Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Lonesome Death of the Blizzard

I recently got a phone call from local St. Augustine radio personality Dave O'Dell, who called to tell me how much he enjoyed the Florida Rocks Again! show, and mentioned in passing that WFBO in Flagler Beach, a/k/a "The Blizzard," had gone "belly up."

I knew that their great morning man John Black had relocated back to the Midwest, and that the station owner was dealing with his wife's terminal cancer, but I was unaware that the Blizzard, Florida Rocks Again!'s most recent terrestrial radio outlet (2007-2008), has been off the air since the end of last year. Unbeknownst to me, the station went dark only a few months after the plug was pulled on our show and all specialty programming (see "Radio Silence," 9/3/08).

The Blizzard was founded in 2002 as a low-power (100 watts) FM oldies station owned by a Baptist church, and run by "Cap'n Ron" Kochner, who incurred the wrath of the FCC with overly commercial-like underwriting messages and by allegedly boosting the power to three times the legal limit. Broadcasting veteran Chris Lash bought the station in the summer of '07, intending to make it his last stop in his radio career. "An oldies station on the beach, how perfect is that?"

Cap'n Ron was out. Longtime program director Bob "Cruiser" Cummings was let go, and was dead within a week from cancer. "Rockin' Ronnie" Aitken walked away after that.

But while Cruiser and Rockin' Ronnie were still running things, I made a deal to air a two-hour version of Florida Rocks Again! twice a week, a deal which Lash grudgingly honored. However, it was right around this time that we decided to move to Austin, so I signed a couple of sponsors, gave 'em the first five episodes on CD-Rs, and headed West. The show had a nice run, and the additional listeners from the online stream gave us a decent-sized audience.

Meanwhile, back in Florida, the station had moved from the "European Village" in Palm Coast to a beachside locale in Flagler Beach, which almost immediately suffered hurricane damage. Lash had applied for a full power license from the FCC, hoping to take the station to another level, but circumstances conspired to scuttle that dream. With his wife Karen in failing health, he transferred the station back to original owners, Halifax Christian Community Church, and moved back to Pennsylvania.

Cap'n Ron re-entered the picture, announcing that after switching to Christmas music for the holidays, the station would re-emerge in a different format. Some say that Christian talk radio was the leading contender, but soon thereafter the station went off the air for good, so we'll never know.

Despite its many ups and downs, the Blizzard provided hours of great radio listening for those lucky enough to be able to pull in the signal, and served as the voice of a community.

And for a year, they aired our show, which is more than most Florida radio stations can say.

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