For years now, you've been more likely to hear Axl Rose sing in tune than to catch a Cleveland band in rotation on a major radio station. With the increased centralization of the radio industry in the hands of a trio of major broadcasting companies, overhead has jumped -- at the same time as playlists have shrunk to provide more time for commercials. As a result, most stations avoid locals for financial reasons; they want to stick with the hits from proven big-name acts or new acts that come with big-money major label backing. There's token airtime in once-a-week local shows and occasional spins during non-peak hours. It's the radio equivalent of sitting at the kids' table at Thanksgiving.
But Cleveland's music scene is its healthiest in years, thanks to the emergence of a handful of major-label groups, such as Mushroomhead, Switched, and Chimaira -- along with a number of increasingly popular unsigned bands, such as the Bedroom Allstars and Jaded Era. This spring, 92.3 FM Xtreme Radio took the lead in supporting Cleveland's own by placing a pair of homegrown acts in rotation, reviving the local-leaning Metal Show, and giving regional bands an amount of play that's virtually unprecedented outside college radio.
"We want to be the kind of station that steps out and takes a chance on good local music," says Nardboy, Xtreme's assistant program director. "Plus, there are too many stations that are voice-tracked out of market, so the jock on the air has no idea what even goes on in Cleveland. This is just another way for us to show that we are live, we are local, and we care about local music."
So do Xtreme Radio listeners, if the growing success of the locals getting airtime is any indicator. "Reflection," a single by the unsigned hard-rock band Gatlin, was introduced in rotation in mid-June. The song has since broken into the station's Top 10 at 10 daily request show a number of times, peaking at No. 8 and beating out big names such as Marilyn Manson and Adema. The support came about when the station was deluged with requests for Gatlin songs earlier in the year. Xtreme Radio added the band to its daily "Cage Match" contest, in which two artists are pitted against one another, with listeners calling in votes for their favorite. Gatlin won for five consecutive nights over national acts, earning "retired" status in the station's Hall of Fame -- the first local band ever to earn the honor.
"Once the labels heard about the rotation starting on June 15, they got excited," says Neil Sheehan, head of Cleveland's Hardcore Marketing promotions company, which manages Gatlin. "Since they charted in the top 10, we've had two of the labels that were interested get even more interested."
Fellow hard-rockers No Blindfold have taken a similar path to the airwaves. Shortly after the band's "Good Morning" won three consecutive Cage Match battles in April, the song was earmarked for rotation.
"To our surprise, it spiked a lot of attention from the major labels," says Jamie Ballachino, who handles vocals and electronics for the band. "It seems like every single label has gotten in touch with us since 92.3 put us into rotation. Our CD sales in stores skyrocketed. Our shows are becoming more and more packed with new fans."
"I think Xtreme's decision to play local music is a great thing," says Chris Akin, co-host of The Metal Show, a Sunday-night program of local and national music that began on WMMS and was revived on Xtreme Radio in June. "It proves that on a basic level, Kim Monroe [program director] and the programming staff listen to the music being offered, instead of simply adding songs in rotation because some corporate suit's research numbers say it should be played."
This means the playing field is finally starting to be leveled for the locals, a move that bodes well for Cleveland's strong crop of up-and-coming bands.
"People want to hear what kind of music is coming out of their town," Nardboy says. "People want to be part of the 'next big thing,' and you never know, one of these bands could be that."