By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
So the Eagle has crashed. Clear Channel, which owns the station, confirmed months of rumors by canning the staff at 97.1 KEGL on May 17. It was like any good corporate firing: swift, efficient and rather painful. The next day, as angry listeners clogged phone lines and fired employees popped up on morning talk shows, 97.1 rolled out its new format, "Sunny 97.1."
"There's a new sound in town," one promo begins. "And it's sunny!"
According to the press release, Sunny 97.1 is "an adult contemporary radio station that plays an exclusive blend of hit music from the '60s, '70s and '80s." Apparently, it's done gangbusters in Philadelphia. While I write this column, I've heard the following songs on the station: Richard Marx's "Right Here Waiting for You," Jennifer Warnes and Bill Medley's "(I've Had) The Time of My Life," Rod Stewart's "Forever Young" and Irene Cara's "Flashdance." It's like listening to an afternoon of American Idol. Some soul, some disco, some pop. And by "pop," I mean "pap."
It's a grab for the coveted 25-54 demographic enjoyed by KVIL--the soccer moms who listen in the Suburban, the office hacks at work. That's a far cry from the metal kids and car mechanics who favored 97.1 of late, but the playlist isn't so different from the KEGL of my youth, when the station ruled Top 40 radio with DJs like Kidd Kraddick at the helm. In the mid-'80s, every seventh-grader worth his Trapper Keeper knew that the Eagle was the station, our own little Total Request Live where lusty teens could make song dedications and shout-outs (though we never called them that) throughout the evening. In the '90s, the station drifted toward a straight-ahead rock format, punting pop (and Kidd Kraddick) down the dial to KISS-FM and alternative/grunge to KDGE. What did that leave 97.1? Poison? I'm not sure. I wasn't listening anymore.
But plenty were, and the station spent the '90s snugly within the Top 10 of local radio stations. This decade, however, has been rockier. The Eagle hasn't cracked the Top 10 since 2001. Calls to management at Clear Channel and competing stations were not returned at press time, so I can only postulate as to why the station was yanked. Maybe middle-aged listeners are clamoring for more lite-rock. Maybe the station failed to differentiate itself from the Edge, which boasted higher ratings and better DJs. Maybe after two-plus decades, the Eagle just couldn't fly right anymore. One thing is clear: There's an audience up for grabs. And every station knows it.
The classic cock-rockers at 93.3 the Bone recently posted the following grammatically challenged message on their Web site: "Corporate Radio has done it again. They've turned their back on music fans once again and have killed KEGL, the Eagle. At the Bone, we are music fans like you and would like to welcome you to the Bonehead Nation!" Wow, they really know how to woo a girl.
Meanwhile, the Edge has placed Metallica songs in rotation, baby-stepping toward an Eagle demographic that catered to Slipknot and Linkin Park fans. With such a gaping hole in modern hard-rock radio, however, another local format change may be on its way. Don't be too surprised to wake up and discover another under-performing station (Wild 100, anyone?) has suddenly started playing Damageplan and Pantera. Or maybe those hard-core Eagle fans will turn to Internet radio and iTunes like the rest of us who discover one sad day that the radio we once loved has failed us, that our music is simply missing from the dial.