The local airwaves were riddled with white noise, jumbled call letters and the fractal chatter of DJs, both new and displaced, as area radio stations underwent a host of shocks and shake-ups in 1997. The Pirkle family, owners of FM country stalwart 100.3 WOKI and modern rock's 94.3 WNFZ, leased both stations to new management, optioning WOKI to Dick Broadcasting and leasing WNFZ to South Central Communications, purveyors of classic "rawk" on 103.5 WIMZ as well as adult contemporary on FM B97.5. Both stations have thus far kept their old formats, with WOKI still pumping out the "hot country" hits and WNFZ keeping its modern rock format—with a few tweaks. The city's first commercial alternative station did change its nickname, however (to "The Planet"), and summarily gave the axe to two of its more prominent on-air personalities, including boisterous shock-jock Col. Bacchus. No word yet on what's next for Bacchus.
In the meantime, Dick Broadcasting (WIVK, WOKI) finally came through with its long-promised new rock station in November. WXVO 98.7 ("The X") scorches the dial with a mix of hard-hitting new and classic rock, giving Knoxville the kind of contemporary album-oriented rock station it's long lacked.
Perhaps Knoxville's most unusual new station is WDVX at 89.9 on the FM dial. Founded by local radio personality Tony Lawson, the station showcases bluegrass, Americana, and other roots/regionally indigenous sounds. What really makes DVX unusual, however, is not so much its music as its means; Lawson runs the 200-watt station from a strategically-placed camper. Look out for WDVX fund-raisers to upgrade the facilities.
Downtown-area listeners have probably by now heard the rumors of Knoxville's new pirate station, 88.3 on the FM dial; hearing the station itself is much more difficult prospect. A series of homemade promotional fliers bearing the tell-tale skull-and-crossbones logo first blanketed the Fort Sanders area in November. Since then, we've occasionally managed to tune in a few of these intermittent renegade broadcasts (we sought scheduling info, but calls to a number listed on the flier went unreturned). The programming we've managed to tune in included a fairly broad selection of hip-hop, ambient, and avant garde stuff; jazz, reggae and other "music you can't define" are also apparently on the playlist.
STRIKING FEAR IN THE HEARTS OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS: GTV
He swept through the musty ranks of community TV shows like a tsunami of '90s entertainment values—that is to say, George Bove's GTV broke the thong barrier on public access cable television. And paid dearly for it.
The controversy began last August when County Commissioner Mark Cawood received a startling phone call from one of his constituents: There were girls in bikinis on Community Television. What's more, they were eating hot dogs in a lascivious manner. Even more shocking, they sometimes spanked other girls! And it was all appearing on Bove's GTV, a weekly assemblage of man-on-the-street interviews, nightclub visits, and joshing hosted by the irrepressible Mr. Bove. ("Nobody has balls in their sac big enough to do this like GTV. This is quality programming!")
Clearly, this did not pass the moral muster of Mr. Cawood—children might see the show, and then there was the matter of public monies being spent on...bikini girls. Consequently, he asked County Commission to examine the matter, i.e. threatening to yank station funding if the show wasn't dealt with in some manner. Thus the war of words began:
Bove: "I completely respect the commissioner, but he's not a challenger. He's an amateur getting in the ring with a pro. In this fight, especially verbally, he's gonna get knocked out. He's a politician, I'm a television show host—it just doesn't seem fair."
Cawood: "This borders, at best, on obscene...I wish that George would tone it down a little bit."
Bove: "There's nothing wrong with spanking a girl's ass. I might want her to spank my ass when I'm done. Maybe the commissioner needs to get his ass spanked."
In the end, even as Comcast Cable was promising to offer free channel lock-outs to concerned parents, GTV was pulled for violating an entirely different matter of ethics: Bove let an exotic dancer make a commercial plug for her dance service. This led to a suspension, from which GTV has not returned. But this didn't stop Bove from continuing to terrify audiences with his magnetic presence—every Friday, he now co-hosts Slam, a Community Television show produced by Mercury Theatre owner Kevin Nicely.
Knoxville got a new, just-like-in-the-old-days broadcast TV station this year: WBXX, Channel 20, an affiliate of the Warner Bros. Network. The network, with 86 stations, is another studio-driven effort to join ABC, CBS, and NBC as a broadcast powerhouse—just as Fox has accomplished and Paramount is attempting. What does Knoxville get out of the bargain? Well, lots of what station manager Lewis Cosby describes as "family-oriented entertainment and FUN!" And this means youthful, urban sitcoms—the same formula Fox used in its inception—like The Jamie Foxx Show, The Parent 'Hood, Sister Sister, The Wayans Bros., Smart Guy...The only original program with a high profile is Buffy: The Vampire Slayer.
