What's your favorite radio station? More specifically: What's your favorite radio station to listen to while you're pumping gas? Admittedly, it's a pretty stupid question, because, as L.A. folks are undoubtedly aware, you don't have a choice. If you're at one of 171 stations in the broader metro area, you're getting something called Gas Station Radio. It's a mix of commercials, weather, news, traffic and, oh, some music every now and then, although nothing we've ever heard of.
After being subjected to it for the umpteenth time recently we got to wondering: What is Gas Station Radio? Does it have DJs? How do they pick their music? And where do they get off calling themselves a radio station?
And so, seeing as we're reporters, we did a little reporting. It turns out that the company is based in San Francisco, the collaboration of an advertising company, Brite Media Group, and a publishing company, Warner/ Chapell Music. Synergistic!
Launched about a year ago, Gas Station Radio can now be heard at a shit ton of locations around the country — 1,300, making it the biggest of these types of “stations.”
Ryan Gerisch, the company's advertising manager, says he understands that they're dealing with a captive audience. “We don't give the audience the luxury to change the channel,” he says. “They have to listen.”
Their music is almost entirely emerging, unsigned artists, and it's tailored to the demographics of the specific municipalities.
“We don't want to play classical music in an African neighborhood, or to a demographic of people who wouldn't be interested in classical music,” he goes on. “For instance, in Texas we would focus on a more country sound, in Detroit we would have a hip hop or rock sound and in L.A. we would have an indie sound.”
Lovers of classical in African neighborhoods, you're out of luck! But rather than simply annoying you, Gerisch insists that the point of Gas Station Radio (which can't be heard on the internet or traditional terrestrial stations) is to make for a better overall gas station “experience.” “Our goal is to create an entertainment vibe,” he adds, though we have no idea what an “entertainment vibe” is. Their research tells them that the average person spends six minutes at the pump, so that's about how long their programming cycles last.
Said programming comes courtesy of a DJ team comprising 63 people at the company's headquarters in San Francisco, who prerecord the snippets, which are then sent out to the gas stations via Internet feed. There are no announcers, however; Gerisch says about half of the programming is music, while another quarter is news, weather, traffic and sports updates. The final quarter is ads.
In any case, that music percentage seems a bit high to us, after listening to it recently at the Mobil on Sepulveda and Green Valley, right next to the Fox Hills Mall. The music they did play was fairly bland, though certainly not vile; one song sounded like an Edward Sharpe instrumental, while another reeked of '90s alt-rock, but again without vocals. (Gerisch says that's usually the case, and in general they don't play songs by name artists because they mostly only use small snippets.) All in all, something like elevator muzak, but aimed at a slightly younger demographic.
Overall, though, the annoying thing about Gas Station Radio is not the music they play, but rather the rest of their “content,” the annoying content chatter. We hung out there — as inconspicuously as one can at a gas station while not getting gas — for about 20 minutes but only heard those two songs.
Say what you will about Clear Channel. At least their outlets have more music than advertising, and at least you can change the station!