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A Peak Listening Experience

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 What would radio be without shock jocks, call-in contests, and computerized playlists? The Peak, a Westchester station that’s hip, innovative, and 100% cheese-free.

Every day, dozens of accolades from listeners (and “cyber listeners”) in South America, Europe, Florida, the Midwest, and right around the corner, appear on the website of a small, eclectic radio station in North White Plains: 107.1 WXPK, better known as The Peak. Among them:
“I finally have a reason to turn off my iPod during my daily commute.”
“I was in search of a decent station. Instead I discovered a great station.”
“I listen to The Peak via the web. I assure you that we don’t have such intelligent, innovative music programming in Orlando.”
“You remind me of WNEW in the ‘good old days’ when DJs actually knew something about music and weren’t cartoon characters.”
The antithesis of mega-Sirius-Stern-shock-jock, high-decible, low-intelligence, fart-noise stations, The Peak, a small commercial station based in North White Plains with a frequency that can barely be heard outside our county (but more listen via streaming online), is serious about one thing and one thing only: music. With an eclectic Adult Album Alternative (AAA) format that covers old rock classics and deep album cuts along with cutting-edge rock newbies, WXPK manages to gratify a relatively small but significant audience of 25-to-54-year olds in upscale Westchester County. (According to Arbitron, the radio industry’s primary audience research and data-collection organization, The Peak’s audience numbers 120,000 a week, although The Peak’s program director, Chris Herrmann, says it’s closer to 250,000.) The Peak’s mission can be summed up this way: We are passionate about rock in a wide range of forms—blues, reggae, rockabilly, upbeat folk, past, present and future—and we want to share the love.
Just two years old, The Peak’s staff has grown from three DJ/managers to an operation of eight full-time employees and a varying number of part-time staff. The station subsists on mostly local advertising. Westchester Medical Center, Beefsteak Charlie’s, and other local merchants hawk their wares with a decidedly regional flavor. This sometimes leads to logistical challenges for far-flung devotees, as when a Minnesota fan—who joined “The Peak Listener Advisory Board” through the website—won a gift certificate to the Paramus Park mall. And what must Brazilians think when hearing the grating jingle: “Hudson Valley Lithotripsy—get back on your feet today,” for the umpteenth time?
But listen they do.
Well-known musicians have taken notice, too. According to General Manager Darren DiPrima, the station’s intimate “Peak Performances” concerts/recording sessions at Acme Recording Studios in Mamaroneck have attracted major talents. To date, The Wallflowers, Spin Doctors, Shawn Mullins, and Chris Isaak have recorded live sets here—a relatively novel concept in Westchester. “It’s something we do differently from anyone else,” DiPrima says.
Last year, while fiddling with the tuner in my car, I landed on 107.1. It was a revelation; sets with the likes of Mott the Hoople, followed by the Beatles and new, Scottish singer/songwriter KT Tunstall. And in between each set, a real, living, breathing DJ who actually identified tracks, albums, and provided a snippet or two about the music interspersed with short updates on local traffic, weather, and news. (The midnight to 5:30 am shift is canned, pre-programmed to sound “live,” courtesy of the disembodied voice of DJ Chris Herrmann).
Music Director and DJ Rob Arrow (5:30-11 am), Program Director and DJ Chris Herrmann (11am-3pm), former WPLJ and K-ROCK jockey Jimmy Fink (3-7 pm, Monday through Friday), and Promotions Director and DJ Mike “The Kid” Batiste (7 pm-midnight) have the kind of laidback, on-air style and informed musical taste of DJs at a loosely formatted public radio station. However, Herrmann argues, Fordham University’s WFUV, to which The Peak is sometimes stylistically compared, is a very different animal. Not only is WFUV a commercial-free, NPR affiliate with a tri-state audience of 320,000, but, says Herrmann, it has another audience entirely. “FUV’s market is ten years older and more folksy,” he says, “Dylan’s kids.” And while WFUV explores the roots of American music, devotes most of its Sunday broadcast to Celtic tunes, and broadcasts live concerts from West Virginia’s Mountain Stage, The Peak plays a mix of the familiar and the soon-to-be-familiar.
WFUV Program Director Chuck Singleton agrees there are differences. “The Peak is FUV-Lite,” he says. “It has a wider format than the average commercial station. In terms of the number of artists played, though, FUV is a lot broader.” But, he adds, “They’ve done a nice job covering new music.”
In practical terms, The Peak’s storehouse of more than 3,000 tunes (as opposed to a couple of hundred for the average commercial station) means less repetition, plus play-list juxtapositions not heard on any other New York station. Listeners hear just enough old favorites (Springsteen, U2, Sting, the Stones) to feel comfortable and just enough new stuff (Snow Patrol, Death Cab for Cutie) to pique their interest.
As a result, listeners get to experience lesser-known music in a way that feels like a recommendation from an in-the-know friend who shares their tastes. “Without The Peak, I’d never know about Duncan Sheik, Collective Soul, or Big Head Todd and the Monsters,” reads one satisfied listener’s e-mail.

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