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Some Listeners Singin' the Country Radio Blues : Loyal fans of popular K-HAY are dismayed by the slicker format and shift to new tunes. Others say the station must change with times.

August 26, 1993|LEO SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Don't touch that dial.

We'll be right back with Ventura County's top FM radio station. But first, here's a story from our very own little town of Oak View.

It seems resident Joyce Overbaugh was listening to her favorite country music station when she noticed some weird things going on.

"My first clue," she said, "was when the new format started July 6. It just sounded totally different. All the jingles had changed."

Not to mention the music.

And, said Overbaugh, her favorite disc jockey, Don Sinclair, had vanished into thin air--although she continued to hear his voice on prerecorded commercials.

Needless to say, Overbaugh was bewildered. The station she had listened to for nearly 15 years had metamorphosed, seemingly overnight. Its new, slicker, faster-paced L. A. style, as she termed it, turned her off. So she turned it off.

"It's almost like I've lost part of my family. I really miss it," Overbaugh said. "Sometimes I listen to it for awhile, but then something upsets me."

. . . Now back to our show.

Actually, the station Overbaugh is confused about is K-HAY, 101-FM, as it was formerly known, but now K-HAY, 100.7, as the new promos say.

Longtime listeners of the 20-year-old country station will tell you things changed considerably shortly after Independence Day, 1993. Some listeners are pleased and excited about the station's new features; others are disappointed and alienated.

For their part, those directly involved with implementing the changes ask, "What format change?" They say they aren't exactly sure what the fuss is all about.

The fuss, according to proponents and opponents, is about a number of things.

There's the sudden departure of Don Sinclair, the folksy disc jockey who had been K-HAY's program director and morning personality since 1980.

There is the switch to 24 hours of live programming, which went into effect in mid-July.

And, perhaps most important, there's the increased emphasis on recent country music. As a new station commercial brags, "We give you the most new country music as possible." To support that claim, the station plays 10 consecutive new songs every hour.

Program Director Mark Hill (or Mark James, as he calls himself on air) and three full-time disc jockeys have been added to the staff. Other mainstays have had their duties shifted around.

"The Vault," the fictional archive that deejays used to enter, periodically, to dust off and play some of the old country standards, seems to have been locked. It has been replaced by a new "Top 8 at 8" show, in which songs requested throughout the day are played in a time chunk, and there is the late night "Santa Fe Cafe" segment, in which listeners can call in and make on-air dedications.

The station even has a new bumper sticker--green and yellow (instead of the familiar green and white). It will advertise the "Ten in a Row, Continuous New Country," format.

It all adds up to the aforementioned faster format, which has cut down on the down-home chitchat that many fans had grown to love.

And all this from the No. 1-ranked FM station in Ventura County. The 39,000-watt K-HAY reaches west to Gaviota, east to the San Fernando Valley and north to Palmdale.

According to Arbitron figures for spring, 1993, K-HAY had a 10.5 rating among listeners age 12 and older. That amounts to a listening audience of 6,000 in that age group, for an average 15-minute period between 6 a.m. and midnight.

In fall, 1992, the previous six-month rating period, K-HAY ranked No. 1 with an 8.4 rating (4,600 people).

So why mess with something that was working so well?

"What we've done is some minor contemporization or tweaking of the K-HAY sound," said General Manager David Loe. "There are two philosophies: 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it,' and 'If you can't stay up with the times, you're falling behind' . . . Country music has changed, and I believe our station has to match that."

Loe said the last time the station made any significant changes was about 10 years ago, during the Urban Cowboy era.

With a new generation of country performers--the likes of Garth Brooks, Clint Black and Billy Ray Cyrus--the music has gotten more upbeat. Loe said the station is attempting to follow suit.

Promo spots stating, "Country you can enjoy even if you don't own a horse," illustrate the station's efforts to entice a new group of listeners.

"The reason country music has become such a mainstream product is because it's not just slow ballads of someone who has had an unfortunate situation in their life, their wife has left them, and they have a tale of woe," said Loe.

New program director Hill agreed.

"What we're trying to do," he said, "is give our core listeners a more entertaining, more upbeat, happier sounding radio station."

Though the station is concentrating on new songs, the oldies still have their place. "We play the best of today's country, but we don't forget our roots," says one station promo.

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