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Sour Notes Kagu’s Switch To Classical Angers Many Listeners

Until last week, KAGU-FM was the typical university radio station.

Its musical menu was a smorgasbord of hip college tastes: hard rock, grunge rock, reggae and rhythm and blues.

But with the start of classes this fall, the station has shaved off its Generation-X goatee and is playing only classical music.

So far, most Gonzaga faculty members like its new airs.

Many students prefer the old KAGU musical abandon and variety.

“I like classical music. I sing in the choir,” said GU sophomore Kyle Bradshaw. “But what we have now (on the station) is regrettable.

“It’s ambient background noise that most students will not bother listening to,” he said.

Bradshaw and other students are launching a petition asking administrators to bring back the music they know best. “The least we want is a compromise” for part of the station’s 7 a.m.-midnight program schedule, Bradshaw said.

The Rev. Robert Lyons, head of broadcast studies, made the shift to all-classical music in late May after spring term.

Some students complain Lyons made the decision without seeking their comments. “It’s our tuition and fees, in part, that pay for the station,” said Bradshaw.

Lyons, who’s taught radio at the university for as long as KAGU has been there, defended his decision, saying the school’s recent emphasis has been toward “the fine arts.”

Switching to a classical format fits that approach, he said Tuesday, several days after the station resumed broadcasting after a summer break.

The low-power, 100-watt station beams from the roof of GU’s Administration Building. Most days, listeners within five miles of the school can hear it at 88.7 FM.

GU sophomore Jim Woolley said he got two calls from South Hill listeners while working at KAGU on Wednesday morning. “They said they were hearing us and they liked what we’re playing,” said Woolley, a journalism major who also supports the change to classical himself.

Not all the critics are on the GU campus.

“I listen to all the stations, and what KAGU is now is a change for the worse,” said Dan Campbell, a part-time video store clerk and student at Eastern Washington University.

“It’s where I’d find great new music. Bands that you never hear on the Peak (105.7 FM) or Z-Rock (103.9), you’d hear on KAGU,” said Campbell.

“I like classical, but KAGU was so diverse, so different, it was special.”

Despite the student petition, Lyons said he doesn’t see a way to let rock play a second-fiddle role alongside classical music on the station.

That mixed-bag format would be too jarring, he said.

The station has no commercials and relies entirely on broadcast students for staffing.

Lyons chose classical music because Spokane now has plenty of alternative rock stations. But only KPBX-FM offers classical, and it’s offering it only part of the day, he said.

Others, including GU graduate Stefan Schachtell, think Lyons switched to classical to eliminate complaints from trustees and people in the community.

Schachtell worked as promotion manager for KAGU for three years before graduating this spring. He recalls several shut-downs of the station in the middle of the day after Lyons learned that someone had broken the “good taste” policy at KAGU.

Lyons denied public perception played any part in his changing the format. He’s determined that students can learn more programming and production skills in the classical format.

“Good radio depends on making a good assessment of your audience,” Lyons said. “I’m teaching people to do that. Whether we’ve made the right decision, we’ll see.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo