Local radio stations pull war songs, bolster coverage as gulf war reverberates

January 22, 1991|By Eric Siegel

From "Eve of Destruction" to "Give Peace a Chance" to "God Bless the U.S.A.," there's undoubtedly a popular song to fit whatever sentiment you might have toward the Persian Gulf war. But only a couple of area radio stations have gone out of their way to play them.

In fact, during the first week of the war, some stations took the opposite tack, temporarily expunging songs with war references from their play lists. Others have opted to increase their broadcasts of reports from various network radio news services.

"We're trying not to get involved in the issue in terms of the music we play," says Russ Mottla, program director of WIYY-FM (98 Rock). "It just doesn't feel right."

"Right now, the feeling I'm getting from people is a news and information feeling," adds Mr. Mottla, whose station has increased the frequency of its pickup of the feed from ABC Radio.

When war broke out last week, oldies rock WQSR-FM (105.7) got several requests for Barry McGuire's 1960s anthem of the apocalypse "Eve of Destruction" and Edwin Starr's "War." But vice president and general manager Brad Murray says the station instead pulled those songs from its play list as well as XTC other records, such as "Soldier Boy," that "could be construed as being pro-war or anti-war."

Mr. Murray said that during the first few days of the war the station's announcers also toned down their delivery, with the normally ebullient morning show in particular changing its focus from entertainment to news and information.

"Now, we're back to programming the station as we would any other day," he said.

Classic rock WGRX-FM (100.7) has given "a little higher rotation" to listener-requested songs such as "Eve of Destruction" and John Lennon's anti-Vietnam War anthem "Give Peace a Chance," according to program director Steve McNee.

Country station WPOC-FM (93.1) put some patriotic songs in "pretty heavy rotation" last week, including Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the U.S.A." and Johnny Cash's "The Ragged Old Flag," according to program director Bob Moody.

He, too, struck songs from the station's play list he felt were "not appropriate" during the first couple of days of the war, such as Clint Black's "Killin' Time," which is not about war but contains the line "This killin' time is killin' me." The song has since been returned to the rotation.

Stations emphasizing information have been able to showcase their formats. News/talk WBAL-AM (1090) went "wall-to-wall" with CBS Radio coverage and its own local reports last week. It is continuing to provide four news updates per hour as well as live reports from military briefings at the Pentagon and Saudi Arabia and devote its call-in shows to the war, according to vice president/station manager Jeff Beauchamp. "People are looking to us to be the CNN for radio for Baltimore -- not only for hard news, but for what their fellow citizens think about the war."

National Public Radio, which is carried locally on WJHU-FM (88.1), has ended its expanded "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" news programs that aired last week. But NPR still has the capacity to "expand instantaneously" and WJHU is "going with their coverage," says acting general manager Dennis Kita.

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