KWMT FM 92.9 The Mountain's radio format is totally different now—but listeners won't notice a thing, because the music on the station has not changed (other than some minor tweaks that involved modernizing portions of the playlist six or so months ago).
But listeners today are tuning into a Hot AC station, whereas just a couple of weeks ago, they were enjoying the sounds of an AAA station.
You see, the so-called Adult Album Alternative KWMT played songs by the likes of Sarah McLachlan, Jack Johnson and Maroon 5. Meanwhile, the new Hot Adult Contemporary Mountain plays songs by the likes of Sarah McLachlan, Jack Johnson and Maroon 5.
See the difference? Apparently, industry publication Billboard/Radio and Records (which is behind the change) does. Or perhaps they were really bored and didn't have much to do in July.
"I think hiring Chris Patyk (as program director), who is a Hot AC guy, and who did that format in Los Angeles for some years, is probably something that caused some people to re-evaluate the direction of the station and maybe caused the industry to re-evaluate what the station looked like," said Tim Richards, operations manager for Clear Channel Tucson, which owns KWMT. "Some-body asked us if we cared if we were categorized as Hot AC or AAA, and we don't care. If you want to call us Hot AC, call us Hot AC. The station will continue to do what it does regardless of what box it's being put in."
Since it went on the air in 2003, The Mountain has had the closest thing to a format with personality in this cluster-heavy market. I don't know if I consider myself a radio purist, per se, but I do think the industry dramatically changed (you decide whether for better or for worse) when corporate and consultant-driven forces tried to streamline stations. Before, radio outlets played off of the personalities of the communities where they were licensed. As a result, the AC station in Tucson could sound significantly different than the AC station in Wichita, which sounded different than the AC station in Charlotte.
Today, it's just a format on a stick. The liners are the same; the playlist is the same. The only difference between the AC station in Tucson and the AC station in Charlotte is the call letters.
Clear Channel is as much to blame for the Walmart-ization of terrestrial radio as anybody. Yet despite that trend, and despite sharing a building with a bunch of stations that play cookie-cutter formats, The Mountain managed to create a vibe that seemed to actually incorporate—and appreciate—its core listener in Tucson.
"The mission for The Mountain has always been to try to find a specific musical niche for Tucson—to not be like everybody else, but be something Tucsonans can feel was their radio station," Richards said.
That philosophy worked well for the station in its early days. KWMT had great numbers in its first ratings book, but then settled into solid but not spectacular territory. It hasn't threatened the top tier of stations in the market (including KIIM FM 99.5, KMXZ FM 94.9 and KRQQ FM 93.7), but instead settled solidly into the second tier. Now station management is trying to find a way to make a push without alienating the faithful fan base.
"The goal for The Mountain has always been to have a certain flavor specific to Tucson," Richards said. "... That's still an important part of what we do: the Studio C performances, the ties to the local music scene—those are of major importance to the station, but we need to be mindful of what people's listening habits are like. We think we can continue to do that while being mass-appeal. You give the audience what it wants, and they'll vote for you. We just need to make sure that whatever we do is dialed into Tucson enough that we get a lot of Tucsonans giving us the thumbs-up."
Whether that's a Hot AC or AAA thumbs-up.
Blake Rogers, the man The Mountain bounced in favor of current PD Patyk, has accepted the program-director/morning-host position with X-107.1 FM in the Cayman Islands. Rogers starts Aug. 9.
"The media business is a transient one, so with that, my radio career takes me to another destination, where I'll meet some new friends, explore a different culture and maybe even discover a few more things about myself along the way," said Rogers via e-mail. "Tucson certainly didn't disappoint, but I'm really looking forward to the next chapter. Even Harley, my dog, will be excited. He doesn't know it yet, but he will be."
Operations manager Ron Bowen describes X-107.1 as a contemporary-hit/Top 40 station with an international flavor that doesn't always entirely adhere to the American pop charts.
General-assignment reporter Quinn Schuler has left KVOA Channel 4 for a similar position in Orlando, Fla.
"I am disappointed to lose a wonderful (multimedia journalist) like Quinn," said KVOA news director Kathleen Choal via e-mail. "She has done terrific work over the last three years. ... However, I understand this is a great opportunity for her to advance in her career. We wish her nothing but the best in her future endeavors!"
Schuler is the second reporter to move from KVOA to Orlando this summer. Morning anchor Josh Benson made the move at the end of June. Naomi Pescovitz has shifted to Tucson Today, KVOA's morning-news product, to fill the reporting void.