Two years ago, those in Buffalo still turning radio dials needed patience and a clear day to hear the type of under-the-radar alternative rock regularly rotating inside Toronto radio stations.
But that was before the birth of 107.7 Alternative Buffalo. Now approaching its second anniversary – marked by Thursday’s X Ambassadors-headlined birthday show inside Grant Street’s Showplace Theater – the little station that’s steered by a skeleton crew of committed audiophiles has both filled a regional programming void while steadily becoming tastemakers for the new Buffalo.
“We want to go off the beaten path and find bands that have thousands of Twitter followers and Spotify listens, but aren’t getting played on the radio,” said Nik Rivers, the station’s program director and daily drive-time host. “There’s an audience for these acts, and no one’s serving them.”
Installed by national radio giant Entercom to fill the aforementioned musical hole in the Queen City market, the station launched from WBEN’s former FM address on Sept. 26, 2013, with a noontime serving of the Lumineers’ “Ho Hey.” Rivers, fresh off five years with Rochester’s alt rock-steered The Zone, was tapped to lead the way. Within the next year, he was joined by morning host Bentley, a former music journalist and disc jockey at K-Rock Syracuse, and Axe, nighttime voice and generator of the station’s eventual Underground Collective.
Since then, the on-air trio has been joined by part-time weekend voices to guide Buffalo’s wandering alt rock masses away from the angry days of Limp Bizkit-led Woodstock fires, and toward steady contemporary servings of Cold War Kids, the Gaslight Anthem and Glass Animals. Bands breaking in places like Brooklyn or Southern California are now finding early exposure across Erie County, and they’re getting it from a station intent on adhering to the old club fan heckle of “less talk, more rock.”
“We’re giving listeners a unique product, something they thought was missing in Buffalo, and we’re presenting it in a different way,” said Rivers. “We try to make it all about the music, and there aren’t a lot of zaps and zings in between.”
But it’s outside its station walls that the Alternative Buffalo staff has altered the local music landscape. Weekly events such as “Good Thursdays” at Elmwood Village standard Mr. Goodbar have allowed station reps to connect and talk tunes with multiple generations of music addicts. And with the installation of its now biannual Kerfuffle music festival – via its Canalside-set summer edition or its indoor installation before Christmas – Rivers and Co. are now regularly rolling a cacophonous cavalcade of alt rock’s rising stars through Buffalo twice a year.
Whether headlined by the bedazzled holiday thump of Fitz and the Tantrums or ebullient, crowd-walking energy of New Politics’ frontman David Boyd, these shows have lured tens of thousands of established or aspiring hipsters of the sought-after age 18 to 24 demographic to the edge of the Buffalo River. And each event has satiated the guitar-and-synth needs of those used to Western New York being skipped over by bands due for Cleveland or Pittsburgh; surrounded touring acts with the reinvigorated fervor now percolating through Buffalo’s music scene; and introduced casual, Internet-reared fans to a fleet of new names and album tracks, up close and personal.
“Despite all the new technology now available, people still want that human element. They want that interaction,” said Bentley. “There are so many choices, and you need a gatekeeper, someone to say, ‘hey, check this out.’ ”
Thursday’s Alternative Buffalo Birthday Show, which starts at 8 p.m. at the resurrected Showplace, provides another chance for the Nickel City’s alternative aficionados to introduce up-and-comers to its ever-growing “Alt family,” with the Los Angeles-based pair Phases and the Moth and the Flame, as well as Ithaca-born X Ambassadors, now known nationally for its Jeep-accompanied single, “Renegades.” But instead of accepting presents for its 24 month-presence on the switchboard, AB’s staff is presenting Thursday’s show as a gift for about 800 of its listeners, with all tickets given out for free through station giveaways.
It’s a small token of appreciation for fans who have welcomed the station with open ears and, in turn, pledged allegiance to an operation that’s dutifully presented local listeners with informed entry into the ever-changing alt rock landscape.
“We deliver this material differently than any station I’ve ever worked at in my 20 years in this business,” said Rivers. “It’s a little bit outside the box, and that’s why our Alt family has grown. They like us, they believe in us, and I think they trust us as a source for discovery of new music.”