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POP MUSIC | POP EYE

Get Ready to Crank Up Your Computer

January 11, 1998|Steve Hochman

Get ready to rock.

On Feb. 15--three years to the day after leaving the air--KNAC, the king of L.A. hard-rock FM radio in the '80s and early '90s, is returning.

But don't run to your radio. Instead, crank up your computer. The new KNAC is going out over the Internet, not the airwaves.

It will be the same old KNAC, though, promises Long Paul, the Long Beach-based outlet's program director. Paul will also return as an on-air personality, along with other station veterans including morning man Thrasher, Nasty Neil and Eveready Ed.

The timing couldn't be better for those who have lamented the lack of hard rock--or "active rock," as the radio format has come to be known--on the Southern California radio dial. Metallica co-manager Cliff Burnstein has bemoaned of late that no L.A. radio station is playing anything from the band's "Re-Load" album. And there's no airplay here for Days of the New, a young band whose song "Touch, Peel and Stand" has topped the weekly active rock radio charts nationally for three months.

"The state of L.A. radio is unbelievable," says Long Paul. "No one has even played the latest Aerosmith album here."

All of those will be on the station starting at 2 p.m. on Feb. 15, accessible at the Internet site http://knac.demonet.com. In the meantime, fans can check out old broadcasts from KNAC's past, with the last eight hours before the launch of the new station planned as a rebroadcast of the old KNAC's final day.

"As far as I know, we are the first to do anything of this nature," Paul says. "Some radio stations put broadcasts on the Net, but the quality isn't as good as what we're doing, and for the most part it's stored material, not live."

But is the Net the answer? For most computer users, the available technology for receiving and playing audio falls far short of the quality expected from radio. And Internet radio is pretty much untested as a commercial medium.

"It's going to be a while before it becomes comparable to radio," says Ron Rodrigues, editor-in-chief of Radio & Records, of the technology. "One thing, however, is the more specialized formats such as KNAC or classical music, which has a hard time in the current radio climate, are eventually going to become a good commodity on the Internet. Anyone can set up a station and become a broadcaster there, just as many people have become Internet publishers."

The Internet also offers something else that regular radio does not: unlimited range. In theory, KNAC will be available to anyone with a suitable computer anywhere in the world.

Paul concedes that it's unknown territory, and couldn't even make a guess on potential listenership. Once it's going, though, they can accurately count people tuning in by connections made to the Internet site.

NOT JUST NET: The new KNAC may not be just for computer users. Long Paul says that KNAC will be available as syndicated programming for over-the-air stations worldwide, with hopes that eventually it will have a regular L.A. radio outlet.

Rumors that the format would find a home on L.A. station KLYY-FM (107.1), though, are apparently unfounded.

Steve Blatter, KLYY's vice president of programming, says that the rumors have "zero validity" and that the company is completely committed to the current alternative-rock format, where it's taking on leader KROQ-FM (106.7). KLYY, known as Y107, has recently boosted its signal strength, and even without that reports satisfactory revenues for 1997.

CRYSTAL BALL: While most music radio stations spent New Year's week looking back over 1997's playlists, KROQ-FM (106.7) spent the first weekend of 1998 projecting into the future. Calling it "Preview Weekend," the station introduced 20 new tracks--five of them by Pearl Jam--to its programming, including some not yet available in the U.S.

Station music director Lisa Worden says some of the new ones will certainly stick, though others may not. Leading the list of keepers are the songs from the Pearl Jam album due next month, especially the wistful "Wish List" and the rocking "Faithful." Other promising selections are Oasis' "Nowhere" (available only as a bonus track on the "Stand By Me" single) and album tracks by the Verve and Blink 182.

Among the question marks was "Drinking in L.A.," a hip-hop-rooted tale of cruising by the Montreal group Brand Van 3000. The band's debut album "Glee," already gold in Canada, will be released here by Capitol Records in March. Listener response, Worden says, seemed pretty evenly split.

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