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Tweaks and Turnover

RADIO | Around the Dial

Minor adjustments to the playlist, major adjustments to the talent lineup at Y107.

March 18, 1999|STEVE HOCHMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Poor Dave Matthews. Last week the musician, in between several concerts at the Pantages Theatre, was burning up the L.A. freeways to do special radio performances for four radio stations.

On one day he was at both alternative-rock KROQ-FM (106.7) and the new adult alternative KACD/KBCD-FM (103.1) for live broadcasts. The next he was over at rocker KLOS-FM (95.5) taping a segment with morning guys Mark & Brian. Then the following day he was in a recording studio doing a broadcast on modern-rock KLYY-FM (107.1). And he probably could have slotted in a stop at adult-alternative pop outlet KYSR-FM (98.7) if he'd had time.

It's certainly flattering for him to have so many stations that want him and will play his music, but you wonder if the guy could keep it straight where he was when. And if he might have had trouble telling the difference between the stations, how about the listeners? Matthews is hardly the only artist who spans these variations on a theme.

So when word went out recently that KLYY, known as Y107, was making some changes in hopes of rising from the lowly 0.8 ratings share it's been carrying, a lot of people in the radio world figured that, after three years of living in KROQ's shadow, the upstart would take on a clearly distinct format. The leading bet: a harder-edged active rock programming that's been absent from the L.A. dial since the demise of KNAC and Pirate Radio early in the '90s.

"I heard those rumors, too," says John Duncan, who took over as program director of Y107 in January, after having held the same post at KLOS.

But instead of that wholesale change, the station's merely tweaking the music to edge it a bit away from KROQ.

"KROQ, by definition, is the cutting-edge station," he says. "So they have to be there with all the fads. We'll be a little less faddy and let them have all the extreme stuff, and we're going to be a good, solid, familiar mainstream alternative station.

"There's a need for a KROQ and a need for Star [KYSR], but we've found there's a need for this intermediate place with cool, alternative music without all the extreme stuff and without all the female pop of Star," he says. "We'll play less Sarah McLachlan than Star, and less Korn and Beastie Boys than KROQ."

In other words, most of the acts they've been playing get to stay--with the Cardigans, Garbage, Sugar Ray, Collective Soul and Blondie among the acts he says will be typical, along with a healthy dose of "gold" selections, though not the heavy '80s nostalgia that was the station's trademark for the past year or so.

The staff, though, wasn't so lucky. With the exception of overnight guy Evan Hartz and Sunday night deejay Chris Carter, the whole crew was sacked.

Starting Monday, a new lineup will debut, led off by a newly assembled morning team fronted by Mark Wilson, who comes from San Luis Obispo, where he consistently beat the ratings of Mark & Brian, whose KLOS-originated show is carried there via syndication. He'll be joined by Frank Murphy, who will do double duty as on-air cohort and producer (he's previously produced Mark & Brian, KROQ's Kevin & Bean and former KPWR-FM host Jay Thomas), and Ann Litt, who has a nighttime weekend music show at public station KCRW-FM (89.9) and also happens to be married to record producer Scott Litt (R.E.M., Indigo Girls).

The midday shift will have Jesse Jessup, who moves from Philadelphia, with afternoon drive time going to Mike Halloran, who was popular during his six-year tenure at San Diego's XTRA-FM (91.1). Halloran also will serve as Duncan's assistant program director.

The real news, though, may be the evening plans. Duncan is trying something a little different for L.A. rock radio by bringing in the Harrison Crew--the pairing of Donald Harrison (who generally just uses his last name) and Dave Wittenberg--who had been at Boston's modern-rock leader, WBCN-FM. Though this won't be as talk-heavy as KROQ's popular "Love Line," it's a departure from the all-music evenings offered by the other competitors.

"That's something I think you're going to see more of: evening teams," Duncan says. "Still music-based, but a lot of entertainment value."

The new hires represent a large investment for Big City Radio, the New York-based parent of the station, especially for launching what is essentially not that different from the previous music format--"Y107 Version 2.0," Duncan calls it.

"It does indicate a real commitment from the company that they're ready to raise the bar several notches," Duncan says. "With the format adjustment and talent revisions, this will be in some ways a brand-new station."

So why choose a variation on a format that others in the market ply rather than stake out territory of their own with active rock?

"We took a very close look at [the harder format]," he says. "But since we've already established a track record in the modern-rock arena and understand there is a large group of people that want something between KROQ and Star, it was best to pursue that avenue."

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