On Feb. 29, 2009, the “best of the ’80s” station 102.9 The Point changed its format to X1029, Jacksonville’s New Rock Alternative. With the celebrated new format, the station began an assault on then-popular station WPLA, Planet Radio 107.3 FM. Between songs, X1029 would play adverts boasting comparisons between the stations, mainly how many commercials each played. (“Last hour Planet Radio played 20 commercials. The new X1029 played three,” for example.) The differences were hard to miss, even without pointing them out so bluntly. X1029 would also poke at Planet Radio’s use of older bands and songs, such as Nirvana, while X1029 brought all new music to the airwaves of Jacksonville. It was a beautiful time because we were finally getting the kind of music we deserved.
It didn’t take long for Planet Radio to give up the fight and switch formats to classic rock. X1029 emerged as the victor and all was well. We were introduced to a variety of new songs and bands.
Even with the little time that’s passed since then, the way we listen to music has evolved dramatically. We barely need radio stations with the incorporation of Bluetooth in new-model cars, and the fact everyone has a smartphone with access to music apps like Spotify and Pandora where listeners can, more or less, choose the music they want to hear. With such options, you’d think a radio station like X1029 would be fighting with the same vigor they brought to the table when they were determined to bring down Planet Radio. Despite this, they’ve become what they sought to replace. Not only do they now play commercials much more frequently than they did back when they could boast two to five spots an hour, they’ve regressed into playing fewer new and emerging songs and lowered themselves into the routine of playing yesterday’s favorites.
For the sake of specifics, I’ll use the 5 o’clock hour on Friday, June 30 as an example. Not everyone in the workforce gets to listen to music, much less the radio, during the workday. During the 5 o’clock hour, people head home after a day of presumably music-less despair. They turn to the radio because—who knows?—maybe they want someone else to decide what they should listen to rather than selecting something for themselves on their smartphone. Sometimes listeners use this opportunity to discover music they may not have found otherwise. Part of what allows music stations to survive likely stems from this effort. I’ll use their website’s Last Song Played list as a reference to X1029’s music selection for the time of day you’re most likely going to hear what they’ve got to offer.
At 5 o’clock on the dot, they played Sublime’s “Doin’ Time” from their 1997 self-titled album. Then they followed it with:
- Bleachers, “Don’t Take the Money” (2017)
- Fall Out Boy, “Light ’Em Up” (2013)
- Portugal, The Man, “Feel It Still” (2017)
- Switchfoot, “Meant to Live” (2003)
- Blink 182, “Bored to Death” (2017)
- Blind Melon, “No Rain” (1992!)
- Paramore, “Hard Times” (2017)
- Imagine Dragons, “Demons” (2012)
- Judah and the Lion, “Take It All Back” (2017)
- Awolnation, “Sail” (2013)
- Walk the Moon, “Shut Up and Dance” (2014)
- The Offspring, “The Kids Aren’t Alright” (1998)
- Weezer, “Island in the Sun” (2001)
- Vance Joy, “Riptide” (2013)
Five out of 15 songs are from the last two years. Five of the songs are more than 10 years old. This is one of the better examples. On June 28, for example, in the 7 o’clock hour, we heard Red Hot Chili Pepper’s “Californication” (’99) at 7:21 according to the website and “Under the Bridge” (’92) just 23 minutes later.
I recently asked the station via its Facebook page why it was still playing songs from Gorillaz’s 2001 debut album (Clint Eastwood, a song you’ll hear played a few times throughout the day) when the band has just released a new album, Humanz. The answer? The new album hasn’t been as big a hit as Clint Eastwood. Never mind that their self-titled debut has a Metascore of 71 and Humanz has a 77 (metacritic.com/music/gorillaz), isn’t it up to the radio stations to choose hits? If Humanz has been moderately well reviewed and hasn’t been played enough, it’s fair to suggest the stations in charge of bringing new music to light haven’t been doing their job.
Back to Friday’s 5 o’clock playlist. You have 15 songs. The average radio song is three minutes. I won’t get into every song and add up how long each one is. Nobody has time for that. So we’ll say three minutes. That’s 45 minutes of music, leaving 15 minutes for commercials and adverts like “jobs you shouldn’t do stoned” and “dead celebrity tweets,” short excerpts of comedy (for lack of a better word) that serve no purpose other than to remind us what kinds of children are running this operation. The average radio station commercial is 30 seconds, which means, on average, X1029 is playing 30 commercials every hour. Quite a long way to fall from no more than five.
X1029 doesn’t keep a backlog of songs played over the years, at least not ones available to the public, so there’s no way to compare what exactly they were playing back in 2009 when they won our hearts with a definitive anti-Planet Radio standard. I do recall always hearing new songs, and rarely any of them came on more than twice a day. Meanwhile, as of this writing, Harvey Danger’s “Flagpole Sitta” (1997) was played 25 times in the last 48 hours, according to the Last Songs Played search engine.
The question you may be asking is, “Why does it matter? Let ’em play whatever they want.” It’s true they can play whatever they want, but it’s important to remember they earned their place as the modern rock station under the guise they’d be different. And now that there’s no competition, they’ve lost the fury and passion for exciting new music that got them here in the first place. X1029 does have a special hour-long slot every weeknight at 9 p.m. dedicated specifically to new music. That’s a great step in the right direction, and opens our ears to some actual new music. Thanks for the one-hour out of your day, guys. But there are occasional problems with that timeslot, too; last Friday night, they couldn’t even make it to 10 o’clock before playing 311’s “Long Song” from 2004.
One of the more hilarious offenses that adds to this is when they beg you to download their app so you can listen from anywhere, as though someone with access to music apps would choose to listen to 30 commercials and a couple of songs every hour. Get Pandora—at least you’ll have the option to skip a song you don’t like. You’ll never go back to your X again.
Nickless is a freelance copywriter based on Amelia Island. Having heard enough “new rock,” he now has a Spotify Premium Membership.