Rock and Roll Will Never Die!

Cleveland's WMMS-FM built an enormous following of loyal fans by cranking out a steady stream of rock'n'roll---a stream now 30 years old. "The Buzzard," as the station at 100.7MHz is known, rode the wave of rock's ascendancy, and pioneered the classic rock format---one instantly recognizable by the heavy rotation of the recordings of such groups as Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, the Allman Brothers, Aerosmith, Bruce Springsteen, the Cars, Kansas, Boston, and Journey. Every major city in the United States has at least one such station. Throughout the '70s, '80s, and '90s, WMMS won generations of rock fans with its midday concerts and kept them tuned in with its unwavering dedication to heavy rock. The station was instrumental in winning the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame and Museum for the city of Cleveland.

But times change, and the station's popularity began to slip. It changed ownership several times, and underwent many personnel turnovers. By last summer, the Buzzard had dropped to #11 in a 24-station market, and last month station officials began openly discussing dropping the nickname and classic-rock format in favor of something unspecified but definitely more au courant. "Dinosaur Rock," as the format is pejoratively known, was seen as becoming irrelevant to its core listeners. "The generation they were reaching is not in the same mental place anymore," said B. Eric Rhoads, publisher of the radio industry journal Radio Ink. Rhoads told John Affleck of the Associated Press: "The music doesn't serve their current needs," referring to listeners now in the 35-55 age bracket.

WMMS executives apparently underestimated the loyalty of their aging listeners. When news of the impending change leaked out, the station's distraught fans organized an e-mail, letter-writing, and phone campaign that caused the execs to rethink their modernization strategy. The campaign was a reprise of one that the station provoked among its listeners in 1985, in which 650,000 petitions were signed to bring the rock museum to the city and in which more than 100,000 phone calls were received in two days.

Clevelanders are serious about rock. 35-year-old photographer Cyndi Konopka said that WMMS is "a Cleveland icon," and that losing it would be akin to razing the Terminal Tower, a fixture of the Cleveland skyline. Konopka said she began listening to the Buzzard in 1974, when she was seven years old. Konopka and her fellow fans deluged the station with requests to save the long-running format, and last week, station executives announced that the rumors of Buzzard's demise had been greatly exaggerated. The format will continue as always, they said, to the great relief of thousands of diehard fans.

No news was released regarding the possibility of WMMS-FM becoming the Official Station of the Rock'n'Roll Museum, but it seems a perfect fit. Huey Lewis was dead-on accurate when he wrote of the genre, "The old boy may be barely breathing, but the heart of rock'n'roll is still beating . . . in Cleveland."