(This is a work-in-progress. All who contribute will be credited.)
Once upon a time, there was a great little radio station in west Michigan called WKLQ. In the late 90s and early 00s, they were one of the most-dominant radio stations in Grand Rapids.
The secret to KLQ's success was that they had Howard Stern in the morning and great jocks and great music the rest of the day. KLQ's jocks were the type you'd like to hang out at the bar and have a conversation with. KLQ was truly a station that was all over and people loved it.
At one time, KLQ even ran promos proudly proclaiming that they were anti-corporate rock. Sadly, it was a corporation, and a man named Matt Hanlon who put KLQ's glory days to a halt.
At 6 a.m. on May 28th, 2009, after playing the song "Walk" by Pantera, the station went into stunt mode until 2:30 in the afternoon when they relaunched with Sports as 107.3 The Ball WBBL-FM. The station is now mostly a simulcast of WBBL 1340, although the two stations may air separate live sports events.
Now, we present an essay on the rise and fall of one of Grand Rapids' most-legendary stations. From its beginnings as a religious station to its glory days to a station that barely made it into the top ten in the Arbitron ratings to a mere internet footprint.
An aircheck of KLQ from June 1986 with DJ Danny Douglas. FACT: The "The Switch is On" jingle was made in-studio by the station's Production Director at the time. There were several versions of the jingle, including one done by a part-time female jock at the station. The logo seen above was primarily used in the late 90's, although this clip was from this 80's.
WKLQ began its life decades ago as WJBL, a station owned by three men: John, Bud and Len. All I know is that it was a religious station and religious book publisher Zondervan was a one-time owner. In 1984, the station was sold to Michigan Media out of Bloomington, IL, and the station went secular as WKLQ, at first playing top 40 music. During this time, WGRD (97.9) was the CHR king in the area, but they were neck-and-neck with KLQ. By the late 80s, KLQ was AOR and mornings were handled by Rick Beckett, Scott Winters and Darla Jaye. The station rose in the ratings thanks to the trio's popularity. However, they were lured away by WGRD, now alternative, in the mid-90s. KLQ began to fall severely in the ratings.
THE STERN ERA BEGINS
KLQ's logo from 1997. The 'KLQ' inside the oval was possibly first used in the 1980's.
In 1996, fed up with poor ratings, KLQ management decided to get a last resort: Howard Stern. Stern's popularity was growing nationwide and conservative Grand Rapids would be a great test market for Stern's show. As a result, KLQ quickly shot up in the ratings, while the station promoted his program. However, there was a great deal of controversy was several religious groups - such as Bill Johnson's American Decency Association - started boycotting the station's advertisers for airing Stern's daily banter. As a result, KLQ kept Stern, but had him on a lower profile; virtually no mention of Stern was even said on their website. Also, the station would be notorious for airing music during Stern's then-lengthy breaks. However, the station's GM, Bart Brandimiller, had plans to keep Stern due to his audience and good word from what little advertisers Stern had in the morning.
KLQ's legendary 'hurricane' logo as it first appeared in 1998.
By 1998, KLQ had transitioned itself to alternative. Shortly thereafter, they went to their long-running active rock format. Citadel purchased Michigan Media in 2000, along with oldies WODJ 107.3, classic rock WLAV 96.9 and sports WBBL 1340.
In the early 2000s, KLQ enjoyed high ratings and a tight race with Rick, Darla and Scott on 'GRD. In 2002, Brandimiller signed Stern to a multi-year deal with the station, giving fans a sigh of relief.
However, Bart retired, and the Hanlon era was around the corner.
THE WRATH OF HANLON
In 2002, Matt Hanlon, a New Yorker who worked for AOL for years, took over the General Manager position at Citadel. He noticed that Stern only breaking even for the company, so he tried to bury him and all things failed. At Christmastime 2002, KLQ ran a 'three-peat' weekend; music was played in the morning, and KLQ jocks were telling listeners that Stern had 'temporarily' moved to WBBL. However, the move was concrete. KLQ was still playing music in the AM while Stern was hacked away at 1340. In January 2003, Infinity locked out their feed of the Stern show to WBBL, citing that he violated the company's contract by moving the show without Infinity's permission. However, the two kissed and made-up, and Stern was back later that month.
Meanwhile, KLQ was without a morning show, except for Tom "The Wiz" Stavrou playing music. As for WBBL and Stern, listeners complained on how the show was handled. Amongst the problems were that New York promos were heard, the cutting into the show in mid-sentence and worse of all, the fact that the station cut Stern off in mid-sentence at 10 a.m. sharp so they could get to regular ESPN sports programming.
Some rumors had it that KLQ was trying to get Rick and Scott (Darla's no longer in GR) - both fired from GRD partly due to Rick's drug problems - to do mornings. They ended up at WOOD-AM 1300 instead. For months, the station was the laughing stock of Grand Rapids radio for not having a feasible morning show. Then came two has-beens from Seattle.
