Where's Melissa? After local pop radio starlet Melissa Chase hosted her last show on Clear Channel's Q94 on Nov. 11, a long, awkward pause filled Richmond's afternoon drive. Chase is scheduled to start as the new morning star of Clear Channel rival Cox Radio's the New Mix 103.7, but two weeks later there's no new morning show and no indication from Cox Radio of when Chase will re-emerge on air.
The culprit may be a noncompete clause, standard for radio personalities, in Chase's contract with Clear Channel, which might explain why officials from both Clear Channel and Cox have refused to discuss details surrounding her move. Chase initially declined to comment, and her response to a follow-up e-mail was coy: “I'd love to discuss more with you and promise I'll give you the scoop as soon as I can. Melissa :)”
Chase is one of the last major local radio personalities still navigating the airways — others include Lite 98's Bill Bevins, K95's Catfish and Lori, 98.9 Liberty's Jeff Beck and talk radio WRVA 1140's Jimmy Barrett. A potent combination of industry-wide deregulation (under the 1996 federal Telecommunications Act), corporate-led syndication, new technologies such as satellite radio, and recession-induced cutbacks is making the local DJ something of an anomaly.
“If you think about who's left in the market, it's really down to a handful,” says Jeff McKee, former host, with Jeff Beck, of WRXL 102's “Jeff and Jeff” morning show, which ended in 2001. (Chase interned for “Jeff and Jeff” before moving to Q94.) “Guys like Bill Bevins who are still standing represent more as time goes on,” McKee says.
Chris Maxwell, founder of independent radio station WRIR 97.3 FM, blames the dearth of local DJs on deregulation. “I attribute the death of radio as a place to actually make a living in, for most people — and there are some exceptions — to Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich,” Maxwell says, referring to the bipartisan effort that brought about deregulation in 1996. In some ways, it's created a niche for WRIR, which bills itself as a community-based alternative station run by volunteers, featuring a diverse mix of local talk-show hosts and DJs.
Those who have survived, of course, are less mournful. “I just think that radio's like any other business; we kind of go through cycles,” Barrett says.
Those in the business say there's still a place, if a limited one, for local personalities. Bill Oglesby, an assistant professor of mass communications at Virginia Commonwealth University who acted as host for the local 1990s short-format feature “Where Were You with Bill Oglesby” on what was then B103.7, says the recent trend toward syndication could also revert back to local radio personalities.
The New Mix 103.7 may be case in point. By hiring Melissa Chase, says Oglesby, “they are acknowledging that she has a following, that she is a brand. … and that they have something to gain by picking up that local brand.”