In a surprising twist that has just about everybody scratching their heads, longtime hard-rock radio station 101.7 FM The Fox has officially been pulled off the air.
According to a source close to the station, employees of the Fox found out about the change in a meeting at 11am today. Immediately afterward, the station went off the air at noon.
The replacement station, “Hot 101.7, Sonoma County’s Hit Music Station,” is currently playing Top 40 hits (as I type this, it’s Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok”). If listeners notice any resemblance to another local Top 40 station, it’s no coincidence. Maverick Media, the Fox’s parent company, recently conducted an audit through a third-party surveying company and found that among those polled, Top 40 is more appealing in this region than hard rock.
Said another source: “They hired this company that finds out what music works, and what music isn’t working, and they felt like in order to keep a competitive edge in the market, they needed to strong-arm the only station that didn’t have any competition.”
That station, Y 100.9, airs on a weaker signal in Sonoma County, and the Maverick Media executives at the meeting seemed confident that Hot 101.7 will be able to overpower the smaller station “out of business,” the source said. (Y 100.9 is owned by Sinclair Communications, which also owns 95.9 the KRSH and 96.7 BOB-FM.)
Hot 101.7′s new site declares: “We asked Sonoma County what they wanted from their favorite radio station. You told us you wanted a HOT station that played hit music with LOTS of music.” (As I type now, it’s the Black Eyed Peas, “Just Can’t Get Enough.”)
Public response so far has been predictably negative, with the new station’s Facebook page filled with “fans” who are making their voice clear: “What the HELL!!!!” writes a typical fan. “No more freaking pop stations!!! I want the old FOX back. Gimme my rock back. I am beyond sick to my stomach. UGH!!!!!!” Elsewhere on the station’s Facebook page, fans complain about having their posts removed by the administrator.
A page for “Fight Hot 101.7” has cropped up just today, along with an even bigger page called “Bring Back the Fox,” and a public protest is planned for Friday, March 25, at 4pm.
Without a doubt, this marks the end of an era for Sonoma County radio. For over 20 years, the Fox has been a Sonoma County standby, serving up classic hard rock like AC/DC and Metallica to more recent music from System of a Down, Disturbed and Velvet Revolver. About a month ago, longtime program director Scott Less left 101.7 the Fox for the Pacific Northwest, but apparently, even prior to Less’ departure, a “skeleton crew” had been running things with barely any financial support from Maverick Media.
Based in Connecticut, Maverick Media are the same people who thought it would be a good idea to fire Steve Jaxon, one of the greatest DJs in Sonoma County, and who aren’t available for comment (their website has been perpetually “under construction” for well over a year). Located over 3,000 miles from the station’s Fox Plaza, they’ve seemed perpetually out of touch with what Sonoma County actually wants, and have now killed the station that gave the building its name. (Right now, they’re playing Britney Spears, “Womanizer.”)
The employees of the Fox have been told that they’ll be able to keep their jobs, but in what capacity exactly is unclear. Currently, Hot 101.7 is broadcasting with no human DJs at all, playing canned tracks on a piped-in feed from corporate headquarters. Sad.
Bad News from the Bad Economy Files: Russian River Chamber Music, which for 18 years has done an excellent job of presenting mostly free classical music concerts, is being forced to consider either canceling their upcoming 2010-2011 season or “significantly curtailing” their activities.
“I’ve got these artist contracts on my desk right now,” RRCM artistic director Gary McLaughlin said this morning, “but I’m unsure if I can sign them.”
I know times are tough for everybody, and every classical-music organization knows what McLaughlin is talking about. And yet when I first heard about Russian River Chamber Music by stumbling into a concert at the Raven Theater by Ethel, I knew they were a special case—all of their concerts were absolutely free to the public.
“It counters that old elitist image of chamber music,” McLaughlin told me for a Bohemian article in 2008 of their free admission policy. “It makes it so it’s not just for wealthy people or snooty people. With the economy going the way it is, it becomes even more attractive. We have wine and food receptions after every concert, and the artists come, and people can actually talk to the artists—and that’s all free, too! So, it’s a cheap date. No tickets, free wine. What’s not to like?”
I agree. Last year, the group experimented with charging admission, but found that ticket sales were “definitely in the ballpark” of the previous season’s donations. That’s a good sign there’s plenty of voluntary support for free chamber concerts from world-class traveling quartets visiting Sonoma County. In fact, McLaughlin says the five-member board is seriously considering making concerts free again, with the benefit of exposure to larger audiences who might not otherwise hear chamber music.
But some key backers have curtailed their financial support, and the future is uncertain.
