Published: Sunday, July 22, 1990
Section: DAILY BREAK , page G3
Type of story: Column

Source: Cynthia Hanson

© 1990 Landmark Communications Inc.


I TRIED TO listen.

Really, I did. But after tuning to the new WOFM for two minutes last week, I had to find another radio station.

Last Monday, in a move to save itself from financial ruin, WOFM (92.1) scrapped progressive rock and implemented a syndicated heavy metal format called Z-Rock.

But it's not heavy metal as we knew it a decade ago. These tunes - by groups like Metallica and Anthrax - make AC/DC's songs sound like Muzak.

``Loudest station in the nation,'' a disc jockey bragged between songs.

``If it's too loud, you're too old,'' screeched another.

Guess so. . .

Carried by only 16 stations nationwide, Z-Rock's target audience is males 12 to 34, which it serves with daily features like ``Headbanger's Heaven,'' ``Bake-A-Bozo'' and the ``Nightly Nuke.''

Z-Rock comes to Hampton Roads through the Satellite Music Network in Dallas, where the format was developed three years ago.

It's here because WOFM's beleaguered financial status worsened, starting in mid-May, when the Virginia Beach City Council denied the station a permit to build a tower that would have boosted its signal from 6,000 to 25,000 watts.

After the permit was denied, advertisers questioned WOFM's stability and became reluctant to buy longtime contracts, said Jim Reese, president of parent company American Eagle Communications of Virginia Inc.

If nothing else, the new format saves money: Instead of spending money on DJs' salaries, WOFM will pay the network $2,000 a month for the programming, Reese said.

So far, advertisers have yet to embrace Z-Rock. Immediately after the format switch, clients began canceling their advertising schedules, said general sales manager Bob Conwell, the only remaining WOFM employee. By midweek, Conwell said, he had received ``inquiries from record stores'' interested in buying air time, but he had secured no new business.

As for public reaction, well, that's a mixed bag.

``One guy left this message on our machine: `I hope you burn in hell, you scumbag,' '' Reese said, chuckling. ``Another said, `I love it (Z-Rock). It's the greatest thing I've ever heard.' ''

Mike Rau, a WOFM loyalist and former advertiser, said he was tuned to the station when Z-Rock screamed its way onto the airwaves and was disgusted. And that's why he's organized a petition drive to persuade Hampton Roads broadcasters that progressive rock can be a lucrative format. In less than a week, he's collected signatures from more than 300 people who support Friends of Progressive and Alternative Radio.

``We intend to draw up formal proposals for stations' parent companies and present them with the data we collect,'' Rau said. ``We're also going to talk to former WOFM advertisers in hopes that they will join our cause.''

Joseph D. Schwartz, general manager of album rock FM-99, applauded Rau's initiative but said he was skeptical that any local station would latch on to an alternative format.

``In a market of only 1.2 million people,'' Schwartz said, ``this format is not going to get advertiser support. Even if it pulled a two- or three-share in the ratings, the station would barely be able to pay its electric bill'' with the revenue those ratings would generate. (In this market, a rating point is worth $353,000 in advertising.)

Nationwide, the history of progressive rock has not been riddled with success, radio consultants said. The format is heard on only a handful of stations across the country.

``The biggest problem is selling it to general managers,'' said Fred Jacobs, president of the Detroit-based Media Strategies Inc. ``Radio people tend to be myopic. They generally focus on the tried, the true, the familiar and the conservative.''

Jacobs' progressive rock format, called ``The Edge,'' features such artists as Depeche Mode, The Cure and INXS - performers who aren't readily recognizable to broadcasters who grew up on the Rolling Stones. The format is currently heard on Dallas' KDGE, which, ironically, aired Z-Rock until it changed owners. It's also heard on WBRU, a commercial station in Providence, R.I., run by Brown University students.

Although realistic about the challenge of selling ``The Edge,'' Jacobs takes comfort in a similar struggle he encountered seven years ago as a pioneer of the classic rock format.

``Everybody told me it wouldn't work,'' he said slyly, ``and now classic rock is on about 100 stations nationwide.''

Harvey hired Good news for Michele Harvey. The ousted WTKR anchor has a new job at WSOC in Charlotte, the nation's 31st TV market.

Harvey, who begins work July 30, will cover general assignment and may do ``fill-in anchoring,'' news director Dick Moore said.

Although Moore declined to say whether Harvey had signed a contract, he allowed that the hiring process included discussions about her ever-changing hairstyle.

Harvey's last modification before being fired - she switched from a blond bob to a red one without telling WTKR officials - drew numerous viewer complaints.

Well, she's changed again.

``Michele is a blonde now and will stay a blonde,'' Moore said emphatically. ``I think she realizes that the consistency of her look is important.''

Harvey did not return telephone calls. Z-Rock, WOFM's successor, a headbanger's delight

Description of illustration(s):
Photo Michele Harvey will be back on the air soon, in Charlotte.

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