Listeners who tuned into 96.5 K-ROCK's Andy Savage in the Morning last Friday, April 22, were probably disappointed to find their beloved personality replaced by a random stream of pop songs and automated jingles, the result of a complete station format change that apparently caught even Savage himself by surprise.

A little over one year since K-ROCK 96.5 went head-to-head with the End 107.7, in a programming format battle to determine who would be the leader in "alternative classics," 96.5 has abruptly switched strategy. Its owner, Infinity Broadcasting, a subsidiary of Viacom, hired a New York-based consulting company to eviscerate the station and replace it and its on-air talent with "JACK-FM," a prerecorded radio package of "over 1,200" randomly selected pop songs from the last 30 years. DJs are not a part of this radio robot--indeed, the consultant's website boasts a relief from their "mindless chatter."

The switchup threw off listeners--one of whom referred to the new playlist as "an understocked iPod"--and the DJs. Andy Savage addressed the shakeup on his website: "We sincerely wish we could have said something on the air to let you know what was going on but we had no idea."

Frequent and dramatic format shifts are becoming the norm at 96.5, though. In December 2003, one day after the End joined a growing trend among alternative rock stations toward vintage alternative rock programming, 96.5, formerly known as the Point, abandoned its previous switch to '80s pop hits in favor of a newly narrowed focus on Northwest grunge. The new "K-ROCK"--complete with DJs like Savage who were lured from the End--failed to beat out its rival across the dial in ratings.

Now 96.5 has exploded into a schizophrenic identity crisis where Spandau Ballet, Mötley Crüe, and Bonnie Raitt share the same set. JACK-FM's program director, Jim Trapp, says the format assumes people "are bored with overly researched, overly focused radio," and that traditional radio formats have made listeners "numb to the mediocrity of the medium."

But Lisa Wood, host and music reviewer for Audioasis, KEXP's weekly show on up-and-coming Northwest musicians, writes on her radio-industry blog: "Doesn't that mean the entire day is still prescheduled and automated? It's basically a radio station in a can, all put together somewhere else."

editor@thestranger.com

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