Friday, October 8, 2010

Media: Remembering Alice@97.3

TORONTO, ONTARIO - I wasn't planning to start a series on music radio stations, but after last week's entry, I happened to scan the dial here in Toronto yesterday and settled on "Boom" 97.3 (CHBM) for a time. After a liner announcing "the greatest music of all time," they played Alanis Morissette's "Head Over Feet." I realize it's Canadian Content, but one of the greatest hits of all time? Not even in Canada. Still, it was amusing for me to hear "Head Over Feet" on the 97.3 frequency, as likely the first station I ever heard that song on was "Alice@97.3" in the Bay Area.

For most of the time I attended college in the San Francisco Bay Area of California, the music stations on the radio were not particularly impressive--they seemed remarkably unimaginative in format. Then, in my junior year, I started noticing more and more dormitory radios tuned to a station on 97.3 FM, KLLC. Launched in 1995, "Alice at 97.3" played many songs I had not heard before, some of them quite hip-hop leaning for my taste, but in any event far from the conservative formats of other music stations.

Little did I know, but the format had actually originated in Denver, Colorado in 1994 as "Alice@106" (later the branding changed to 105.9), KALC. According to Wikipedia, Frank Wood, Chuck Finney and Gregg Cassidy came up with the idea, which took the base of a "hot adult contemporary" format and added alternative music to it. The format has had various labels applied over the years, including "female-oriented modern adult contemporary," "modern contemporary hit radio," and perhaps my favorite, "warped adult contemporary" from founder Wood. The use of a female name was not a coincidence--the format emphasized female artists (a popular move in the mid-1990's) and more closely targeted a female demographic, resulting in later years in such community events as breast cancer research fund-raisers.

Whatever one calls it, "Alice" attracted student listeners, many of them hungry for more unusual songs. While the station played Alanis Morissette, Sarah McLachlan, Donna Lewis, Tori Amos, Erasure, Collective Soul, and Duncan Shiek, it also played what was then reasonably cutting-edge stuff like Dog's Eye View, Alisha's Attic, and Abra Moore. The iconic songs of "Alice," though, were downright weird. People could not stop talking about White Town's "Your Woman" or Geggy Tah's "Whoever You Are" (which eventually end up famous from a Mercedes-Benz commercial in 2001).

Over the years, "Alice" seemed to gradually drop some of its alternative bent, becoming much closer to the "hot adult contemporary" or its current official classification "Adult Top 40", while still courting the female audience. Still, when I was visiting the Bay Area in 2005, I heard them play "Your Woman" one lunchtime and knew that I was listening to the same "Alice" of my undergraduate years. i107.7 may have been the radio station of my youth, but "Alice@97.3" was the radio station of my college years.

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