Bright Eyes brought to you by 89.7 The River? #TBT: The River Music Summit – my, have times changed… 

Category: Blog — Tags: , , — @ 10:54 am June 27, 2024

by Tim McMahan,

I haven’t listened to FM radio station 89.7 The River in years, so when the Sept. 22 Bright Eyes concert at Steelhouse was announced as being “presented by 89.7 The River,” I had to wonder… Does The River even play Bright Eyes’ music? Because they never used to.

Back in the day, The River was an alt-rock/metal/grunt-rock radio station. If you were looking for Korn or Slipknot, you found your home on the radio dial. Listening to the station’s live stream as I type this (at 8 a.m. CT, June 27, 2024), they just played Foo Fighters, Imagine Dragons, Daughtry, Filter and Ghost, though the set started with The Last Dinner Party. 

After a bit of digging, I found The River’s playlist for the week of June 17 online at their website (the play list is here) and alas, Bright Eyes wasn’t on it. Of the 50 or so bands listed, almost all were on major labels, most were alt-rock or metal. The closest thing to an indie band was Black Keys, who started out on Fat Possum and Nonesuch but are currently on Warners. And just now, the station’s promo announced that The River is “Your anchor for metal and modern rock.” So there you go.

If that’s the case, why is the Sept. 22 Bright Eyes concert brought to you by The River? If I had to venture a guess, I’d say it had something to do with the fact that Omaha Performing Arts (the owner Steelhouse Omaha) is booked exclusively by Live Nation, a company that books national tours by a lot of the bands on The River playlist. 

The Steelhouse / Bright Eyes booking was a head-scratcher from the beginning. Bright Eyes is a Ground Control Touring band and their shows were historically booked by 1% Productions, which runs The Admiral and The Astro (with Mammoth Productions) – two venues that also would have been a good fit for this Bright Eyes show.  To be honest, I’m not sure how all these players work together.

Still, the question persists: Will 89.7 The River add Bright Eyes to their regular rotation? I know I’ve heard Bright Eyes on the station before (and not just on one of their specialty shows)… but it was probably 15 years ago. 

Anyway, all of this reminds me of the time 20 years ago when I sat on a panel hosted by The River’s Sophia John. The topic of “The River Music Summit” was how to succeed in the music business. While the Internet was definitely up and running, streaming didn’t exist (neither did iPhones), though music downloading had already begun. 

Let’s take a trip back to 2004 on this Throwback Thursday and contemplate how much — and how little — the music industry has changed…

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Who wants to be a rock star? The River Music Summit rehash – from Lazy-i, June 28, 2004

Let me preface this to say I was probably the wrong person to be on Saturday’s panel at The River Music Summit. Just a glance at the audience pretty much indicated that the vast majority of the 300+ people in the audience were metal fans, loyal listeners of 89.7 The River and support how they operate their station. I don’t listen to The River and don’t agree with their decision to play mainstream commercial metal on what’s supposed to be a college radio station. Regardless, the audience was made up mostly of musicians whose idea of success is moving a million units and being on MTV (or a Clear Channel radio station). Successful indie bands are lucky to sell 10,000 copies of their CDs. Really successful indie bands could sell 100,000. Almost none of them sell a million.

So anyway, here I was on this panel. To my left (according to the program) was Andrew Linde from Tinderstick promotions, a company that handles a lot of indie bands. To my right, three or so current or former radio executives, none from traditional college radio stations. At the far end of the table, Mike Fratt representing Homer’s Records and MarQ Manner representing Delmar Productions. Linde and I were clearly outnumbered, but then again, I doubt the majority of this audience cared two shits about the indie music scene.

The core message — how to promote your music to radio and press — was more of a seminar on how to get your music on commercial radio — i.e., how your band could be the next Korn. Sophia John, the program manager at 89.7 The River, did most of the talking. Appropriately, I said very little. At one point I had a chance to ask the crowd, “How many of you would be satisfied selling 10,000 copies of your CD?” A few dozen hands went up. Then, “How many of you would be happy selling 100,000 copies?” About half the audience raised their hands. Finally, “How many of you won’t be happy until you sell a million copies.” Here, more than half the hands went up.

Later I asked, “How many of you are in this business to make a million dollars?” One hand. Good. “All right then, how many of you are doing it for the money?” Some hands, not many. Then, “How many are in it for the music?” Most hands went up. I told them that if they could be satisfied selling 10,000 copies, they could make music the way they wanted to make music. But if they want to be on a major label, they’re going to have to compromise to the suits, and will lose control of their music — talk about stating the obvious, eh?

Still, I doubt this was what the organizers wanted communicated at the summit. The radio guy next to me made the point that the music business is all about greed — he was a real Gordon Gecko type. Sophia’s message was that The River was going to save the Omaha music scene and that it’s the only radio outlet for local music.

