End of An Era

Friday, August 18, 2006

So Country 93-9 KZLA (often holding the title as "America's Most Listened To Country Station") is no longer. Yesterday, the powers that be at the Emmis owned station pulled the plug on country, and installed "Movin' 93.9 - music that makes you move."

Shawn Parr, the midday DJ, had been on the air for 15 minutes when Program Director RJ Curtis walked into the studio with Emmis Programming VP Jimmy Steal (and sister station Power 106 PD) and said, "Play one more country song." The next song on the list was Keith Urban's "Tonight I Wanna Cry." And the next song heard after that on KZLA's 93.9 frequency was the Black Eyed Peas' "Let's Get It Started." A new beginning, and the end of country music in LA. That's radio. It's here today, gone today.

I worked at KZLA for nearly 8 years, in various part-time capacities. A few months ago, I cut the cord because I was just a name on the payroll, not getting scheduled for hours because my main gig with Premiere and the After MidNite show kept me plenty busy. Now, I kinda wish I had stayed. Even if I hadn't worked, I would have liked to been able to say I was there for the duration, even if I wasn't really there much at all these days. I would have liked to have been there in spirit for my friends who lost their jobs.

All of the airstaff were people I had worked with, and admired on some level or another, many of them mentors for me: Peter Tilden, Ashley Paige, Shawn Parr, Whitney Allen, Larry Santiago, Brian Douglas, Justin Michael, Paul Freeman, and Buzz Brainard (who was let go from the morning show a few months ago for budget reasons but the station still carried an hour of Altville).

There are plenty of other people affected. All night last night, listeners were calling the After MidNite phone lines wondering, "What am I supposed to do now?" It wasn't just that they could no longer hear our show on KZLA in Los Angeles, it was that they felt disconnected without their country music. Many people make fun of country music but the fans and the artists are easily among the most loyal (and opinionated) in all genres of music. The fans and the artists share a sometimes touching dynamic I've not seen in other genres. There are people out there in LA actually in shock, baffled, and lost without a country music station on the air. I heard it from 3 different people last night, but the baffled pain in one guy's voice still rings with me, "What am I supposed to do now?" Sure it's JUST music, it's just a radio station...we can have that perspective in our modern world of TV, iPods, CDs, etc. But to many people, this music identifies with them, and they with it. And KZLA, as a station, has been their home for this music for much of their life. They don't want to listen to CDs or their iPod. They want to listen to the radio...to KZLA. That people can care about a station or a DJ or a form of music so much that they feel wounded without it says something about how special that bond was.

But one person who has been deeply affected by this is my dear friend, Vicki Pepper. This woman lives radio, and not just that but COUNTRY radio. She champions this music, it's a part of who she is. I know she'll bounce back and I've told her plenty of times I think she could go be music director for a middle market station. She's got the goods and watching her grow from an intern to a producer/music director over the years has made me proud.

KZLA had in recent years celebrated its 25th anniversary playing country music in LA. Now, there is no country station in Los Angeles. Or New York. No country station in the top 2 media markets. There is no joy in Mudville, mighty country has struck out.

But perhaps not for long. Perhaps another batter will step up soon and swing away. Perhaps ClearChannel with its huge LA cluster of stations will in the coming months decide to serve that loyal audience, realizing that even though it's only a niche market, that is still within the #2 radio market in the nation. If not ClearChannel, maybe some other company. We can only hope. And perhaps email influential people.

Here are some comments posted on the original blog:

Posted by Brandon Lyle on Aug 18, 2006 2:41 PM

Rich Fry I know sometimes people give you a hardtime about your long winded opinions, heck sometimes I did, but in this case bravo my friend. You even brought a tear to my eye. That place was LA to me, 4 1/2 years of my 6 in LA were at KZLA and I'm sad to see it go. I haven't worked there in over a year, I've been in Oklahoma for almost 3 months now and still my phone rang about a dozen times yesterday, some calling to tell me what had happened and even others asking WHAT happened. This morning on my way to work, two different morning shows in Oklahoma City talked about it, mostly due to the return of Rick Dees, but the country station expressed its sorrow and played Garth's The Dance. I can only hope to get phone calls in a few months telling me that Clear Channel has come to the resuce soto speak and its "K-B-I-G LA's BIG COUNTRY".

