This radio marketing stunt was all the Rage

A marketing stunt promoting a Vancouver radio station’s format change caught the world’s ear on Wednesday.

Formerly operating under the KiSS format, 104.9 FM abruptly began playing nothing but Rage Against the Machine’s 1992 protest song “Killing in the Name” on a continuous loop starting early Wednesday morning. This went on for about 30 hours, with first Twitter and then the world’s media taking notice.

The version of the song played (and played) was the radio edit, which removes its combative ending refrain “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.”

But the song is still strongly anti-authoritarian, leading to gleeful speculation that the station had been commandeered by rogue DJs protesting the format change and the dismissal of popular morning hosts Kevin Lim and Sonia Sidhu, who announced on Tuesday that they would be leaving the Rogers Sports & Media-owned station after more than five years.

The story was subsequently picked up by dozens of mainstream media outlets including Rolling Stone, The Guardian, People and Deadline.

A freelance journalist named Tracey Lindeman started a Twitter thread providing a play-by-play account of what was happening, including the DJs’ interactions with callers. “Someone just called in to request ‘Killing In the Name,'” she wrote in one tweet. “The host said they were only playing vinyls and that he’d have to dig into the crate for it—then immediately began playing the song.”

It wasn’t until Thursday when it was revealed that it was another example of radio “stunting” to generate listener curiosity in advance of the format change.

A Rogers press release confirmed the format change for the station, as well as Chilliwack, B.C.’s 107.5 and Abbotsford’s 92.5, all of which were adopting the alternative format called SONiC RADiO, featuring an eclectic playlist consisting of bands like Florence & The Machine, Foo Fighters, 21 Pilots, The Lumineers, Green Day and The White Stripes. Rage Against the Machine were conspicuously absent from the list.

“In keeping with radio’s reputation of being fun and the format’s reputation as being a tad disruptive, we couldn’t think of a better way to capture our local listeners’ attention than by playing the iconic anthem ‘Killing In the Name’ by Rage Against the Machine non-stop for 30 hours, and well… it wound up catching the world’s attention,” said Christian Hall, content director of SONiC RADIO and JACK 96.9 in an email statement to The Message.

Radio has a long tradition of “Stunting.” In 2001, a Chicago radio station named The Drive famously played one artist or themed group of songs per day—with selections ranging from AC/DC to Barbra Streisand and even Broadway show tunes—in the weeks leading up to a format change.

In summarizing her day spent listening to “Killing in the Name” on repeat, Lindeman said that she had gained about 300 new followers. “Considering changing this twitter to an all-rage channel,” she said.

A Rogers spokesperson confirmed that advertisers were informed of the station’s plans ahead of time. In other words, it was a well-crafted marketing play, and definitely not a “Guerrilla Radio” takeover.

Chris Powell