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

Buzz Off? 

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

Page 4 of 5

Rancid's Tim Armstrong sings Radio, radio, radio/When I've got the music, I've got a place to go. But as Vendetta Red singer Zach Davidson points out, the converse is also true. When relevant radio disappears, listeners -- and local musicians -- have nowhere to turn. Currently, 96.5's Homegrown Buzz, Sundays from 9 to 10 p.m., presents a high-profile opportunity for local bands to get spins.

"If there's no place in Kansas City that will play their songs, bands will go somewhere else," says Davidson, who played with Anything But Joey at a hastily arranged Buzz-sponsored benefit concert for flood victims in May. "It's important to nurture the local arts community and give it a voice."

Warped offers several forums for local performers. The Guild and Ces Cru freestyle in a hip-hop tent, and a dozen or so Midwest natives play the regionally focused Local Heroes stage. It's a valuable resource, but Warped's history in Kansas City is endangered, and not only because the Buzz might soon be out of commission.

Warped's organizers, discouraged by soft sales, have decided that 6,000 is the ticket-sales figure Kansas City must meet to rate a return visit next year. Buzz DJs had been encouraging listeners to keep KC on the Warped calendar, until they encountered a more personal crisis. But this matter is still on the minds of Danny Boi and Brand New. It's bad enough to be potentially jobless without having your city branded as a black hole for touring acts in your favorite genre.

By the end of the day, pop-punk fans have less cause for alarm. Warped attendance rebounds from sluggish early advance sales to reach the 7,000 mark; when he hears the news, Danny Boi high-fives the Cooz and says, "They'll be here, even if we're not." The Buzz collects more than a thousand signatures at Warped, pushing the total number north of 4,000. There's reason for optimism at the station, at least until a message about a mysterious meeting the next day with Entercom executive Bob Zuroweste delivers a bracing dose of reality.

Wednesday, June 25


The afternoon meeting turns out to pose no immediate threat; Zuroweste merely presents the staff with a fresh "no comment." Vexed, Lazlo calls Pat Paxton, senior vice president of programming at Entercom. "You're on the air, is that OK?" Lazlo inquires. Paxton sighs, then consents. "You're smart to ask," he says.

Paxton mostly provides another string of no comments, but he does say something peculiar. Without prompting, he says, "What if this were a big publicity stunt? The whole market is talking about this now." A caller to Lazlo's show had said something along the same lines the day before, and the host had shouted him down. If it were true -- if this really were just a marketing gimmick -- then karma might be coming back to haunt radio personalities for their years of on-air prank calls to unsuspecting dupes. Or it might just be a new level of efficient corporate cruelty, a way to exploit the frantic energy of employees who feel their jobs are on the line. Regardless, Paxton's comment surprises Lazlo.

"That got me thinking," he says after the call. "But I don't think anybody could keep it a secret this long. And it would be so unfair, not only to us as people worried about our paychecks but also to listeners. I'm going to bet my job that it's not a stunt."

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