New Highway 1 radio fills big hole in Bay Area market

Station plays adult alternative hits in void left by KFOG’s departure

Highway 1, a new radio station that launched Aug. 21, is meant to tap into the under-served market for adult album alternative music missing from Bay Area airwaves since the demise of KFOG.

“That audience didn’t die, they just got older; now they have a place to go,” says Brian Figula, director of programming operations at Bonneville International, the parent group of KOIT-FM in San Francisco and KUFX-FM in San Jose.

Highway 1 — available on KOIT 96.5 and KFOX 98.5 HD2 (high-definition) signals as well as streaming at highway1radio.com, and Radio.com and TuneIn apps — plays “a blend of alternative music that sounds different,” according to the tag line, which continues, “You’ll hear R.E.M. from the ‘80s, Alanis from the 90s, Coldplay from the 00s, Lumineers from today and new music discovery from tomorrow.”

“That’s our strategy, to play the hits that are not being played,” said Figula, who maintains that the music is “mostly familiar” because the goal is to reach the masses, even though sometimes listeners do enjoy new sounds.

He adds, “We’re trying to keep it focused on the music and not get too flashy and fancy with a bunch of things,” mentioning that the station is “built locally” by creative young people passionate about music, not consultants.

Along with Figula, Highway 1 workers include: Ileana Matzorkis, the “voice of the station” (who has a KFOX evening show); Karina Farias, doing promotion and artist liaison (KFOX program director); Richie Brown, scheduling the music (KFOX coordinator) and Edwin Eduardo Herrera Jr., a music junkie and researcher (KFOX blogger).

Figula is proud of the station’s name, inspired by the “unique” vibe of California: “You think of the West Coast and surfing and being on the beach and driving and listening to Jack Johnson or Tame Impala or whatever you’re listening to,” he says.

Though the streaming music is the star, and there are no DJs on Highway 1, there are discussions about building a hometown show that highlights local music and musicians from San Francisco, Oakland, Livermore, Santa Rosa and as far as Stockton and Tracy.

The logo, a guitar pick, is reminiscent of the green-and-white Highway 1 road sign, though upside down.

For the immediate future, there are no plans to have advertisements on the station, and if they are added, they will be limited.

“We want to compete with ad-free platform alternatives,” says Figula, mentioning that promotion is being aimed more at online, rather than broadcast radio, listeners.

Although he points to stations KBCO in Denver and WXRT in Chicago that are thriving with similar formats, he says the Bay Area audience for this music has migrated to the internet.

At the same time, the HD radio stations – which evolved from a previous 1970s format and had been gaining momentum from not just listeners, but also advertisers and artists’ representatives – have been doing well so far.

In their inception, Highway 1’s HD signals have had an audience of more than 10,000 people per month, according to Nielsen ratings, Figula says.

He attributes the success to the huge hole in the market that happened when KFOG, with its unique programming, promotions and listening experiences, left the air in 2019 after decades, as well a few other factors.

“To say that KFOG didn’t influence this brand, I’d be lying to you,” says Figula, adding, “But there’s more to this. There’s the old rock factor, with 97.3 and Live 105. Let’s face it. That built a lot of the ‘80s vibe here in the market. All of this music has completely been abandoned. No one is showing loyalty to that music. We believe there’s an appetite for it.”

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