Rock Radio (and Rock Romano) Redux

Bo knows good rock when he sees it. Do Houston radio programmers?

"Every time I think I'm out, they pull me right back in." So said The Sopranos' Silvio Dante, channeling Michael Corleone in The Godfather: Part III. You'll remember that Dante was talking about leaving the Mafia, and while Racket isn't mobbed up, these days he feels trapped in much the same way, boxed in, interned in a camp. He wants to write about something other than local radio, but shit just keeps happening. And somehow -- despite all the changes -- things never seem to get that much better.

Here's the past year in a nutshell: We lost business talk, hard rock, classical and standards stations and gained one each of hot talk, Latin rap/reggaetón, Mexican regional and sports talk channels. And late last month came the newest development. Hot 97.5, an R&B outlet that managed to outbland Majic 102, bit the dust, and out of the ashes came Rock 97.5, Houston's not-that-long-awaited replacement for Rock 101.

KLOL's demise was met with much gnashing of teeth from the city's aging rock population, who demonstrated, bitched online and petitioned Clear Channel to have the station returned to the airwaves. All of which worked about as well as you might expect.

Rumors of rock's return roiled awhile, and then, into the breach stepped Clear Channel competitor Cumulus, who hired former KLOL and Buzz program director Pat Fant and announced that rock was back. On January 27 at 11 a.m., a montage of classics with "rock" in the title -- you know the tunes, the ones by AC/DC, the Scorpions and the Stones -- heralded rock's new dawn on the dial.

And what form would rock take this time? More important, given 97.5's pathetically feeble transmitter, would anybody be able to hear it?

I'll get to the former in a second. As for the latter, in my daily routine -- I live near Rice and work downtown -- I have severe problems hearing this station. The signal is static-ridden; it sounds as if it's being broadcast from Beaumont or something. (As it happens, it more or less is -- the station's transmitter is out in Willis, though it's rumored to be moving to La Porte soon.) Whenever I tune in, I have to jostle my jambox around my desk to maximize reception, and sometimes even leave my hand on it, faith-healer-style, to act as an extended antenna. And it still doesn't come in very clearly.

Now, for the music. Instead of analyzing playlists posted on the Web, I tuned in for an hour or so on the afternoon of February 1. I gave them 20 tunes to win me or lose me. Here's what I heard:

Nine songs you can hear on the Arrow just about any old time. These included Boston's "Don't Look Back," Pink Floyd's "Run Like Hell," Rush's "Limelight," ZZ Top's "Legs," Zep's "Black Dog" and Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." There was also Lenny Kravitz's "Are You Gonna Go My Way," which you can already hear on not just the Arrow, but also the Mix and the Buzz, and U2's "With or Without You," which by municipal ordinance is mandated to be playing somewhere on Houston's dial at all times -- even when U2 has a blockbuster new album out. Rock 97.5 also played "Children of the Sun" by that guy who sings it, and I must confess it's now officially a new old guilty pleasure of mine. (And yes, people of the earth, I know it was by Billy Thorpe, so don't send me that e-mail.)

Three songs you can hear on the Buzz just about any old time. Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was by far the best of a sorry bunch that also included Alter Bridge's "Open Your Eyes" and Nickelback's "Never Again." (And Chad Kroeger -- if I ever have to hear that last one again, kickin' your ass would be a pleasure.)

Three songs you used to hear on KLOL all the time. These were "Slither" by Velvet Revolver, "Would?" by Alice in Chains and Judas Priest's "You've Got Another Thing Coming."

And, the five songs that establish the station's identity, at least for now. Rock 97.5 also played "N.I.B." by Black Sabbath, "Thunderstruck" by AC/DC and "Top of the World" by Van Halen. These are somewhat promising selections -- they at least have the virtue of not being utterly and completely overplayed. Rock 97.5 seems to have gotten the fact that people are burned out on the likes of "Paranoid," "Back in Black" and "Jump," and seems to recognize that its fans are savvy enough to know more than just the smash-hit singles. Also, "Alive" by Kenny Wayne Shepherd was tossed out as a sop to the Stevie Ray-lovin' bluez dawgz, and somehow the Talking Heads' "Burning Down the House" slipped into this rough-and-rowdy company.

And so we come to the verdict. Right now, I'll give their transmitter a solid D. I'll give their music a C-plus for the moment, but I will say this: It's already shaking up the Buzz and the Arrow, even if their method of fighting back is to declare over and over again that nobody will out-AC/DC or out-Zep them -- expect an all-out war, or, if you will, a Battle of Evermore Zep and AC/DC.

Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Houston Concert Tickets

Concert Calendar

  • April
  • Sat
  • Sun
  • Mon
  • Tue
  • Wed
  • Thu
  • Fri

Find Any Show in Town