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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

That growing Laredo Country radio market

By MIKE McILVAIN

“Nothing is ever certain in radio, there are always changes being made,” Big Buck Country Program Director Monica Salazar said.
Salazar, 22, has been in radio for almost six years, but knows to keep an eye on the radio, despite it being a sound medium. Salazar also advises to keep an eye on Guerra Communications as it prepares to move to new and larger facilities on Jacaman Road, within sight of the Laredo Entertainment Center. KRRG and sister Tejano station Z-93 move when the building is ready – probably sometime before the end of the year – and regular listeners could raise an eyebrow at the radio and sharpen their hearing for Guerra Communications’ new home.
Salazar says the stations might employ a scrolling marquee, visible to passersby – noting which recording artist and song are on the air and hopes are for more range, too. Big Buck Country’s signal at 98.1 FM is strong in Mexico, extending to the mountains slightly north of Monterrey, but the station would like to turn its antenna around and be heard beyond Pearsall and closer to San Antonio.
Salazar feels the change five months ago from the previous 98 Mix format of contemporary hit radio music is working as intended. She says the main idea from owner Belinda Guerra and previous General Manager Martha Kennedy in going to the country format was to give Laredo a change and is seems to be a positive move with country music veteran regular disc jockeys Gil Ray, Rob Roberts and Starr Murphy leading the charge.
Salazar admits to being primarily a Rock and Roll music fan, but finds country winning her over through the works of singers like Tim McGraw and wife Faith Hill as well as Dierks Bentley.
Salazar sees more appreciation for Country music through the success of television’s “American Idol,” in which several of its singers perform in that genre.
Carrie Underwood, a winner in one recent “Idol” season, is becoming a regular on the Country Top 40 charts. Salazar also believes that crossover stars like Hill, Shania Twain and The Wreckers’ Michelle Branch help introduce more to Country and she sees elements of other genres in some songs. Trace Adkins adds a trace of Hip Hop in his current chart song “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk.”
Salazar noted a more emotional “rowdy” response to the switch to Country a few months ago with requests for T-shirts and bumper stickers, but sees the strongest element in local radio success through its personalities. Automation might be the chosen low overhead choice of some radio managers, but not Salazar, or people like new General Manager Jorge Arredondo.
Big Buck Country DJs are frequently out of the office in remote broadcasts from events and businesses, meeting people and turning heads from their portable red-dominated Boom Box and Big Red van. Big Buck Country DJs are not machines.
“People make it more personalized and that’s something we want to stick with,” she said. “Making shows interactive is one of the most important things radio can do. Real persons entertaining persons.”
DJs aren’t machines, but use much more now than did a few decades, or even a few years ago. A DJ can program an entire show in and spend more time preparing for each speaking opportunity.
DJ Gil Ray claims over 30 years in that role. He started in 1974 at the Bonnie and Clyde Club on Arkansas St. and started working in local Country radio in the 1980s at KLAR.
He’s seen those many changes Salazar notes, but knows that not all change is handled correctly, missing potential longtime, loyal listeners.
“When Y95 went Country it was No. 1 overnight, but then they started changing and switched, but I think it’s going to do pretty good. People seem to be listening everywhere,” he said.
Gil Ray believes Laredo is a better Country market now than in past decades because the city has grown rapidly.
“A lot of people have moved in and a lot of people like the Country format,” he said.
Rob Roberts, an Alice native who has worked out of state, sees Laredo as a good Country music market, but primarily for mainstream Country due to its consistent variety in the listener’s ear.
Radio is an uncertain world where many old veterans learn to keep an eye on people entering the building who might appear to be interviewing for their job, and make mental notes of where the haul-it-yourself moving companies are located, but it is beginning to look like Country music might be in Laredo to stay.
The next ratings book is expected by Aug. 3.

Note: A similar print version of this story is available in the July 2006 edition of LareDOS in Laredo, Texas.

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