This past New Year's Eve afternoon, as classic-rock fans across Houston were putting on their faux, pre-distressed Led Zeppelin '77 tour T-shirt to head out and ring in the new year (and presumably, to rock and roll all night), they might have been shocked when turning in to KKRW 93.7 FM The Arrow.
Instead of hearing familiar tunes from the the Stones, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, AC/DC or even Loverboy, they got an earful of Rick Ross, Beyonce, Jay-Z, and Drake. None of whom, I should mention, ever covered "Sunshine of Your Love."
In one of those no-warning, no-quarter moves that happens all the time across the dial, the Arrow was no more, with hip-hop/R&B-formatted "The Beat" now broadcasting on the frequency owned by Clear Channel.
That suddenly left Houston's other classic-rock station, Cox-owned KGLK 107.5 FM ("The Eagle"), as the sole practitioner of the continuous format on Houston terrestrial radio. This excludes multiple classic-rock Sirius/XM satellite stations, specialized KPFT 90.1 FM programming, and the classic rock of KACC 89.7 FM out of Alvin.
So what happens when your direct competition suddenly...disappears?
"I heard rumors of a potential change for KKRW in early October. Then the news began to leak from good sources a day or two before the flip," says Mark Krieschen, Vice President and Houston/Galveston Market Manager for Cox. "But I wasn't surprised. When you look at where the station was ranked in the ratings...it made sense to change direction."
The Eagle's morning team of Dean Myers and Roger Beaty -- who did the same duties at The Arrow for 12 years until 2009 -- were similarly not shocked. But they immediately thought of former co-workers.
"We heard over the holidays, and our first thoughts were for Kelly [Ryan], Steve [Fixx] and the Colonel [St. James]. It's horrible getting fired at Christmas," the duo says. "But they hadn't been doing so hot [in the ratings] as of late."
As a radio format, "Classic Rock" debuted in the early '80s, playing music mostly from the years 1967-1977. As time progressed, more hitmaking bands from the '80s like Journey, Guns N' Roses and U2 joined the mix.
"They are the bands that can still fill arenas and the music that inspired today's artists as well as what we and our listeners grew up with," offer Dean and Rog. "And that can range from Beatles and Zeppelin to Skynyrd and the Allmans to Boston and Aerosmith."
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However, if not having any direct competition on the dial means that the Eagle will expand their playlist to include, say, deeper cuts by artists they already play (like "The Rain Song" instead of "D'yer Mak'er") or lesser-known classic-rock artists along the line of Cactus, Wishbone Ash or Atomic Rooster, think again.
"We tend to play songs that were true hits. The music is timeless and a soundtrack of our listener's lives," Kreischen offers. "Overall, our formula has worked. I don't anticipate major changes in the product offering."
He points to the weekday "3:00 Pick Me Up" hour, where listeners can program the station via a station app, as about far out as the Eagle will get in terms of bands and songs. Though he adds that the station will test music and listen to audience feedback as well, and not take the market's "product exclusivity" for granted.
As to how the Houston market is in terms of popularity for the classic rock format, Krieschen says the station's weekly "cume" rating is healthy, so there is an appetite for the genre. And compared to other Texas cities?
"Obviously, we are better than Dallas," Dean and Rog sum up. "And not just in radio. In everything."
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