THE EMBARRASSMENT KNOWN AS RON AND DON AND MAN-MADE RADIO
According to Huge, he claims that one reason for Stern's move was to help WBBL's finances. After all, he was getting paid $75,000 yearly to spread his huge ego onto the city of Grand Rapids on a station whose signal dies as soon as you leave city limits. He's one of the most-overhyped radio personalities in Grand Rapids; The Loeks Theatre chain (Celebration! Cinema) even has a popcorn-and-pop combo named after him, "The Huge Combo".
Around that time, KLQ became the originating home of "Man-Made Radio", a show starring Hunter Scott and Sean Kelly that started at sister station WKQZ/Saginaw and had great ratings there, however, KLQ listeners didn't seem to care. As a result, KLQ's ratings tumbled severely... 70% as a matter of fact. Proving that Hanlon was an idiot for trying to kill Stern while he, on a puny 1KW peashooter, had higher ratings than Ron and Don on KLQ.
Man-Made Radio wasn't that much better. First of all, Hanlon made the mistake of firing PD Mark "The Head" Feurie and replacing him with Man-Made host Hunter Scott. As a result, KLQ started playing less music and more talk. To make matters worse, popular KLQ jock Cristi Cantle was reduced to the name "Cackin' Cristi" because she would be on the air from Man-Made at 3 pm and would be on til midnight.
With KLQ's ratings in the shitter, Scott and the rest of Man-Made Radio were fired. The duo moved to Lexington, KY and ended up with Cristi in Cleveland at WMMS handling mornings where they eventually were fired. Hunter is now at a small station in Ohio while Cristi's now in Sacramento at 98 Rock handling mornings.
With Cristi and Head leaving the station, it was like The Beatles breaking up. Bill Walters was a victim as well just for blasting his own station at events. When he would talk about a part of KLQ that sucked, people applauded like crazy.
THE ROCK DIES, THE AIRHEAD ARISES, AND RON AND DON MOVE AND GET CANNED
With Hunter Scott out of the PD chair, KLQ hired big market vet Darren Arriens to handle the station's programming. Under Darren, the station would focus more on music and less talk. However, he would be under scrutiny for making KLQ sound older. Arriens, the mastermind behind Lansing alt-rocker WVIC in the 90s, decided to make KLQ more mainstream-sounding with more 80s bands added to the playlist. Many longtime KLQ fans were unhappy with Arriens' decision to add more hair bands to the mix, such as Aerosmith, Motley Crue and Poison.
The station also ditched their popular "Therock@ninetyfourdotfive" moniker to the "Pure Rock" name, with the "Pure Rock" name scratching the lower part of the station's historic hurricane logo.
Meanwhile, Ron and Don, complete with no ratings to show for, moved to New Orleans' KKND (ironically, another former Stern affiliate) while KLQ continued to carry their show. Another station in Oklahoma City carried the show, but almost immediately canceled it. In 2004, Ron and Don were fired from KKND and KLQ as well. Ron and Don are back in Seattle, handling afternoons at FM talker KIRO-FM 97.3, owned by Christian broadcaster Bonneville. Another new morning show search came to KLQ.
THE JUSTICE AND JIM ERA BEGINS, AND NO MORE STERN
In late 2004, Hanlon hired Justice and Jim, two people who've never met each other from Atlanta and Tampa, to do mornings at KLQ. Not even that show could help KLQ's sloppy ratings. So, Hanlon decided to move KLQ from its longtime home at 94.5 to 107.3 while the 94.5 slot became another low-rated disaster, country station WTNR/Thunder 94.5. The victim was oldies WODJ/107.3, but Grand Rapidians regained an oldies station later that week, Regent's WFGR 98.7. So far, ratings did not improve.
Then, the answer to all of Hanlon's prayers were answered when his boss at Citadel, Farid Suhlman, ordered all of their stations to cancel the Stern show because of his frequent discussions about moving to Sirius. Matt complied by replacing Stern on WBBL with Mike and Mike from ESPN radio. Needless to say, that didn't even help WKLQ one bit.
Then, in the summer of 2005, while Hanlon was on vacation, Justice and Jim decided to do one of the sickest stunts in Grand Rapids radio history. With a rash of child drownings, the two told their audience that they were going to drown a puppy in an undisclosed lake the day after. There were a flood of calls to 911, and the day after, J&J told their listeners that it was all only a scam. Instead of canning or suspending J&J, Hanlon praised the duo for giving the station free publicity.
ANOTHER SHOW DOWN, ANOTHER'S BORN, AND THE REBIRTH OF MICHAEL GREY
In July 2006, Jim was fired from the KLQ morning show, leaving only Justice at the helm, however, he was only there for one week as KLQ and a bunch of other Citadel stations started carrying Opie and Anthony's morning show.
Opie and Anthony are the Stern clones whose careers were cut short at CBS when they had a middle-aged couple have sex in a Catholic Church in 2003. They ended up at XM where the two's radio show had very little listeners. One reason why they ended up back at CBS Radio in the first place was due to many reasons, such as the loss of revenue caused by Stern's departure to Sirius and better cross-promotion for their XM show. Citadel inked an agreement to bring O&A to several of their stations, KLQ included.
