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Radio Daze

New country station on the air

By Greg Cahill

LOCAL COUNTRY MUSIC fans--and lord knows there's a whole wholesome heap of 'em--are about to be part and parcel to a tug of war for their affections. This week, KRAZ (100.9 FM)--a new Santa Rosa-based country radio station owned by broadcast entrepreneur Fred Constant of Calistoga, proprietor of local adult alternative station KRSH (98.7 FM)--started broadcasting a sample of its down-home sounds over the airwaves, the first salvo in what surely will become a wild scramble for a big slice of the local country radio pie.

The new station, which will share space at KRSH's Santa Rosa studio, will sport a contemporary country music format quite similar to that of local FM heavyweight Q105. The two also will have something else in common: popular radio DJ Rick Jackson has been lured away from Q105 to hold down the mike at KRAZ. The program director at the new station has not been named yet, though Jackson is a candidate. Brad Kahn, general sales manager at KRAZ, also is a former Q105 employee.

"I'm very excited by this new station," says Constant, 54, a former Princeton University religion and literature major who has owned a dozen radio stations over the years. "We've been working on this project since 1990."

His wife, Petaluma native Mary Fairbanks Constant--president of Wine Country Radio, the couple's Santa Rosa-based broadcasting firm--applied six years ago to the Federal Communications Commission to start the new station. Last December she successfully negotiated a settlement with another applicant, Gary Wilson of San Rafael, who also had asked the FCC for a chance to air on that frequency.

KRAZ is scheduled tentatively to go into full operation on May 20.

The signal from the 6,000-watt station, which will broadcast from a tower atop Mount St. Helena, will span Sonoma and Napa counties. "From a competitive standpoint, our signal should be better than [Q105's]," Constant says. "And 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. One way we'll do that is to be actively involved in the community."

Programming at KRAZ will feature mostly songs by the cream of the Nashville revival: Alan Jackson, Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks, George Strait, et al. But Constant, who confesses to having a weak spot for such alternative country acts as Lyle Lovett and Steve Earle, also wants to feature a specialty show fashioned after the South Bay alternative country station KPIG's "Americana" program. He also may incorporate some of those more adventurous programming elements in the new station's daily broadcasts.

During the next few weeks, listeners will have a chance to phone in their preferences.

KRAZ joins 11 other stations in the local radio market at a time of unprecedented growth in the Sonoma County broadcasting industry. Last week, the owners of four local stations--KSRO, KXFX, KLCQ, owned by Fuller-Jeffrey Broadcasting of Massachusetts; and KMGG, owned by Pacific Radio of Santa Rosa--signed letters of intent with a new buyer, Amaturo Group of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Earlier this year, two other new stations, KJZY of Santa Rosa and KHBG of Healdsburg, went on the air.

But the latest entry underscores the continued strength of the resurgent country music market. "This format started to soar in 1990 fueled by hip-hop and rap music taking over--and eventually killing--contemporary hit radio," says Bob Glasco, vice president of consulting services for Rusty Walker Programming, the Arizona-based country radio firm that is helping to program KRAZ. "At about that same time, the country music industry saw a lot of great acts with a lot of great songs come along. There also were a lot of disenfranchised people looking for a current form of music that would be palatable.

"It was a combination of those forces colliding that made for the recent rise of country music."

In recent years, country music has become one of the top radio music formats in the Bay Area, which boasts three major country stations. A decade ago, there was one country station in each major radio market in the United States; today there are more than 1,400 across the country.

What will distinguish KRAZ from Q105, its closest competitor? "We hope that listeners will find our presentation more entertaining," says Glasco. "And--for lack of a better way of putting it--that we'll have a better batting average at playing people's favorite songs."

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From the May 2-8, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent

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