Lazer sells out, disappoints fans
The radio station's format change might be viewed as a solitary aspect of Lawrence's continuing transition from small town to mall town.
"Sell out with me tonight" went the chorus to Reel Big Fish's alterna-smash last summer. You won't be hearing that band on KLZR-FM 105.9 anytime soon, though you will hear the sounds of a station that has sold its soul.
"The main thing is we'll be playing the hits, and the hits are based on what people want to hear," general manager Hank Booth said in a recent interview. "The research that (we've) done says that a different direction is the way to go. ... It will broaden our demographic."
Corporate greed, demographic research and Ricky Martin all have played roles in the recent demonic possession of Lawrence's once-beloved alternative station, whose format has gone from modern rock to modern schlock faster than you can say "Hit me, baby, one more time."
The local station, once voted one of the "Top 10 Stations That Don't Suck" in the United States by Rolling Stone magazine, was sold Sept. 1, 1998, to Zimmer Broadcasting Group, a Missouri corporation that owns 32 radio stations across the country. Now, one year later, the Lazer is playing a format known in the industry as CHR, or Contemporary Hit Radio. The format caters to the Top 40 charts, including notable "artists" like Britney Spears and Enrique Eglasias.
"The whole process," Booth said, "has been based on a terrific amount of research that's been done in the marketplace over the last year. The Zimmer group has spent tens of thousands of dollars researching the Lawrence market and their research told us that the way we've been doing things has been OK, but we could have a lot more clients, or listeners, for our other clients, our advertisers, with a different direction as far as the basic music that we're playing."
"We've answered your call -- the hits are back," enthuses an over-friendly, sterilized radio voice. Since when were the hits ever gone? Kansas City has a host of radio stations that cater to the Top 40 market. Even in the recent radio wars, as KC radio stations fell all over themselves trying to copy the Lazer's style, the Lawrence station remained proud and true to its sound and the community it served.
Of course, our community has done a lot of changing in the past few years. In fact, the new Lazer is really the perfect soundtrack for a drive-around town, where an ever-sickening skyline of chain stores and corporate logos are found. The format adjustment might be viewed as a solitary aspect of Lawrence's continuing transition from small town to mall town, from Mass. Street to Backstreet.
Booth said he didn't feel melancholy about the change, noting: "Nothing stays the same. The older I get the more I realize just how true that is. Nothing ever stays the same."
Actually, that's only partially true, for greed never really changes or goes away. It just mutates cancer-like into various forms. And formats.
-- Geoff Harkness is the music writer for The Mag.