"All the music sounds the same."
That's the refrain that station officials said they heard over and over again from those who listened to KPWR-FM (105.9), better known as "Power 106."
The dance station that had once been so hot was beginning to sound like a broken record. And so were listeners' complaints.
After holding on to the No. 1 spot in the ratings for more than two years, KPWR's ratings began slipping last year and it ranked No. 9 in the most recent Arbitron quarterly ratings survey.
"If you've been first, ninth is awful," said Rick Cummings, executive vice president of programming for Emmis Broadcasting, which owns KPWR and six other stations across the country. "We've lost about a third of our audience over the past 16 months."
In an effort to recapture its former position as the hottest station on the dial, officials at KPWR are making some changes. Starting at 6 this evening, KPWR, which debuted in January, 1986, will present a more mainstream sound--music that general manager Doyle Rose described as familiar to the general public, as opposed to just those who frequent dance clubs.
Rose, who is also the president of Emmis Broadcasting, took over the KPWR reins earlier this month from former general manager Phil Newmark, who resigned along with program director Jeff Wyatt. Cummings is temporarily filling Wyatt's position. No changes in on-air personalities are planned, they said.
Though KPWR's new fare may not sound all that different to the uninitiated, the dance music aficionado will be able to detect the variations, Cummings said.
"We'll go more in the urban dance direction," Cummings said. "I don't think that people are going to turn their radio dials on and go, 'Wow! Boy, is this different.' But we hope that they'll realize that they like it better than they may have in the past year and a half. It's a slow grind to bring something back."
The changes are being undertaken gingerly, he acknowledged, because the ratings are still higher than most stations in the market.
"It's a fine line we walk because we still have a substantial audience for what we do offer," Cummings said. "We can't do a plea saying, 'Sorry, we messed up,' because some people don't think we messed up. We have to be very careful."
The alterations were long overdue, Cummings said, but station officials were reluctant to tamper with a format that had once brought them such resounding success.
The station's core audience, Cummings said, is between 12 and 34 years old, with a strong emphasis on women and Latinos.
"If I were to name the quintessential KPWR listener, she would be about 18 or 19 and she'd be Hispanic," he said. "And she would think we were cool as hell, which she doesn't right now. But, hopefully, she will again."
With that in mind, it seems odd that the music the station intends to drop is Latin-flavored dance rhythms. But after several months of extensive research, that was the conclusion reached.
"We just stopped being the force that we had been for a lot of Hispanic listeners in terms of setting new trends and in being right on target with their taste," Cummings said. "The Latin audience that we have is a very Anglicized audience. . . . There are not nearly as many Latinos who love that dance sound anymore. We've seen them gravitate more to pop music and rock music. . . . Our listeners have responded much more positively to music (by groups) like Technotronic and Bell Biv DeVoe and Johnny Gill. That, we think, has been the biggest change."
KPWR probably lost some of its audience to urban contemporary dance station KKBT-FM (92.3), which debuted in February, 1990. KPWR also has long been in competition with Top 40 station KIIS-FM (106.7). Officials from both those station declined to comment on KPWR's move.