88nine, RadioMilwaukee, started broadcasting in its new format this week. I have to wonder if Milwaukee's ready for two independent radio stations.
I'm a huge fan of WMSE, the city's alternative station for many years. They've hooked me on Americana, Latino, rockabilly, and soul, and furthered my fondness for blues, old rock, and pop of many flavors. I swear by the Chicken Shack and Way Back Home.
That said, WMSE often isn't terribly radio-friendly. Their willingness to push boundaries and expectations often means they'll play stuff that is a turn-off to someone who wants to listen to "good music" and doesn't want to hear "Hotel California" for the ten thousandth time -- be it screechy Indian pop, screaming hardcore metal, broken-voiced primative folk music, or painfully unmelodic and atonal free jazz. (WMSE has taught me to hate free jazz.)
In the evenings, Milwaukee's NPR affiliate, 89.7 WUWM, also offers music in a similar vein of "diverse but appoachable pop", but it's often rather low key and... well... boring. Saturday at the Cafe used to drive me nuts. I wanted to call them up and yell at them: "It's SATURDAY!! It's the best time of the week! It's a happy time! It's beautiful and sunny outside! PLAY SOMETHING PEPPY!!!" The syndicated World Cafe plays good music but frequently diverges into 15-20 minute interviews which get very annoying if you just want some background music. So while I appreciate WUWM, I've never fallen in love with it as I have WMSE.
This new station seems to be pushing to grab those listeners who like diversity but aren't always up for WMSE's often challenging playlists, and want a bit more zing than WUWM is willing to offer. In that, they sound much like Philadelphia's 88.5 WXPN, creators of the World Cafe. It's a format that I've long hoped would find commercial success, but I'll accept this instead.
So far, I don't think WMSE and RadioMilwaukee are really in direct competition with each other; WMSE's format focuses more on intense exploration of various genres, whereas this new station seems more about maintaining a relatively even keel, touching on a bit of this, a bit of that. It suits people who might like reggae or hip hop, but don't want to sit through three solid hours of it. They're different approaches. I just hope that it will expand the base of member-supported listeners, rather than drawing away WMSE's base.
I wonder how long Milwaukee can support two independent radio stations. Few cities are so lucky. Enjoy it while it lasts, folks.