May 25, 2018
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WZON format change is taking some getting used to

By Ernie Clark, BDN Staff

I took a nap the other day and when I woke up I turned on the radio and who did I hear but Dale Duff and Clem LaBree.

My first thought was how could I have laid down at 2 in the afternoon and not awakened again until 6 the next morning? I’m lucky to get five hours of sleep on a good night.

But after shaking off the shock of that possibility, a look at the clock revealed the new reality of both my nap and local sports talk radio in the Bangor market. It was just a little past 4 in the afternoon, and what had been the Sports Zone Morning Show is now merely an afternoon departure from political talk on The Pulse, WZON-AM and FM.

I was already familiar with The Pulse, or as I call it “Air Piscataquis.” The liberal talk format, which features some survivors of the bankrupt Air America network, was introduced to The Zone Corp.’s airwaves a year earlier on WZON-FM, formerly WDME, my hometown radio station in Dover-Foxcroft.

We figured it was just payback for Piscataquis County being the only county in New England to favor John McCain over Barack Obama for president in 2008. Perhaps liberal talk was being blasted into our cars and living rooms in an effort to get Piscataquians to change our ways — though I’m guessing it hasn’t worked yet.

Nevertheless, the change to The Pulse from the Sports Zone on the AM side surely is a loss for area sports fans, though how much remains to be determined.

The biggest changes to date are the shift of Duff and LaBree from mornings to afternoon and the loss of ESPN programming throughout the day and evening. But as of now “The Pulse” is still covering local sports, and I heard the Celtics game while driving home the other night.

No one from station management has commented publicly on the reason for the switch, but a couple possibilities come to mind.

First, station owners Stephen and Tabitha King simply wanted to take their station in a different direction, just as they did 17 years ago when they purchased the former WLBZ-AM and hired Duff to create a sports talk format that not only would include the Boston Red Sox but would highlight local sports — including an afternoon show of which I had the privilege to be the original host.

Then there were the contentious negotiations with the University of Maine a few years back that led to the Black Bears’ sports broadcasts moving elsewhere, leaving the station owned by one of the university’s biggest benefactors without one of its signature products.

Yet another is the economy, and while the owners seemingly have unlimited resources, no one likes to keep losing money on a product — and rare is the media outlet in these economic times that is thriving financially.

In a political talk radio environment dominated by conservative voices, the Kings have the wherewithal to broadcast a more personally appealing alternative, and that’s certainly their prerogative. And while liberal talk hasn’t proven profitable elsewhere as evidenced by the failure of Air America, perhaps the politics are more important than the pocketbook in this particular case.

No matter the reason for the changes to date, here’s hoping the remaining elements of the Sports Zone survive, for the immediacy of live broadcasts, be they Red Sox and Celtics games or high school sports, can’t be matched.

But as for the mornings, it’s back to Imus for me.

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