AMS News

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Wave changes its tune

The Post and Courier
By Kyle Stock
The Post and Courier
Wednesday, September 5, 2007

"Near bottom of ratings, station drops alternative rock format."

Days after Apex Broadcasting Inc. pulled the plug on alternative rock at its 96.1 "Wave" radio station, a whine of feedback has droned through Charleston's music scene.

The storied but long-struggling frequency stopped spinning songs from the likes of Soundgarden in favor of softer stuff like Simon and Garfunkel, and turned down the volume on aspiring local bands like Red Handed and The Working Title. The broadcaster also changed its moniker from "Wave" to "Chuck," as in "Chucktown," a slang term for Charleston.

Chris Johnson, an Apex vice president, described the new format as "adult variety hits" and said the frequency now has a "pretty wide-open play list."

"The thinking on it was that it would broaden the appeal," he said. "It's kind of an undefined thing."

The response from advertisers and listeners has been static-free and largely positive, according to Johnson, but many longtime residents and fans of independent, alternative music have lamented the change since Apex made the switch Friday night.

Chris Dixon, a Charleston-based freelance writer, recalled stringing a wire through his Litchfield home to pick up 96 Wave as a kid. Dixon said the new format hardly echoes the former fare.

"Who wants to hear Rick Springfield and Journey?" he said. "I feel like it changes the whole vibe of living in this town. ... There's nowhere on the air that you can find a new song by the White Stripes right now."

For about two decades, Wave acted as a sort of greenhouse for budding bands, broadcasting some littleknown acts and booking would-be giants like David Byrne and Wilco for Wavefest, its annual concert.

Apex, a Charleston-based company that now has about 40 full-time employees, played tracks that were overlooked or unsanctioned by corporate radio powerhouses.

Johnny Diamond, an agent who has represented a string of local bands, said 96 Wave's play list helped a number of his acts sign record deals.

"It's obviously a terrible thing for the Charleston music scene," Diamond said Tuesday. "There's nothing even close to that format out there now. ... People can abuse the term 'cutting edge,' but that's always kind of how I felt about Wave."

But despite resonating with rock purists, the Wave has grown weaker.

The frequency slid to No. 16 in local ratings this spring, according to Arbitron Inc., a New York-based company that tracks the industry. Only three of every 100 people listening to the radio in Charleston at any given time had their dials tuned to WAVF-FM. Apex's other three stations posted stronger results, with its Star 99.7 frequency grabbing the No. 2 slot.

The company cued up its new 96.1 at 5 p.m. Friday evening, bidding farewell to the old format with Soundgarden's "My Wave." Listeners on Tuesday heard a string of aging standards: "Mrs. Robinson" by Simon and Garfunkel, Snap's "I've Got the Power," "Do You Think I'm Sexy" by Rod Stewart and Loverboy's "Everybody's Working for the Weekend," to name a few.

Ed Seeger, who consults radio stations nationwide as chief executive of Mount Pleasant-based American Media Services, said Apex's new programming is likely crafted to gain more listeners between the ages of 24 and 55.

"That's what they call 'the money demo.' Most of your blue-chip advertisers are wanting that demographic," he said.

Seeger predicted that the station's ratings would rocket under the new format.
Apex commands about 18 percent of the Charleston radio market, according to Arbitron's most-recent statistics.

The six local stations owned by Clear Channel Communications Inc., a Texas-based company, have 25 percent of listeners, while Las Vegas-based Citadel Broadcasting, grabs 22 percent of the market with its five stations.

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