Freezer Burn

Photo by Rich KaneSo we fly back from an extended vacation, hop in our waiting car at John Wayne, flip on the Go Loco show on KMXN-FM 94.3 to re-familiarize ourselves with our hood, and are hit with an unexpected flurry of español—damn, when did Tazy Phyllipz get so fluent? Alas, it was a confirmation of a rumor we'd been hearing for weeks: owner Art Astor was selling Orange County's only independent, non-Christian commercial music station. And that's just what he did, to Liberman Broadcasting for a reported $35 million. Liberman promptly did away with the station's alternative-rock format and switched it to contemporary regional Mexican music—the flashy, narcocorrido-packed "Que Buena," which somehow doesn't convince us they'll be playing Cuauhtémoc's "Bienvenidos a Chiapas" any time soon. But could 94.3 (or "Cool Radio," as the jocks had taken to calling it) and its alt.-rock have survived if Astor had actually put money into marketing Cool, at least as much as he did when the frequency hosted country's KIK-FM in the early '80s, when you'd see KIK's boot logo on seemingly every billboard and bus bench in OC? Astor has thrown about predictable reasons for selling out, mostly having to do with fiercely competitive advertising rates offered by other stations. Still, with a peak listenership of close to 50,000 during any given quarter-hour—a listenership that was almost exclusively OC—Cool was making money. It just wasn't making piles and piles and piles of money. When the station switched from a fluffy pop format to a more alternative-leaning one in February 2002, Astor hired programming director Mike Halloran and assistant Rand DeWitt, only to let them go in October for money reasons. With a little promotion, DeWitt says, Cool could easily have been in the position to make good on its initial promise to challenge alt.-rock behemoth KROQ. In fact, KROQ was already getting scared. "Cool was a serious threat to KROQ," says DeWitt. "KROQ was happy we weren't putting any money into marketing. When Lit played a show at the House of Blues, KROQ came down and put up a bunch of their banners. But then Lit got up onstage and said there was only one station in OC, and that was 94.3, and the whole place erupted. I'm sure that had to go back to [KROQ programming director] Kevin Weatherly." DeWitt paints Astor as a classic micromanager, never pleased with what his station was doing. "Art would say one day that the music was too hard, then the next day that it was too soft. It was like the Three Bears story—he never found the bed that was just right." Ratings were also high—not KROQ high, but still respectable for a frequency that you could barely pick up outside OC. "The old [pre-February] Cool had zeroes all the way across the Arbitron books," says DeWitt, "But we built them up into a 0.4, which is pretty extraordinary for a station with absolutely no promotion. There were people working there who had waited years for something like that to happen." But the numbers apparently weren't enough for Astor. DeWitt, though, says Cool at least proved a point that a commercial OC-based rock station is viable, that OC radio shouldn't be left solely in the hands of a bunch of corporate mooks from LA. "Radio as a whole is going through a really dark time right now, with all the consolidation. I like to think that someone is going to do something here eventually. Advertisers can't ignore us, and the possibilities are endless." (Rich Kane)

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BENEFIT BLURBING
A concert to benefit the family of Chris "Chin Strap" Gianella, who passed away Jan. 7 from still-to-be-determined causes, is slated for Jan. 30 at the House of Blues in Anaheim, featuring sets from Zebrahead, (hed) p.e., Death On Wednesday and a lengthening list of others. Though not in a band himself, Gianella was a constant presence in OC mosh pits, a regular scenester along Huntington Beach's Main Street and a loyal bro to many a local musician. Log on to www.chin-strap.com for more details. . . . Another benefit gig is set for Jan. 31 at the Coach House, the proceeds from which will help cover the medical expenses of Darnell Perez, wife of Missles of October member Jimmy Perez. Darnell, who is battling lymphoma, says costs for her treatment will eventually total more than $200,000, and her insurance company will only foot 25 percent of the bill. Performing will be the Missles and Common Sense, as well as a slew of other local musician friends. A silent auction, with items to be determined, will also take place. (RK)

 
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