Planet Clair 

It's time to rant

"Let's talk about the new 80's, 90's, Now!" radio station Star 101.3, which the enlightened have dubbed "El Sucko," and the purely hateful call a big ol' pile of "Shitwad Bullshit Shittyshack Crap." Talk about road rage.

When you are in your car and you have to endure Bryan Adams and "Love Shack" from a station that you had secretly hoped would be a retro KROQ thang, it's all you can do not to reach into the next car, grab some lady's Bichon Frise, and drop-kick it into the southbound lane.

The station is owned by the mammoth Clear Channel Communications, which operates over 1180 radio stations in the US (one out of every ten), as well as a buttload of TV stations, billboards, and entertainment venues. Their profits for the first quarter of this year were reported to top 1.6 billion dollars. Yep, make no bones about it, they are The Man, and they sure as shit ain't gonna play "Misty" for you. They are going to play Huey Lewis and Billy Idol for about a month, then change their format by adding the lamest 90's Spin Doctors and EMF twaddle they can find. And the really scary thing about this station is that Planet Clair listens to it every freaking day. It's like an abusive boyfriend that's great in bed. You know you should leave him, but you Just Can't Stop It. You are waiting for him to change. After a messy fight, he buys you flowers and pays close attention to your needs for a day. It's the same with Star 101.3. After a barrage of inane DJ banter, ten minutes' worth of ads, and Howard Jones' entreaties to not lay blame where 'tisn't due, comes that one song -- "Cars" by Gary Numan or "The Unforgettable Fire" by U2 -- and you decide to give them just one more chance. But as John Bradshaw would say, "Are you in love with the station, or the station's potential?" Let's face it, we ain't getting our needs met in this toxic relationship.

"We're listening to you!" they told us, explaining why they abandoned the purely '80s format and are now apparently taking on KFOG's programming lineup by adding "adult" rock from every decade thereafter. In what is perhaps a counteroffensive, KFOG's '80s output seems to have increased as a result. Could this, dear listeners, be war? "We haven't changed a thing," says Dave Benson, KFOG's program director, who insists that the station hasn't increased its '80s output to counterbalance 101.3. "That's what's interesting. As a radio station, and even in journalism, people's perceptions of your writing or your magazine are actually quite different from what you are doing. Somebody might say, 'You seem to be writing a lot more about blah blah blah,' and you are really not. I had people in our own offices here come to me and say, 'It sounds like we're playing more '80s,' and we hadn't changed a thing. So people's perceptions are very easily swayed."

"So you guys don't perceive 101.3 as a competition?"

"You know, everyone who broadcasts radio is competing. But the research that we've seen, and the ratings research that is done, shows that the actual sharing of audience between that station and KFOG is pretty minimal."

It's true that KFOG is indeed a strong station, and if push comes to shove it will definitely prevail over the Clear Channel alternative. It is owned by Susquehanna (Pfaltzgraff) Radio Corporation, which also owns The Bone (107.7), and bills itself as one of the ten largest radio group broadcasters in the nation. Unlike Clear Channel, whose Web site is full of numbers and investor ass-kissing, the Susquehanna site takes the other corporate route, describing itself as a real down-home, Pepperidge Farm cookies, Wilfred Brimley operation. "There's a story behind every business," says their site, "but we at Susquehanna Pfaltzgraff think ours is especially interesting." Intrigued? Read on: "The Pfalzgraff side of the story started in the early years of the 19th century when young Johann George Pfaltzgraff left his native Germany to settle in the rolling hills of York, Pennsylvania. Trained in the pottery trade, Johann George not only produced utilitarian earthenware vessels for neighboring farmers and shopkeepers, he also produced a family of pottery that has become an American legend." How all this came to be heavy rotation of Melissa Etheridge over the nation's airwaves is fully explained in the story, but to cut to the chase, little Johann's dream to expand the Pfaltzgraff name has more than come true.

All you independent radio types will read this and smugly tell yourselves that it just doesn't matter. "Alls I need is KPFA," you're thinkin'. "Alls I need is sprouted wheat bread, some ginseng boosters, and long ramblings about East Bay land use." Well, the rest of us are sufferin'; those of us who liked The Hurting better than Songs from the Big Chair; those of us who have actually heard of the mythical Echo and the Bunnymen, an extinct creature that some say used to live on Bay Area radio. We know the difference between Talk Talk and Talk Talk Talk. And we're waiting. Patiently.


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