Music News


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.).

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David Holthouse
Contact: David Holthouse