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Air Wars

Format changes hit local airwaves

By Greg Cahill and Gretchen Giles

THE RADIO GODS giveth and the radio gods taketh away. Faster than you can say Arbitron, Sonoma County went overnight last week from a three-country FM station market to a three-oldies FM station market. Well, actually, one oldies--KMGG (97.9-FM)--and two classic rock--KHBG (96-FM) and KGRP (100.9-FM)--stations. But we'll leave it up to the programmers to handle the fine tuning.

What's it all mean?

First a little history--and don't pay too much attention to the alphabet soup; it all changes before the end of the story anyway. Last year, KRSH owner Fred Constant announced that he was starting a new venture--KRZY--to go boot-to-boot with local country radio heavyweight Q105. "We think we can create a country station that will have lots of fun and excitement and that will be uniquely different in this market," Constant told the Independent last May.

Meanwhile, four local stations--KSRO, KXFX, and KLCQ, owned by Fuller-Jeffrey Broadcasting of Massachusetts; and KMGG, owned by Pacific Radio of Santa Rosa--were purchased by the Amaturo Group of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Two other new local stations--KJZY of Sebastopol and Healdsburg's KHBG (known as the Bridge)--also hit the local airwaves.

And then country-oriented KFGY (92.9-FM)--Froggy--hopped into the market.

Three country radio stations and you still couldn't find skewed Texas singer-songwriter Lyle Lovett on the dial.

To appreciate the latest twist, you have to note that Froggy metamorphosed from the aforementioned KLCQ, a classic rock station that pumped out a steady diet of Tom Petty, Joan Jett, and other '60s, '70s, and '80s FM staples.

Thanks to an aggressive $100,000 marketing campaign that targeted a younger (25- to 44-year-old) audience and included a decorated Froggy-mobile and a Frog-zilla mascot, KFGY handily won the upstart slot in the local country radio market.

Then Constant and the owners of KHBG--which had gone on the air last January with programming that leaned toward Sting, Natalie Merchant, and other modern adult contemporary acts--did separate marketing surveys. Guess what? They both concluded that the county needed a classic rock station to fill the void vacated by KLCQ when it went country.

Say hello to the Grape--KGRP (formerly KRZY, which is broadcast from a tower atop Mount St. Helena in Napa County and housed in an old railroad car in Santa Rosa)--and a revamped KHBG, which has traded in its slick Euro-pop for Chicago's greatest hits.

"The research showed there was a hole in the market for classic rock," explains KHBG's new general manager Kent Bjugstad, who jumped ship a couple of weeks ago from oldies station KMGG. "I guess [KGRP] did the same research and came to the same conclusion."

These days the Bridge is shooting for a slightly more mature audience (30- to 45-year-olds) and plans to offer the Doobie Brothers, Bruce Springsteen, the Eagles, Elton John, Dire Straits, the Cars, and other tracks rooted in the '70s.

Over at the Grape--simpatico in name with Wine Country Radio owner Fred Constant's other local radio venture, the Crush--consultants found the same hole. And they're going to fill it with, well, pretty much the same programming as at the Bridge.

"The Grape will be a hit-oriented radio station," says Constant, who believes that the country radio market is shrinking. "We did a very sizable research project . . . and since there already were three country stations here, we decided to change."

That's fine by Froggy owner Lawrence Amaturo. "Sonoma County residents are listening to country," he says. "Nationally, it's true that country is waning [in the urban markets], but in the rural markets such as this, country is thriving. In only five months, Froggy has matched Q105 [in the ratings] and exceeded [the now defunct] KRZY by six times. We have a superb signal and we encourage people to find us.

"As with real estate, in radio there is only one key: signal, signal, signal."

Stay tuned for updates.

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From the March 20-26, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent

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