WZJM dropped its Top 40 format like a bubblegum wrapper on the pavement Monday, April 19, in favor of what's known in radio as "jammin' oldies." WZJM found a curious way to make the transition. For two days the station picked up the feed from a jammin' oldies station in New York. Then it simulcast a similar-sounding station in Chicago for nine hours, before finally going local at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 21.
It made for strange radio. Not only were 92.3 listeners served the Commodores instead of the Spice Girls, they listened to unfamiliar DJs shout foreign call letters and frequencies between songs. If listeners hung with 92.3 long enough, don't-adjust-your-dial promos explained what was going on.
"We just thought it was a different approach to give the audience a sampling of what [the new format] is all about," says Errol Dengler, vice president and general manager of three of the seven stations Dallas-based Chancellor Media Corp. owns in Cleveland. The New York and Chicago stations WZJM picked up are both Chancellor-owned.
"A lot of it has to do with presentation," Dengler continues. "You just don't walk into a new format without walking everybody through it."
The jammin' oldies format runs the range between Motown and Prince. It's good-time music from the likes of Curtis Mayfield; Kool & the Gang; Earth, Wind & Fire, Donna Summer, and Stevie Wonder. You needn't have grown up in the '70s sculpting your Afro to feel a part of the action; the songs have become part of the lexicon through movie soundtracks and commercials.
Dengler says that Chancellor did "extensive research" and concluded that Cleveland was ripe for jammin' oldies. In other cities, the format attracts a mostly white, mostly female audience; the core listener is between 35 and 54 years old. WZJM attracted a good-sized audience, but forty-year-olds are a far more lucrative demographic than teenagers working the Arby's drive-thru.
Calls to 92.3 last week ranged from "like the change" to "Bring back the Hanson boys." Says station Program Director Big Dave Eubanks: "A lot of parents called and said we'd taken their kids' radio station."
The format change leaves Cleveland without a Top 40 station, and Dengler says he would not be surprised if another station picked up the slack. Given this event, Radio One's purchase of WENZ-FM/107.9, and the pending Clear Channel-Jacor merger, the Cleveland radio landscape is bound to keep shifting underfoot. Hold on to your car-stereo knobs.
She may or may not have made the right decision, but credit Streetsboro City Schools Superintendent Mary Linton for at least treating the students with respect. The day before last Saturday's Spring Mosh '99 concert at the high school, Linton canceled the show, citing the massacre at Columbine High School in suburban Denver and the discovery of bomb-making instructions and a list of student names in the lockers of two Streetsboro Middle School students.
Matt Wilcox, a Streetsboro High School senior and operations manager of V-Rock (WSTB-FM/88.9), the student-run radio station, says that Linton called him and other students into her office to discuss the decision. "I told her myself we will support her. She's the one who went to bat for us. I wouldn't believe she would pull it a day before if she didn't think it was needed," Wilcox says.
Spring Mosh '99, which was to be headlined by Mushroomhead, was a controversy long before two teen gunmen turned Columbine into a killing field. Though Linton and the school board had signed off on the concert, skittish Streetsboro Mayor Sally Henzel would not give the show the necessary permit. After vociferous student protest, a compromise was reached, and the show was to go on. All 1,500 tickets were sold.
Like Wilcox, other V-Rockers were unhappy with Linton's call, but they sympathized with her position. "I can understand, with the incidents hitting so close to home, with stuff in the lockers--they have to be careful," says Mike Kuhstos, the adult station supervisor who worked tirelessly to make Spring Mosh happen.
"The whole school was psyched," says senior Bob Wells, a V-Rock DJ. "It's a shame it had to come to this."
Though the $10 tickets will be refunded, Kuhstos says that contracts would be honored by the school district, including Mushroomhead's guarantee. Mushroomhead singer J. Mann says that the band had planned to return its pay, minus expenses, to the station. Mushroomhead, too, was disappointed the show had to be canceled: "All I know is that Saturday night there's 1,500 students with nothing to do," Mann said on Friday. "If I was holding a ticket for two months, and one night before the show it gets canceled, I'd be pretty pissed."
What were the Streetsboro kids going to do Saturday night instead? "I have no clue," Wilcox said the day before. "It's completely open now. I'm sure we'll find something to do, but nothing nearly as fun."
In other Littleton-related news, veteran Cleveland band Lestat was mentioned in a ham-handed Associated Press story about Gothic culture. (Typical passage: "Goths are interested in vampires and witchcraft and death--the darker side of life. Many cultivate a ghostly pallor.") The piece, which appeared in papers April 22, quoted the slogan on Lestat's home page: "Death is the mother of the beauty." Yeah, and mainstream journalism is the mother of surface reporting.
Poets of Another Breed, who are nominated for a Cleveland Scene Music Award in the hip-hop category, have a CD release party for Creamed Corn at the Odeon Friday, April 30 . . . Silk makes an in-store appearance at 2 Live Music & Video in Akron on Saturday, May 1, at 2 p.m. . . . Botch Department: Last week's Soundbites reported that Tommy Wiggins was to play the Barking Spider April 25. Wrong. The show is this Sunday, May 2, at 3 p.m. . . . Kent-based Davenport Records has a show at the Grog Shop Saturday, May 1, to benefit a future CD compilation. The Phoebe Cates, Channel, the Miniature Pop Group, the Blue Rose, and the Orange Whirl perform for your pleasure.