Buy Dirt & Wait: Boise-area retail

Pop wars.

Bum bum.  Bum bum. Bum bum. It’s coming.

The pounding sound of a heartbeat, accompanied by a whispering voice took over the airwaves of KIZN 93.1 FM on a spring day in April, 1990.  Kizzin’ 93 was dead - and the country twang was about to be replaced by something new.

That something new was KZMG, Magic 93 - a hot AC blend that found itself the new kid on the block in the Boise radio wars.  KIZN wasn’t dead of course - moving to nearby 92.3 FM, but Magic was in the air — but maybe not at first.

The station foundered for a while before getting a bit of a makeover and attitude adjustment. It added “point-one” to the end of its name, installed Steve Shannon in morning drive - put “Captain” Mike Kasper at the helm and went after an entrenched pop leader in the market — a bit of history that would be repeated more than once.

The long-time “heritage” pop-station at the time was KFXD/KF-95 - playing the biggest pop hits of the early 90s.  The station was such a long-time leader that it actually began life as an AM station on 580 AM, known as Super 58.  The 1980s brought “Big Jack” Armstrong and monster ratings.

Sensing an opening, KZMG’s owners zeroed in and brought together a mix of talents to tackle 95.  Steve and Suz (later Deb Courson, Melissa Dawn and Stephanie Kelly) brought a new sound to mornings, while Kasper anchored afternoons. Folks like Dave Arthur helped round out the mix.

The tide for 93 might have turned one night when KFXD’s evening DJ decided to make a change - and did it in dramatic fashion in the middle of his shift.  Evan “The Hitman” bailed on his airshift on 94.9, grabbed a (then fairly novel) cell phone and called into 93.1 where he talked of ‘leaving the radio towers of Amity Road behind’ - trading it in for a new home on Potomac St. near the mall.

The stunt grabbed headlines - in the local paper and on television.  KF-95’s station owners claimed the DJ stole some stuff on his way out the door - but no amount of posturing would matter - 95’s big star had bailed and made the switch.  Listeners did too.

Eventually KF-95 faded into the distance just like those radio towers in Evan’s rear-view mirror, and 93.1 came to own the pop airwaves. Several long years of massive ratings numbers followed in the 1990s, and others wanted in.  Another one-time powerhouse, KCIX/K-106 had lost its footing as a strong AC in the market, and looked to take on 93’s position in the late 1990s under Journal Communications.  It raided Magic’s talent roster - stocked with a staff made entirely of former 93.1 talent (some even took to calling K-106 “Magic 93-point-two”). Despite a large amount of effort, the attempted rebranding of K-106 didn’t work, and it eventually gave up and went hot AC and renamed itself Mix 106.

Magic fought off that challenge - but it wasn’t the last effort to take down the pop giant.

In the summer of 2000, Regis Philbin’s Millionaire was the rage on television - and Clear Channel Communications decided to take another run at Magic’s ratings… and revenue.

Failing rocker KARO/Arrow 103.3 went dark - and KSAS/103.3 Kiss FM went live.  Instead of trying to mold K-106 into a pop station, group management instead went a different - and at times puzzling - route.  The new station imported the national Kiss brand,  made frequent references to its entrenched competitor (one liner had a Regis impersonator asking a ‘contestant’ what was “old and crusty.”  The answer? Magic 93.1 of course).  The frequency was entirely voicetracked with out-of-market talent from places like San Diego and and Cincinnati and Salt Lake City.

93.1 seemed caught off guard by the new competition. Kiss FM said it “played all the hits, not just some of them” in liners — and Magic quickly started saying the same thing.  DJ Scooter B made elaborate song parodies focused on Kiss and more.  The result for both stations was a split of the audience. KZMG’s 8.0 slipped to a 4-4.5, while Kiss achieved much the same.

Kiss continued to tweak its talent lineup - and at one point good some very national, very negative publicity for its voicetracking ways.  The Wall Street Journal wrote of “Cabanna Boy” Geoff Allen - a San Diego resident, and owner of the mid-day shift on Boise’s Kiss.  The piece told the tale of an interview with then-popular pop group Evan and Jaron - who talked of being in Sun Valley and visiting local Boise hot spots.

