Philly Loses Longtime Metal Radio Show “Rockers”

Posted by on August 21, 2009

[myspace]http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoid=59927590[/myspace]August 7 was a typical show for “Rockers,” the two-hour metal program that’s been a Friday night fixture in Philadelphia radio for the past 21 years. With the Mayhem Fest in town earlier that day, the show was largely dedicated to the bands playing it, with music from Slayer, Behemoth, and Whitechapel mixing in with staple bands like Lamb of God. However, unbeknownst to its listeners and show hosts Spike and Gordon, it was to be the last airing, as WYSP would cancel the show the following week. 

Started in 1988 at rival rock station WMMR by Ray Koob, the show was originally called “For Rockers Only,” an homage to a psychedelic rock feature on the station called “For Headphones Only.” The show outlasted hair metal, grunge and a cancellation at WMMR, moving over to WYSP in the ‘90s. Over the years, the show was the first in Philadelphia to feature many bands that would go on to mainstream success, including Alice In Chains, Rage Against the Machine, System of a Down, Tool, Korn, Static-X, and Mastodon. While Philadelphia has always been a rock town, “Rockers” helped cement the city’s reputation as a must-stop for metal bands. Lamb of God filmed their “Killadelphia” DVD in Philly, and the show’s influence can be seen as recently as Job for a Cowboy’s “Unfurling A Darkened Gospel” video, which begins with the band announcing a video shoot during an episode.

The writing has been on the wall for almost a year, since WYSP switched formats from active rock (aka Disturbed, Nickelback, Godsmack) to what they term “The Rock You Grew Up With” (aka Nirvana, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin). Considering the station was hardly playing any new music at all, it didn’t make a ton of sense that their only new music show concentrated on stuff much heavier than anything they would play in normal rotation. Yet the show was on Fridays at Midnight, a time when the 25-54 demographic that WYSP is chasing is asleep, but the metal audience was aware of. And that small two-hour window was the only commercial place in Philadelphia that metal could be heard, making it one of the most important metal specialty shows in the country, especially with the absence of metal specialty shows in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston.

“The decision to cancel Rockers was not an easy one,” WYSP program director Jeff Sottolano told Metal Insider. “Honestly, there hasn’t been a ratings or revenue justification for Rockers for as long as I’ve been at the station (3 years). That would be enough to get most specialty programs cancelled. However, it definitely served an audience, not huge, but not small, and certainly loyal and the program’s history wasn’t lost on us. When the station made the strategic decision to become ‘The Rock You Grew Up With’ and drop modern rock last August, we debated whether there was still a place for Rockers. A year later, there are still some misconceptions amongst some listeners about what kind of rock station we are as opposed to what we used to be. Rockers has more in common with the old ‘YSP than the new one we are building and we worried that it might be reinforcing some of those perceptions. It just wasn’t right for the radio station any longer. Maybe it will be again at some point in the future.“

So basically, it’s a business decision that makes sense to the higher-ups at WYSP, which is understandable – from a business standpoint. But looking at the bigger picture, it’s another reason for people to tune out. Between all of the other choices and ways for people to hear new music, radio’s share is continuing to shrink, especially among younger generations. By its definition, a metal show attracts a younger audience. For 21 years, the show brought in an audience that wouldn’t necessarily normally listen to WYSP, but might have stuck around. And just by its existence, “Rockers” filled a void in Philadelphia for exposing metal to a mainstream audience.

The reason I’m rambling about this is that I was a part of “Rockers.” As an intern for the show in the ‘90s, I made coffee for King Diamond, got cheesesteaks on South Street with Rage Against the Machine, and fielded crank calls from Howard Stern wack-packer Captain Janks. It wasn’t my only exposure to metal by a long shot, but it was definitely my earliest look at the business of the music industry on a large scale. Metal definitely won’t die in Philly. The many college stations in the Philly area will keep championing it, and the fans that grew up listening to “Rockers” will keep buying it and attending shows. But WYSP silencing its biggest means of exposure is disappointing, and will resonate among Philly metal fans for some time to come.

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Categorised in: Gloom And Doom, In Memoriam, Radio