Modern rock makeover

Corey Moss

The Backstreet Boys have left the building.

And the boy band bashers of Ames got their wish — the longtime Top 40 radio station, Hot 105 KCCQ, has changed formats.

As of 9:06 Monday night, 105.1 is now Channel Q, a modern rock format similar to the former 107.5 KKDM. The stations new motto: “The New Music Revolution.”

“With KKDM switching to Kiss, that gave us an opportunity to pick up maybe where the KKDM of a couple years ago left off,” Channel Q Program Director Mark Pitz said. “They were extremely popular a few years ago. Then you saw the Top 40 tunes infiltrate their play list, and they got away from what their target was. I suspect we will keep things a little more focused in our playlist.”

While KCCQ mainstays like Ricky Martin, Shania Twain and Will Smith are put away for good, the station will continue spinning Sugar Ray, Smash Mouth and Goo Goo Dolls, along with more modern acts like Nine Inch Nails and Fatboy Slim.

“I think people are going to be surprised by how many artists that we played as Hot 105 translates into the new format,” Pitz said. “And there will be some stuff that might make them scratch their head a little bit.”

The change in formats for the longtime pop station has been rumored since the San Antonio-based Clear Channel Communications purchased KKDM in June and immediately went Top 40. Clear Channel had been negotiating with KCCQ for several months and announced the purchase of the Ames station on Sept. 8.

Clear Channel currently owns more than 600 stations, including 16 in Iowa. Purchasing multiple stations in the same market has been legal since the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which lifted a ban that had lasted several decades.

“It would not be a good business decision for Clear Channel to keep two Top 40 stations in the same market,” Pitz said. “And with the resurgence of the Top 40 market, which certainly did well for us at Hot 105, and extremely well in the Des Moines market, it made sense to go with the larger Kiss.”

While KKDM broadcasts at 100,000 watts, KCCQ was at 25,000. Moving the alternative radio station to a college town also makes more sense for the station and the businesses who use it, such as music venues and local bands.

“We have 25,000 college students in our backyard, that gives us a great foundation to build from with this format,” Pitz said. “If you look at some of the alternative bands that have come through here, there are some things we did. We gave away some Tori Amos tickets, but to be honest, we never really played her.”

Now the station can play Amos, or better yet, Ani DiFranco and Ben Harper, two of the major concerts scheduled to play Ames this fall. Pitz added that Dave Matthews, who plays Ames routinely, is a staple of the format.

People’s Bar and Grill owner Tom Zmolek, who worked with KKDM in previous years on shows such as Sister Soleil, Reel Big Fish and Goldfinger, will have it easier in booking modern rock shows.

“I’ve always wanted to work with KCCQ, but their format didn’t jive with what I booked,” Zmolek said. “When they were playing complete urban contemporary, it wasn’t helping me out for doing shows.”

When bands are routing shows, they often look at record sales and radio spins to determine which cities to approach. This made the jobs of venue promoters such as Zmolek or The Maintenance Shop’s Eric Yarwood even more challenging.

“We do get the radio question a lot and I have to admit, this fall I’ve been saying ‘No,'” Yarwood said. “But with Channel Q, we have something that may help a little more.”

A lot more, according to Zmolek, who also booked Crystal Method and Tonic for Veishea in ’98. “Not even that it’s cheaper, but bands want to come to town because they’re getting radio play,” he said. “Having it be in Ames vs. Des Moines is going to be better for us because their labels are going to be looking at it like, ‘You’re getting radio play in Ames, Ia., and you’re going on the road and playing there.'”

Having a modern rock station in Ames also opens the door for the local music scene. KKDM played local music on various shows, and set up local band stages at their Dotfest festivals. The Dot was also credited for helping the Des Moines band Slipknot sign a national record deal.

“The possibilities are exciting,” said Adam Clarke of the Ames ska band Bolsa De Papas. “Hopefully, they’ll support the scene, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens.”

Pitz said the station is also at a “wait and see” junction.

“Right now, our main objective is just playing the music and getting people acclimated to the modern rock format,” he said. “I haven’t had a lot of discussion with people at the home office as to what types of things they foresee in the future.”

Yarwood is hoping the station will embrace some of the regional “college rock” bands The M-Shop is accustomed to booking, like Little Blue Crunchy Things, The Sheila Divine and My Scarlet Life.

“It would be nice to see them get involved with the regional scenes and at least help with promotion of bands that aren’t nationally known but do get radio airplay,” Yarwood said.

Zmolek is anticipating the fresh alternative sound that The Dot lost in its final years.

“It’s great that we’ve got something ‘alternative’ again,” Zmolek said. “Not that Des Moines radio has ever been real good, but it’s really sucked for the last couple of months.”

Since the station changed formats, Pitz said the response has been mixed. KCCQ’s most loyal listeners were the first to call in and complain.

“It’s one of those things where you brace yourself for a lot of phone calls in the beginning,” Pitz said. “But for every two or three calls that say, ‘Gosh we hate it,’ we get one or two that say, ‘I love the new music.'”

As of now, Channel Q will continue to broadcast Iowa State football games. Clear Channel actually owned ISU athletics broadcasting rights prior to the purchase of the station, which was one of the reasons they began negotiating.

“As for basketball, it is too early to tell,” Pitz said.

While KCCQ had a reputation for showing up at campus events from bake sales to Veishea parades, Pitz said he doesn’t anticipate the new ownership will change the station’s community involvement.

“We were on campus earlier today for Clubfest,” Pitz boasted. “We’ll probably get out ever more so, just because of the newness of the station. We’re going to get out as much as possible, getting the logo and name out.”

With national ownership, the station will have more opportunities for promotion and events. However, Pitz said a summer concert festival has not been discussed.

As of now, the station is spending its days adjusting to the change. Pitz was not able to announce the format change to his staff until Monday, so the turnaround was less than 12 hours for most of the station’s disc jockeys.

Learning new music is not the only challenge, as the jocks also must adjust their own on-air styles.

“Top 40 is based on a lot of energy from the jocks,” Pitz said. “Whereas here, the music delivers the energy, and the jocks emphasize more on the person.”

Channel Q has a new logo, but their building and vans have yet to change.

“Things are happening so quickly,” Pitz said. “I don’t even have my T-shirt yet.”