Of course - the group was not in Boise, and in fact the interview had been taped weeks prior.  Another anecdote in the piece focused on Allen and local street-team member “Smooch.”

Smooch, whose real name is Troy DeVries, reported that he would likely be hanging out at a nightclub called The Big Easy sometime that weekend. So Mr. Alan, who has never met Mr. DeVries in person, riffed a bit: “On Saturday night, me and Smooch, we were hanging out at The Big Easy,” he said, launching into a bit that made fun of Mr. DeVries’s dancing. “Just thinking about it, I’m cracking up.” (As it turned out, Mr. DeVries went to the nightclub on Friday instead).

The WSJ story had little impact in Boise of course, but slowly Kiss morphed - swapping out voicetrackers for local talent.  But the station’s numbers began to slip and 93.1 started to grab a string of ratings wins.

Clear Channel decided it didn’t want to be in the small market radio business anymore and sold its Boise stations to Peak Broadcasting.  In the days before Peak took over, I broke news that the company had registered the trademark “103.3 Bob FM” and started running liners noting that “Bob is coming to one-oh-three-point-three FM.”

It seemed Kiss’ days were numbered - and the staff in the Citadel palace may have been ready to celebrate when they checked that week (from home, of course).  But then a twist: Upstart Tester Broadcasting launched its own Bob FM on 96.1 just a few days before the official Clear Channel to Peak handoff.  It turns out, a dispute between two national groups left ownership of the Bob FM format and trademark in question - leading to the almost-dueling Bobs in Boise.

Instead of turning out the lights on Kiss, Peak was left with no other real option but to leave Kiss alone for the time being. Amidst much turmoil and staff turnover, the new bosses made what turned out to be a key hire: Steve Kicklighter.  Better known as Keke Luv on the air, Kicklighter brought along co-hort Lucky tha DJ from Spokane and quickly went about tightening and updating Kiss.  For the first time the station was live for most dayparts - and built itself around existing morning show Hooker in the Morning.

As time went by, Kiss began to rise while Magic sunk.  Mornings were a problem area for both stations - with heavy turnover and change. Kicklighter had built a following in the afternoon with his near-insane marathon stunts (seven days awake - seven running-marathons, etc.). Finally the station moved Luv to mornings - while Magic turned to syndication.

Bosses at Citadel hadn’t invested in 93.1 in years - but decided to give it one more shot. The heritage “Magic” name went away in 2009 - replaced by “93.1 Hit Music Now,” and Kidd Kraddic in the morning. A California-based programmer brought a new image and playlist to the station and they gave it one more shot.

But by now, neither Kiss nor Magic was on top for pop.  That honor went to KWYD/Wild 101 - which launched an Urban CHR and in its first book beat both stations.  Kiss was able to climb back - but the dynamic in the war had changed.  No longer a 93-103 fight, it now focused on Wild and Kiss.  Boise couldn’t seem to support three pop stations - and many felt the 20-year-old KZMG was on its way out.

After a poor performance in the Fall 2010 book, Citadel pulled the trigger.  This January, long-time station talent Matt Johnson walked into the studio, announced a Super Bowl contest and played “Bye Bye Bye” by N*Sync.  For those who had already been clued into the news, the song choice was poignant.  Just shy of its 21st birthday, the magic had finally faded.  Jeff Caves signed on the new 93.1 FM The Ticket - 24-hour sports talk and play-by-play on the FM dial.  He invited Johnson onto Idaho Sports Talk (an institution in its own right, the show has been heard on Boise radio for longer than even Magic 93.1).  They talked about the change, and for the first bumper played the first-ever song played by Magic 93 back in the early 90s.  The long-running heartbeat had stopped - and a new FM tradition began.

Folks behind Kiss and Wild may have felt a little joy that day - but their war continues. What’s next? Time will tell if anyone will be able to create a little pop magic on the airwaves of Boise.