Friday, October 1, 2010

Media: Remembering i107.7

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Usually, the music radio station of one's youth helped define one's personality. It might have defined one's social group in middle school or high school. It might have guided rebellion against a parent's musical tastes, or even challenged their musical tolerance. Above all, it probably occupied one's listening habits for years. This was not so for me. When I think of the defining music radio station of my youth, I think of a station that only existed for about one year--i107.7.

Clearly, I must have listened to popular music on other stations for many more hours than I ever listened to i107.7. I'm old enough to remember contemporary music on AM--in Seattle, on such stations as KJR, KOMO, and even KVI before it went to the then-innovative "Oldies" format. FM, though, was already dominating music. I remember KUBE before it played rap when it was competing with the limited-playlist "K-PLUS" (KPLZ), which morphed into "Z 101.5" in a clever re-branding using the same call letters.

A station I didn't listen much to was "Magic 108," call letters KMGI, at 107.7 on the FM dial. Apparently going on the air in 1985 (I was oblivious), it played what programmers called "Gold" music--the top singles of the past decade. Not just easy listening (that was the realm of KSEA 100.7 in that era), but any "adult contemporary" music. I barely knew the station even existed; I wasn't interested.

Then, in 1990, a suddenly re-branded "i107.7" sponsored an unlimited hydroplane as part of a massive advertising blitz. When I first saw the advertisements, I was unimpressed, as choosing the last letter of one's call letters as a new image seemed old hat after the K-PLUS/Z 101.5 transition. But, as a loyal hydroplane fan, I decided I had to at least try out the station.

For the first time, I was introduced to a true "Hot Adult Contemporary" format. Not just pop hits of whatever genre, i107.7 had a "sound" that was reasonably consistent. However, it didn't put me to sleep like KSEA or even "K-LITE" (KLTX) 95.7, a "soft rock" or "Soft Adult Contemporary" station. It had real rock music, but no rap like KUBE or Z 101.5. In the summer of 1990, I very rapidly adopted it as my favorite radio station.

For the next year, I would listen to hosts Ron Harris (the regular DJ from 6 pm to 8 pm) and Angie Good (8 pm to midnight) on many evenings. It was not uncommon for me to just put the radio on i107.7 and let the music play for hours on end as I worked on homework, especially if I was on the computer. I grew to live by its hourly "clock," knowing there would be just a short commercial break around twenty minutes after the hour, another about thirty-five minutes after the hour, and the longest one around fifty minutes after the hour. This allowed for "ten in a row" by skipping the first commercial break on certain hours in the daytime and the weekend. My musical tastes for the era were largely defined by what i107.7 played, which included Madonna, Phil Collins, Roxette, Gloria Estefan, Richard Marx, Amy Grant, Extreme, and even artists I didn't favor much like Michael Bolton and Mariah Carey.

I rarely listened to the "iGuys" who did the morning show (if station management had exceptional foresight, they would have trademarked i-Everything and pre-empted Apple's later product naming), but pretty much any other time of day that I wanted music, I would put the dial on 107.7. I remember riding to a state math competition and the driver punching up i107.7 and the Fine Young Cannibals' "She Drives Me Crazy" soon started playing, and that became an iconic moment in my high school experience.

Then, I remember getting out my radio after bicycling down to the Wilburton Trestle to wait for the daily local freight train to go by one day in the summer of 1991 and realizing something had changed. The bumper music was the same, the hosts were the same, but suddenly the station was "Magic 107.7" not "i107.7" and the music had returned to the "adult contemporary" format of the old Magic 108. I couldn't stand it, and drifted off mostly to "Mix 100.7" (the former KSEA) which had gone adult contemporary and would soon become true hot adult contemporary.

On 23 August 1991, it was all over. After several days of stunting, KMGI was officially no more, and "The End" (KNDD) took over 107.7, starting by playing REM's "The End of the World As We Know It." "The End" would prove to be the premier alternative music station in the premier grunge city in the world, Seattle, and exists in an iteration of that format to this day. My favorite Ron Harris stayed with the station for some time (he would later move to eastern Washington state), but I wasn't listening. I would mostly turn to "Mix 100.7" for music until it became KIRO-FM in 1992, and then mostly turned to KLSY 92.5, which by then was an interesting hybrid of "Adult Album Alternative" and "Adult Contemporary" formats until I went away to college.

Yet, to this day, "my" music station is still i107.7. If I could tune in and hear Angie Good (who has since moved to California) introducing Firehouse again, I would. i107.7 may have only existed for a short time, but it had a big impact on my life.

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