Contrary to popular belief, not all radio in Amherst is crap

By Acacia DiCiaccio

When moving to the western Massachusetts area for school, one may find themselves disappointed when turning on the radio. Compared to areas with reception from Boston or other large cities, out-in-the-sticks choices are slim.

So what is there to listen to other than a bunch of weird oldies stations? With a bit of searching, a couple of delectable choices are readily available.

WRSI – 93.9 FM

The Amherst/Northampton area is well-known for its hipsters, hippies and liberals. The one station that sets the area’s radio waves apart is 93.9 The River.

With the station’s office located in Northampton, the slogan “different is good” only makes sense. The River delivers to all sorts of tastes with the strangest collection of tunes many could imagine.

From Bob Marley to Bright Eyes to Bonnie Raitt, listeners will barely ever hear a repeat. This station is always spinning the latest and greatest artists that nobody’s heard of, as well as listener’s “guilty pleasures.” The top song this week? Mayer Hawthorne’s “The Walk.”

When asked what truly sets The River apart from any other local station, morning host Monte Belmonte answered, “the way that we interact with the community.”

Belmonte will be camping out in front of the Old Courthouse Art Gallery in Northampton to raise money for Cancer Connection to break last year’s goal of raising $27,000.

The station is also celebrating Black History Month in a big way – with Steve Waksman, a professor from Smith College. Waksman will give insight about black musicians such as Big Mama Thornton, who wrote “Hound Dog” for Elvis Presley. They then give listeners a chance to hear the original version that is never really played on commercial stations.

Jim Neill, director of marketing and publicity for the Iron Horse Entertainment Group, has his own show on The River every Wednesday where he hand-picks his favorite up and coming artists from 7 to 9 p.m.

Saturday mornings feature “Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child,” which is two solid hours of children’s indie tunes. Can Pioneer Valley get much cuter?

WMRQ – 104.1 FM

In Amherst, a few Connecticut stations can reach the antennae. WMRQ 104.1 FM advertises itself as Connecticut’s alternative, and that is exactly what it is. Unlike other “alternative” rock stations, WMRQ actually plays things other than rock classics and the latest tunes from Nickelback – though one will hear those on occasion, too.

Up and coming indie rockers often make their way to WMRQ’s airwaves, such as Young the Giant or MGMT. Think of it as a Foster the People Pandora station with a thumbs up for a random Coldplay song. The station does not understand nor acknowledge the word “overplayed,” as their wide range of tunes allows for a long stretch before repeats. The only downfall is that in more rural areas of western Massachusetts, the station can fade to fuzz.

WLZX – 99.3 FM & WAQY – 102.1 FM

Lazer 99.3 is the type of station that overplays that one Nirvana song and thinks that Papa Roach is somehow “alternative,” but the music is not what qualifies its mention.

Edgy is the theme for Lazer and its sister station: Rock 102, which spins classic rock like the Rolling Stones and AC/DC. Often this desire to be “rock and roll” comes off somewhat as misogynistic, with the “daily hottie” or “babe of the day” featured on the stations’ websites – a different scantily clad girl with strikingly similar body types.

Bax and O’Brien are a DJ pair that start off weekday mornings on Rock 102 with a whole lot of talk about nothing – which can surprisingly be entertaining to listen to.

If students are looking for something to listen to while wiping their sleepy eyes on the commute to class, Leslie in the Morning spends the better half of the morning asking her listeners their opinion on an odd topic and plays the funniest responses. While her tune selections in between the talking often include hair bands that are better off not revived, the comedic banter offers a good soundtrack to a morning commute.

Lazer’s most well-known disk jockey is not Leslie, but Pat Kelly. Infamous for his ridiculously long and annoying introduction to his afternoon show, one could spend an entire hour listening to his self-promotion through random soundbites that have nothing to do with each other. Depending on personal taste, this could be a hilarious interruption from the same boring songs or an unnecessary chunk taken out of one’s day.

Country music

Looking for some country? Western Massachusetts sure loves its popular country stations. Kix 100.9 FM and KTTS 94.7 both claim to be Springfield’s best country station – though there is little difference between the two – and Country 92.5 comes in from Connecticut and also spins the same top hits of today’s country music.

Popular music

Is the Top 40 more your style? Well, western Massachusetts is too progressive for that. Pop and hip-hop have to be snuck out of Connecticut. Hot 93.7 FM spins hip-hop and R&B while KISS 95.7 plays all of today’s hits and Mix 93.1 mixes new pop with old.

WHAI 98.3 FM is the lone, Greenfield, Mass. popular music radio station. Advertising as “Springfield’s best variety,” western Massachusetts could not bring itself to own a strictly pop station, but instead mixes in other soft rock and oldies as well. Their top played song is currently “Someone Like You” by Adele.

Perhaps only a small handful of radio stations that reach western Massachusetts are worth listening to. And for tune surfers that only rest when a station – any station – plays a song that they like, it may be a disappointment. But contrary to what many believe, there are stations for any taste out here in the middle of nowhere.

Acacia DiCiaccio can be reached at [email protected]