That guitar-based rock, however, can hardly be called alternative in the purest musical sense of the word. Yes, the formats of SHE, WZTA, et al. have bid farewell to many of classic rock's aging kings. However, none of those stations is spinning records by even the most popular underground bands (e.g., Sonic Youth, Pavement, Guided by Voices), nor are they slipping in tracks from influential Eighties artists such as Husker Du, the Replacements, Black Flag, or the Minutemen. "Alternative is just a word that was adopted -- rightly or wrongly -- to describe bands that weren't the hair bands from four or five years ago," Stewart explains. "But there is a certain portion of the audience that feels like it's not 'alternative' any more."

Botchick at CMJ says it's too soon to predict the long-range potential of the commercial alternative format, but adds that, like classic rock, it won't be around forever A if only because of its narrow definition of alternative. "You know that Pearl Jam is going to be the classic rock of the 21st Century and that alternative rock is now the new Top 40 and Album Oriented Rock," she notes. "But these stations probably won't forge ahead and follow underground rock as it develops. Right now [stations] are making the switch and hoping to hit the jackpot, but it's going to reach a saturation point A it can't go on like this. Optimistically, you could say that the format might get more interesting as the programmers start looking to more underground-type music to grab more listeners, but that probably won't happen. They'll stick with the Bushes and the Collective Souls, and with every station playing the same songs, they'll only splinter the audience into a million shards."

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