With the Current's ratings reportedly 'soaring,' what does that mean for Minnesota music?

The Current's program manager Jim McGuinn

The Current's program manager Jim McGuinn

Though this won't come as a surprise to anyone who's seen a Current-sponsored show sell out in a heartflutter or watched them dominate the "indie" music scene in the Twin Cities, a recent report has shown that the station is continuing to tighten its grip on the radio market. It can be hard to get a big-picture look at a trend like this, but David Brauer over at MinnPost did just that today when he compiled a list of reasons for the Current's "soaring" ratings, which found them passing their more adult-contemporary-heavy commercial competitors Cities 97.

[jump] Perhaps the most fascinating part of Brauer's piece is that he delves into the nitty-gritty details of how the station selects its playlist, which should be especially illuminating for those who continue to criticize the Current for being the alt version of a Top 40 station. In actuality, the playlist is shifting on a weekly basis and the staff are still experimenting with the right balance of repetition vs. mixology, which is something that has become obvious to us "musicheads" (as program manager Jim McGuinn calls them) who still listen and interact with the station even when an undesirable "alt hit" or two are in heavy rotation.

That continuous shifting can be heard in features like the Current's "CD of the Week," in which the staff selects one new album each week to spin heavily and review on air. Don't like the Eddie Vedder ukulele album they're playing the hell out of one week? By the time you think to tune it again, it'll be replaced by that magnificent Buddy Holly tribute record.

But what does this mean for the Twin Cities music community? It's been a while since the Current has crowned a new Mumford & Sons-level darling and since we've seen the full swing of the Current Effect as it hypes up one particular artist. But what we have seen is the station recommitting its effort to build up the local music community, especially with the development of its 24-hour streaming Minnesota music station the Local Current, and diversifying where they choose to cast their spotlight. It's a trend that isn't mentioned in Brauer's piece, but one worth noting: In addition to hyping up local heavyweights like Atmosphere, Tapes 'n Tapes, and the Jayhawks, the station will toss less recognizable names like Brian Just Band, Night Moves, or Joey Ryan and the Inks into the rotation to see how listeners respond. Just ask Jeremy Messersmith, Dessa, or Chris Koza of Rogue Valley, all of whom have risen to local omnipresence arguably as a direct result of the station's support. And though some alarmists feared that the development of the Local Current feed would quarantine Minnesota music into a separate playlist saved for internet-only exposure, it's actually had the opposite effect. When I spoke to McGuinn lately, he mentioned several bands that he had discovered through his work with the Local Current stream, and it seems that as the DJs are delving deeper into the music being created in our own backyards to fill the Local Current stream, that work is spilling over into their regular on-air broadcasts. 

Is the mix perfect? No, of course not. And is every single genre of music being represented?No again -- there are only so many curveballs they can throw in while maintaining their overall aesthetic. But the important thing is that the station has realized that with great power comes great responsibility, and that realization is as apparent in the ever-evolving playlist as it is in the fact that you can run into DJs like Barb Abney or David Campbell prowling the clubs and exploring the underbelly of the scene. If you feel like they've overlooked a band in town, maybe try letting them know -- they're listening, and it shows.


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