Memo to: Terry Hardin, KZON-FM general manager
Re: The Zone's crossover to a Rock Alternative format, our conversations on the same, KEDJ's response, and other assorted strangeness
cc: Coda readers
I've got a question for you: Ever heard of this powerhouse FM station in Denver called "The Peak"? Call letters "KXPX," went on the air about a year ago? Oh, hell, what am I thinking--of course you have. Anybody who's anybody in rock radio knows The Peak. Besides, I've noticed that all of a sudden, your station has started to sound . . . well, let's just say "quite similar" to the outfit that pioneered the Rock Alternative format.
As I'm sure you know, "Rock Alternative" is something of a misnomer. Sounds too much like "Alternative Rock" when what it really means is a tight playlist of highly accessible modern rock--no Pink Floyd, but no Fugazi, either. We're talking R.E.M., U2, Peter Gabriel, the Pretenders, Edwyn Collins, maybe the occasional Pearl Jam cut when one of the jocks gets a bit too much Sumatra in the blood stream. Call it a kinder, gentler KUKQ, or a sanded-down Edge.
Rock Alternative also takes a mellowed tack at presentation--you won't hear as much hipster patter from the deejays, and there are fewer contests and sound effects. Not to put a label in your mouth, Terry. I know you're not ready or willing to fully own up to this Rock Alternative thing (though I noticed KZON's new slogan is "Arizona's Rock Alternative"). As you recently put it, "We're going through an evolutionary thing. I don't know how exactly you would define it, other than it's a rock station for adults."
And as to when exactly the station's format "evolved": "We started redefining things about two months ago, and the process recently sped up." That's one way to put it. Another might be that about midway through last week, it sounded like someone had flipped a switch at your station. The change in music was obvious enough, but what really caught my ear was the dramatic increase in repetition. Guess we can bid farewell to that old "ten in a row that you don't know" slogan, hey?
Not to say that's a bad thing. Switching from a geezer rock/deep modern library/blues smattering/local specialty show mishmosh to the highly structured Rock Alternative format may very well be a commercial coup.
Look what happened in Denver: KXPX was founded by a band of young turks who defected from the Mile High City's numero uno rock station--KBCO, a gutsy, high-strung modern-rock station not unlike Phoenix's KEDJ. Enter The Peak, which went from zip to a six share in less than a year, practically destroying KBCO in the process. Obviously, this Rock Alternative thing has some teeth.
You think KEDJ program director John Clay is soaking his sheets over what you're up to? You think he'd say so if he was? Here's what he told me: "I can't control what they do, and so I'm not worried about what they do."
Fair enough. For now, everybody's cool with the changes at The Zone. It's a happy, happy, joy, joy Phoenix radio community. Well, maybe not. After all, Terry, you did swing the ax a few times to make room for improvement. Let's review. About three weeks ago, KZON program director Dave Logan left the station in what you've since characterized as "an amicable parting of the ways." Yeah, right. As one of your competitive counterparts said, "In radio, like so many things in life, you have to read between the lines. Dave Logan took the station pretty deep into classic-rock territory. Obviously, that's not compatible with their new sound."
Whack. Whack. Whack. The next heads to roll belonged to the hosts of KZON's eight specialty shows. No more Dr. Demento, Grateful Dead Hour, Flashback Hour, Blues Hangover, or any of the other narrow-interest programs.
"Those shows go back to the whole boutiquey weirdness that KZON was," you said. "We tried them on briefly under our new direction, but they were like a pair of shoes that didn't fit. You wear them a while, then you go, 'Hey, forget about this, I'm getting some new shoes.'"
I read you, Terry. Hell, I even agree with you for the most part. The Grateful Dead Hour does not a successful modern-rock station make. But I'll call an etiquette foul on your treatment of Arizona Blues Society president and Blues Hangover host Bill Mitchell. The guy was four days from observing his third anniversary on the air when you called him last Wednesday to break the bad news. (By the way, Terry, do you recall that I called you earlier on Wednesday to inquire about rumors that you were about to announce more "major changes" for the station? You denied them. Guess canceling eight programs didn't qualify in your mind. Next time, I'll be more specific.) Back to the Mitchell thing--new format be damned, it seems like you could have given the guy his last show. But then, I'm no businessman. Big money's at stake in a major radio market, and the vultures pick at the bones of the compassionate, right? Still, it was only two hours (Sundays, 9 to 11 p.m.).
