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The KLOL documentary

Of interest to me, and other middle-aged guys like me.

This past week Houston filmmaker and blogger Mike McGuff released a trailer for his upcoming film about the late, great radio station, Rock 101 KLOL-FM, and it’s getting Houstonians of a certain vintage very excited for the finished product.

The story of the raunchy Houston radio phenomenon will be told in McGuff’s first documentary, with appearances from the likes of Outlaw Dave (one of the Texican’s creative mentors), Lanny Griffith, Colonel St. James, Pat Fant, David Sadof and even the late Jim Pruett of morning duo Stevens and Pruett in footage shot before he passed away in 2016.

To help with this long-gestating rock doc, McGuff, a former newsman, has turned to crowdsourcing platform IndieGoGo to bankroll some final nips and tucks for the promotional side of things. He’s hoping for a wide release in 2020, just in time for the station’s 50th anniversary. KLOL, formerly KTRH-FM, was born in 1970 as a progressive-rock station, evolved into a more structured album-oriented-rock and then classic-rock station before owner Clear Channel flipped it to Spanish-language in 2004.

As McGuff says, it has been a long journey to get this film in the can. When it comes to labors of love, sometimes time is the best ingredient.

“This project was only supposed to take a couple of years, at least that is what I told my very patient wife back in 2010,” McGuff says. “The years kept piling on as I kept chasing people for interviews, conducted a bunch of research, and waited for people’s photos and video to be found.”

As their onetime promo went, I admit it, I listened to Stevens and Pruett back in the day, and not just them. My enthusiasm for Dayna Steele’s Congressional campaign came very honestly, I assure you. I was right in the sweet spot of their demographic. Anyway, you can see a trailer for this here, and if you want to contribute to the Indiegogo campaign, you can do that here. You know you want to.

Adios, Arrow

One less rock station on the air in Houston.

So instead of Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy on 93.7, from now on you will probably hear Holy Grail by Jay-Z featuring Justin Timberlake. Just whatever you do, don’t let Timberlake get near Reliant Stadium and Janet Jackson again!

That’s because after 20 years, 93.7 The Arrow KKRW has flipped to an urban format with Beyonce as the first song. Fitting for Houston. 93.7 The Beat “H-Town’s Real Hip Hop and R&B” will target a heavy female audience with the likes of Rihanna, Jay Z, Drake, Chris Brown, Beyoncé and Miguel.

And the new station was taking swipes at market leader 97.9 The Box KBXX from the get go.

“93.7 The Beat is ready to write a new chapter in Houston radio history. We’re defining what real hip hop and R&B is,” said Eddie Martiny, President and Market Manager, Clear Channel Media and Entertainment, Houston. “Many of the biggest stars in this format live in Houston, so to move the station in this direction was a natural choice. In addition, The Beat format will perfectly complement the five other radio stations in our cluster by making us more attractive and diverse to our advertising community.”

The process started New Year’s Eve day 2013 at 10am. As I blogged earlier, the station started playing a wide variety of music from Miley Cyrus, Eminem to Oingo Boingo with pre-recorded announcements heralding the end of The Arrow and that a new station would arrive at noon (SEE THE LAST THREE SONGS THE ARROW PLAYED).

KKRW wasn’t technically the first “classic rock” station in Houston. At least as far as I know, which is to say going back to 1988 when I arrived in Houston, that would have been the late 107.5 KZFX, which didn’t market itself as “classic rock” but played an era-specific list of songs from the 60s and 70s, tending towards the British Invasion stuff (the Animals, Cream, Procol Harum) and later acts with a similar sound. KKRW was Classic Rock and all that name implies from the get go, and the market couldn’t support both of them plus KLOL, so KZFX eventually went a different way, first into new wave/alternative rock (The Buzz), then switching formats with oldies station 94.5, before melding with 106.9 to become dominant Classic Rockers The Eagle, which included a landing place for former KKRW Wacky Morning DJs Dean and Rog. I can’t say I’m surprised that once again, the market couldn’t keep two Classic Rock stations afloat, even if there isn’t a KLOL equivalent out there any more (and holy crap, it’ll be ten years since KLOL switched formats next November).

Unlike the KLOL change, which by that time didn’t affect me much but was a punch in the gut to my memories, this change doesn’t really mean anything to me. I was never more than an occasional listener to KKRW, as even in the early days I thought their playlist was too narrow and predictable. About the only time I listen to the radio is in my car, and with my shorter commute and non-driving lunchtimes, that ain’t much these days. I keep the dial on KACC except for those times when its signal is too messed up or when they’re broadcasting a high school football game. I still think there’s room in this town for a rock station that doesn’t suck, but that dream becomes less and less likely with each passing day. Any Arrow fans out there that are in mourning over this? Leave a note in the comments if so.

RIP, Mark Stevens

Mark Stevens, one half of the Stevens and Pruett radio team, has passed away.

Stevens spent 40 years in radio but enjoyed his greatest success in partnership with Pruett, first as Hudson and Harrigan at KILT (610 AM) beginning in 1974 and later under their own names at KULF-AM, KEGL-FM in Dallas-Fort Worth and KLOL (101.1 FM) in Houston.

At every stop along the way, he displayed the sense of humor and razor-sharp wit that remained with him throughout his struggle with Alzheimer’s, said his wife, Melissa Stevens.

“His laugh was infectious, and people responded to that,” she said. “He would laugh, and then everybody would laugh. Even through his illness, he had the caregivers laughing all the time. … He handled (Alzheimer’s) with dignity and grace.”

Stevens left KLOL in February 2000, but Melissa Stevens said Houston listeners never forgot his voice.

