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New Radio Station Signs On

Clear Channel’s classic-rock station borrows from a competitor’s former brand, The Planet.

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Updated 3 p.m.: Cox Media Group Richmond’s vice president responds.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a rock-off.

Cuing up Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll,” a new radio station let loose at noon today with the lyric, “It’s been a long time since I rock-and-rolled.”

The Planet 96.1-FM is being launched by Clear Channel Richmond, which is using the classic rock format and brand to take a not-so-subtle swipe at cross-town rival, Cox Media Group, which owns Rock 96.5 WKLR-FM.

In a previous life, Rock 96.5 was branded as The Planet. In September it underwent a makeover by Cox, which gave it a new look and added ’90s hits to its rock roster. It also recently hired for its evening lineup on-air jock Mason, who’d been open about his firing from Clear Channel’s other rock station, XL102.

“I’m not really sure what they’re doing,” Clear Channel Operations Manager Dave Symonds says of the changes at Rock 96.5. As for determining the format for The Planet 96.1, he says, “We talked to a lot of unhappy classic rock fans.”

“The goal of the radio station is to be pure classic rock -- no impurities,” Symonds says. “It’s the kind of music not represented here in Richmond.”

“They just got a new low-power FM and they had to put something on it,” a Cox Media Group executive emails Style, balking at Symonds’ assessment of the market void. Rock 96.5 is a 50,000-watt station compared with 96.1 The Planet’s 145 watts.

“It’s a shame that this is the best they could come up with,” vice president and market manager Bob Willoughby says. “They could have done something really interesting like a Classical or Jazz station that could have really benefited the community instead of duplicating an existing format.”

Symonds says Clear Channel’s new station won’t affect XL102, which falls into the genres of rock, alternative and new rock along with classic cuts.

“The Bob & Tom Show” out of Indianapolis, Ind., will kick off mornings at The Planet 96.1, followed by other Clear Channel syndicated talent.

That’s not a promising sign, Willoughby says: “The only real similarity between the stations is they stole the old name. Unfortunately, this new station is very similar to a lot of cookie-cutter Clear Channel stations across the country. Programmed somewhere else and with nobody from Richmond on the station. Richmonders are smarter than that. They want local personalities and stations that actually care about community.”

So will locally based talent ever be on-air at The Planet?

“That’s the goal,” Symonds says. “We’ve got people in this building that know this format that are on the air already.”

As for playing the competitive card against Cox’s rock station, “Well look, we’re in this for the fun, and the great music,” he says. “That’s the only motivation.”

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