March 20, 1996 (Chuck Taylor/Seattle Times) Perhaps there would be something in there about trading a microphone for a whiskey bottle at the Stumble Inn. About leaving FM for CB. One day you’re working at the No. 2 country station in a big market. The next day you’re wondering about your job and watching the VU meters on the “Kickin’ Country” control board bounce back and forth to the sound of KMPS-FM-AM (94.1, 1300), the long-dominant competition, which is being rebroadcast on your FM and AM transmitters. “Kickin’ Country” – heard on KCIN-FM (106.1) and KRPM-AM (1090) – has kicked the bucket in quintessentially sudden radio fashion. All that was left yesterday were hastily recorded farewells by morning personality Ichabod Caine, dropped in between KMPS songs.(Ichabod probably won’t be gone from the airwaves long.) Scanning the dial, there was no escaping top-rated KMPS. It could be heard not only on its own frequencies but on what technically are still KCIN-FM and KRPM-AM. Same thing on four radio stations. EZ Communications of Fairfax, Va., the owner of KMPS, already was buying Seattle’s No. 3 country station, “Young Country” KYCW-FM (96.5), when it announced this week it also would acquire KCIN-KRPM in a swap with Heritage Media Corp. of Dallas, owner of the two stations. In return, Heritage gets three stations in New Orleans. All three major country stations here in the nation’s 13th-biggest radio market would be under the same ownership – except that EZ intends to change the format of KCIN and KRPM sometime soon. The four-way simulcast is an interim measure. What’s next is being kept under wraps. The change yesterday prompted phone calls from confused and disappointed listeners. After having a choice among three country stations, Seattleites will have two to choose from on the FM dial. It’s just the beginning of a radio revolution. A provision in the recently passed Telecommunications Act of 1996 greatly relaxes ownership limits, and national chains are scrambling to consolidate their holdings into efficient station clusters. EZ could acquire another FM station here – and intends to – and another AM station, said EZ controller Chris Maguire. After the deals are approved by the Federal Communications Commission, six companies will own stations drawing 77 percent of the Seattle-Tacoma radio audience. Will they each be tempted to “own” a format, quashing competition? “I don’t think that the trend toward consolidation necessarily is going to consolidate all stations of a like format,” said Ron Rodriguez, managing editor of the trade weekly Radio & Records. “That does happen to be the case in Seattle” in this deal, Rodriguez said, “and it’s certainly an advantage for an owner to own the format, because then they can direct listeners to whatever station in their cluster they want. But that doesn’t prevent another cluster in the market from throwing a competitor into the mix as well.” Indeed, Seattle’s ownership clusters mostly contain a variety of personas. The conventional wisdom, Rodriguez said, is that clustering will actually foster more diversity because multiple ownership consolidates overhead and decreases the risk in taking a chance on a niche format with one of the stations. But no one knows for certain. EZ Communications general manager Fred Schumacher said this town was never big enough for three country stations. All three basically played the same music, with KYCW standing out as more personality-oriented than the others. So what is the future of the signals at 106.1 FM and 1090 AM? Schumacher wouldn’t say. In suggesting what sorts of niche formats might spring from consolidation around the country, Rodriguez suggested more ethnic programming and acoustic rock as possibilities. But all the others he cited – alternative rock, talk on FM, classical and religious, to name a few – are already serving Seattle. What’s left here? Perhaps competition in those niches served by a single station. Or maybe something new. Anyone pining for the Greatest Hits of the Eighties?
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