What happens when a radio station promoting a huge Orange County concert suddenly flips formats from Big Hat Country to The Mix That Makes You Move? Not a lot, apparently, if you're KZLA-FM and you're referring to the Country Bash 2006, featuring Gretchen Wilson, REO Speedwagon, SheDAISY, Phil Vassar, Taylor Swift and Jamie O'Neal.
"We're still promoting the show," claims programming assistant Vicki Pepper, one of the few KZLA staffers still working at the new Movin' 93.9 FM. On Aug. 17, the former pop country station owned by Emmis Communications switched to "rhythmic pop contemporary music," leaving the nation's second-largest media market without a full-time country radio station. Jimmy Steal, Emmis' vice president of programming, cited declining ratings as well as an opportunity to increase revenue as the reason for the flip.
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Although the Country Bash is now being promoted through XM (a first for satellite radio), LiveNation and the Academy of Country Music, KZLA is still promoting the show on its website at KZLA.com (where you can hear country music without commercials or live DJs) and through its HD2 side channel. Shawn Parr, the beloved former KZLA midday host whose name has been synonymous with KZLA for 14 years—and who is the also the voice of the Academy of Country Music—will host the Bash.
So what's different? Of course, you won't find the KZLA street crew out at the Bash. Redubbed the "Movin' Cruizers," 93.9's street team is now busy driving newly decorated vans and promoting Dorothy the Dinosaur's Dance Party at the Terrace Theater in Long Beach. And you won't find the band Heartland, previously scheduled to do a tailgate party in the parking lot of the Verizon Amphitheater. Some smaller bands dropped off the schedule, but the remaining bill leaves a lot for the KZLA fan to enjoy; most artists scheduled were in regular rotation at the country station, with the exception of REO Speedwagon. But that's okay, because, Pepper says, "our listeners were very loyal to KZLA, but there's definitely a shared audience between country and classic rock stations."
Ironically, that "shared audience" (or lack of audience share) may be what did in KZLA. Now, KZLA's website encourages loyal fans and displaced listeners to "carry the flag for country music in Los Angeles" and "show their country pride" by coming out to the Bash. Does LA/OC love country so much that another station will emerge to fill the void? Rumors have it that a Clear Channel adult contemporary station might flip soon to Top 40 Country. Star 98.7 or K-BIG 104.3 seem likely candidates. Of course, there were rumors that KZLA would flip too, rumors the staff thought were unfounded for years, until they came to work one morning and heard Shakira instead of Shania.
Country Bash 2006 at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, 8808 Irvine Center Dr., Irvine, (949) 855-8096. Sat., 3 p.m. $25-$55.