Summer cleaning... Lately, keeping tabs on the local radio industry has become a depressing exercise. First, it was the Planet's unhappy disembowelment at the hands of Spanish broadcaster Heftel, which in May swapped the station's Modern Adult Contemporary format for super-slick Mexican pop. Now, apparently, it's another FM frequency's turn to suffer the consequences of the consolidation bug set off by government deregulation. This time the corporate villain is the Kentucky-based Jacor Communications, which a few months back acquired Houston's only serious modern rock station, KTBZ/107.5 FM (the Buzz), along with KHMX/96.5 FM and more than a dozen other stations in other parts of the country.
As for official word on the changeover, neither upper management at the station nor Jacor execs will say much until the details of the deal are worked out, which should be in August. Both Buzz program director Jim Trapp and music director David Sadof were cautiously optimistic when word came of the takeover, confident that the station would not suffer any major damage. "We're just waiting for Judgment Day," an upbeat Trapp said this spring.
Well, Judgment Day has arrived, and though Trapp was fortunate enough to retain his position at the station, other judgments were harsh. Come August, Sadof will be out of a job; his weekly Lunar Rotation show -- local commercial radio's only outlet for Houston music -- is already off the air. Buzz general manager Ellen Cavanaugh has confirmed her departure, stating that she "doesn't fit into Jacor's long-term plans." Also expected to be gone by next month: on-air personalities John Leach and Carol Kennedy, as well as the station's news and traffic guy, Lanny Griffith. So much for the station's ties to the community.
"Everything that connects [the station] to its audience is being cut off," says one layoff victim who prefers anonymity.
The catch phrase among the departing staffers is "multitasking," corporate jargon for cleaning house. Jacor's reputation for gutting staffs (weeding out pesky pillars of localism) and dictating play lists with an iron fist is well documented.
"The Jacor people came to Houston in early June, and they met with some key management people," says the Buzz source, of what's been dubbed Black Friday. "They didn't meet any of us, and so our feeling was that we must not be getting fired, because they didn't even talk to us. Then, all of a sudden -- BAM -- at five o'clock on a Friday afternoon, phones started ringing all over Houston with department heads calling to tell people that they'd lost their jobs."
Meanwhile, Buzz contract players Ken Hoffman, Mr. Randy and Derek Nelson (son of Channel 13's Don Nelson) were out on the street as of June 12, the day everyone slated to go was given 60-day notice. That leaves mediocre morning show host Will Pendarvis to fend for himself. "They would rather let this poor man flounder than throw any more money [at it]," says Mr. Randy (a.k.a. Randy Wong). "It's a financial thing."
It seems that Trapp is one of the lucky ones -- not that there's any fun in standing by while your once proud modern rock station morphs into a gutless Modern AC wuss-magnet.
Says the anonymous Buzz source, "They're trying to capture the Planet audience -- whatever that is."
Just what Houston needs: more Dave Matthews and Lisa Loeb.
Etc.... Contrary to rumor, there is no Houston Press conspiracy to undermine the raunchy rep of local hyper-core outfit 30footFALL. Yeah, I confess that I came down hard on the band in this year's Music Awards supplement. And yeah, a certain Press writer mistakenly tipped the FALL guys to their commanding early lead in the Best Metal/Hard Rock category, implying they'd run away with it before all the votes were counted. (Aftershock surged from behind to snag the honors.) Still, I'd like to think that we're only looking after the best interests of these durable Houston punkers -- motivating their lazy asses so they might squeeze out a new album before, say, the turn of the millennium. Much love, fellas.
-- Hobart Rowland
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