It's been more than five years since The Lazer 105.9 FM switched its format from a mix of modern rock and regional artists to unabashed Top 40, following a transition from local ownership to corporate ownership.
Now the radio station is changing once again, albeit less dramatically.
Despite rumors to the contrary, the Zimmer Radio Group is not actually selling the station. The four Zimmer brothers are dividing up management responsibilities of their different properties between themselves, with Jerry Zimmer taking a controlling interest in KLZR and its sister station, KLWN. The new company, Viking Communications, will treat Lawrence as its flagship market.
Already the station has adopted the Hot Adult Contemporary format.
"Hot AC is more targeted to adults, versus Top 40 being targeted to teenagers and young adults," explains Ron Covert, general manager of KLZR and chief operating officer of Viking. "The average listener to the Hot AC format is mid-30s."
A current Lazer playlist boasts artists such as Sheryl Crow, Coldplay, Kelly Clarkson and Goo Goo Dolls. Gone is any hint of rap, hip-hop or R&B in this format.
But this choice also begs the question: Why in a town of nearly 30,000 college students does the largest radio station NOT play music that appeals more directly to college students?
"When it comes down to it, it's giving the local community who is here 365 days a year what they really want and what they're looking for -- from the advertising community to the listeners," Covert responds.
"People want to stereotype this town as a college town. It is, but it also has a lot of families and business people here year-round. There are a lot of options in Kansas City and Topeka for the college students. We just feel that being Lawrence's only two radio stations, we need to focus on what's best for the community itself."
According to Arbitron, the company that measures consumers and retail activity in media markets, when The Lazer still had its college rock-themed format in 1998 and 1999, it held a 1.4 share of the Kansas City market. The most recent stats available (spring 2002) show KLZR at a 0.4 share of the market -- less than a third of what it was under the previous format.
Arbitron's national office in Maryland says it has no current ratings information for The Lazer. This is either due to not enough listener diaries were filled out that included info on the station (at least 10 are needed), or because the station slipped below the .4 needed to register as actively part of the market.
"I'm not willing to say less people are listening to it," Covert says. "I don't have the numbers in front of me to back those up one way or another. This is a business and it all comes down to revenue, unfortunately, and how we can best serve the community at large. When the station targeted college kids, it had really good ratings but the revenue wasn't very good. That's just not a way you can stay in business."
KLZR has already revamped its "Lazer Morning Show" (6 a.m. to 10 a.m.) to reflect this Adult Contemporary philosophy.
"We've hired someone named Shani -- that's what she'll go by on the air," Covert says of the new host who took over Monday. "She's entertaining between songs. But more than that, Shani's a mother of five with a great understanding of the Lawrence community."
The more dramatic shifts will occur on KLWN.
"With KLWN we've also completely changed that format to news talk," says Covert, a 15-year veteran of Zimmer who moved three weeks ago to Lawrence from Columbia, Mo. "We've added the local Channel 6 meteorologist for doing our weather. We've also added to our news department so we can go back to covering all the issues that are important locally."
While Jerry Zimmer will continue to live in Cape Girardeau, Mo., where Zimmer Radio Group was based, the station is hoping to bring a more localized feel to the ownership.
"Our goal through both of the stations is to become more Lawrence-focused and respond more to the needs of the community and the listener base," Covert says. "In order to do that we felt we needed to go a little different direction."