TV NEWS: NOT FOR "BRAINIACS"
The big story in local TV this year was the resurrection of Channel 8 as a viable news operation. In February, the station quintupled the size of its news department and resumed 11 p.m. broadcasts (a slot previously filled by Andy Griffith). Unfortunately, while it's nice to have another outlet, WVLT has so far shown few signs of doing anything much different from its more established competitors, offering more or less the same mix of shallow crime and government reports, flashy weather graphics, and feel-good community projects. And its obnoxious "I'm All Vol" advertising campaign ranks as the most obsequious bit of pandering to hit the Knoxville airwaves in '97. Meanwhile, staff morale has taken a few hits lately as pink slips have been flying, with up to 10 full- and part-time employees being let go.
Couldn't somebody be "all news" for a change? The only faint hope at the moment is for WTNZ, Channel 43. The Fox affiliate plans to launch its own local news broadcast next year. It's possible—just barely—that in looking for an unfilled niche, they'll stumble on the idea of intelligent broadcasting. It would fit right in with, uh, Married With Children and Melrose Place.
On the personnel front, WBIR Channel 10 started the year by saying a not-so-fond farewell to popular reporter/sex symbol Kristen Hoke, and ended it by losing political reporter Gene Patterson to the auspices of the Ashe administration. Patterson's departure may be a coup for Ashe—although his official title is deputy to the mayor, watch for him to become the administration's public face and voice—but it's a loss for viewers. Unlike almost all of his peers at local anchor desks, Patterson always seemed to know what he was talking about. Channel 10 will be hard-pressed to fill his suit. Turnover elsewhere: Channel 8 has already cycled through one news director (Mark Shafer) and one anchor (Kim Keelor), who happened to be married to each other and have moved on; and as the year ended, Channel 6 parted ways with news director Martha Dooley, which may signal a change in direction at Knoxville's most (superficially) hard-edged broadcast operation.
THE DAILY GRIND
It was a year like any other over at Knoxville's daily newspaper. Which is to say, the News-Sentinel trundled along complacently, generating buckets of money for Scripps-Howard shareholders and occasionally breaking important news stories for the rest of us. The standout among these was cop reporter Jamie Satterfield's exposure of the Sgt. David McGoldrick hit-and-run scandal, which was well on its way to being swept under the rug when she latched onto it. Coverage of the Lillelid murder case was also rife with aggressive—if a tad excessive—enterprise reporting. (How come the paper can send a reporter and photographer to Sweden for a week to write about Peter Lillelid, but it can't assign anyone to cover the University of Tennessee full-time?)
On the editorial pages, obstreperous managing editor Frank Cagle started to feel his oats this year, turning his withering gaze—previously directed mostly at Nashville—to the local political scene. Despite the paper's general friendliness to Mayor Victor Ashe and the continued onslaught of Ashe publicity photos, Cagle's Saturday columns carried some distinctly unflattering comments about city leadership. He has his own foibles—an abiding adoration of Sen. Fred Thompson, for one—but Cagle's commentary remains the most reliably interesting thing in the newspaper. (Runner-up is business editor Lois Reagan Thomas' column, which broke more news this year than the rest of the business section combined. Unfortunately, Thomas is retiring, which will leave a big gap in the paper's local coverage.)
And what does editor Harry Moskos think of all this? You sure won't find out from Moskos' own columns, which this year continued his obsessions with all things trivial: coupons, type size, and comics, to name a few. Especially comics. He wrote about which comics people liked. He wrote about which comics people didn't like. He wrote about why the paper decided to sell ad space in the middle of the comics page. He wrote about why the paper changed its mind about selling ad space in the middle of the comics page. It was, without question, the most exhaustive coverage of a newspaper comics section the city has ever seen. It was rivaled only by the paper's diligent tracking of the U.S. visit of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. Moskos, who just happens to be Greek Orthodox himself, even went down to Atlanta for a one-on-one chat with the religious leader, writing a breathless account of his stateside activities that, among other things, noted Bartholomew is known as the "Green Patriarch" for his environmental concerns. (The Green Patriarch? Wasn't he one of the Super Friends?)