2 rock stations seek same audience in format changes

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Rock and roll forever! But local listeners had to first adjust to format changes in recent months at two FM rock stations.

First came "The Colt," otherwise known as WOCT-FM (104.3), which debuted in October with a lineup boasting "hits of the '70s." The station switch from the soft variety format that was in place less than a year, as WSSF-FM.

On Dec. 2, classic-rock station WGRX-FM (100.7) became "The X," with what station officials called "an evolutionary adjustment" toward being a more mainstream rock format.

The two changes were not related. But station officials acknowledge they target the same audience.

The arrival of The Colt marked the latest in a dizzying succession of changes at 104.3 in the last two years.

In June 1993, the station (then known as WVRT-FM and !c previously as WBSB-FM/B-104) was purchased by Capitol Broadcasting. The firm, based in Raleigh, N.C., already owned WWMX-FM (106.5) in Baltimore, which at the time was WVRT's major rival in the "variety music" format.

In the last month of 1993, the station began running a continuous rotation of just five songs in a move insiders called "flushing the format" in preparation for a new identity.

In January of this year, the station became WSSF/SOFT 104, with a sound emphasizing Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond and Barry Manilow. But in October, that trio and other "soft" artists gave way to the top rock artists of the '70s.

"We're real pleased with the direction that everything has gone," says program director David Wood, noting that the studio staff were finally moving today from the old facility on Malden Avenue in Baltimore into the complex that already houses sister station WWMX, in Towson.

Was the new format at WGRX a response to The Colt? Program director Brian Beddow concedes, "We knew people would get that impression." But he says planning for The X began in the summer, after his arrival in Baltimore -- but before news of the changes coming at 104.3.

"We still play more classic rock than anyone else in town," he says. But he notes the new format is "more mainstream, a little more conservative," and aimed at a target audience of men and women in the 18-to-49 age group.

A sample playlist includes such artists as Van Halen, Stone Temple Pilots, Guns and Roses, Soul Asylum and Gin Blossoms.

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Christmas is on the air! Here are a few highlights of seasonal specials:

* A "Christmas Casual Concert" featuring the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and chorus with conductor David Zinman (taped in 1992) can be heard at 9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 22, on WBJC-FM (91.5) and repeated at 11 a.m. Christmas Day on WJHU-FM (88.1).

* Talk 680 host Zoh Heironimus plans to chat with children at Owings Mills Mall in a live Christmas edition show from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, Dec. 23. The show will feature local magician Paul Trattner.

* Traditional and nontraditional Christmas songs by '50s and '60s artists are the feature of the Christmas Eve edition of "Echoes of the Past," from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 24 on WTMD-FM (89.7). Host Kenny Schreiber says the artists include the Duprees, Platters, Skyliners, Fats Domino and many others.

Aircheck is a weekly column of news and highlights from the local radio airwaves. To submit potential items, write: Aircheck, attn. Steve McKerrow, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278; or fax, (410) 783-2519.

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