Wednesday, December 23, 2015

We Reviewed K-Rock's Top 92.3 Songs of 2003 and 2004

With end of year lists and holiday celebrations abound, it probably doesn't make much sense to post stuff about our recent nostalgia for K-Rock in New York. But we're gonna do it anyway.

At some point throughout the past year, we remembered that somewhere in our storage locker was a series of CDRs containing two broadcasts that took place in late December of 2003 and late December of 2004 on WXRK in NYC. The station was then "92.3 K-Rock," NYC's only modern rock station during the 2000s and the flagship of Howard Stern's morning show from 1985 until his move to Sirius in 2005.

After a few months without having a chance to dig into our archives, we finally located these CDRs back in November and decided to rip all of them to mp3. This eventually led to this past weekend when a 15+ hour drive from Louisville to Baltimore - and then to Brooklyn - seemed like a great opportunity to roll through the tapes.

The two shows were K-Rock's Top 92.3 songs of 2003 (probably broadcast on December 26, 2003) and their top 92.3 songs of 2004 (most likely aired on the same date in 2004).

2003's list is available here and does not include two of the songs aired:
- Yeah Yeah Yeah's "Date With The Night" - the .3 song (the song they played first which technically would be song #93, except they only played 3/10ths of it).
- 50 Cent's "In Da Club" won some type of "Best New Artist" award (which basically proves that they didn't alter their poll results) and was broadcast somewhere in the middle of the whole thing.

2004's list can be found here. At the time, we were only able to tape chunks of it. Disc 1 has #92.3-70. Disc 2 has #58-38. Disc 3 includes #15-1. The 2004 list presented a notable increase in variety from the previous year, although it was also the final Top 92.3 that the station ever aired. The DJs sarcastically mocked when Nickelback and Linkin Park placed, who they were probably sick of hearing by that point.

These two shows were examples of rare instances when the K-Rock DJs were asked to collaborate. Every 2 songs, there would be a talkover from a different DJ. Matt Pinfield appears frequently in the 2003 list, although he typically only announced music during a two-hour Sunday Night show called "The Buzz" and never throughout the week. By 2004, Jake Fogelnest from MTV's Squirt TV was present, although Cabbie - a loudmouth metalhead DJ and Desert Storm veteran - was absent.

We're pretty sure Cabbie is the bald dude in the center of the picture we posted with Incubus. We originally thought he was absent from the 2004 list for one of two reasons: #1, The show might have taken place during his suspension from WXRK, after he played album tracks from Pantera and Queens of the Stone Age out of rotation during an early morning shift around 4AM. Or #2, It might have happened while he was institutionalized after breaking holes in the walls of his apartment searching for cameras while convinced that Howard Stern had planted them for the purpose of shooting a secret reality show. However upon viewing his wikipedia page, we were reminded that December 2004 was shortly after he was imprisoned after admitting live on Howard's show that he hadn't paid taxes in several years.

For those who remember, K-Rock in 2003-2004 was probably not the best example of a rock station with a widely varied playlist.

Their "heavy" rotation was their top 20 new songs. They would play a couple of these every hour.

Their "medium" rotation almost never changed from 2001 until the station's final broadcast in April 2005. 80% of it consisted of a firm unchanging selection of diamond megasellers, a list that couldn't have been larger than 100 songs: The singles from The Black Album, Ten, Core, Dookie and Blood Sugar Sex Magik. "Santeria," "Wrong Way," "Song 2," "Come Out and Play," "Self Esteem," "All Apologies," and the Stern show's impromptu acoustic version of "Everlong" were probably their most overplayed '90s jams. After 1999, they went nuts over Limp Bizkit, Korn, Eminem, Californication and The Battle of Los Angeles. After 2002, they played Audioslave so much that we are still to this day convinced that they were undoubtedly the worst band of the 2000-2009 decade. They basically owe that distinction to "I Am The Highway" becoming one of the few mid-2000s songs to enter K-Rock's longevity canon. (As if it wasn't bad enough that two of our all time favorite bands joined forces to create excruciatingly painful music, but then we also had to be reminded about it EVERY DAY thanks to K-Rock.)

Their "light" rotation consisted of a handful of songs that used to be in their heavy rotation, hanging on for dear life prior to being indefinitely forced into exile. The Darkness's "Growing On Me" and Radiohead's "Go To Sleep" received a few spins but didn't stand a chance of inclusion in the longevity canon.

Their General Manager, Tom Chiusano, remained insistent on a foolish notion that their audience was uninterested in hearing music beyond this very small selection of songs. Their occasional attempts at bringing back older jams were always attached with some sort of purpose, like Julie Slater's 30 minute "Flashback Lunch" (or whatever it was called) that aired weekdays between 12 and 12:30. Or the occasional "'90s weekend" celebration, when they would finally dig out Better Than Ezra's "Good" for the first time in God knows how long. Beyond that, the sense of adventure within their music programming was practically non-existent. For example, when Christopher Reeves died in September 2004, Chris Booker was only allowed to play 30 seconds of Our Lady Peace's "Superman's Dead," even though it was a #1 hit on K-Rock during the summer of 1997 and was fondly remembered by the large majority of its listeners. Chiusano remained completely unaware that their audience desperately craved a deeper playlist that they never received.

