95 Rock fans dial up anger over dial switch

Listeners complain after talk radio shifts station

Listeners tuning in to WCHZ-FM (95.1) last Wednesday expecting the off-color afternoon program 95 Rock Raw were treated instead to the voice of Rush Limbaugh.

Augusta rockers wanting the latest single from Seether now have to move the dial a few notches to 93.1, which has become the new frequency home of Beasley Broadcasting’s 95 Rock.

Taking its place at 95.1 is Beasley’s WGAC-AM (580) news and talk programming, which now is broadcast much farther on the stronger 95.1 signal.

Reaction to the change was swift and angry from some fans of 95 Rock, who complained they can’t consistently pick up the 93.1 signal, or understand it over the static.

On the 95 Rock Facebook page, one fan said it was a “VERY ignorant and dumb” decision that will “blow up in your face.” Most messages are similar to: “We need you guys and rock back in augusta!”

Kent Dunn, Beasley Broadcast Augusta’s vice president and market manager, said Tuesday he “understands the frustation of the 95 Rock” listeners. He added, though, that the response has been both positive and negative.

Traditionally, the WGAC talk radio audience has been bigger and the signal change was made to broaden that audience further by harnessing the power of the stronger signal, Dunn said.

Asked whether the 93.1 signal would be strengthened for the 95 Rock listeners, Dunn said that’s the goal for all the stations.

“That’s certainly our wish,” he said.

Augusta’s 95 Rock joins other stations across the country that are seeing a change in favor of talk radio. A year ago, Atlanta’s WBTS-FM (95.5) was bumped to Web streaming and a digital side channel to make way for Cox Media Group’s News/Talk station.

The move has been repeated nationwide as a way to draw in more listeners on the more popular FM format.

Consumer research company Arbitron finds that 79 percent of radio listening is on the FM band and that three-quarters of FM listeners never tune in to AM.

Ann Hollifield, the head of the telecommunications department at the University of Georgia, said the expanding number of outlets for information and entertainment is hurting all media.

Just as newspapers have to contend with online news, radio is competing against satellite radio, MP3 players and online radio apps such as Pandora, she said.

To stay profitable, radio stations are shifting their resources, often to talk radio “which still has a good audience,” Hollifield said.

The exact future of 95 Rock remains unclear. Most of the DJs have remained at the station, with the exception of Raw’s Jordan Zeh. In a five-minute video posted Tuesday on YouTube, DJs Matt Stone and Sanj urged listeners to continue streaming the station online.

They also urged listeners to continue their feedback, with the condition that they remain civil and cut down on the verbal attacks on the station and the general manager.

“You’re the whole reason we’re going to stay, so make it happen,” said Stone.

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