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When Great Listening Happens By Accident posted on March 5th, 2015

By Sean Ross (@RossOnRadio)

The best part about radio’s infinite dial is that there are more than 100,000 choices. The worst is that you pretty much still have to know what you want. I try to provide audio concierge services for Ross On Radio readers, but I could always use one myself. Which European top 40 will have the great song I can know about six months before the U.S., and which will just be playing “I’m Not the Only One”? Which small-market station will be transporting, and which one will be syndicated?

My radio tourism has always benefitted from those aggregators who show you a lot of choices. allows me to toggle around most of any market’s radio dial, often with “now playing” information. once had a feature that showed “now playing” information from dozens of stations in the same genre that you were listening to.

That feature is gone, but there’s still predictive search on TuneIn’s radio app. That’s how I came across CKFU Fort St. John, B.C. I was preparing for a trip to Toronto and typed in the calls of top 40 CKFM (Virgin Radio). After typing in three characters, I got “Moose FM,” one of a number of similarly branded (but not identically programmed) Canadian stations.

Moose FM was billed as “Energetic Country.” I would always want to listen to a station that played energetic country, but the name itself seemed a little awkward. After some listening, it became clear that Fort St. John was “the Energetic City.” And thus Moose FM became the perfect local station – one that an outsider needs at least 20 minutes to understand.

Last night, I started using the predictive search to find more stations I didn’t know. I was looking for KVIL Dallas. Here’s where I ended up next:

KVIK Decorah, Iowa – It’s Classic Hits in Northeast Iowa. When I came across it, it was playing “All Fired Up,” the long lost Pat Benatar single that marked the end of her hit streak. It was followed by the country-rock opus “The Road Goes On Forever” by Joe Ely. “Chevy Van” by Sammy Johns was in there, too. So was “Fred Bear,” Ted Nugent’s eight-minute hunting tribute, which led to PM driver Pete Wennes talking about his first bow and arrow. Like much of the small-town radio I come across, “The Viking” was hosted, which makes it considerably more live-and-local than many large-market outlets.

XHROO (95.3 Kiss FM) Cheturnal, QR, Mexico – Bilingual CHR from the Yucatan Peninsula that I found while searching XHRM San Diego. Seemingly unhosted in morning drive (as was much of Mexican radio, including large markets, even before the rise of jockless radio in the U.S.). But I heard “Teacher” by Nick Jonas, not yet a U.S. single, as well as a Spanish-language reggaeton song (“El Taxi” by Osmani Garcia) that interpolates “Murder She Wrote.” One bilingual stager promised an “international network with one name, Kiss FM.” But it was the lack of resemblance to other stations that I appreciated. It did give me the idea to search KIIS Los Angeles, though, leading to my next stop.

KIIC (Thunder Country) Albia, Iowa — “From the corn crushers to the pontoons, this is corn country,” said one of the good-sounding stagers on this enjoyable classic country outlet, just ahead of “Slide Off Your Satin Sheets” by Johnny Paycheck. As with KVIK, there were funeral announcements on this station. There was also agricultural news in morning drive, including a controversy over antibiotics for cattle and their effects on humans. Well-produced imaging used to be the sign of a special small-market outlet. But throughout my dialing around, it was generally the norm on stations I encountered, thus closing the gap on those large-market stations that are mostly stagers and music.

WUSM (Southern Miss Radio) Hattiesburg, Miss. – By searching for urban WUSL (Power 99) Philadelphia, I found Americana/roots music radio from the University of Southern Mississippi. “The cure for bad music,” declared one stager, before adding, “We can’t do anything about that smell, though.” Within a few minutes, WUSM had gone from “Don’t Cross the River” by America to Wilson Pickett to the side project from the Avett Brothers’ Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield. During a half-hour of listening, I had found at least three songs to purchase. Then I started to type WKSC (Kiss FM) Chicago.

WKSR (Kix 106.7) Pulaski, Tenn. – The obits were on the station home page. The morning man was also the GM/station manager/sports director. (The answer to “how can these small-market stations have more local talent than the big guys” was usually multiple jobs at a station or around town.) The music mix was yesterday-and-today country. It was here I came across Tim McGraw’s “Where the Green Grass Grows” for the second time in an hour. One of the interesting common threads of the small-market radio I came across was financial as a category — not just banks but financial planners and, here, the loan company that would not just advance you your tax refund, but do your taxes for you.

WBEY (Bay Country 97.9) Pocomoke City, Md. – This came out of a search (which I knew would be fruitless) for the non-streaming WBEB (More FM) Philadelphia. If your level of radio geekery has already brought you this far, you probably already know Kemosabi Joe. He was the PD/morning man of WZYQ Frederick, Md., an airchecker’s favorite of the ‘70s and ‘80s. A decade ago, he programmed Ocean City’s The Wave, perhaps the deepest oldies FM to exist under the auspices of Clear Channel. This morning, he had just segued from his regular show to the 10 a.m. swap shop program, where the offerings included two .38 pistols and, because it was the Eastern Shore, the queries included crab-basket lids. Rockford, Ill. – I found it by starting to type WDJX Louisville. Just based on the sheer number of available stations, my chances of landing on a country outlet were obviously pretty good, but I didn’t end up at country WDJR Dothan, Ala., but this online urban AC. Like many similar stations, it was minimally produced, but the music mix ranged from Southern soul artist Marvin Sease to Silver Convention’s “Get Up and Boogie.”

Kill Rock Stars Radio – When you start to type KILT Houston, you get a disarming number of stations with the word “kill.” There was “Kill Radio” (“anti-corporate radio since 2000″), “Killer Radio” (“playing the killer hits”), and one of TuneIn’s own ventures into branded radio in conjunction with the Portland, Ore.-based indie-label home of Sleater-Kinney. Programming blocs included “Riot Grrrl Radio” and “Kill Indie Folk Stars”

WSHE Fort Lauderdale — The seed station here was the new AC WSHE Chicago. The station I found was online-only classic rock inspired by the Miami rocker of the ‘70s and ‘80s, one of several stations built around classic Miami call letters. And as my day’s worth of listening had begun, it ended with more classic rock that you don’t hear on the radio (“Thunder Island,” “Like It or Not” by Genesis).