This lack of variety also contributed to a painful decrease in the representation of female fronted bands. Once upon a time, it was very common to turn on K-Rock and hear songs like "Stupid Girl," "Lovefool" or "Criminal." But by the time 2003 had arrived, those days were long gone.

Our frustration - and our hope that something might change - were probably a large part of the reason why we became so obsessed with K-Rock between 2003 and 2005. This was also when we started REALLY getting into Howard Stern, and that definitely had a lot to do with our addiction, but most Stern fanatics turned off the radio at 11AM. We kept listening, even though we knew we were just gonna hear "Otherside" and "Like a Stone" for the billionth fucking time.

K-Rock in 2003-2004 was probably the only moment within our lifetime when we can recall becoming fanatical over a specific radio station and all the personalities and nuances that went along with it. (To be fair, we were obsessed with radio as a whole and were recently honored with the "music director" position at a college station 60 miles north of Manhattan.) The mannerisms of K-Rock's DJs were different than any station we've heard before or since. They were always very conversational and casual, probably due to instruction from their program director to take cues from Howard Stern's relaxed demeanor. We've never heard another commercial station quite like it.

After Stern made his decision to move to satellite, Chiusano panicked and the station flipped formats at least four times between 2005 and 2007. It changed from "modern rock" to "all things rock" to "talk radio (during the week) and rock on the weekends" to what it is now, a painfully boring and unadventurous pop station. (Z100 has always sounded more adventurous to us. Over the past 3 years, they would try out hits like "Treasure" or "#Beautiful" or "Boom Clap" while 92.3 just stuck to the tried and true Billboard Top 30 without deviation.)

We remember the last day they were officially called K-Rock. One of the last songs they played was "L'Via L'Viaquez" by The Mars Volta, so they were definitely making strong efforts to play more alt and less butt. But the efforts seemed all for naught. As Stern's show took place that morning, the station's staff held a meeting and the format flip was effective immediately. After the Stern show was over, their former top 20 new rock hits were replaced with Ozzy, GNR, Led Zeppelin and AC/DC, while the K-Rock longevity canon stayed intact. And that was the end of modern rock radio in NYC. It never returned quite in the same way. (Between 2009 and 2011, a fantastic NYC rock station briefly emerged with alt-leanings and adventurous playlists. The Cure, Lou Reed and Elastica were played alongside Megadeth and Primus. It was hugely appreciated, but it seemed like everyone knew it would never last. K-Rock had a following and their audience probably would have stuck with them, but unfortunately they decided to simply disappear.)

Not sure why this seems necessary, but based on what we can remember from those two broadcasts, here are our favorite K-Rock DJs, in order:

#1 Julie Slater
#2 Matt Pinfield
#3 Danni
So there's our top 3. Julie and Danni - K-Rock's only 2 female announcers - were always the station's most refreshing voices. Julie specifically owned the casual/cool demeanor, making her the perfect choice to segue out of Stern's show every morning. The super-knowledgeable and well spoken Pinfield misses out on the #1 slot because he wasn't on the air often enough.

#4 Cabbie
His strong personality frequently struck us as off putting, but he had a commanding presence that wasn't as common elsewhere on K-Rock. When he spoke, you always knew it was him.

#5 Booker
Booker immediately receives mad bonus points since he briefly hosted 120 Minutes between 1999 and 2000, including the episode where he interviewed The Get Up Kids. He also took our call and aired it, which was pretty cool. We didn't actually hear when it was aired, but we discussed Local H's cover of "Toxic" for about 30 seconds. About 15 minutes later, our friend called us and said "Dude, I turned on K-Rock and what do I hear??"

#6 Stuttering John
We can't say we were huge fans of his all-request 12PM-1PM slot (which was entirely pre-recorded during Howard Stern's show), but he earns points thanks to his placement in '90s Stern show history. We're pretty sure it was John who annoyed Billy Crystal enough that he eventually uttered his greatest catchphrase: "Alright, guys, it's not funny and it's not fun."

#7 Jake Fogelnest
"The Squirt TV dude" was an inspired choice for a new voice after Cabbie's departure. Jake's first K-Rock appearance was during a "Top 100 Worst Christmas Songs" special (either '03 or '04). Within a year, he left K-Rock to host a weekly countdown show on Sirius Radio's "Left of Center" channel.

#8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 (6-way tie) Dimos/Maze/Cane/Brad Maybe/Ben Harvey/Dead Air Dave
Dead Air Dave was probably the dude who was super sarcastic about Linkin Park, and Ben Harvey might have been the dude who said "Nickelback sucks" after being forced to play that horrible "I like your pants around your feet" song. So consider them slightly higher than the rest. But otherwise, these guys are pretty much interchangeable. Oh yeah, also High Pitch Erik had a man-crush on Cane. Besides that, we can't remember anything else about these guys. (In that 100th of a fraction of a possibility that anyone who worked at K-Rock between 2003-2005 reads this, just wanna say we're sorry and we love you.)

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