Smoothed out: Zonjic on the demise of V98.7

Oct 6, 2009 at 4:35 pm
“I’ve been around long enough to know that every format seems to have a shelf life,” longtime morning DJ Alexander Zonjic mused philosophically the other day. And with the smooth jazz format hitting its expiration date nationally, the demise of WVMV-FM, V98.7, was no surprise.

Friday afternoon, the station signaled the shift by following a Sade cut with Guns N' Roses. After a weekend of mixed-bag programming, the new “Amp Radio,” a contemporary hits format was in place Monday.

The Radio Online website quoted CBS Radio VP/CHR Programming Dom Theodore saying, "This station is all about the hits, and we intend to build the next powerhouse Top 40 on a number of integrated platforms” — translation, website, etc. — for “a full 360-degree audio and visual experience.” According to Radio Online: “Artists featured include Black Eyed Peas, Katy Perry, Rihanna, the Fray, Pink, Beyonce, Justin Timberlake, Kanye West, and Miley Cyrus, among others.”

And one insider connected dots for us: Theodore is a former honcho of Clear Channel’s successful WKQI-FM, who was reputedly bound by a non-compete clause, but, that having expired, was now back in the market to compete for the contemporary hits audience he helped carve out here.

And whither the smooth jazz legacy and the audience left behind after 14 years?

“I think they had a great run in the radio business,” said Zonjic, also a prominent smooth jazz artist, who handled the morning slot for 12 of those 14 years. “That’s like dog years in radio. I’ve already gotten dozens and dozens of e-mails. People are beside themselves with sadness about the format going away.”

But apparently not enough people, or the right people, for the radio business today.

Our radio insider described the station’s as having had some particularly strong overall rating periods a few years back and then drifting toward the lower rungs of the local radio Top 10. Numerous as the overall audience may have been, Zonjic joked that the key demo was “40 to death.” Not exactly what Amp is aiming for.

Meanwhile, there’s a question of what happens to the live audience for the artists and sound that smooth jazz pumped up here. Zonjic bemoaned the loss of the station’s support for events like Jazz on the River, which he was also a key in producing, wearing one of his other music business hats.

“Without a doubt, this was one of the highest functioning smooth jazz audiences in the country,” he added, with the station being part of that.

And although our insider doubted the smooth jazz audience is one other stations would spend much energy vying for here, Zonjic thinks the format could be resurrected.

But he called it “an opportunity for somebody a whole lot smarter and with a whole lot more money than me.”