiar while mixing in local favorites and obscure selections is more of a recipe for success to please the majority of KXT listeners. You guys expect too much from this station, no radio station is going to play 100% what you like all the time, and no station is ever going to be commercially viably by only playing obscure stuff. Public broadcasting relies on listener funding – vote with your dollars, and please, quit yer obnoxious bitchin’

  11. Just like commercial radio is reliant on having listeners to sell advertising, non-commercial stations need the listeners to support the station financially.

    KXT is still in a development phase where it must play familiar music to gain new listeners. There’s an old acronym in the radio industry about SPERM “Self Proclaimed Experts of Radio & Music”. These are the people who are complaining for the most part as the station is not living up to their expectations as it will never be what they want it to be.

    They are also the minority of the potential audience for the station. AAA as a format should be stealing listeners who’ve grown up from The Buzz, are too hip for Mix, want something more current oriented than Jack or KZPS.

    The comparison to KGSR in Austin is a good one to make expect for the fact that KGSR is a commercial outfit. The better comparison to what KXT is doing and wishes to duplicate is WXPN in Philadelphia. That station, owned by the University of Pennsylvania is the originator of the nationally distributed World Cafe program that airs on KXT. If you look at the playlist of WXPN you’ll see a similarity to the playlist http://www.yes.com/#WXPN with the exception of more Underground Hip-Hop and R&B where KXT has Texas music.

    When KXT finds its proper niche and the audience grows with it, it will have the ability to diversify its playlist as the music it is attempting to introduce to the market becomes will become familiar and able to retain the audience.

  12. i recently took a drive down to austin town myself. my pal and i had the dial and 91.7 starting out, and kind of used it for in between cds/refresher. as we moved into the southern turf, it was interesting to note that the same frequency, 91.7, is a coop station in austin. they have their programming divided into more genre specific blocks, or shows, or whatever you wanna call em. it was surprising to hear blackmetal on a public station during the daytime. surprising in a good way. im not a huge blackmetal fan, nor do i dislike it (forgainst it, to quote mr show, as done above). i just found it to be very refreshing. its obvious that a black metal show isnt going to appeal to everyone in a metroplex. thats why they give it its own hour block. then its someone else’s turn. i liked that format.

  13. Cheers to you, Christopher. Great article and my very thoughts as well. Having worked for and with KXT in the past, I can tell you that the very very tiny crew that makes up KXT work extremely hard to please their listeners, as well as almost continuously combing the world for the best music to play.

    Be thankful, my friends. And please keep in mind that it’s only been a tad over a year since the station launched. Good music will continue to get even better….

  14. The problem is the sudden influx of 80′s and 90′s music. When I hear Marcy Playground sing “Sex & Candy” two to three times a day, something is wrong. If I want to listen to that music I’ll put on JackFM.

  15. “I’m sorry music nerds and elitist hipsters, but regular people don’t really want a radio station that plays _nothing_ but stuff they have never heard before. It’s tiring. It’s disconcerting. It’s hard to get into.”

    I don’t think that’s the case. I think there are plenty of radio stations that play Santana and Lenny Kravitz and there are plenty of boring stations for “regular people.” I know there is enough material in Texas to keep everyone happy. Indie or local radio is about new listening experiences and getting turned on to new stuff. Old stuff is great, I just wish KXT wasn’t the showcase for it. I can’t remember the last time I tuned in and heard a local artist. I’ve given up. I’ll have to go back to my ipod.

    KXT has my lack of support and a bit of dissapointment.

  16. “Bitter hipsters”. Name calling is fun, isn’t it?
    What we ask, whatever you call us, is that KXT not play, as noted several times above, Marcy Playground, Missing Persons and other, yes, crap, that haunted the airwaves on other stations. Play GOOD (and it’s not that hard to figure out what that is) old stuff that hasn’t been played to death, “deep cuts” from familiar artists and new music, local and otherwise. That’s not “bitterness”, it’s a desire for something truly different. Dallas radio sucked hard before KXT, and KXT has certainly improved it. It needs to be better, though, and not take the road of others stations which made Dallas radio suck.

  17. Aren’t “Editor’s Notes” usually placed at the top of an article when appearing online?

  18. Sure I would love to hear more independent music on KXT. I would love a lot of things. But let’s face it, KXT has to stay on the air and they have to compromise to compete. Besides, what are you going to turn to? One of the Clear Channel stations? Give me a local alternative to KXT in Dallas? There’s not one and that’s the truth. When all is said and done KXT is still the best radio station in Dallas.

    Let’s quit complaining, donate to KXT to keep it going and thank our lucky stars that we have it.

  19. Two things are important to remember — KCRW and KEXP gets lots of their funding from universities, and they have been around a long time. Stations with solid funding can stretch out a whole lot, and I have no doubt that KXT will after a few years.

    Give KXT some time — I have been listening since day one down here in San Antonio and like it all — we have no station like this, even in our large market.

    Remember — the way you give KXT time is by pledging.

  20. The point so many people who want KXT to play a “well rounded” format seem to forget is that format is all over the commercial dial. We don’t need more of it. What we need, and what we almost had was one tiny, edgy station we PAID for that played music we can’t hear anywhere else.
    Music snobs? Hardly. Just bored, wanting variety, excitement and we aren’t getting what we paid for.
    If you want to pay for Dave Matthews and Collective Soul, send Jack FM a check.
    From now on, my contributing memvership is back to KERA.