“Everyone’s making very painful cuts, and for the next year or two, I don’t think things are going to change a lot,” McLaughlin says. “How do you weather this and stay in the game? Or do you just close your doors and call it quits? I’m not ready to do that. I didn’t put 18 years of my life into it just to see it do that.”
It’d be especially sad, since the upcoming season would focus on music and literature. Scheduled programs include a song cycle by three Bay Area composers based on the poetry of Gary Snyder, as well as the Cypress String Quartet’s performance of an author-approved composition based on Anne Patchett’s bestseller Bel Canto. As ever, the string quartets would visit area schools for free educational programs for kids—last year, the visiting groups from Shanghai, Paris and Tel Aviv all played to packed schoolrooms.
How can you help make it work? Right now, Russian River Chamber Music could use any support, whether in the form of financial donations or in the form of energetic souls who can offer fresh ideas and help “save the ship,” as McLaughlin says. You can email him here, or call 707.524.8700.
Believe me, it’s a ship worth saving.
Music bookings just keep pouring in these days, and the Napa Valley Opera House’s just-announced season is full of legends that rarely play such small venues. The intimate theater hosts the Wallflowers (June 18), Joan Baez (July 6), Sarah Chang (July 18), Bruce Hornsby (Aug. 15), and a double dose of New Orleans with the Neville Brothers and Dr. John together (pictured, Sept. 7). The Opera House’s annual fundraising gala, a full-blown wine-and-martini affair with tickets starting at $350, features the biggest booking score of them all: Pink Martini, direct from Carnegie Hall (Oct. 3).
The Opera House also sponsors Motown legend Smokey Robinson at Robert Mondavi Winery, in a series across the valley that marks the 40th Anniversary Season of the Summer Festival Concert Series at Mondavi Winery. Debuting in 1969 with a ticket price of $3, the festival has since included such greats as Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Buena Vista Social Club, Benny Goodman, Sarah Vaughn, Lena Horne, Stan Getz and many, many more. This year, it’s Robinson (Aug.1), the Preservation Hall Jazz Band (July 4), Natalie Cole (July 18), Ozomatli (July 11), the B-52’s (June 27), and KC & the Sunshine Band (July 25).
The Wells Fargo Center continues its hot streak with a stellar season including Tears for Fears (July 14), Madeleine Peyroux (Aug. 5), Huey Lewis and the News (Aug. 13), Elvis Costello (Aug. 21), Diana Krall (Aug. 25), Sheryl Crow (Sept. 1) and, in a rare on-stage conversation sponsored by Copperfield’s Books, Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim (Oct. 24). Coming in 2010: Anthony Bourdain (Jan. 13) and Dave Brubeck (March 24).
Up in Healdsburg, the Rodney Strong Vineyards Concert Series tips the smooth jazz scales with Peter White and Mindi Abair (June 27), the Rippingtons and Craig Chaquico (July 11), and Euge Groove, Jeff Golub, Jeff Lorber and Jessy J (Aug. 8). Blues torcher Susan Tedeschi stops in with JJ Grey & Mofro (Aug. 22), and the whole series wallops to a rock ‘n’ soul finale with AM hitmakers Hall and Oates (Sept. 7).
The Sausalito Art Festival, an annual event of art and music since 1952, celebrates the 40th Anniversary of Woodstock with “The Heroes of Woodstock 40th Anniversary Tribute” (Sept. 6). Among the love-in rockers resurrecting the old spirit are Jefferson Starship, Canned Heat, Big Brother and the Holding Co., Quicksilver Messenger Service and Tom Constanten. The whole thing’s hosted by Country Joe McDonald, who’ll no doubt reprise his famous “fish” cheer. Other highlights at the festival include Night Ranger (Sept. 5) and Johnny Winter (Sept. 6).
The Russian River Jazz and Blues Festival, combined into one weekend, features Al Jarreau and Jazz Attack featuring Rick Braun, Johnathon Butler and Richard Elliot (Sept. 12), followed up with the blues lineup of the Neville Brothers with Dr. John and the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue with Tommy Castro, Janiva Magness, Bernard Allison and Rick Estrin (Sept. 13).
Up in Boonville, the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival this year hosts Femi Kuti, King Sunny Adé, Michael Rose, Anthony B, Zap Mama, Sly & Robbie, the Easy Star All-Stars, Gregory Isaacs, the Heptones, the Abyssinians, the B-Side Players, the Itals and many, many more (June 19-21).
Finally, among the upcoming schedule at Petaluma’s Mystic Theatre is East Bay all-girl punk darlings the Donnas (July 23), reverb-drenched surf icons the Mermen (July 31) and the almighty return of Joan Osborne (Oct. 19). Whew!