The Songs Remain the Same

Rejecting young talent in favor of dinosaurs with proven track records, classic rock radio rakes in the ratings and the cash A along with a severe case of geezer burn

The demise of WGTR and ZETA's decision to go classic, however, have forced SHE to skew more and more classic into the mix during the past five years A the only sure way, in management's eyes, to keep older listeners from defecting to ZETA. With South Florida's tiny rock market, and a boss eyeballing the ratings, Pugh says he has little choice. Plainly flustered, he is left to console himself with observations such as, "There are works of art that use only three colors," and, "You can't ignore your library. That's your safe zone.

"Once a week I get something that I just marvel at. But most of the time I can't put it on the air," concedes Pugh, who like Mirsky is a proud alum of progressive radio. SHE's "Top 10 at Ten," a nightly feature based on requests, showcases current music. But while Pugh earnestly seeks to "remind listeners that we do know we are living in 1993," his station still digs out the dinosaurs. For every seditious Spin Doctors jam, there is a Steve Miller, or two, or three, to pay.

"I was classically trained on viola," Pugh blurts, straining to reconcile the irreconcilable. "I approach music as an art form. But radio's not like it used to be, and it won't ever be. As soon as they put rock on FM radio, we were all screwed."

Later, almost contritely, he shares his ultimate fantasy: to run a college station that would both generate revenue and provide a course of study for students. A course, one expects, that would prepare students for the money-grubbing, number-crunching world of real radio.

That WKPX-FM (88.5) is located just a few miles north of Pugh's spacious office is not necessarily poetic justice. But it is some sort of justice. Financed by the Broward School Board and run by the students at Piper High School in Sunrise, the tiny station plays virtually every genre forbidden further up the dial: unsigned bands, grunge, hard-core hip hop, death metal. Of course, the kids only broadcast from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., and they do have to air the school board's not-quite-scintillating meetings. But, hey, even the Sex Pistols made compromises.

For those who wonder how it is that the Broward School Board became cooler than the rest of South Florida, the answer is simple: they don't have to make a profit. "They don't even give us our Arbitrons," notes general manager Ellen Goldberg, a senior whose pierced bellybutton is healing just fine, thank you.

Ironically, the station began ten years ago as a Top 40 outlet. There was also a brief, painful, classic rock phase before the switch to alternative three years ago. Goldberg estimates that WKPX, whose 3000-watt signal spans from North Dade to Boca Raton, reaches about 50,000 ears at peak hours. If other students tend to regard the radio staff as "all the weirdos" (and if fellow students often gather outside the glass-encased air studio to ooh and ahh at these weirdos), KPX's core listenership borders on cultish. "One guy in Hallandale put a huge antenna on his roof just to hear us better," Goldberg boasts. "We had one guy who tuned in all the way from Canada [on a shortwave radio]."

Music director Anna Daniels gives her DJs free rein, with limited censorship from faculty station manager Joanne Boggus. "When the Divinyls came out with that song, 'I Touch Myself,' Joanne said no way. Masturbation is one of those big no-no topics," explains Daniels, a senior whose hair is dyed the approximate hue of a Charm's Blow Pop. (Other banned material: the Dead Kennedys' punk anthem, "California Uber Alles," King Missile's "Detachable Penis," and anything by Pope-desecrater Sinead O'Connor.)

No doubt the most scatological material emanates from the station's studio during Yvette Lam's Tuesday afternoon death-metal show. "That was Brutal Mastication," Lam chirps. "Next up: 'Cryptic Stench' from Cannibal Corpse." She spins and giggles. "When I listened to KPX in junior high it was, like, the coolest, and I was, like, I've got to get a show there. And here I am, like, two years later with my own, like, show," she notes, her lip-glossed smile that's more Valley Girl than Satanist.

Just around the corner, a cherubic, balding man with a wide brown tie and a pocket protector sits monitoring the subhuman sounds of the Stench. "I think alternative has been our best format yet," says Warren Exmore, KPX's chief engineer. "Nobody else plays this stuff."

Glenn Richards knows the feeling. The WSHE overnight man is perhaps the only DJ permitted to veer, ever so occasionally, from SHE's meticulous song scripts. Most rewarding, three years ago he was granted a Sunday night show (11:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.) devoted to South Florida's blossoming local scene. Without him, local commercial radio would offer barely any awareness of homegrown acts such as Forget the Name, Natural Causes, Tuff Luck, and the Itch.

But Richards's fervid devotion to music has left him thoroughly discombobulated amid the corporate milieu. "I've worked in radio since I graduated from Coral Gables High in 1980, yet I feel like an outsider. I don't know the business side, only what I've read about it in the trades, and that kind of turns my stomach."

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