2009 is only a few days old, and Houston's radio climate is already improving. Not on the FM dial, which remains a wasteland north of 91.7 (same as it ever was), but starting at 4 p.m. today, commuters can immerse themselves in the swinging sounds of Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, B.B. King, Nat King Cole and many more thanks to "Classic Cool," the new format now residing at 650 AM.
Overseen by longtime Houston radio personalities Ronnie Renfrow (ex-KBME) and Tom Richards (ex-KRTS), Classic Cool is poetic justice of sorts. Swing, vocal jazz and pre-Motown R&B have been absent from the local commercial airwaves since KBME switched formats to "The Sports Animal" a few years back. In its previous incarnation, 650 was a satellite of Sports Radio 610 (KILT-AM), and often broadcast sporting events (UT basketball, etc.) preempted by a Texans or Rockets game on KILT.
However, Renfrow stresses Classic Cool is no nostalgia trip. The station's playlist will also include contemporary acts like Harry Connick Jr., Diana Krall (right), Norah Jones and Michael Buble, all of whom have a much harder time securing airplay than selling records. ""This is by far the biggest programming void in radio," Renfrow said in a press release. "The artists are selling millions of CDs annually, but listeners have had nowhere to go on the dial - until now."
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Renfrow and Richards also plan to syndicate Classic Cool's locally-generated programming to other cities and maintain a local live-music database on the station's still-incomplete Web site, www.classiccool.com. - Chris Gray