There was some verbal jousting between Sophia and the panelists (me included). Her and Linde argued over debt and major label record deals. Linde said that most musicians don’t realize that as soon as they sign with a major label, they’re immediately in debt. Why? Because the advance money and promotional costs are really loans to the bands, that the label is acting like a bank, loaning money that they expect to recoup through CD sales. 

Sophia took exception to this, asking Linde to name one band that had to pay back an advance to a label after they were dropped. Linde said he knew bands that were in that exact situation, but couldn’t name names. Sophia said she’d never ever heard of a failed band forced to repay a label. An apparent VH1 Behind the Music watcher in the crowd yelled, “What about the Goo Goo dolls?” Sophia yelled back, “What about the Goo Goo dolls? They’re making millions of dollars for themselves and their label.” Yeah, the guy said, but what if they hadn’t gotten signed by Warners after they were dropped by Metal Blade?

Sophia was right, of course. It seems doubtful that a major label would call out the dogs to get advance money from a failed band, probably for the simple fact that 1) It would cost more in lawyers fees and bad PR to pursue it and 2) Because the band simply doesn’t have the cash and probably never will. But wasn’t Linde’s point the fact that the bands are, in fact, in debt from the second they sign a deal? Sure, they may never have to pay back the money, but they know they’re still responsible for it, that they ethically should do what they can to pay it back. Instead, one of the panelists pointed out how it’s important for bands and musicians to set up a separate incorporated business so that the labels can’t sue them for their personal money.

Sophia didn’t like my admiration for Saddle Creek Records (It should be pointed out here that I asked the crowd to raise their hands if they had even heard of Saddle Creek Records. I counted maybe seven or eight hands). I mentioned Saddle Creek early in the panel as an example of a label that would be doing pretty well if a new artist sold 10,000 copies of a CD. That, despite the fact that Creek’s total sales since it was formed wouldn’t equal a tenth of what Eminem sold of his last CD, the label is still held in the highest esteem as a leading national indie label.

So, when someone asked about press kits, I said I threw one-sheets away — put your info on the internet along with your press photo and include the URL on the CD case. I then made the mistake of mentioning how Saddle Creek printed a brief bio on the back of their artists’ promo jewel cases. Sophia had had enough. “Saddle Creek! Is that the only label you can talk about? What about Suckapunch Records?” I replied that I didn’t think Suckapunch printed their bios on the back of their discs, then went on to talk more about Creek, which was met with Sophia’s shaking head… Oh well.

I’m guilty. I like Saddle Creek Records, their artists and what they’ve accomplished. I also think it makes sense to use them as an example as they’re the second most successful local record label (Mannheim Steamroller being the most successful overall, Creek being the most successful rock label). Historically, The River hasn’t been the biggest supporter of Saddle Creek. But according to their website, they now play Cursive and Azure Ray in rotation. Still, it’s embarrassing that you can’t hear Creek’s most successful band, Bright Eyes, on the radio in the band’s own hometown.

Sophia’s last argument (with me, anyway) came when a couple of the execs were talking about how artists get their music played on the radio. Their point appeared to be that the name of the game these days is “pay for play.” I kind of got lost here, when out of the blue, Sophia said she didn’t know how reviews get published and asked if bands or labels pay to have reviews placed in the paper. No, I said, newspapers don’t receive payments for running reviews. But Sophia disagreed, saying that it might not have happened in my experience, but she was certain that it happens all the time, which she said would explain a lot of the bad CD reviews that she’d read.

Sophia may be right. I can’t speak for Rolling Stone or Magnet or Alternative Press. I don’t know anyone who works at those pubs. They may very well be rolling in payola from CD reviews. But somehow, I doubt it.

At the end of the panel, I think the audience got what they wanted to hear. At one point, one of the radio guys said something like “I know these guys are telling you to be satisfied with selling 10,000 CDs, but I’m telling you the guys from Korn were sitting right where you are now, and they did it. You can too!” – June 28, 2004

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2024 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Column 308: Rediscovering New Day Rising; Poison Control Center, Blue Bird tonight…

Category: Blog,Column,Interviews — Tags: , , — @ 1:50 pm February 3, 2011

Column 308: River Rising

Omaha’s indie radio show moves to Sunday afternoons.

by Tim McMahan,

Is having one good radio station in a city the size of Omaha — a city purported to be one of the “best places to live in America” — too much to ask?

Apparently it is. But at least for 2-1/2 hours a week, we have New Day Rising on FM radio station KIWR, 89.7 The River. No, NDR is not a new program. It’s been around since December 2004. But if you’re like me, the last thing you’re doing Sunday nights at 9 p.m. is listening to the radio. Thankfully, the people who run The River decided to move NDR to the new time slot of 2:30 Sunday afternoons where it’s now being discovered by people who live “normal lives.”

