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In Country: With Kix 98.7, WNZF Launches Flagler’s Fourth Radio Station in Four Years

| July 13, 2012

WNZF’s Ron Charles, chief engineer and news director, was supervising the hoisting of Flagler County Broadcasting’s latest transmission antenna, for a new country station, from the transmission tower on U.S. 1 in Palm Coast. (© FlaglerLive)

On the forty-first day, he passed away
He just dehydrated and died
Well, he went up to heaven, located his dog
Not only that, but he rejoined his arm
Down below, all the critics, they loot it all back
Cancer robbed the whore of her charm
His ex-wife died of stretch marks, his ex-employer went broke
The theologians were finally found out
Right down to the ground, that old jail house burned down
The earth suffered perpetual drought

–From Johnny Cash’s “The Man Who Couldn’t Cry” (written by Loudon Wainwright III).

If you were under the impression that country music doesn’t have a base in Flagler you’d be mistaken, at least according to local radio WNZF station manager, David Ayres. As it turns out, the small Flagler County Broadcasting family, whose empire branches out in three guises—WNFZ News Radio, Beach-FM, and since last November, Oldies 100.9 FM—has its Bunnell studio on East Moody Boulevard under re-construction to accommodate the growth and appeal to ears in the area. Until recently listeners were struggling for reception, tuning to Orlando and Ocala stations in hopes of remedying that certain deprivation in their lives.

“The cranes are here and the tower’s going up,” Ayres says. The station, which will be dubbed Kix Country 98.7 FM (WAKX, with 4,000 watts), debuts August 1, with a format it calls “traditional country.” Tradition is a subjective idea these days, when last night’s TV programs can be dubbed classics and any lyrics containing a combination of patriotism, piety and dogs dying prematurely called traditional.

Originally from Cleveland (whose Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is 524 miles from Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame), Ayers admits that he once had his blinders on in thinking that, to most people, country was no big deal. “I was a city boy and I didn’t know anyone who listened to this stuff.”

“Most people who don’t listen to country buy into the stereotype that it’s only the redneck in his red pickup truck who’s a fan, but the truth is the doctors and lawyers in the Lexus are listening, too. It’s a fun format,” Ayers says. He likens the genre’s appeal to the overall experience of a “family reunion” which seems an appropriate metaphor in completing the WNZF family circuit.  “America, God, and country. It’s something that everyone has in common and is something to be shared with parents and children.”

God, of course, being that indispensable Highwaymen’s holy trinity: Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings (peace be upon them).

Ayers disabused himself of his parochial thinking, he says, in the 1990s, when he began broadcasting country music for Clear Channel across the Tampa area. Although he knew nothing about that type of music, it wasn’t only his eyes and ears that were opened to what someone from his neck of non-woods might interpret as the surprise phenomenon of its popularity. It was his heart, too. He also fell in love with the consumers and media surrounding it.

Many casual music listeners might be surprised to learn they’re part of the movement as well.  Many of their favorite artists, Ayers guesses, are crossover stars like Taylor Swift and Keith Urban, albeit with some of the Caribbean-type sounds that have been integrated into the genre. It’s become more difficult to categorize the music, he says.

“Even bands like Hootie and the Blowfish have incorporated country sounds. And you know what? Older bands like the Eagles and Crosby Stills & Nash (bands who get plenty of fresh air on Oldies-FM), if they were still making music today, they’d be country.”

In what can be viewed as a welcoming conversion experience in embracing the genre, according to Ayers’s interpretation, this is what Kenny Chesney is talking about in his song, “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem.”

In other words: “I don’t have to wear a cowboy hat or boots to be accepted.”

Larry Tritten's 'Instant Country Lyric Kit,' from the November 1992 issue of Playboy (William Safire was the interview, Stephanie Adams, who won a $1.2 million judgment in February after being brutalized by New York City police, was the playmate.). Click on the image for larger view.

Larry Tritten’s ‘Instant Country Lyric Kit,’ from the November 1992 issue of Playboy (William Safire was the interview, Stephanie Adams, who won a $1.2 million judgment in February after being brutalized by New York City police, was the playmate.). Click on the image for larger view.

