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West 105.3 radio changes its tune

Todd Ethridge, left, West 105.3 program director and morning drive-time host, and Brian Tatum, operations manager and co-general manager of the station, pause during a station break.- Dan Barile/farragutpress
West 105.3 radio has changed its tune and so far the tune has been right on key.

The Horne Radio-owned 1980s-format radio station began broadcasting its new triple-A format Friday, Sept. 5, with its 3 p.m. broadcast.

“The first tune we played was U-2’s ‘Beautiful Day,’” said Brian Tatum, operations manager and co-general manager of the station with AM 850’s Tony Basilio, “and the response so far has been tremendous.

“We’re had three callers who didn’t like the change from 1980s music, and more than 600 applauding our move,” Tatum said about listeners’ response in the first days of the format change.

Todd Ethridge, program director and morning drive-time host, concurred.

“The response has been great,” he said. “Everything is different. Tony, Brian and myself thought that the 1980s thing had run its course.”

Ethridge said the group saw a hole in the Knoxville radio market for a radio station that provided what people were missing – “local music and more community involvement out of the radio station.”

He added that West 105.3 was in the prime position to fill that void since, as a result of several strategic moves in the Knoxville radio market, it was the only locally-owned radio group left in Knoxville.

Tatum said in order to “capitalize on the local market, to be a local voice and give (the listeners) what they want - local music, great music, and a true variety of different, eclectic styles of music – the triple-A format was a natural fit.

Tatum, a veteran of 10 radio station format changes in the Knoxville market, said the triple-A format stands for Adult Album Alternative.

“We play rock, we play blues, we play reggae, and we play Americana,” he said. “You never know what you’re going hear when you tune in.”

Tatum said triple-A is a growing, new format, and has spread to larger markets like New York.

Touting West 105.3’s new slogan of “radio the way it should be,” Tatum said triple-A basically took the place of Album Oriented Rock. AOR was based on rock music and deep cuts in the album, and triple-A picked up where AOR left off by adding bluegrass, reggae and Americana music, broadening the field of the format.

“And that’s what most people are looking for now when they’re driving along,” he said. “They’re not looking for a station that’s playing the same 40 songs over and over again. They want to have the music be more of a variety, like when they put in their CDs.”

Ethridge said the Americana genre was a perfect fit for the station’s new profile.

“Americana is roots music,” he said. “It has a flair of folk and acoustic music, but in some cases it’s real modernized, too. It can be kind of folksy rock, or lean toward bluegrass.

“It’s kind of weird. The more you listen to it; you can hear the common thread. It’s based on roots music – singer, songwriter roots based.”

Tatum added Americana music is the “music of Allison Krause, Robinella and the C.C. String Band, and Scott Miller, who was No. 1 on the Americana charts and he’s from Knoxville.”

The station will also feature a weekday noon broadcast of Benny Smith’s “Americana Lunchbox,” which is dedicated to Americana music.

“People who like (Americana) music really trust Benny,” Ethridge said. “Benny has been a music promoter in this area for years and years. A lot of the shows he has promoted were Americana artists. He knows this music better than anyone.”

Ethridge added the station also would play a big role in the community being a voice for local news, weather and sports, not to mention being advocates for local charity fund-raisers and community drives. The station also will feature community news from the farragutpress on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

He said the station, as an example, was contacted a few days ago by the operators of the Loudon County Animal Shelter to help raise money to rebuild the facility that was recently lost in a fire.

Ethridge said, “They had a devastating fire that destroyed the facility, and we’re running public service announcements to get the word out to help raise awareness and hopefully generate some contributions to rebuilding.”

He said a few weeks ago, before the “How the West was Won” football battle between Farragut and Bearden high schools, a representative from Farragut was on the air to ask West 105.3 listeners to help out the annual canned-food drive that benefits Second Harvest Food Bank.

He added that every cause or request, such as bake sales, wouldn’t necessarily result in an on-air appearance, but could find its way to the station’s community calendar.

So far, the format seems to be working well for the 6,000-watt station.

As one listener said: “Your station reminds me of one of the AM radio stations from the 1970s that was all over the place and played all kinds of music. You never knew what was coming next … . It’s like best friends hanging out and listening to records.”

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