Evolution Radio

Zoning Out: New Zone 105 recruit Brian Oake.

IT'S BEEN EIGHT noisy months since Twin Cities alt-rock jingoists turned their afternoon dials to 105-point-whatever and received a rude awakening like none their Soul Coughing-sculpted minds could have foreseen: a double shot of Van Halen. Whack! Thus began the year's most emotional media melodrama: the purchase and subsequent squashing of alternative radio underdog REV 105 by the ABC/Capital Cities/Disney monolith. For REV loyalists, it was a tragic fable in which evil triumphed over good, Goliath kicked David's scrawny punk ass, The Man got richer, and nice guys finished last.

The ensuing signal shuffle left listeners puzzled as former alt-rock colossus (and REV rival) 93.7 "The Edge" was unceremoniously shut down and replaced by 93X, a loud 'n' proud hair-band-heavy throwback intended to trouble the waters for the Howard Stern-anchored "Active Rock" formatted 100.3 FM. When ABC finally moved to sop up the REV's market share with the new Zone 105, an adult-alternative-leaning station on the triangulated ex-REV signal (105.1,105.3, and 105.7), it seemed that the dust had settled; finally local radioheads had been given safe asylum from the evil din of the air-guitar onslaught.

Or were they? "The recent ABC/Disney station and format shuffle in the Twin Cities illustrates two things," read a September statement from Americans for Radio Diversity (ARD), a formidable local clique of quasi-activists bent on preserving the REV 105 spirit. "One: Giant media corporations have no real interest in music or quality radio content... Two: The Twin Cities market has too few radio stations controlled by too few owners."

Well, duh. Corporate heavyweights remain the most obvious and least vulnerable targets for any populist agenda, especially in this Gilded Age; and ARD's rants against the Evil Empire that took away its favorite radio station seem predictable at best, naive at worst. They also belie the fact that song-for-song, the new entity isn't all that different from the REV it so nobly (and annoyingly) pines for. In fact, this Zone thingee presents intriguing possibilities. With veterans of both the REV and the Edge working together on staff, former REVers are presented with a slippery dilemma: How do I live with myself if these ABC jerks actually play all my favorite bands?

"I have the exact same amount of musical freedom that I did at REV," says Brian Oake, the ex-REV/ex-Edge DJ, who, along with partner Steve Nelson, was enlisted to helm the Zone's morning drive. "[REV] was a great station," he continues, "but ever since it was shut down, it's been deified and has reached these mythical proportions. There's a core of [former REV] listeners who'll never be happy with another station--even if it's better."

Grudge or no grudge, naysayers must concede that the Zone is indeed filling some of the programming holes that REV and Edge left behind. Artists like Mazzy Star and Porno For Pyros who once found homes at REV have been reintroduced (if less enthusiastically) on the Zone. Ditto for former Edge favorites like Green Day and Patti Rothberg. And it's not too far-fetched to suggest that, were the angelic REV alive today, she too would be proselytizing for the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Fiona Apple along with the rest of American commercial radio.

Fact is, rock radio is realigning--not just here in the Twin Cities, but on both coasts and everywhere in between. A recent feature in R&R, a prominent national trade-mag for radio insiders, actually lauded Zone program director John Lassman for reacting early to an imminent split within the alternative nation.

"The [alternative] format has splintered," says Lassman, a cantankerous fixture in Minneapolis radio who enjoyed successful stints at KQRS, the Edge, and the REV's bumbling forerunner KJ-104 before wading into the Zone. Cocky and characteristically abrasive, Lassman seems to have sidestepped the vivid irony of taking over the signal that once provided a pesky thorn in his side back in the Edge days. "Our library will capture the melodic offerings of alternative gold," Lassman told R&R. "Our announcers will offer a more mature presentation than that found on the original Edge. We'll be more knowledgeable about music than those on Modern Adult Contemporary radio and more mature than Alternative."

Sure, the industry rhetoric is confounding, but hybrids like the Zone are poised to prosper if trend-hopping listeners fulfill their market-niche destinies. Guys like Lassman may even take Freedy Johnston and Ani DiFranco along for the ride, even if their haughty fans can't hang with the Zone's corporate ownership. But really: Whose problem is that?

Indeed, if disenfranchised REV-ugees aren't rooting for the still-developing Zone, maybe it's less about what's being played than it is about who's playing it--and why. Differences between the REV's brazen boosters and its less-vocal detractors always hinged on half-baked hipster ethics as much as they did on musical tastes. Never mind that the ABC "family"'s new alignment actually makes some sense: Krokus and Foo Fighters on one end of the dial; U2 and the Honeydogs on the other. Heck, even Soul Coughing fans have regained a sacred space in which to groove on their favorite white-bread hip-hop substitute, a safe distance from the unwieldy influence of bullies like Offspring and Marilyn Manson.

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