The show’s promo calls it “The future of music. The best deep cuts and the best new tracks.” But it’s more than that. NDR is the only locally produced broadcast radio show whose purpose is to play, promote and talk about indie rock — or at least the style of indie rock preferred by the show’s producer, engineer and host, David Leibowitz.

“I’m not trying to out-indie indie music fans,” Leibowitz said between songs during last week’s show, broadcast from The River’s Council Bluffs studios on the campus of Iowa Western Community College. “People who are serious music fans and read all the blogs and Brooklyn Vegan and Pitchfork aren’t going to have never heard these songs before. This is for moderate, traditional music fans, some of the regular River listeners or someone who’s just casually tuning in.”

For the same reason I began writing about bands 20-odd years ago, Leibowitz began doing his radio show six years ago: To get free music. “I get too much of it, actually,” he said. “Parts of my house look like I’m a hoarder because of the piles of CDs.” But he added, “The show is my only connection to the local music community. I’m playing my role.”

That role involves proudly carrying the banner for College Music Journal-style rock. His playlist for last Sunday afternoon’s show included tracks by Middle Brother, Ponderosa, The New Pornographers, Say HI, Tapes ‘n’ Tapes, The Dears, Men Without Pants, Cold War Kids, P.J. Harvey, King Kahn and the Shrines, Sleigh Bells and Starry Saints. NDR is the first radio show in Omaha to air a track from the upcoming Mogwai album Hardcore Will Never Die. That alone makes it relevant.

But in addition to new music, Leibowitz sprinkles in classic tracks by the likes of Hüsker Dü, Grant Hart, Gang of Four, Radiohead, Buffalo Tom, Wilco and perennial sign-off band Sonic Youth. Like the old-time radio DJs who have long since left this earth, Leibowitz’s playlist reflects his personal taste. “I would say (the show) is in the traditional indie rock vein,” he said. “There’s a resemblance to ’80s college rock. I don’t want to play stuff that I absolutely don’t like. That’s just a fact. My taste doesn’t match up with Pitchfork, but I’m not concerned about it.”

You’re not likely to hear a Pet Shop Boys or New Order track on NDR. “I’m less inclined to play synthier music,” Leibowitz said. “My past is with Hüsker Dü and The Replacements, but I didn’t like The Cure in the ’80s and I do now. If New Order has a new record out, I would give it a spin, even though New Order doesn’t really fit into the format.”

Another “artificial constraint” is not playing songs you could hear on another radio station. “T. Rex would fit in, but you can hear it on Z-92,” he said.

Leibowitz freely admits that there’s a variety of indie-flavored Internet radio shows that are just a click away for most fans. What makes NDR unique is its local angle. Leibowitz plays songs by bands that are headed to Omaha to perform in the coming weeks or months, such as Best Coast, Now, Now and Mogwai, along with a handful of local indie bands that are ignored by The River’s local-only radio show, Planet O.

In addition to the all-stars on the Saddle Creek Records label, Leibowitz has played tracks by Little Brazil, Honey & Darling, It’s True and Thunder Power, among others. “I don’t play those bands just because they’re local, but because their music is of the same quality as the other music on the show,” Leibowitz said.

Sometimes those tracks even catch the attention of The River’s program director, Sophia John. “She acknowledges that there have been records that premiered on New Day Rising that have made it into regular rotation,” Liebowitz said. “It’s great to see these bands get heard by a wider audience.”

So how well is NDR doing in the all-important Arbitron ratings? Leibowitz said he’s “blissfully unaware, for the most part. We must be doing well since they keep moving us up to better time slots.”

Could NDR ever find a regular, daily slot on The River’s schedule? Unlikely. Indie music always has been a niche genre that’s lived in the cracks between commercial rock and the style of “alternative” screamo goon rock that makes up The River’s usual programming.

and that’s the way it’s always been, Leibowitz said. “There’s just more of them than us,” he said. “It’s the nature of being an indie music fan. It’s part of the psyche.”

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Polar Control Cent… Whoops! I mean POISON Control Center returns tonight to Slowdown Jr. with Bradley Unit (who, according to his Myspace page, is now a member of Talking Mountain). $7, 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, over at The Waiting Room, Blue Bird headlines a show. The 7-piece ensemble is led by Marta Fiedler and includes Carrie Butler (ex-Eagle Seagull) and Megan Morgan (Landing on the Moon) on backup vocals. Here’s a review of their debut performance last November. Also on the bill are The Boring Daylights (Sarah Benck’s new joint) and The Big Deep. $7, 9 p.m.

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Tomorrow: Omaha Website Deathmatch.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2011 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.