Radio is often a cold and thankless career. Just ask anyone who worked for Kansas City’s alternative station 96.5 The Buzz.
By Sept. 13, many had found out they would be out of their jobs. That night, their names and years of hard work had been scrubbed off the site. The station itself had been re-branded to Alt 96.5.
To the station’s faithful listeners, it was a slap in the face. After being part of its many Twitter hashtag campaigns like #buzzfamily and #listenlonger, they found their station had been dismantled not through a “Thanks for listening!” or tribute, but the station changing its logo on its social media accounts.
All of this is not an uncommon practice for radio stations. In the past year, popular radio DJ Afentra, formerly of The Buzz and then-current host of the former x105.1 FM, and her crew were abruptly fired. Shortly after, the station switched over to a more active rock format and new name. There was little notice that any of this would happen.
With that said, there is a feeling that it marks the end of an era for Kansas City and, by extension, St. Joseph’s music scenes, which often were supported by their promotional efforts.
During St. Joseph’s local music renaissance, The Buzz played artists like Radkey, Scruffy & The Janitors, Dreamgirl and Eyelit when no other station (outside of the listener-supported 90.9 The Bridge) would. Some of those artists even appeared on their morning and local music shows as guests. I’ll never forget when Lazlo jokingly said “St. Joseph is the new Seattle” as he launched into a Scruffy song.
While many Kansas City stations switched over to syndicated shows from hundreds of miles away, The Buzz kept it local, even getting rid of the nightly, nationally broadcast “Loveline” show with Dr. Drew because of complaints from listeners to hear more music. Now, that is mostly gone.
While some of that will be retained, as the afternoon drive-time show “The Church of Lazlo” will continue, Jeriney will keep her Sunday night local music show and Robert Moore will have his Saturday night “Sonic Spectrum,” almost everything else will be broadcast out of California and New York.
Part of this is inevitable. The pandemic has cut deeply into advertising revenues for many businesses. With The Buzz’s low ratings and receding audience, it seemed to only be a matter of time before big changes had to happen.
There’s also the issue of the instability and nebulousness of alternative radio’s format. Its peak was during an era when the standard guitar-drums-bass setup was the norm. That formula is no longer popular with younger audiences. The new sounds that dominate the airwaves — more pop and hip-hop-based electronic hits from artists like Billie Eilish and Glass Animals — are so far removed from its roots of Nirvana and Soundgarden that the two eras often felt at odds with each other. Compare that to thriving classic rock and hip-hop stations in Kansas City, which can more easily gauge listeners’ taste and there’s no contest.
The 2010s era of The Buzz will remain fond in my memories. The people behind the scenes fought for it to stay local, probably for longer than bosses would have wanted. And we have to thank them for giving us a moment in the sun.