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Buzz Off?

In the corporate crosshairs, a standout station struggles to stay alive.


Sunday, June 22
It's going to be one of the weirdest weeks in local radio history, one that presents a cautionary tale about what happens when an independent-minded commercial station fails to make its corporate numbers.

A few days ago, Entercom, the parent corporation of KRBZ 96.5 the Buzz, made a few personnel moves. It hired Jason Whitlock, who formerly held down an early morning gig at WHB 810. Former Chiefs Bill Maas and Tim Grunhard also abandoned their post at the station, the 9 to 11 a.m. program Crunch Time. Initially, this news mattered little to regular 96.5 listeners. Whitlock, Maas and Grunhard are the jocks and bullies Buzz-favorite groups such as Good Charlotte and Blink-182 despise.

Soon, though, Buzz employees learned that this transaction was more than a footnote. Upper management remained mum, but leaking news trickled down to the staff. Entercom, rumor had it, was considering pulling the plug on the progressive yet ratings-challenged Buzz to clear the way for an all-sports station. It looked as if WDAF 610 was poised to take the Buzz's place on the FM dial.

The news is still fresh when host Danny Boi and interns Brand New and the Cooz convene at 8 p.m. for their weekly punk program, Drive-In. Fearing this will be their last show, they put together an apt playlist. "Idiots Are Taking Over," "We've Had Enough" and "Everything Sucks" are among the featured titles, and the show ends on an alternately hopeful and wistful note with the track that opened the first-ever Drive-In: Millencolin's "Fingers Crossed."

At least the airtime affords the Drive-In hosts an opportunity to mention the next morning's Save the Buzz rally at the J.C. Nichols Fountain from 6 to 10 a.m. A few listeners, all of whom seem to be hearing about the plight for the first time, announce their intentions to attend. Several more bitch about the early start time, at which point Danny Boi, an amiable Ashton Kutcher look-alike who shares his doppelganger's eager-puppy personality, snaps. "Get your ass up if you care at all about the station," he shouts. "Or else this is all you'll get."

He starts playing samples of Entercom's other stations' content, moving from a 50 Cent tune to Deliverance-style banjos. Then he launches into an impression of Jason Whitlock, which is amusing despite bearing no resemblance to its target's voice. "Hi, I like to talk about sports," he declares, sounding like a generic, animated Santa Claus.

Danny Boi's show differs from anything else on commercial radio in several ways. Either he or Brand New provide all of the music from their personal collections, and there are no programming constraints (other than FCC regulations) on his playlist. Some of these groups are platinum sellers, but Danny Boi plays them because he loves their music, not because they're popular.

During his regular slot, 7 to 10 p.m. weeknights, Danny Boi and the Cooz play a blend of hits and hopefuls that's not of their making. "[Drive-In is] the one time I don't have to play Coldplay," Danny Boi says. That's why he calls 9 p.m. Sunday "the worst time of the week." It marks both the end of his show and the point furthest from the beginning of his next one. Tonight, he realizes that the wait might never end.

Monday, June 23

Drizzle and dark skies don't dissuade fifty or so die-hard supporters from appearing at the Save the Buzz rally. A few attendees not only set their alarms for 5 a.m. but also made elaborate signs: "Entercom is out of tune," "Down with the Suit," "We woke up at the butt-crack of dawn to save the Buzz."

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