Media Watch

Frank jazzes up Tucson radio on the weekends

Jazz music may be an American cultural institution, but American radio tends to treat it more like a forgotten museum artifact.

Classic jazz is niche at best, and got largely jettisoned in Tucson when NPR affiliate KUAZ FM dramatically slashed its airtime representation last decade. Even smooth jazz gets no love in the Old Pueblo, and there are some studies that suggest its decline as a viable format in larger markets might have to do with electronic glitches in the People Meter ratings collection system.

But with that aside, thanks to the launch of Downtown Radio, 99.1 FM, lovers of jazz can get a snippet of their radio fix Sunday afternoons from 3 to 6 p.m. That's when Tony Frank, perhaps the city's most visible purveyor of the format, gets an opportunity to again showcase his knowledge for local listeners. He can express a little passion as well.

"When I was at NPR, there were parameters about what I could do," Frank said. "I got called in the office and said don't be so enthusiastic about what I did. That's absurd. They have this flat line delivery about everything. They said don't say something is good because then it will mean you like it better than something else. That's not what people think. In this setting, I stick to my format, but I can do my thing, be excited about it and elaborate when I want to."

That seems to be the mantra for Downtown Radio, which since launching in mid-September has received its share of positive feedback from listeners searching for an alternative to the comfort food model of corporate radio. It's not quite as expansive in its format, nor does it have the resources, name recognition or market longevity as community radio station KXCI 91.3 FM, but it has garnered a strong collection of DJ volunteers who have a passion for their respective musical expertise and love the opportunity to express it over the air.

"I'm impressed with the whole grassroots thing," Frank said. "How did they get 99.1? It's in the middle of the FM dial. It's a great location. They're guaranteed listeners, and it's appealing. That station is playing some cool stuff. It's really neat. It's a pretty incredible thing."

Cyndi and Chris morning how launches on 92.9 FM

iHeartMedia just added a local morning show in Tucson, and did so by teaming a long-time station survivor with a relative newcomer.

My Mornings with Cyndi and Chris debuted Monday on KMIY 92.9 FM in place of Mojo's morning show, syndicated out of Detroit. It marks a move for Chris O'Gorman from nights on the otherwise voice-tracked and nationally syndicated familiar hits music format and Cyndi LaFrese, who also does middays on top-40 station KRQQ 93.7 FM.

O'Gorman is one of the cluster's ultimate survivors. A talented guy on the musical front in addition to his radio pursuits, he has managed to weather numerous internal upheavals, including a massive layoff swath that gutted staff and all but made the old Best Buy building on Fort Lowell and Oracle its own mini-ghost town. Most recently, he worked the nightshift at KMIY, and as such, has been the only local voice on that station for years.

LaFrese, meanwhile, may be the only person to have stepped foot in the KRQ studios in the last decade since the popular top-40 station focused its efforts on syndicated fare.

"We're excited to launch a new, local morning show that My 92.9 listeners have been wanting," said KMIY PD Rameen Madani in a press release. "Cyndi and Chris are extraordinary individuals that have amazing chemistry, are rooted in Tucson and are sure to make you laugh."

That processed quote might have also included something like, "maybe it's time to finally be rooted in Tucson because we've managed to botch everything else since the inception of this ill-conceived format."

Without question, 92.9 is the most disappointing, underperforming station in the market. Its signal booms well into Phoenix with excellent coverage throughout Tucson and Southern Arizona, yet its milquetoast familiar hits musical blend has failed to make headway and is little more than a vaguely complementary piece in iHeartMedia's effort to garner as much of the 18-34 demo as it can muster.

Beyond that, it has programmed in a shotgun style that has reeked of desperation, constantly transitioning syndicated fare it owned from other formats hoping something, anything, might stick. That included the Mojo in the Morning program. Mojo used to host KRQ's morning show, but has been out of the market for well over a decade and successfully entrenched in Detroit.

But iHeart's logic was since Mojo used to be here, maybe Tucson listeners won't know any better, even though most of the desired demo doesn't remember Mojo's Tucson stint, and even though Mojo and his staff reference Detroit all the time. As they should. Because they're in Detroit.

Maybe the insightful radio minds at iHeartMedia are finally coming around to a belief that Tucsonans might appreciate a show based out of Tucson, even if they're basically ripping off their talent, who should be getting good morning show salaries on a station with strong reach potential as opposed to being asked to do this as an add-on to the mid-day slot immediately afterward on KRQ.

Still, maybe there's a little light. KMIY played a role in the success of September's Oro Valley Music Festival, and now it's hoping the Cyndi and Chris addition will help to bolster its shoddy local presence and embarrassing ratings.

Or since the QT just opened on that corner, maybe iHeartMedia can save on its coffee expenses while giving KNST's Garrett Lewis, host of the only other local morning show in the organization's five-station cluster, some company in that otherwise abandoned building.

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