Matt Pinfield on the Last Days of WRXP and the New Era of '120 Minutes': 'Rock Is Alive and Well'
Thursday marks the final broadcast of New York rock station WRXP 101.9, which burst onto the terrestrial radio scene three years ago with a bold plan to play a mix of arena-rock titans, indie bands on the rise and local talent and finally create a bonafide music community in the city that gave birth to The Ramones and Velvet Underground.
The strategy was working. Since 2008, RXP’s cume had grown to 2.3 million and in its last months, it reached a 3.6 share, making it the sixth largest station among men 18 to 49, according to RAMP (Radio and Music Pros). Boosted by a popular morning show hosted by Matt Pinfield, a longtime radio talent, MTV VJ and part-time A&R man who had signed Coheed and Cambria while working at Columbia Records for five years, it had built a loyal following, not just of listeners, but of actors and musicians who came in to be interviewed. For Pinfield, it was the dream job: an outlet where he could interview Liam Gallagher or the Decemberists one day and Michael C. Hall the next.
But with Merlin Media (owned by former Tribune Company CEO Randy Michaels, who was ousted amid scandal in 2010) buying three of Emmis Communications’ frequencies (including Chicago’s WLUP and WKQX), RXP is expected to undergo a transitional period before switching over to a news and talk format.
Critics are citing the ill-fated Free-FM model, CBS Radio’s two-year experiment that included New York’s WXRK (AKA K-Rock) and ended abruptly in 2008 with Los Angeles' KLSX as the last holdout of the all-talk format. RXP devotees, meanwhile, have already started a “Save Rock 101.9” Facebook page. Among the comments on its wall: “I don't listen to the radio much anymore, 92.3 sucks ass, 95.5 sucks ass too, 104.3 is ok, 105.5 is good when it comes in. 101.9 always has something that I know & love! LONG LIVE ROCK & ROLL!”
The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Pinfield on the eve of his farewell show about RXP’s three-year run and his return to 120 Minutes at the end of July. He also expressed his concern for Coheed and Cambria bassist Michael Todd, who was arrested for holding up a Massachusetts pharmacy and demanding Oxycontin earlier this week. Also in recovery, says Pinfield: “I will be there for him.”
The Hollywood Reporter: WXRP didn’t have all that much time to find its sea legs, was the format change terrestrial radio’s take on “last hired, first fired?”
Matt Pinfield: We all understand that it's part of the radio business and you just don't know. It didn't really have anything to do with the success of the station. In fact, the ratings were going up and up and the passion of the fans was beyond.
THR: What was RXP’s musical mission statement?
Pinfield: To be what classic FM was. Our audience loved rock from the eighties, nineties and newer stuff, along with the great classics like Bowie. We weren't crazy out-there; There was a method to what did. We played great music and also had a very strong emphasis on playing local and bubbling under bands. It was a great three years. I'm grateful for the time I had there. I got to do something very different, like play Love and The Gun Club on a rock radio station that’s commercial. Can you believe it?
THR: With the charts so heavy on urban and dance-influenced music right now, it seems rock is becoming increasingly marginalized. What do you think is happening to the genre?
Pinfield: I think the record companies are way off base and looking for the quickest fix to stay alive, which is pop, but rock is alive and well -- alternative rock, modern rock, classic rock… There will be the next Kurt Cobain, the next Axl Rose, Chris Cornell, Robert Smith… I think it's short-sighted not to invest in it.
People have been saying rock is dead since 19-f—king-62 when Elvis went into the army and when Bobby Rydell and Fabian were the only things people listened to. Then the Beatles came and blew them out of the water. People said guitar bands were dead and the Stones, the Who and the Kinks kicked them in the balls, so don't underestimate the power of rock and roll.
THR: But the fact is, many label A&R executives are simply not signing rock acts…
Pinfield: Yeah, and for every jerk-off who said, “Thank God, the big record companies are over…” F--k them. It’s leaving us with nothing but pop acts. Fortunately Merge Records, Sub Pop and Glassnote are all phenomenal and have great initiatives. But think of Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith, Soundgarden… the ones who needed three albums to actually get a hold of who they were. Do you think they'd exist today?
Liam Gallagher said to me a couple weeks ago. "People go, 'Well, rock may have to be a mix of this and that or a hybrid of 700 different things to be modern.' F--k that. I’m now listening to Justin Bieber because he actually plays his guitar."
THR: You signed Coheed and Cambria to Columbia, what do you make of Michael Todd's recent arrest?
Pinfield: They’re like my brothers. I love Mike so much. The news was heartbreaking. He looked fantastic onstage in Jones Beach [a few days earlier], but there’s no rhyme or reason to addiction. I think prescription drugs are the most evil thing in the world. I’ve seen Oxycontin kill people and destroy lives. I’ve watched people kick from it and it's one of the most devastating things ever. He’ll have to deal with the consequences, but if he calls me to talk any day of the week, I will be there. He's my friend who's struggling. I'm heartbroken, shell-shocked, sad and sincerely worried. I don't know what got in his head.
THR: You’re returning to 120 minutes on July 30, what can we expect?
Pinfield: We’ll be on MTV2 one Saturday a month and have biweekly webisodes online [at 120.MTV2.com]. Most of it is shot at [Lower East Side club] Arlene’s Grocery, but we’ll have remotes. There are 12 guests in every show so it’s a lot more fast-paced, but we'll still have tons of videos, live performances and really cool interview segments [like with] Kings of Leon, Dangermouse, PJ Harvey, Sleigh Bells, Dave Grohl talking about having dinner with [Paul] McCartney, and making Nirvana’s Never Mind…
THR: 120 Minutes originally aired from 1986 to 2000 and then moved to MTV2 until 2003. Why resurrect it now?
Pinfield: People say to me, “There's so much information now, how can 120 be viable?” Remember that every kid and rock star used to stick a tape into their VCR because they couldn’t stay up late or they’d have to lie to their parents. Someone like Jack White taped the show because there was no where else to go. Today, it's even more of a needle in a haystack. People don't have the time to search 150 sites for one opinion, so I’ll give them the info they need to know.
THR: Are you looking to keep a toe in radio?
Pinfield: I think it's time for me to do a syndicated radio show [during] afternoons or nights. Great actors and actresses, rock stars, the coolest writers, every one of them will come on the show. But I'm open to ideas, even if that means middays or mornings again. I loved my three years at RXP and I wish Merlin the best, but New York City needs a rock station and I'm hopeful someone else will take the shot. When they do, I'll be there!