Motley Crew Seizes Control Of Annapolis Radio Station

April 02, 1991|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff writer

Goodbye Waylon and Willie. Hello Lizzy Borden and Alice in Chains.

And hello Helloween -- that's right, Helloween -- and Wasted Youth, Anthrax and Toxik, Mastodon and Killer Dwarfs.

Annapolis' WBEY-FM, a k a Bay Country 103, is no more. Taking itsplace on the radio dial is WHVY-Underground 103.1, which signed on just before midnight Easter Sunday with the digitally beefed-up voice of production director Carl Harris (air name "Steve Fury" on weekends) booming, "Baltimore, you have been warned. Pure Rock, the Underground: We have arrived."

With that, the studio monitors -- and the air waves -- rocked with the station's first musical offering, Iron Maiden's "Two Minutes to Midnight." The station's owners and employees and their guests -- 25 people gathered in the studio above A. L. Goodie's variety shops on Main Street in downtown Annapolis -- hugged, slapped "high fives" and danced in celebration.

Goodbye country pickin' and grinnin'. The country music was turned off a week ago, in partto avoid an awkward segue from Willie Nelson to Guns N' Roses.

Hello hard rock electric guitar crunch. "Pure Rock."

"We're not a heavy metal station. It's rock and roll with an edge to it," said 55-year-old Dick Winn of Vision Broadcasting, a Philadelphia group that bought the station last month for $1.15 million, he said. Among the station's promotional slogans:

"The only station that stays hard 24 hours a day."

Nighttime disc jockey "Scorchin' Scotty" -- looking the part with his long red hair held down with a headband and three silver rings depicting the heads of an eagle, a buffalo and a mountain lion -- explained: "April 1 was the goal. It seemed like a nice way to do it: Have a party and switch it on at midnight."

Like opening day of the baseball season, when every team is a pennant contender, the day a station signs on leaves its owners and employees flush with the prospect for radio greatness. Pure Rock is no different: althoughthe station's 3,000-watt signal is beamed from across the ChesapeakeBay in Grasonville, the owners of WHVY are targeting Baltimore -- and the city's rock radio ratings champion, WIYY-FM, 98 Rock.

While WHVY moved into its second song, Judas Priest's "Living After Midnight," co-owner Winn tuned to 98 Rock and heard Neil Young's well-worn, 20-year-old hit "Southern Man."

"That's called bubble gum rock," said Winn, who may have been caught up in the moment -- earlier he hadstressed that he didn't want to be seen as arrogant in his opinions about the 50,000-watt Baltimore station. He admits the Underground isthe underdog in this radio battle.

The station went on the air Sunday night with $300,000 in new equipment, renovated studios and offices -- and no advertising save for some fast-food spots carried over from the country station. Winn said the sales crew was to begin beating the streets for ads yesterday.

The FM outlet's sister station, WYRE-AM, will move from its "decrepit" offices on Silopanna Road intothe new offices on Main Street, said Winn, adding the AM station will retain its adult contemporary format.

To understand the FM station's format, however, you need look no farther than the staff, which is built around the crew that ran hard-rocking 97 Underground, a non-commercial station broadcasting on a 10-watt signal from Essex Community College.

"It's harvest time now. For four years we've planted the seeds. Dick came along and we're going to harvest them," said program director and 97 Underground alumnus Derek Alan. In all, six on-air performers at 103.1 FM came from 97 Underground. To that core, add a former Atlantic City disc jockey who performs as "Mudman" and Scorchin' Scotty, who comes from Las Vegas by way of Los Angeles.

Scotty, who would not admit to having a last name, introduced himself onair Sunday night by describing himself as "Baltimore's newest bad influence," punctuated with a horror-movie villain's laugh.

The station may call itself the Underground and promise music from "the streets," but the play list leans heavily on established hard rock money-makers. Alan, the program director, offered this definition: "Pure Rock, first, is rock'n'roll that the Baltimore market responds to at theretail level. It's rock'n'roll that people care about, and they prove it with their dollars. They buy the records and T-shirts and they go to the shows."

Bands that listeners can expect to hear on the station include Whitesnake, Motley Crue, Black Crowes and Warrant, along with well-established hard rock bands like Aerosmith, Led Zeppelinand AC/DC.

Alan said the station's signal will reach Pennsylvania, Delaware, Washington and Virginia. The signal should come in strongat Hammerjacks, the hard-rock nightclub in South Baltimore, but it begins to weaken as you head to the northern sections of town.

It'sthat questionable signal strength that helps 98 Rock program director Russ Mottla remain confident his station will prevail in competition with the upstart.

"If I could hear them up here, I'd let you know what I think of them," said Mottla, who said he couldn't pick up 103.1 at his station's offices on TV Hill in Baltimore.

He also wondered how the Underground expected to be successful in pursuing a younger audience when radio veterans have determined the money lies in demographics that include listeners 25 and older.

"I hate to say it,but it's like kids playing radio," Mottla said.

But Winn said theunconventional approach may work.

"None of us -- the owners -- have ever been in radio before. That may be an advantage. We're not jaded in any way. We're too ignorant to know we can't do it."

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