Monday, March 20, 2017

3.20.17 Hero of the Day: Black Diamond Broadcasting

Bee-otch of the Day honors are awarded Monday through Thursday, Bee-otch of the Week is awarded Friday on


Name: Black Diamond Broadcasting
Age: 10
Occupation: radio station owner
Last Seen: Rochester Hills, MI
Awarded For: bringing real rock back to Traverse City

So long, Michael Bolton.

Adios, post-Police Sting.

And don't let the door hit ya where the good lord split ya, Celine Dion.

St. Paddy's Day was a lucky day for rock fans in Traverse City when hell froze over. After four, long miserable years as "Easy 95-5", 95.5 FM flipped back to active rock, simulcasting WGFM 105.1 Cheboygan as "Rock 105 and 95-5". The station, however didn't revert back to its old call letters, WJZJ but rather WGFE, allegedly standing for "WGFM Empire", the coastal Lake Michigan town where their transmitter stands.

For hard rock fans in the Cherry Capital region and all points south past Cadillac, this is good news, since 105.1's 43,000-watt signal from Vanderbilt peters out around downtown Traverse City. The other rock stations in the area - 97.5/98.9 WKLT, Q100.3 and sister station 98.1/97.7 The Bear - all air classic-intensive formats catered to older rock fans.

95.5's 21,000-watt signal covers a huge chunk of Lake Michigan, though on land, it can be easily heard from the Leelanau peninsula south to around Manistee.

Since signing on in 1997, 95.5 has spent 15 out of its 20 years on the air as some type of rock format. However, it started as a smooth jazz station, "Coast FM" owned by Del Reynolds. It simulcasted with 94.5 WLJZ Mackinaw City and 93.9 WAVC Mio. However, Reynolds sold his stations to Calibre Communications and later Northern Star Broadcasting in 1998. Due to poor ratings, Coast FM was shipwrecked and replaced with a pop-friendly modern rock format, The Zone. However, in 2000, The Zone dropped a lot of their female-friendly artists and started playing harder, edgier acts such as KoRn, White Zombie and Rage Against the Machine. The station's ratings skyrocketed, though regretfully, it was not a big money maker. As a matter of fact, 93.9 flipped to a simulcast of sister station Big Country 102.9.

Del Reynolds returned to his stations in 2006 as President and General Manager and one of the first things he did was gut The Zone. 94.5 switched to an ill-fated hot AC format called "Star 94.5" and 95.5 remained as The Zone, though morning host Cartman was left while the other jocks were fired or demoted. Outside of Cartman's morning show, The Zone was reduced to cyberjocks from the Waitt Radio Networks (now part of Westwood One).

In 2009, Westwood One discontinued their Alternative Now format and the decision was made to flip The Zone to a mainstream rock format along with 105.1. The new station was now known as "Real Rock 105 and 95-5". The new station was somewhat of a trainwreck, seguing newer bands like Godsmack and Buckcherry with older bands such as Heart and Bob Segar. Throughout the next few years, the stations sounded good sometimes, but other times, they played a lot of the same butt rock all the other area rock stations played to a crisp.

Sadly, the end came when Del Reynolds overtook Northern Star and on April Fool's Day 2013, 95.5 became WQEZ/Easy 95-5. Response to the new station was mostly mixed as new rock fans in Traverse City and southward were left homeless while 95.5 seemed to have few fans. On Facebook, Easy has 303 fans while Rock 105 has over 4,300 likes on Facebook.

However, when his wife and GM Mary suffered a stroke, Del decided to sell his stations to Detroit-area-based Black Diamond Broadcasting, headed by former WRIF Detroit salesman Mike Chires and partner Norm McKee. Given his relationship with the rock format, I knew that in the long run, Rock 105 would be safe, or maybe made even better.

And I was right.

Personally, I don't know why in the hell Del Reynolds wanted to kill rock on 95.5 in the first place and flip it to a lame-ass "super-soft AC" station that caters to old farts, preferably with lots of money. True, their stick is in an area where there's wealthy folks galore, but let's face it. When I was driving on US-131 around Cadillac last year, the internet on my phone croaked, leaving me without Pandora. I turned it on to regular radio and let's say that my finger got a workout from flipping around the boring, shitty-ass radio that area is known for. I was also in TC, and in front of their studios on Munson Ave., Rock 105's signal was weak.

I shake my head wondering why in the hell radio station owners up north want to do a soft AC format. 92.9 The Breeze: flop. 106.7 WSRT: so bad that their programming director filled fake Arbitron diaries to make the station look successful and was caught. Yes, Easy 95-5 had its fans, but it seemed to be very few and in-between.

Then again, bear in mind that the flip back to rock on 95.5 is probably in response to the fact that supposedly next month, KLT will be owned by Blarney Stone and they'll be expanding their playlist. TC now has an impressive amount of rockers: KLT, Q100, The Bear, Rock 105/95-5 and 106.3 The Mitten.

Since taking over the programming director position, Smitty has done a helluva job programming the station. In recent weeks, I've been hearing more new music on the station. I'd say that most of the new stuff the station plays is in the top 15 range. The only things the station needs to do is to 1) bring back Free Beer and Hot Wings (now on The Ticket stations in Cadillac and Petoskey) and 2) give Sam Lee a better air shift.

As for the old folks, yes, Easy 95-5 is gone, but they still have a few choices on the FM dial: every other station up north.

(And BTW, the Easy format is still on 106.3 in the Straits area.)

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