The Hawk radio station becomes The Breeze

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Sarah Kirchner, staff writer

Fans tuning into The Hawk have heard something a little different coming over the radio waves. The former classic hits station has changed its tune last week.

Local radio station KCPI 94.9 FM, broadcast in Albert Lea, changed format to become The Breeze, from classic rock hits to easy listening, soft rock and light adult contemporary. The change came about after the parent company, Lincoln, Neb.-based Three Eagles Communications, did research to find a void in the local radio marketplace.

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The study found there was a drastic void in local radio stations playing music that appeals to a female audience between the ages of 25 to 49, a demographic that also has strong buying power for local advertisers, said Bob Mithuen, executive vice president of Three Eagles Communications and market manager for Austin and Albert Lea radio.

&8220;We felt as though we needed to play a musical format conducive to a female audience,&8221; Mithuen said.

The change occurred on June 21, the first day of summer. Mithuen said radio stations usually choose a triggering event &8212; like a holiday or the start of a year or a season &8212; to mark a format change.

&8220;Plus it&8217;s exciting because seasons change,&8221; he said.

So far, Mithuen said there hasn&8217;t been any backlash reacting to the change. A few calls came through from listeners who missed the classic hits. Overall, he said people called in loving the new format.

&8220;We&8217;ve had a terrific amount of positive calls,&8221; he said.

The switch to easier listening and soft rock, Mithuen said, was also to provide appropriate music to play at work with varying degrees of songs to appeal to many tastes. Many people in Albert Lea listen to FM radio at work.

Music played now includes a little soft rock from the 1970s with a main concentration of songs from the &8217;80s, &8217;90s and today. Artists Mithuen listed include Christina Aguilera, Creed, Michelle Branch, John Mellencamp, Sting, Beyonce, Maroon 5, Kelly Clarkson, Elton John, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and Faith Hill.

A lot of listeners looking for those artists and music styles, Mithuen said, were previously tuning into Rochester-based radio stations and missing the local news and advertising for local businesses.

&8220;So we&8217;re live, local and relevant to the Albert Lea area,&8221; he said.

The Hawk did not feel competition with Albert Lea&8217;s other classic rock radio station, Power 96, according to Mithuen. He said The Hawk played classic hits while KQPR 96.1 FM plays true classic rock with a little more edge, so there was a &8220;definitive difference.&8221;

&8220;There is a definite difference,&8221; agreed Power 96 owner Greg Jensen of Albert Lea, &8220;between Power 96 and other stations in the area not only because we are locally owned and care about our community but also because of our on-air presence. If there is a station that has changed their format they found it necessary to do something different because what they were doing didn&8217;t work.&8221;

As far as competition, Power 96 didn&8217;t seem to feel it either.

&8220;We&8217;re the only locally owned station in our area so we do things to support our community,&8221; Jensen said. &8220;Our listeners have grown, I really can&8217;t keep track of what our competitors do.&8221;

Jensen praised his staff for their dedication.

&8220;We&8217;ve been a classic rock station for nearly 20 years and we&8217;re going to continue to be a classic rock station for our listeners and our advertisers so that they know they can count on KQPR for always being there,&8221; he said.

As far as losing a demographic of classic rock listeners, Mithuen didn&8217;t seem too concerned and encouraged people to stay tuned because &8220;there are other things in the works.&8221;

KCPI did not lose any personnel but have added a few more voices. Aaron Worm can still be heard in the morning, while Miles Ryker will take over in the afternoon. Mithuen said there will be other new voices heard on The Breeze, but contracts are still pending so he could not give out any names.

Something unique to The Breeze and Three Eagles Communications, Mithuen said, in a time of corporate companies and record executives controlling the radio waves is that The Breeze has music programmers on staff to decide what music airs. He said they &8220;play to the likes and dislikes of our listeners.&8221;

For people who miss the classic rock hits of The Hawk, keep your ears open to the radio, he said.

&8220;There are other things that may change down the road that will help that situation as well,&8221; Mithuen said.

Three Eagles Communications also owns 1450 AM radio station KATE, broadcasting from Albert Lea. The company has more than 50 radio stations serving Nebraska, South Dakota, southern Minnesota and northern Iowa. Radio station formats range from country to classic rock, from top 40 to talk radio.