Friday, October 22, 2010

Media: The Rim-Shotter

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Part of the bargain of private broadcasting is putting up with commercials. In an era in which the "spot load" on some stations has exceeded 20 minutes per hour (compared with a maximum in the industry of 18 minutes per hour that seemed to exist for years), though, the quest for a station with more programming and fewer commercials can be enticing. In the days before satellite radio and portable digital media devices, one way to satisfy this quest was to listen to "rim shot" radio stations, or weak stations from outside the market whose signals just barely enter a metropolitan market.

Sometime in high school while living in the Seattle area (and after the demise of i107.7), I decided to carefully go through the dial on a great receiver my parents had in the living room and discovered KISM 92.9 FM from Bellingham, Washington. At the time, it had an Adult Album Alternative format, which for some reason had yet to appeal to me on "the Mountain" (KMTT 103.7 FM) but really impressed me on KISM, serving as my introduction to artists like the Crash Test Dummies and Suzanne Vega. The most compelling attraction, though, was that it played fewer commercials, being in a smaller market. The reduced spot load was the main reason that one radio spent a lot of time on KISM--though it was the only radio in the house that could get that signal clearly (and in stereo). In fact, I would keep tuning in KISM when I returned to Seattle until it re-formatted to Classic Rock in 1999.

Having found one "rim shot" station, I later spent time scanning the dial for other stations that receiver could pull in. "Mix 96 FM" (KXXO 96.1 from Olympia, Washington) turned out to be my preferred light rock station when I was in heartache, both for a larger playlist (I can't think of a Seattle station that played Roxette's "Almost Unreal") and a much lower spot load than local adult contemporary stations. I also sampled another Bellingham station, "the soft rock KAFE" (104.3 FM, since moved to 104.1 FM) when I tired of local radio.

It took me years in the San Francisco Bay Area before I found a "rim shot" station. One evening while riding Caltrain back to Palo Alto from San Francisco, I was scanning the dial and discovered KKIQ 101.7 FM, out of Livermore and Pleasanton. Running a hot adult contemporary format, it didn't have a strong signal on the peninsula, but once more, its reduced spot load relative to the San Francisco and San Jose stations caused it to displace KEZR as my preferred music station for quite some time.

When I moved to Boston, it took much less time for me to find the rim-shotters. Once I got used to "Mix 98-5" (WBMX 98.5 FM, now 104.1 FM), WBOS (92.9 FM, now reformatted), and "Magic 108" (WXKS-FM at 107.9 FM), I very rapidly discovered that WXLO, a hot adult contemporary station out of Worcester, Massachusetts at 104.5 FM, had a smaller spot load, and made it my preferred station. I also spent time listening to WHEB 100.3 FM out of Portsmouth, New Hampshire when it had a Top-40 format, and of course the most significant rim-shotter of all in Boston continues to this day to be "The River" 92.5 FM, WXRV out of Andover, Massachusetts (formerly Haverhill, Massachusetts).

In the age of digital music, though, I haven't bothered to find the "rim shot" stations around Toronto. When one can listen to "The River" (WXRV), Alice (KLLC), or any number of preferred stations off the Internet, never mind listening to one's own collection of MP3's with no spot load at all, there's not a lot of incentive to scan the dial.

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