Larry Tritten’s ‘Instant Country Lyric Kit,’ from the November 1992 issue of Playboy (William Safire was the interview, Stephanie Adams, who won a $1.2 million judgment in February after being brutalized by New York City police, was the playmate.). Click on the image for larger view. [/caption]The cross-over isn’t just a matter of music. There’s politics, too, depending on the times. There’s a reason you don’t hear too many black people humming along with Hank Williams Jr., and why Charley Pride remains as much of a country music exception as his likeness at tea party meetings: country music is white people’s last musical redoubt, what Bruce Feiler termed “a soundtrack for white flight,” and what the author Ann Patchett summed up in an analysis at the beginning of the Iraq War: “Country music is not providing the soundtrack to American life on an average day, unless you count the crossovers, which means that Shania Twain is played on pop stations and Faith Hill lands on the cover of fashion magazines,” Patchett wrote in the New York Times Magazine. “Most of the time, country music, like pop music, is just a bunch of love songs anyway, and no one really cares if there is a little extra twang in the guitar. Peacetime blurs the cultural divide between Britney Spears and LeAnn Rimes. But during times of war, Americans find a flag to snap onto the windows of their S.U.V.’s and country music sails into the foreground. For every battle, we get a new, disposable anthem, one that’s catchier than ‘’The Star-Spangled Banner’’ and easier to sing. Cultural conservatives, who rightly feel unrepresented in most of popular culture, are as comfortable with the lyrics of a country hit as they are tuning into Fox News, as these are the places their viewpoints are powerfully and abundantly represented. And that’s exactly what makes these venues so popular. Country is no longer about the South; it’s a state of mind.”

Naturally, a country station dovetails nicely with WNZF’s devotion to the voices of white alienation: Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Michael Savage. Politics aside (and now that relative peace time has diminished the need for country’s versions of the Battle Hymn of the Republic), there’s always the music for music’s sake, and those who could care less about politics so long as the radio signal is strong.

Ron Charles, WNZF’s Chief Engineer and News Director, and also a navy veteran of 22-years, says he is living his second dream career at WNZF. “The whole time since I was 12, I think I wanted to work in broadcasting, though I did get patches of that experience during my time in the service.”

That said, he’s honest when he admits he’s waiting for a similar born-again country music experience to befall him, as it did Ayers. Originally from Lowell, Mass., Charles grew up listening to AM Top 40 in the late 60s and early 70s, and was raised in a place where country was a strange sounding aberration.

Charles is optimistic the conversion will happen as it has before with other genres during his radio career. A few years back, Charles began broadcasting for a station that played the likes of Frank Sinatra and Barbara Streisand. “I didn’t care for it all that much at first,” he said, “but after a few months it really grew on me and I embraced it wholeheartedly. Right now, I enjoy country but I don’t have a favorite artist or anything, but like all unfamiliar music genres, it’s an acquired taste.”

On the technical spec side of things, asked if this fourth addition to the WNFZ family presents any new challenges for a man with his dual positions at the station, Charles responded the way most people in media respond nowadays: the luxury of doing a single job is history.  “In small-town radio like Flagler County Broadcasting, it’s very common to wear several hats,” he says. “Many big city radio enterprises are beginning to follow this small town model in an effort to be less cost-prohibitive.

David Ayres. (© FlaglerLive)

Beginning a station from scratch has become part of the Flagler County Broadcasting routine. “We’ve learned a lot from each of our experiences with the other three stations. It’s just like adding a new baby sister,” though Ayers is quick to add: “But no more kids. We don’t have any more space.”

In addition to optimal music reception, there are other WNZF benefits to the upgrades. “With the Flagler County Broadcasting investments in our infrastructure,” Charles says, “we have back-up electrical generators at almost all our sites. So if there was ever a loss of power during an emergency, you probably wouldn’t even know it. With a combination broadcasting on all these frequencies from the Emergency Operating Center, people won’t have to sit there hoping and praying that they hear in five or ten seconds about Flagler County on some Central Florida station. That was the situation four years ago.”

WNZF’s progression from just news to rock to oldies and now country was anything but planned. “All of our opportunities came to us,” Ayres says. When the FCC began accepting bids for the station grounds three years ago, one other guy at first outbid them. “When we started, we had only the one news station, but once we got the other two within two years, the other guy was understandably shaken. As the FCC deadline approached, the guy came back to us with his hat in hand. We settled for a lot of money.”

However, even if Ayers doesn’t say as much, his “blessing” word choice isn’t a reflection of some nebulous miracle. A large part of their success, he says, is  that Palm Coast reached the point where it can sustain its own  media market, broadcast and otherwise, and did so in a relatively short time. Four years ago, there were no radio stations in Palm Coast, no newspaper, no online news. The relatively rapid growth of local media, both men attest, is mutually supportive. “There’s definitely a great media sector synergy,” says Charles. “That may not be the case in other communities.”

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20 Responses for “In Country: With Kix 98.7, WNZF Launches Flagler’s Fourth Radio Station in Four Years”

  1. question says:

    “Most people who don’t listen to country buy into the stereotype that it’s only the redneck in his red pickup truck who’s a fan…”

    …Who’d get an idea like that …especially when this ‘country’ station’s, sister station is WNZF starring: Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Laura Ingraham, etc. Kinda rounds out the the ole ‘redneck family tree.’

