Yes, indeed — Chuck FM is the new name at the 96.1 FM frequency. Last week, without warning, formal announcement, or proper explanation, execs at local Apex Broadcasting kicked the brand name "96 Wave" into the ditch, backed over it a few times, and peeled out without so much as a middle finger or a clumsy wave good-bye.
At 5 p.m. on Fri. Aug. 31, 96 Wave suddenly flipped from the "Alternative" format to an "Adult Variety Hits" (a.k.a. "Classic Hits") format. Although rumors about the switch had already circulated among locals that afternoon, even briefed insiders were shocked and puzzled to hear Top 40 hits by the likes of Poison, Dead or Alive, Robert Palmer, .38 Special, Wang Chung, and K.C. & The Sunshine Band. They were even more surprised to hear some anonymous voice-over guy announce the station's new name: "96.1 Chuck FM."
Some listeners thought it might have been an elaborate prank and stayed tuned through the weekend. No DJ ever spoke over the microphone. No official station announcement ever aired. No nothing. Last week, all of the recent 96 Wave information online at www.96wave.com was deleted and replaced only by the new logo.
Things at Wave were certainly tumultuous over the last year and a half. Despite their recent ups and downs, Wave maintained a loyal, if shrinking, listenership. In fact, they won "Best Local Radio Station" category in the City Paper's 2006 Best Of Charleston reader's poll. But in recent months, the station's ratings slipped to their lowest point in a long, long time. According to Arbitron Inc., a N.Y.-based tracking company, 96 Wave had slipped down from the top 10 local stations to No. 16 in the local market. Hence the sudden flip.
Last Wednesday, Apex vice president Chris Johnson told The Post and Courier, "The thinking on it was that it would broaden the appeal. It's kind of an undefined thing." According to the piece, Johnson claims the "response from listeners and advertisers has been largely positive."
Really? According to the lively thread from a post on our own Feedback File blog (at music.ccpblogs.com), hundreds of former Wave fans are unanimously angry, confused, and hurt — not only by the flip in format, but by the flippant and disrespectful way it went down.
Most "Chuck"-style stations have few DJs or none at all. So far, Chuck's had none. That means there's no one in the control room to announce the artists, song titles, tour dates, album information, etc. Requests are out of the question. It's all piped in from a computer with no direction or flow — only schizophrenic turns from one stale genre to another, from metal to synth-pop to country to R&B.
A common pitch from the stations doing the "Chuck" format thing is that's the "random radio/iPod shuffle" thing is somehow exciting and hip. Most have a sizeable playlist culled from the last five decades of hits. And only hits. Top 40 hits. Hardly any "Wave-worthy" music at all. Nothing.
But wait ... is 96 Wave stumbling back into action online? Maybe. Charleston-based American Media Services (www.americanmediaservices.com) recently launched several "internet radio stations" (is that an oxymoron?). Word has it they may work in conjunction with Apex Broadcasting to launch some sort of web version of 96 Wave, although likely without many of the familiar DJ voices.
American Media Services President Edward Seeger was quoted in a recent piece published in The Post & Courier praising the flip from 96 Wave to Chuck FM, predicting that Chuck FM's ratings would "rocket" under the new format, especially with listeners from 22-55.
Wave's old website snuck back online over the weekend, although much of the former content is missing. Is this bold move to win back angry listeners who feel betrayed and disrespected by the sudden format switch, or just another fumbling step along a meandering path? Was this deal already in the works, or could it be in reaction to the uproar from the former fan base? At this point, who cares?