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Modern rock, also referred to as contemporary rock, is a rock format commonly found on commercial radio; the format consists primarily of the alternative rock genre. Generally beginning with late 1970s punk but referring especially to alternative rock music since the 1980s, the phrase "modern rock" is used to differentiate the music from classic rock, which focuses on music recorded in the 1960s through the early 1980s.
A few modern rock radio stations existed during the 1980s, such as KROQ-FM in Los Angeles, 91X (XETRA-FM) in San Diego, WHTG FM 106.3 (now, WKMK) on the Jersey Shore, WLIR on Long Island and WFNX in Boston. Modern rock was solidified as a radio format in 1988 with Billboard's creation of the Modern Rock Tracks chart. The chart was based on weighted reports from college radio stations and commercial stations such as those listed above. The 1988 episode of the VH1 show I Love the '80s discussed INXS, The Cure, Morrissey, Depeche Mode, and Erasure as modern rock artists representative of that year. But it was the breakthrough success of the grunge band Nirvana in 1991 that resulted in a large number of American radio stations switching to the format. Modern rock is considered by some to be a specific genre of alternative rock.
The format has gone through two distinct periods, dividing the line from classic modern rock and the current alternative rock format used today. Up until grunge went mainstream, the format featured a wide variety up tempo danceable music from a diverse group of artists that were being played in rock discos and clubs. This was a legacy from new wave music and the Second British Invasion that immediately proceeded it. Out of all the artists that had songs hit the top 30 in the first modern rock chart, only seven of them were American. Between 1992 and 1994, most of the female, foreign and dance music had largely disappeared from the chart. While the chart still featured a variety of alternative rock music, it was largely guitar rock created by male Americans. By 1996, the modern rock chart was largely identical to the mainstream rock chart, therefore it was surveying what was then mainstream rock music.
For most of the 2000s, modern rock radio stations mostly featured songs that were crossed over from the active rock format. This was often famous for the second wave of post-grunge and nu metal scenes that derived from grunge and alternative metal music, respectively, in the 1990s. During the early 2000s, these two genres made up most of the modern rock format, despite the format being a heavily diverse format genre-wise. By the mid-2000s, the two genres were dropped, with new genres and the revivals of genres such as Emo, post-punk, garage rock, pop punk, and dance-punk took its place, but the post-grunge and nu metal genres still had some success.
Today, modern rock serves as an indie-driven radio format featuring new, young and recent indie rock bands and artists. Ranging from genres like reggae, folk, hip hop and EDM, common indie rock artists heard on the format today include Imagine Dragons, Young the Giant, Of Monsters and Men, Atlas Genius, The Neighbourhood, Twenty One Pilots, The 1975 and Bastille. Indie rock remains the main equivalent in modern rock radio as of February 2014.
- alternative rock (genre)
- campus radio
- indie rock
- nu metal
- active rock - a harder format of rock but trending closer to modern rock.
- mainstream rock - a mix of classic rock and modern rock, but trending closer to classic rock.
- Simon, Clea (2000-08-21). "MEDIA; Is Modern Rock Radio Getting Old?". NYTimes.com. Retrieved 2007-09-27. "Modern, also called alternative..."
- ""Are We Mot New Wave Modern Pop at the Turn of the 1980s P. 65-69 ISBN 978-0-472-03470-3
- DeRogatis, Jim. Milk It!: Collected Musings on the Alternative Music Explosion of the 90's. Cambridge: Da Capo, 2003. Pg. 357, ISBN 0-306-81271-1 Pg. 287 The author criticizing the music of Third Eye Blind during an interview with the band's frontman.