“He would be in a grocery store and would say something, and people would say, ‘Wait a minute, I know your voice,'” she said. “We have such good memories.”

To borrow from one of their tag lines, I admit it, I was an S&P fan back in the day. They made my morning commute a lot more enjoyable. Rest in peace, Mark Stevens.

Bringing rock music back to Houston

Mike McGuff notes the reappearance of an old Rock 101 KLOL billboard, and muses about having a real rock station in Houston again.

Why did Clear Channel kill Rock 101? I’ve been told it was because you had 93.7 The Arrow KKRW which was classic rock on one side and on the other was alternative 94.5 The Buzz KTBZ. Rock 101 was stuck in the middle and kind of played music from both formats. The company realized that it had too many stations playing the same music. Which one was the one to die? The one that played what the other two did. Never mind that Rock 101 was a 30 year heritage station with a lot of history and a sense of community. Sure the station sucked in later years, but listeners were hopeful and still loyal. I was told the station was still making money too.

I have nothing against Mega 101. But it should have been Mega 93.7 in my opinion. Does anyone really care about 93.7 The Arrow? It gets listened to because it is one of the few places to play classic rock, but it has no real emotional connection with listeners like Rock 101 did. I suspect the 101.1 target looked viable for a Mega format because it was close on the dial to 102.9 FM.

Clear Channel does not own KLOL anymore. CBS now does. CBS should take a dead station like Mix 96.5 (it also recently acquired) and change that to Mega 96.5. Then bring back Rock 101. Just don’t make it suck this time like Rock 103.7 KIOL please. The new Rock 101 should have a fresh coat of paint and updated image/music.

I agree that in its heyday, KLOL hit a sweet spot between “flavor of the week” and “same stale old ‘classics’ over and over again” that is sorely missing among commercial radio stations. I’d argue that 89.7 KACC fills that niche pretty nicely, and goes a step farther in that it includes local music, something we haven’t really had on the dial since Donna McKenzie’s “Made in Texas” show on the old 107.5 KZFX, but KACC suffers from a frustratingly weak signal, which makes listening to it a hit-or-miss experience. I’d love for there to be another Houston-based station, one you could listen to anywhere in town, that catered to real rock music fans. If there were to be such a thing, here are the three things I would beg of it, so that it would have a chance of not ending in bitter disappointment, as so many other “new” stations (like Jack and The Point, to name two prominent ones) have done.

1. Don’t insult our intelligence

Of my three wish list items, this one is non-negotiable. Please, for the love of Wolfman Jack, don’t be another focus-group-driven no-imagination limited-playlist atrocity. Hell, don’t have a playlist at all. Hire DJs that know their stuff, and set them free to spin what they want. When you play older music, don’t just give us the same moldy “classics” we’ve all heard a million times since the “classic rock” format was created 20 years ago. Play deep cuts. Play new music by classic artists – believe it or not, some of these acts have made albums since Ronald Reagan was President, but you’ll never hear it on any station in this town. Play artists that aren’t as well known, like the artists that inspired the guys we’re all familiar with. Play stuff from different eras, and different genres that influenced rock music, like blues music. Play local music, and promote live music events that feature local artists. Treat us like intelligent consumers that are fully aware we can go other places on the dial to hear “Stairway to Heaven” one more time.

2. Use social media to create a community

First, accept the fact that the vast majority of radio station websites are a wasteland of stupid games, popups, ads, annoying Flash intrusions, and brain-dead content, and vow not to be like that. Make your website a useful resource. List and maintain an archive of every song you play, with a brief clip so that when someone hears a tune they don’t recognize and they don’t hear it identified on the air, they can figure out who and what it is. Hell, include links to Amazon, iTunes, artist sites, and other places where we can buy a copy of each song, if we’re so moved. You could probably make some money off of that. Let local bands submit their tunes to you, as KACC does, and partner with them to provide some free downloads. Let (or make) the DJs, who are what gives a station its personality, have their own pages on the website that they regularly update, so they can tell us more about the bands and songs they love. Take requests via Twitter and/or Facebook. If you create specialty shows like Donna McKenzie’s “Made in Texas” (and you should), especially ones that air at odd hours, create podcasts of them that can be freely downloaded. Create Flickr and YouTube groups for pictures and videos taken at events hosted by the station, or even just for fans who want to share concert experiences. Needless to say, there’s a million things you can do here.

3. Don’t be afraid to experiment

I hope I’ve made it clear that the last thing we need is another cookie cutter station. Surely by now it must be obvious that the dull, dumbed-down homogenization of commercial radio is the reason for its decline in a media environment that allows so many choices for so many tastes. I also hope it’s clear that in this fragmented, diverse media environement, there is always a demand, and an audience, for quality. It may seem scary to experiment, and safer to do the same old same old, but consider how much successful TV programming is unconventional, “Mad Men” being the latest example. The beauty of all this is that with flexible playlist-free programming, and with a good social media presence, experimenting should be easy because you can get and respond to feedback quickly. That song list I said you should be publishing? Let people rate what they’re hearing and tell you if they want more of it or less of it. Act accordingly and you’ll never get too far off track. Doing stuff like this will help you establish a strong brand, with a loyal following, and that’s a mighty valuable thing.

What’s strange about all this is that I don’t see anything I’m suggesting here as being radical, or even all that unusual, and yet I feel like there’s no chance that a media behemoth like CBS or Clear Channel would ever think of doing these things. I suppose I could be overestimating the audience size for a non-brain dead radio station. Maybe the type of person that I think would tune in to this has given up on radio for good. But I don’t think it’s that hopeless, and I do think it’s worth the effort. Sadly, I don’t ever expect to see it happen.