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The Year in Review


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  As the Dial Turns
Knoxville Radio on the Move, 2003

2003 was a banner year for changes around the local radio dial, some good and others... less so. As media corporations buy up radio properties, and cookie-cutter programming formulas cause stations to sound the same from market to market, more and more listeners are turning their radios off and hitting "shuffle" on their CD players.

On the AM side of the dial, the most notable change was the firing of Sam Brown by WNOX News-Talk 99. After receiving yet another prestigious Murrow award in New York City for his reporting, Brown returned to Knoxville only to learn that he was being let go by the Citadel-owned WNOX. No real reason was ever given as to why one of the city's most respected journalists was relieved of his duties; our guess is that it must have been old news to the folks at 990.

WNOX also axed the short-lived but informative and entertaining locally produced show "Frank Talk," hosted by longtime conservative politico Frank Cagle. Listeners with many different social and political viewpoints enjoyed the show, especially when the topic dealt with issues regarding Tennessee government and politics. WNOX, which has become communication central for ultra-conservative listeners in the area, replaced Cagle with nationally syndicated hardhead Neil Boortz.

Meanwhile, the area's only locally owned and operated radio cluster The Horne Radio Group, cranked up "The Network," a group of five AM radio stations located in towns and communities surrounding Knoxville simulcasting local talk shows during the daytime hours. Local issues, politics, and the like are covered, as well as sports call-in shows. Daily hosts include well-known local sports enthusiasts and political observers such as Lloyd Daugherty, head of the Tennessee Conservative Union, former Vol Dewey "Swamp Rat" Warren, as well as Knox radio veteran Tony Basilio.

And finally, WKGN, or as it has been called for years "K-Jam," switched gears due to two new hip-hip stations signing invading the FM side of the dial. Shifting their focus from that of a youth market R&B/hip hop station, WKGN now touts itself as "The Adult Mix of R&B," and programs more accessible, pop-influenced hip hop. A large portion of their programming now includes 80's funk classics, and they still air the excellent nationally syndicated morning drive "Tom Joyner Morning Show." The addition of call-in and open forum-type shows focusing on topics involving the local African-American community are also new and important additions to WKGN.

Public and community radio remained almost unchanged in 2003. While WUOT has moved toward being a strictly jazz and classical station, their NPR programming remains appealing to a significant number of people in the area.

Meanwhile, WDVX is less bluegrass-intensive, mixing in a wider variety of Americana music. And although they no longer broadcast from a camper, they are still going strong from the basement of a vacant house in Anderson County.

On a sad note, the original producer and host of the brilliantly eclectic WDVX show "All Over The Road" Mike Flannagan passed away suddenly due to heart problems. An entertaining deejay who knew his music, and an even better person with a permanent smile, Flannagan is missed by many. But his show lives on with the help of friends and co-workers like Wayne Bledsoe and Randall Brown.

And even though there was much talk of the very popular Spindale, N.C. public radio station WNCW finally making its way back onto the Knoxville airwaves, there is still no word on another frequency other than their original FM 88.7, which can only be picked up in easternmost portions of Knox County.

Commercial radio on the FM. side of the dial went through a year of controversy and change. Knoxville's source for angst-ridden white suburban male programming, WNFZ Extreme Radio toned down some, but still featured plenty of head-banging rock 'n' roll. They now call themselves "Knoxville's New Rock Station" as often as they call themselves "Extreme," but the fact remains that they still force the vile syndicated show "Mancow in the Morning" on thousands of listeners who are too young to know better.

Late 2002 saw the first-ever FM hip-hip radio station FINALLY hit the dial in Knoxville when Citadel-owned and operated Wild 98.7 signed on. The station was an instant success, gaining audience shares that put them in or near the top 5 stations in town for listeners 18 and up. Then, in 2003, Journal Radio Group brought the second such station to town with Hot 104.5, and kicked Knoxville's source for big-hair music "The Bone" into radio never-neverland. Although many pundits thought (and still think) that Knoxville can't support two hip-hop stations, Hot showed that it is a player in the market with an effective mix of current hip hop and R&B, in contrast to the shorter playlist at Wild. Hot 104.9 has cut Wild's audience share in half, and it will be interesting to see which one survives. Maybe they can get pointers on reaching the finish line from NYC Marathon man P. Diddy. Stay tuned...

Journal's Cool 93.1 changed formats in the middle of the year, leaving South Central radio group with the only Oldies station(s) in town (Oldies 95.7 & 106.7). Cool is now known as The Point, offering a mix of "hits from the 80's, 90's, and today," better known as Hot Adult Contemporary (Hot AC) in the radio biz. With a mix of music that goes after an older demographic than their partner Top 40 station Star 102.1, their ratings have been nothing to write home about, but they do give over-30 listeners another option when they get too bubble-gummed out by Star's mix of teen tunes.

WKVL-FM, formerly an all-'80s music station known as Max 105, is now West 105.3. Part of the locally owned and operated Horne Radio Group, West 105.3 switched to an entertaining mix of music previously unheard in this market. By mixing new music from established artists like Dave Matthews, R.E.M., and Sheryl Crow with tunes from new artists like The Strokes, Damien Rice and Scott Miller & The Commonwealth, the station seems to be carving their own niche in the market. Spicing their musical programming with Americana, blues, local musicians and classic rock hits that no else plays anymore, the station is creating a buzz even with a low budget and a limited coverage area. Specialty shows including a daily Americana show, a Monday night Jam Band show, and even the ultra-cool syndicated "Little Steven's Underground Garage" hosted by Springsteen guitarist/'Sopranos' star Little Steven Van Zandt complement the regular programming, making West a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stale market.

The biggest news of the year in radio had to be the controversial purchase of 100.3 The River / WOKI by Citadel from longtime Knoxville radio staples Dick Broadcasting. The sale meant that the company that made WIVK and WNOX what they are today no longer owns a radio station in their hometown market.

But the larger controversy concerned the way the whole buyout went down on Aug. 1. A bit of history: After 100.3 had struggled through three format changes in as many years, Knoxville radio veterans Aaron Snukals and Shane Cox took over in 2001 and adopted an Album Adult Alternative (Triple A) format. After initially struggling, The River had gained considerably in market share by the spring of 2003, with an eclectic mix of music that included classic rock, blues, reggae, Americana and specialty shows.

But even as The River gained market share, Citadel purchased the station from Dick Broadcasting, and plotted a possible format change. Citadel eventually scrapped those plans and purchased rights to The River name and format as well, allegedly owing to the enormous hue and cry from loyal listeners. WIVK program director and local Citadel exec Mike Hammond said that in all his years in radio, he had never so much response, thousands of phone calls, letters and e-mails.

Citadel posted billboards proclaiming "We heard your voices...The River will stay the same." But their actions spoke otherwise, as most of the station's original staff was fired without rationale or compensation. Most of the new staff was hired from outside the market, and though the station purports to remain unchanged, both its musical mix and its personality have been profoundly altered.

December 25, 2003 * Vol. 13, No. 52
© 2003 Metro Pulse