    • jane says:

      I listen to all the above and I am not a redneck. I listen to other types of music, too. what exactly do you listen to on the radio or online? You sound like you have a limited variety of media.

  2. The Truth says:

    If only WNZF didn’t play garbage from Fox News or from the king of panic, Glenn Beck, than I would probably listen. No thanks!

  3. question says:

    Not sure how I missed this on 1st read…but could someone kindly explain this statement from this article?…

    Naturally, a country station dovetails nicely with WNZF’s
    to the voices of
    white alienation: Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Michael Savage.

    What is ‘white alienation’ to which WNZF is devoted?

    Thank you.

  4. Deep South says:

    Growing up in Florida that’s all my folks, relatives, and friends ever listened to. Country music is real music and is the backbone of what music should be in the United States. I’m so glad to hear that a country music station is coming to Flagler. It is always nice to get back to the roots of our upbringing.

  5. PalmCoast says:

    I LOVE country music!!!
    So glad we can tune in right here in Palm Coast!!

  6. rickg says:

    I like country music but this area (Flagler Volusia) yearns for some good radio. There is nothing here that would make me listen to local radio. That’s why I’m a Sirius/XM subscriber.

  7. Trudi says:

    I can’t pull in WNZF on AM or FM here at my house beachside Flagler so more channels seems like more of nothing.

  8. Ken Dodge says:

    WNZF carried the daily three hours (Noon to 3 PM) of Rush Limbaugh until the Daytona Beach station (WNDB 1150 AM) complained. Seems there was a territorial dispute to which the DB station had first dibs.

    On another note, WNZF’s hourly newscasts are from WABC. The newscasts that ‘The Truth’ is hearing from FOX News are broadcast on WOKV 690 AM which is the Jacksonville outlet that carries Boortz, Limbaugh, then Hannity.

    Get your ‘garbage’ outlets straight, man.

  9. Anonymous says:

    yee haw!!!!!!!!!!!! palm coast has gone country!!……..gag me.

  10. NortonSmitty says:

    Are they gonna’ play my favoreet ol’ Dolly Parton and George Jones duet “You’re the Reason our Kids are Ugly”?

  11. question says:

    Oh snap!

    If one would want to be totally clear regarding their listening ‘garbage’…

    Fox “NEWS” is to news …what Rush Limbaugh is to ‘erudite’…whether you’re listening in either Daytona, JAX, PC or anywhere.

  12. Clint says:

    I like that song that say..” My dog and my beer is cheaper to keep then YOU dear !

  13. Palm Coast Resident says:

    I like ta died when I hurd y’all were startin up a Country station…….now quit talkin’ an start the music…..
    I got ma boots on and I got my red solo cup ready……..

  14. Geezer says:

    I don’t listen to FM radio for music very much anymore. When I do, I tune into Flagler College
    or NPR. I just can’t stomach the highly compressed music that’s flanked by obnoxious car
    dealer commercials and what not. Uggh.

    I love Rock music, Classical, Jazz, Soul, and Americana and Bluegrass.
    Country music is great when it’s classic country. New country music is awful, just like new rock music.
    And you know what truly hurts the ears? Electronic music and Rap. (IMHO)

    I’d like to see AOR radio make a comeback. (album-oriented Rock)

    But you give me some music played by MUSICIANS and I’ll listen to anything.
    So break out the Banjos and washboards.

    I wish the new radio station luck in their new venture.

  15. Abby says:

    98.3 WNSS is also a new radio station in Flagler County as well. It is a Christian Station. Has been on the air less than a year!

  16. Roy says:

    Actually FlaglerLive, that stanza was written by Loudon Wainwright III, not Johnny Cash who covered it. Just keeping you honest.

  17. Southern Pride says:

    Glad to hear Flaglers on the map! Country is the best music around, well to me at least. Love me some rock an roll but country keeps me grounded doesnt make me want to wear my drawers around me knees like the young people out there listening to what ever the mainstream top 40 says is cool this week. Id rather hangout on the tail gate of my truck than go to the mall and bonfire over candle lite anyday of the month. Oh by the by for those of you who are confussed as to what a redneck is. Its origanaly was a denotion to the type of work you did. Not an example of your IQ. Im a redneck and dam proud of the contribution to making sure all of you have steady, reliable electric power to your homes and business everday. Dont man down, Man up !!!!!

  18. Ray Thorne says:

    So far, I like the station.

  19. Barbara says:

    Just wanted to say how pleased I was to find we were getting a Country station, been listening to you since July 31st. GREAT, love the fact that you play the “oldies” to. 98.7 is programmed to my car, my office, kitchen and my walkman. Keep up the good work.

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