CLOSING IN ON PRATTIN FM RADIO'S NEW VALLEY ORDER, KUPD'S KING ROCK JOCK MUST RUN WITH THE PACK

There is nothing this newspaper would like more than to celebrate the downfall of Dave Pratt.

Over the years, New Times has feuded gloriously with Pratt, the KUPD-FM morning man who has ruled local rock radio for what seems like forever.

One Wednesday, when Pratt encouraged listeners to deposit stacks of New Times in the station's Dumpster, one of our executives chased Pratt around the interior of the trailer that then served as the station headquarters. When one of our music columnists tagged Pratt a "flaming asshole" and all but labeled his listeners racist louts, Pratt's comeback was to write a musical ditty titled "The New Times Rag," which ridiculed the newspaper for, among other things, accepting Romance ads from gays.

When his fame as Arizona's beer-swilling, babe-chasing bad boy grew too great, we reported that Pratt was a regular attendee at local Young Republicans meetings.

The enmity between us is long and rich. (Enmity," for KUPD listeners, means "deep-seated mutual hatred.")

Imagine our delight, then, when the last quarterly Arbitron ratings "book" (released in late April, covering January through March) showed KDKB-FM's morning "team"--Tim & Mark," of course--slightly ahead of KUPD's Pratt. That kind of thing hadn't happened in years--years in which Pratt's ratings among local rock stations were godlike, and his tire-squealing, party-as-a-verb listeners were legion.

But the recent ratings gave us hope.
Hope that Pratt's reign as the all-powerful Mayor of Palookaville, as well as his supernatural hold on the hearts and minds of our youth, had ended. Imagine our disappointment, a few weeks later, to discover that Pratt's demise had been greatly exaggerated. There is strong evidence that KDKB's overall ratings jump last quarter was a fluke, a glitch.

It is also likely that Pratt will rebound in the next ratings book, which will be released in a few weeks, to regain his morning-rock lead.

Pratt's overall ratings have dropped some over the last couple of years, especially among listeners in age groups outside his core demographic, 18- to 24-year-old males.

Within that group, though, he remains the comparative king of the local rock-radio universe.

"As far as him doing his job, he's killing," says one insider. "For what he was hired to do, he does it better than anybody."
A glowing profile of Pratt was considered, briefly. But the idea was dropped when Pratt, who makes a handsome living shooting his mouth off, refused to shoot his mouth off to us.

Meanwhile, the sock hop, tentatively scheduled for Dave Pratt's radio grave, was canceled. @rule:

@body:But a funny thing happened on the way back from the boneyard. While we were looking for ways to dump on Dave, we discovered something else hidden in the ratings figures, something really worth celebrating. KDKB, the Valley's original great album-oriented station, did not ride a huge ratings surge to pull even with KUPD; its ratings progress has been gradually upward in recent years, but not spectacularly so, and has yet to translate into a full-scale ratings victory. (Arbitron Ratings Company, the service that provides stations with ratings, won't allow the media to reveal specific ratings figures beyond the most general scorekeeping data--the overall ratings for all listeners.) KDKB won in morning drive, barely. KUPD still leads the full-day ratings race. But KUPD's full-day, all-listener ratings have dropped, from a high of a 7.4 "share" in 1990 (an explanation of Arbitron ratings is coming) to 4.7 in the most recent book. The ratings gurus who claim to understand Arbitron say most of that drop is attributable to defecting listeners in older age brackets. "It's men 25 to 34 that aren't there anymore," says one. The decline of KUPD, once the market's dominant rocker--the big hammer," in the words of a competitor--all but signifies a new era in local rock broadcasting.

Local broadcasting executives, already troubled by overpopulation (few markets of this size match our station total, which, at last count, was 39), wonder where those listeners may be headed. Equally curious are the car dealers, beer distributors and grocery stores whose advertising dollars fund all the fun.

The Big Question--What Happened to the Big Red Radio?--logically leads to the Big Follow-up Question: Where Did All Those Listeners Go? There are lots of theories. A few of them follow.

The conclusion these theories lead up to, though, may surprise you.
Does this feel like the golden age of rock radio in Phoenix? The KDKB Got Better Theory

KDKB's "sound" has varied little since Chuck Artigue took over as the station's general manager in 1986. Listeners get a solid combination of classic-rock hits mixed with some new music (mostly by classic-rock artists), with no heavy metal.

Yet KDKB's ratings have increased from a 3.5 "share" to 4.5 in the last year.
Artigue says his station's gains can largely be credited to his morning men, Tim Scott and Mark Derringer, whom he imported from Baltimore four years ago. They offer "an entirely different approach" to morning radio than the often lewd n' crude competition, Artigue says. A typical Tim & Mark air shift is a fast-paced gag fest fueled by regular blasts of politically incorrect humor accompanied by uproarious laughter from studio guests and production assistants.

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