Sonic Boom: Kzok-Am Turns Up The Volume

Kerrrang. Wha-wha-wha-whaaaaaaaaaa. Aughhhhh!

Get used to it. As of noon today, if all went according to plans, KZOK-AM (1590 kHz) threw the switch on its new hard-rock format called ``Z-Rock.''

Out go the station's '50s and '60s rock-'n'-roll standards; in comes a satellite-fed mix of music from bands such as Metallica, Aerosmith, Skid Row and Poison.

Kerrrang. Wha-wha-wha-whaaaaaaaaaa. Aughhhhh!

``We're going to take a rebellious stance,'' said program and promotion director Jon Donovan. ``But not `Go burn down your mother's house and kill yourself.' It'll be good, clean rebellion.''

The station is targeting 18- to 24-year-old listeners. Male listeners. Accordingly, one of the station's catch phrases is, ``If it's too loud, you're too old.'' Proving that deafening sexism is not confined to hard-rock videos, Donovan is looking to recruit a squad of ``Z-Rock-ettes, little Spandex queenies'' who will appear at station promotions.

KZOK's far-right spot on the AM dial, you may recall, used to be occupied by KJET, which built a small but loyal following who tuned in for the alternative rock it played. KJET became KQUL and switched to rock oldies in late 1988, earning abysmal ratings. Last November, it changed call letters again.

The new KZOK will be the first commercial Seattle station since KJET's demise to concentrate on music outside the rock radio mainstream. Donovan said tiny, defunct KILO-AM in Bellevue in the early '70s was the last local station to give hard rock a spin.

Donovan says the music, bounced from an uplink in Texas by the Satellite Music Network, will allow KZOK-AM to slip in a few cuts an hour of music by local bands; a weekly local-music show is also in the works.

``Mudhoney, definitely. Soundgarden, definitely,'' Donovan said, naming two prominent Seattle purveyors of pounding sound that will find a place in the station's music rotation.

Will advertisers buy it? Donovan said he's already lined up local sponsors that include a nightclub, record stores and a fast-food chain. Since the station is teamed with KZOK-FM when it sells airtime to national advertisers, even a modicum of ratings success will help the pair get the minimum audience it needs to attract dollars from New York ad buyers.

Fun fact: The Z-Rock format was developed by Lee Abrams, the big-time radio consultant who, more than any other single person, has been blamed for the homogenization and stupefaction of rock radio.

Fall ratings, indeed

The fall radio ratings are here - and the operative word is ``fall.''

KIRO-AM, for only the third time this decade, tumbled from the No. 1 spot to No. 2 in the ratings. The news-and-talk station was bested by Top 40 station KPLZ-FM.

An understandably elated Casey Keating, program director at KPLZ (101.5 mHz), figured a major direct-mail promotion and relentlessly familiar current pop music may have been the keys to his station's fall success.

At KIRO-AM (710 kHz), program director Andy Ludlum had no explanation for why his listenership had ebbed by one share point since summer. What hurt his station was not the number of people who tuned in each week - that actually rose - but the shorter amount of time that each person listened.

``I'm baffled,'' said Ludlum. ``It was one of the busiest periods of news I can remember, with the Berlin Wall and San Francisco earthquake. Typically, when there's a lot of activity in the news, our ratings will go up.''

The other surprise was KOMO-AM (1000 kHz). After paying $2.375 million a year to win the UW football and basketball broadcast rights, and promoting football heavily this fall, the station actually dipped slightly in the ratings compared to a year ago, when KOMO was Huskyless.

In September, Rich Robertson, KOMO Radio vice president and general manager, predicted UW football would boost his station's overall ratings by 1 1/2 to 2 points over last fall's. This week, he preferred to focus on KOMO's improvement over the summer ratings.

``I can't say I was disappointed,'' he said. ``You just have to look at what happened in the rest of the market. Six of the top 10 declined (since summer). I think KOMO's ratings are pretty healthy, especially in light of that.''

Not-so-popular pronouns

In still more radio activity, ``Me and Him'' are outta here.

The pronoun-heavy KZOK-FM morning team punched out a week ago Monday, less than a year after they came to Seattle from Phoenix.

``Their shtick didn't fit our format,'' said Larry Sharp, program director at classic rocker KZOK (102.5 mHz). ``They did an 18- to 24-year-old show. We're a 25- to 49-year-old station. It was a mismatch.''

Sharp hopes to replace the pair by midmonth. Until then, weekend disc jockey James Young will fill in.

The old morning team, Kent Voss and Jimmy Kimmel, pulled several stunts during their short stay in Seattle. You may remember the song they recorded to the tune of ``Quinn the Mighty Eskimo'' lampooning the then-owner of the Mariners, George Argyros. It also prompted the baseball club to cancel about $8,000 worth of advertising from the station, according to Sharp.

``They did have some loyal fans,'' Sharp conceded. ``Unfortunately, not enough of them.''

Their station in life

You might have noticed something unusual at 96.1 on your FM tuner: a radio station.

A Vancouver, B.C., station used to occupy the frequency, with a signal that often spilled into Seattle. But it went off the air several months ago.

Now comes KXXO-FM in Olympia. The station signed on Jan. 16, playing a mixture of familiar ``soft rock'' songs: Billy Joel, Sade, Marvin Gaye and the like.

The new station's principal owners are David Rauh and Toni Holm, who cut their teeth at KAOS-FM, the noncommercial public station affiliated with The Evergreen State Collge. Without interference from Canada, and with an 80,000-watt transmitter on a 4,000-foot hill in southern Lewis County, KXXO has been flexing its muscles into Seattle.

``It was never our intention,'' says Rauh. ``We're an Olympia station.''

Media Watch by Kit Boss appears Thursday in the Scene section of The Times.