Billie Eilish

Billie Eilish is one of the few breakout artists on alternative radio.

In 2013, my former colleague Shea Conner wrote a column “What’s Buzz-worthy?” It lamented the state of alternative radio, taken over by alt-pop stars like Lorde and the alt-rock station 96.5 The Buzz falling to 12th place.

“Electronic music has made a huge splash in the alternative genre in recent years ... But these tunes feel less like striving creations and more like blatant, trendy grabs at the Top 40 rings,” he wrote.

Six years later, rock music is even more of a relic on alternative radio, while electronic music still rules the airwaves of 96.5 The Buzz, the area’s sole alternative station. But the importance of those airwaves seems to matter less as years pass.

The latest Neilsen Audio Ratings show The Buzz has dropped to 19th place in Kansas City, eclipsed by newer competitor 105.1 The X and a number of classic rock and hits, urban and country stations. It’s changed its former “Listen Longer” campaign, which encouraged the audience to continuously tune in to potentially save the station, to “Still Here,” which could either be a declaration of its endurance or admission that the end of days for the station are soon ahead.

Like most remaining alternative stations, The Buzz’s foundation is built on its rock-centric salad days, with constant spins of Weezer and Nirvana, as well as 2000s breakouts like The White Stripes and Fall Out Boy (the latter of which it shunned for years, until nostalgia deemed it cool again). There are fewer breakout stars, with the biggest being Billie Eilish (who has been swallowed up by Top 40 radio), The 1975 and one-hitters like Shaed and Matt Maeson. For almost of its newer artists, the traditional guitar-bass-drums setup attached to those ’90s alt-rock memories is absent.

Its competitor, 105.1 The X, seemed to realize this and correct its course. It recently shifted from being x105.1, a carbon copy of The Buzz, to “rockternative,” basically a hybrid of 98.9 The Rock’s sludgy post-grunge rock like Godsmack, Skillet and Shinedown with alt-rock bands like Weezer, Cage The Elephant and Highly Suspect.

In either case, both stations lean heavy on nostalgia from 10 to 20 years ago. While hip-hop and Top 40 pop continue to transform and deliver new artists to the zeitgeist, mainstream rock music can’t. This is not to say there aren’t loads of great alt-rock artists releasing music every week, they just don’t get the consideration that the 10,000th spin of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Dani California” receives.

Alt-rock rose to prominence in the ’90s because grunge and punk music provided an alternative to hair metal and mall pop. It was an exciting combination of angst and catchy hooks. It’s had its bursts of relevance, from rap-rock in the 2000s to the folk music boom of the 2010s, but it’s largely remained stagnant since Shea wrote that last column.

In the streaming age, the relevance of radio as a whole can be argued. But alternative radio specifically seems to be fading faster than most, which is sad, considering how much The Buzz focuses on local shows and acts. But the sad truth is, if you can’t evolve, you die.

— Andrew Gaug | St. Joe Live

Andrew Gaug can be reached at

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