The best quote I can think of right now came from someone we all worked with at one time, Mike Pepin, "Its Radio."

Love you all and know you'll be back big and stronger


Posted by VP on Aug 19, 2006 1:42 AM

Well, I wish it were only one tear that this brought to my eyes!! Thank you for posting this. Rich, you were there in spirit for us when the end came - don't ever doubt that.

I think it speaks volumes about a station when its employees think of it not as a job, but as their life. There was not a single member of KZLA's Programming or Airstaff that didn't give 200% to that station every day. Not because anyone forced us to, but because we wanted to.

Gary Allan (in one of the last songs to be in power rotation at KZLA) sings that "Life ain't always beautiful, but it's a beautiful ride." And it was. It really was.

Posted by Mark Lee on Aug 20, 2006 8:55 AM

Wow, Rich and friends.

My heart goes out to all of you who loved the essence that was "Country 93-9 KZLA." I used to have friends involved in radio and was even a peripheral personality at a couple of stations in the '80s. I know the feeling of what you're talking about, Rich. A station with devoted staff and listeners that takes a stand with a certain format and programming is more than the sum of its parts. It becomes something living, really. And when it dies, you can feel it go. Bits of some people may die with it.

Posted by purple on Aug 21, 2006 11:20 PM

Sorry to hear about your radio station. It really bothers me how people do not survey things before they do away with things. and they do not get information from the people who care first before doing things like this. Instead they assume we are ok with them changing up on us.. I like all kinds of music and people like you and your friends were loyal and that is something that is hard to find these days loyalty. It happens on tv too. loyal watchers of certain shows just get cancelled because network did not do there homework.I wish for you the best and that you have a come back soon. Country is just as wanted and needed by audiences as the other genre. god bless

Posted by Cristina Verano on Aug 30, 2006 5:13 PM

I am speechless! Rich that was beautiful. I have some tears! I agree with everything you said, and I too wish I was still there when it ended.

I got a call right after the meeting was over and couldn't believe what I heard. I am still in shocked when I get in my car looking for a song to hear and I hit my #1 dial 93.9 and it isn't country. KZLA was my home away from home. It was my first job in the entertainment industry. I started as an Intern for the Morning Show then moved onto promotions. I still remember my first day on the Street Team. It was with Brad, Steve, Eric, Brandon and Vicki, it was the George Straight and JoDee Messina concert. I had a BLAST. I was scared at first and didn't know anyone.....but the moment I walked on that RV everyone made me feel like I belonged.

The airstaff was great, Peter, Ashley, Buzz, Shawn Whitney, Brian, Larry, and Paul they always made me smile! They really all did a great job! All very talented and I know will do fine!

When I got another job I didn't know what to do. Leaving KZLA and all those people, was the hardest thing I have ever done. The Promotions staff was great! We did A LOT! We could run that department with ours eyes closed! Brad, Steve, Eric, Deanne, Brandon and Bonnie were some of the greatest people I could have asked for as a boss, a friends, and a mentor! The street team was great! We always had new people....and they always did a great job! Andy was my partner in crime! I couldn't have done it with out him! We were each others other half! Rich, you, Shawn, Brandon, and Larry gave some of the best hugs! Tonya (aka Scorpio) always made me laugh and RJ always gave me a hard time as I would always give him one right back! Rich one thing I learned from you (and I still use today) is that you hated clapping....cause it always faded out. Someone will always stop clapping and the rest will follow! That I learned from you on my first Studio Z as an intern on the morning show.

I agree that country radio is not dead in LA! It will be back.....but It will never be the same! I love KZLA and everyone who worked so hard to make it the BEST!