Local radio station changes format; rock fans upset

Some rock radio listeners in Birmingham received a rude awakening. Birmingham's rock station The Vulcan on 105.5 FM, switched formats to news/talk radio Monday morning, leaving some listeners confused.

Listeners turning on their radios to 105.5 FM expecting the band Rush, got Rush Limbaugh instead Monday as the station known as The Vulcan became the new FM home for WERC, a news/talk station previously heard on the AM dial.

Program director Paul Cashin at Clear Channel Radio in Birmingham says he made the switch because the stronger FM signal can reach more listeners, because advertisers are looking for more of the higher-income listeners that talk radio traditionally draws, and because he believes in the product. "Right now we saw the demand for this news/talk product growing such exponentially that is what kind of forced the change," Cashin says.

UAB communication professor Dr. Larry Powell says, "The FM signal is gonna draw a bigger audience than the am signal. That's gonna be good for the talk radio format. In that format, it will be successful. It will however, lose audience on the alternative rock. They're hoping the loss won't be significant and they can make that up with the other and the cost savings will pan out in the long run."

Powell says frustrated rock fans can blame the economy and a need to save money for a move he says is part of a national trend. "It's a problem that it's leading to a loss of diversity in programming. The local audiences sometimes gets hurt in this," Powell says.

"Everybody's undergone some sort of downsizing in the last year or two, and that's shared by pretty much everybody in every organization in town. That said, we have our local morning show and really think there will be big things for it as we travel down this road," Cashin says.

Clear Channel officials say they have received a number of complaint calls from listeners of the now-former Vulcan station. For rock fans, there are at least three other stations in town playing a similar format.