Here's Mitchell: "I guess I don't fit in anymore, but it would have been nice to at least go in and say goodbye." Come on, Terry, don't you feel just a little tug at a heartstring there?
Here's Mitchell again: "Speaking as a KZON listener, I'm dissatisfied with the changes. I feel the station used to be unique. It used to fill a void that's empty again."
Time will tell how many agree. I'll be listening, Terry. Best of luck.
Elsewhere on the Radio Front: KEDJ's John Clay was the "What, Me Worry?" guy last week. Asked of KUKQ's self-alleged "guerrilla warfare" campaign of crashing Edge-sponsored events to hand out freebies and flier cars in the parking lot, Clay had this to say:
"What do you do when you come out of a concert and there's a piece of paper under your wiper blade? You crumple it. You toss it. There's no cause for concern there."
Clay also questioned the very existence of any "guerrilla" campaign. "As far as I know, they've only showed up to one event. They're building this up to be way more than it is." KUKQ program director Larry Mac says Q staffers have in fact hit three KEDJ events thus far, and that a meeting was planned for last weekend to map out several more strikes.
"We're low-budget," Mac says. "We can't afford billboards, so we're hitting the streets to invite everyone to the party and let them know there's an alternative to Howard Stern in the morning."
Defending his recent decision to scale back the Q's Ramones saturation play from two half-hour slots a day (12:30 to 1 p.m., with a 7:30 to 8 p.m. repeat) to one 20-minute show (12:40 to 1 p.m.), Mac says, "The Ramones are a great band, but a lot of their songs sound similar. I think a lot of people were burning out on the Ramones, and I don't want to hurt the band by making people sick of them.
"We're not eliminating the Ramones entirely at this point, it's just a matter of scaling back." No word yet on whether Mac's predecessor and Ramones freak Jonathan L., who recently guaranteed in an interview that the Q would remain "the Southwest headquarters of the Ramones," is spinning in his trade magazine editor's desk chair over Mac's decision. Mac says the station is adding four specialty shows that will rotate on a week-to-week basis. In other words, you'll hear each show once a month. Well, make that three times. During its week, each program will air on Friday and Saturday night at midnight and Sunday at 6 p.m.
The lineup of shows so far is: Industrial Waste and as-yet-unnamed Hard-core Rap and Gothic Rock shows. The Mac Daddy says the fourth slot is still open, though he's leaning toward filling it with a local-music program. Here's hoping he takes the plunge. Normally, a city of this size would have a decent college station to provide crucial support for local bands. The lack of same from ASU is a significant gap in the foundation of the Phoenix/Tempe scene that the Q could, and should, shore up nicely. Urge to Ohm: When Mao Tse-tung ordered the invasion of Tibet in 1959, he directed Chinese troops to demolish the country's Buddhist monasteries in an attempt to crush the Tibetans' spirit.
What a dick. Among the razed spiritual centers was the Drepung Loseling monastery, which, at its peak, housed more than 10,000 monks who studied sacred performing arts as a means to enlightenment. Most of the Drepung monks were killed or imprisoned in the invasion, but a few escaped over the Himalayas to India, where they established an exile branch of the monastery in a refuge camp. Since then, the Drepung Loseling monks have performed with artists such as Mickey Hart and Sting at the behest of the Dalai Lama in an effort to heighten awareness of the global Free Tibet movement. They're best known for their multiphonic chanting, in which each member of a meditative chorus simultaneously intones all three notes of a chord. The effect is an intricate and incredibly deep hum you can feel in your heart as well as your bones. Definitely worth experiencing.
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The monks wind down their visit to the Valley this week with two performances of music and dance--one Thursday night at Scottsdale Center for the Arts, and one Friday at the Baseline Mansion. Also worth noting is the completion of a Tibetan sand mandala at Scottsdale Public Library on Thursday and its symbolic dismantlement Friday. Check the calendar section for specifics on all events.
End Note: Despite rumors to the contrary, Planet magazine's editor and primary investor both say the biweekly is not a sinking ship.
"I do my best to stay out of the financial side of things, but from my perspective, we're not going under," says editor Troy Fuss. "We've got stories assigned four issues out, and I've got pizza and beer in the fridge and my rent's paid."
Specifically, the buzz about Planet's impending demise was that Zia records owner Brad Singer, the fledgling publication's primary benefactor, was pulling the plug. Not so, says Singer. "I'm in it for the long haul."
Planet has been publishing biweekly since March and has 12 full-time employees.