Adios, KLOL

For the first time in Houston, Clear Channel makes a refreshing change

Around noon on November 12, KLOL spun its last record, which was also its first: "I'm Free" by the Who. The choice was ironic for a couple of reasons. First, KLOL hadn't played a record that good in years, and second, the station hadn't been anything like "free" since Clear Channel bought it. And then it was over -- the station that brought us such iconic images as the silver surfer and the rampaging old-school radio was tossed in the Dumpster of Houston radio history, where it joined the likes of KIKK, which once defined the city's musical aesthetic for the entire world. The latter morphed into smooth-jazz dreck. KLOL's transformation was at least a step forward -- the new Mega 101's mix of Spanish-language hip-hop, merengue, rock en español, reggaetón and dance-pop should make Clear Channel a lot of money. And it's the freshest new format to grace the air here in years, but more on that later.

Still, man, has Houston changed since I was a kid or what? Ratings from ten years ago tell the story -- by then, country already had started to slide toward ratings purgatory. In the January 1995 ratings book, KILT had slid from the top spot to second (toppled by Sunny 99.1, of all things), which was the first time in four years that country had not topped the ratings. Still, Q-Country and KIKK were third and eighth, respectively. Today, the city's two current country stations are lucky to crack the top ten, or even, for that matter, stave off the local classic country outlet.

And then there's rock. Including the oldies and classic stations, there were six rock stations on the dial in 1995. KRBE's new rock was No. 1 in the format and No. 4 overall; KLOL checked in at No. 9 overall and second in the format. And then there were Rocket 107, Z-Rock, the Arrow (which had almost exactly the same ratings then that it has now) and the oldies emporium.

If you looked long enough, you could see the rap and Spanish tsunami welling just below this deceptively placid surface. The Boxx was already in the top six, and there were seven Spanish stations lurking near the bottom of the ratings, led by KQQK and the Selena-fueled Tejano 108.

What a difference a decade makes, both in the nation and here in Houston. Since 1995, wave upon wave of Asian and Hispanic immigrants have arrived. Hip-hop has burst through the dam of racial, political and critical resistance and has, at least in part, lured away a generation of kids of every color from rock, R&B and country.

Meanwhile, the lords of rock and country in New York, Nashville and Los Angeles churned out ten years of mostly inferior product. (Nashville kept trying to clone Garth, until Faith replicants became more fashionable; the rock barons spewed legions of clones of Nirvana, and then Green Day and then Limp Bizkit and Korn.) At the same time, the Internet became ubiquitous, exposing music fans to a wider and wider range of music and atomizing fans into narrower and narrower subgenres of rock and country. Downloading arose and eroded the profits of record companies. Clear Channel, Cox and Infinity (among too few others) bought every radio station in the universe and strictly formatted their new acquisitions. And now XM and Sirius have just begun to chip away at land-locked radio. Before that trend's all over, trad radio will be as much a preserve of the poor and/or isolated as people who have only network TV.

Could the likes of KIKK and KLOL have done anything to ensure their survival in light of all these factors? "Yes," and "probably not," respectively. As for KIKK, their stab at a Texas country format was half-assed and ill conceived. Alongside their Waylon & Willie and Pat & Cory, they played way too much Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Tim McGraw and Shania. They should have spun more Steve Earle, Hank, Guy Clark and Johnny Bush instead. There are quite a few stations in the Hill Country that have thrived after doing just that.

Which leaves us with KLOL. These days, ailing hard rock stations are an admittedly much tougher species to save than even struggling country stations. Once young women of easy virtue abandoned hard rock -- which was along about 1991 or so, for those of you keeping track -- KLOL's days were numbered. Hell, by the time of its demise, even strippers had stopped listening to KLOL. These days, what young chickenhead wants to pole-dance to Velvet Revolver when she can get nasty to "Get Low"?

The first thing they could have done is not fire Stevens and Pruett. The second thing they could have done is widen their playlist a little. I know it's a desperate measure, but they could have thrown in some vintage hair metal to woo some of the nostalgic women, like the one featured in Bowling for Soup's "1985." They could have jumped all over Los Lonely Boys when their record came out instead of championing the stale likes of Tesla. They could have been more of a local presence -- not just played more Houston bands, but also hosted more events and been a heavy presence on the scene, the way they were back in the '70s and '80s.

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