There’s classic rock and then there’s alternative rock.
Classic rock has always been popular with radio stations like 102.5 WDVE, which has been hosting a Memorial Day countdown of the top 500 classic rock songs for decades.
In 2020, ‘DVE’s “sister” station 105.9 WXDX – which is also owned by iIHeartMedia – was inspired to get in the act by honoring the top 420 rock and alt-rock songs from the 1990s, when the genre was at its apogee, with “July 420”.
“It’s such a watershed moment for music,” said Abby Krizner, WXDX program director and midday host. “It’s really symbolic of the station, which started in the 90s.”
It started over the July 4 holiday two years ago and struck a chord with listeners at The X, which bills itself as Pittsburgh’s “Rock and Alternative” radio station. Thus, from Friday at 4:20 p.m. sharp, the station begins its third year.
But how did they find a number like 420?
“We were wondering what we should do for the 4th of July and someone just said the date and someone chuckled under their breath ‘ha ha 420’ and we were like ‘it’s going to work’,” said Krizner.
So how exactly does The X define alternative rock?
“There are a lot of songs or subgenres that fall into that bucket,” Krizner said. “We’re still very sound-focused with bands like Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Foo Fighters and newer bands (such as) Imagine Dragons, Interrupters and Rise Against. The anchor is always in those grungy rock bands.
And these grassroots grunge rock bands will undoubtedly fight for the top spots on the list.
Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was the best song of each of the first two years of “July 420”. Can he reach a hat-trick?
It’s hard to say, as there will be fierce competition from songs like Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge,” a former finalist; as well as “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam, “Plush” by the Stone Temple Pilots and another Nirvana song, “Come as You are” which is no stranger to the top 10.
But Krizner said there are certain bands associated with “July 420” that people might not hear from regularly.
“All of a sudden we come to ‘420’ and we’re playing Monster Magnet and Hum and Primitive Radio Gods and Our Lady Peace and then…it’s like this time capsule, where you just go ‘Oh my God! ‘” she said. “It’s part of the fun of hearing what the songs meant to you in the 90s.”
Krizner said the “July 420” compilation method begins with The X asking people to submit their all-time top 10 lists from the 90s on an open entry form on The X’s website. Listeners could also fill lists of so-called “wandering nuggets” or “anything iconic from the 90s.”
The station then combines audience input with research, a song’s chart position, and its playback history on The X.
Krizner said that based on the feedback she received, listeners really like her.
“Every once in a while you’ll have a song on the list that people want to argue about,” she said. “What blew our minds was people started keeping the list and writing the songs as they came out and tweeting them to us to keep us on track.”
There are even stories of people taking days off so they don’t miss the countdown.
Fittingly, “July 420” begins Friday at 4:20 p.m. and runs until 8 p.m. on July 4 – just when it starts to get closer to the fireworks.
A full list of the top 420 songs will be posted on the WXDX website as soon as the top song is announced.
Paul Guggenheimer is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Paul at 724-226-7706 or [email protected]