Most of O&A's listeners tend to be immature; the duo unleashed a campaign called "Assault on the Media" where they tell their minions to go on camera during a live report on the TV news and promote O&A. One WABC-TV news reporter ended up partially deaf when one fan blasted an airhorn in his ear.
During O&A's tenure with KLQ, Darren Arriens left the station and headed to Tucson where he transformed Citadel classic rocker KHYT into "K-Hit", a poorly-performed Classic Hits station. He was fired due to poor ratings and ended up working for another Citadel station cluster in Colorado Springs, CO. He was replaced with Michael Grey, the former morning show host at WGRD alongside Stephanie Webb (remember the S&M Morning Show?). While running 'GRD, their ratings were similar to what KLQ's were at the end. There were even rumors that GRD would be flipping to Jack FM, but that, of course, never finalized. He was canned from GRD, which ended up doing a LOT better with Free Beer and Hot Wings in the morning and PD Jerry Tarrents. Many criticized Grey for his lackluster ability to program a rock station; while he programmed KLQ, several bands - including Grand Rapids natives Pop Evil - were absent from the station, obviously due to Grey's oversized ego.
ONE MORE FAILED MORNING SHOW AND THE END NEARS
After two years with KLQ, Opie and Anthony were canned when their contract expired with all Citadel stations due to poor ratings in 2008. KLQ decided to do one more local morning show to combat Free Beer and Hot Wings, and it involved Michael Grey returning to mornings from afternoons. This time around, he would be teamed with Warren Kluck, previously with WRKR in Kalamazoo. "The Grey and Kluck Morning Show" failed to mesh well with listeners; even Opie and Anthony made fun of their show by playing clips of it, talking about how boring it was.
Despite a short ratings spurt back into the three-share range, KLQ crashed back in the two-shares. It was becoming more and more obvious that Citadel was giving up on what former part-time jock Autry Gene once called "The Big Ass Q in the Sky". All of Citadel's promotion went into sister stations WBBL, Thunder 94.5, 97 LAV and 105.3 Hot FM. GRD was officially the winner.
On the morning of May 28, 2009, KLQ played "Walk" by Pantera, a long-time station staple. After the song, the station started to 'stunt' - airing various sounds instead of the regular format - and at 2:30 p.m., the station was reborn as Sports WBBL/107.3 The Ball, a simulcast/rebranding of WBBL 1340. Grey remains morning host alongside Brent Bakita with "Huge" Bill Simonson remaining in afternoons. The rest of the station's schedule became syndicated from Fox Sports Radio with the exception of sporting events and Jim Rome middays.
As for the station's other jocks, they've mostly been reassigned to other positions within the company, although some have been indeed let go.
However, this wasn't the total end of KLQ; Citadel demoted the station to the internet only. The jockless station still played the music the legendary station played, although some critics claimed that the new station was "plug and play", just playing what other active rockers were playing.
Rumor has it that one reason for KLQ's switch to Sports was because ESPN was rumored to have signed a deal with rival Clear Channel to bring their radio network to several of their FM stations, and Grand Rapids was part of the deal. CC has a few underperforming stations in the market, and an FM sports station on a 50KW stick could be the death knell for 1KW peashooter WBBL. With KLQ's ratings in the toilet, it was a proven win-win for Citadel, especially since the company has contracts with every sports team in Detroit, plus University of Michigan athletics, the West Michigan Whitecaps baseball team and several high schools.
With KLQ's demise, there's now an active rock hole in the Grand Rapids market. The only two new rock stations in town are both alternatives: GRD - which does play a lot of stuff KLQ used to play, although mixed in with not-so-hard rockers such as Depeche Mode, Coldplay and the Dave Matthews Band - and the underachieving Radio X 9-6-1, where you'll hear Soundgarden segue into The Indigo Girls.
Thankfully in this digital age, who needs terrestrial radio? With Sirius and the MP3 player, anybody can have their own active rock or metal station within reach. True, there's a miniscule few who aren't in this digital age and will miss KLQ like crazy, but it's their problem for not adapting.
KLQ had its good years, and its horrendous years as well. Like the great 50KW CHR monsters of the 60's and 70's like CKLW, WLS and WABC, KLQ had to adapt to change that would eventually mark their end. In the world of radio, nothing's meant to last, especially when your audience - males 18-34 - are finding alternate ways to get their tunes. The internet, the MP3 player and of course Howard Stern and Sirius all played their role in destroying the once-great KLQ and not to forget GRD as well.
However, the real reason for KLQ's demise is a no-brainer: it was fact that KLQ had a great formula that worked, but their clueless owners and management just didn't know how to keep things going the right way. GRD knew what they had to do, and took advantage of the disenfranchised and betrayed former listeners of KLQ.
But, like most radio stations of yesteryear, KLQ won't be forgotten. Airchecks - like the YouTube clip above - will survive forever and a generation of Grand Rapidians still have KLQ bumper stickers and player cards. Whether if its their "Hit Rock" days or "The Rock" years, KLQ will always have a home in the hearts of those who enjoyed the station in their 25 years on this earth.