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Start scanning at 93.7 FM ("The Mix") and move from there to classic-rock stalwart 94.7, KSHE. From there it's on to 96.3 (K-HITS) and then, finally, to 97.1, "The Rock," all stations with some sort of classic-rock format. It's both frightening and fun, scanning up and down the alleyway: Move from Billy Squier's "My Kind of Lover" to Foghat's "Slow Ride" to (ugh) Brewer and Shipley's "One Toke Over the Line" to Rush's "The Trees" ("The maples want more sunlight, and the oaks ignore their pleas"). In fact, more stations are playing the music 20 years later than there were at the time these songs were hits, the result, no doubt, of that choice demographic with all the money -- damn them all -- the baby boomers.
"I think it's a coincidence that we're all so close together," says Mike Watermann, program director of K-HITS. "I worked at KSD for 13 years, and when we switched to classic rock in 1987, we were just down from KSHE at that time, so there was a lot of confusion there. And then with K-HITS' being at 96.3 and The Rock being at 97.1, when The Rock flipped to classic rock, people are calling us and saying, 'How come you're playing 'Paradise City' over and over again?' Well, it's not us, and we don't know any more about this than you do."
Of course, there are subtle variations among the stations, and the program directors of each station are experts at hair-splitting. Want to know the differences?
Mike Wheeler, The Mix: "The industry term would be a 'hot AC' -- hot adult contemporary. It is not quite a soft-rock station, goes from '70s, '80s and '90s and features everything from classic rock to pop music. We also play a lot more pop and less rock than (the other stations) do; even though we do have a lot of rock in the format, we have a lot of pop, too. It's a whole bunch of disparate songs that somehow hang together." (Side note: The Mix is the station that uses the dumber-than-dumb phrase "the greatest hits of the '80s, '90s and '70s." Asked why the station doesn't list the decades in the more logical chronological order, promotions director Mark Dickinson replies simply: "Well, what fun would that be? But also, that's what we play: most '80s, a lot of '90s and some '70s. It's just something goofy" -- an understatement.)
Rick Balis, KSHE program director: "We're a station that's predominantly classic in nature but does continue to play some current product, and throughout time, remaining true to that has included a dodge to the left or a dodge to the right, depending on the competitive arena, meaning the number of stations that are playing similar music or, at least, rock music of some type." Translated, that means that KSHE-95 has always been some sort of classic-rock station -- but you know that. Depending on the competition, they'll veer toward playing new music more than classics or, as is the case now, stick with the rock staples.
Mike Watermann, K-HITS: "Pop-slash-rock from the -- well, the focus is on the '70s, but we do expand into the '60s and into the mid-'80s. So it's that era, but it would be mostly music that hit the charts, so it would be pop, but that has a rock leaning to it. As soft as Jim Croce and James Taylor but not like Bread, Bette Midler and Barry Manilow. We have a more rock focus, but still (we play) pop hits that should all be familiar to the people listening to our radio station, which are essentially 30-44-year-olds."
Marty Linck, program director of The Rock: "(We have) a hard-rock format. 'Classic rock that really rocks,' we call it, with a concentration not only on '70s hard rock but a lot of the '80s and early-'90s stuff, too. A lot of the music like AC/DC, Guns n' Roses, Def Leppard, Mstley CrYe hadn't been played in the market in a long time, so we saw a hole there, and the listeners have just had a hunger for it and really responded to it."
Taken together, the four stations create a time machine that, depending on your mood, can either be laughably lame or wistfully wonderful. I mean, really, how much Journey does the average listener need? Apparently a hell of a lot: Scan for a half-hour from station to station, and you'll inevitably hear them on one of the stations. And though there are differences among them -- The Rock and KSHE both rock, seem to be aimed at guys and absolutely love Van Halen and Rush; The Mix and K-HITS are much more "lite" and are admittedly geared more toward the ladies -- skip from one to another and you'll inevitably get flustered. "People get confused because they scan a lot," says Watermann. "I even scan. I used to just have my buttons set, but now I go from station to station looking for a song I like. I guess that's what everybody does, so there's going to be confusion because there are stations playing the same songs. And you can hear a song, and I can tell maybe not by that song, but by the next song they play, what station it is."