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The Zephyr flies again

Wren Wertin
Melinda KruseSteve Leigh, left, and Tony Mauro are the faces behind the voices on 97.7, the reincarnated Zephyr, which offers 100 percent local feed.
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You might have noticed a new format on FM radio 97.7, now the Zephyr. Or, to be more specific, once again the Zephyr. It’s no coincidence the name neatly fits the call letters, KZYR.

“The Zephyr flies again,” said Tony Mauro, director of operations for the station.

Tom Dobrez bought KZYR (a.k.a. the Mountain) nigh on a year ago, but he’s only now decided to revamp the format and style of the station. To do so he brought in long-time local Mauro and gave him free reign. In turn, Mauro brought in Steve Leigh, another long-time local and architect of the station’s former harder, alternative sound.



It is the only local radio station that is 100 percent local feed, said Mauro. That means instead of a satellite piping in pre-determined songs, they pick and choose what they want to play based on the albums they have. This approach allows them to play things outside of the normal satellite rotation, such as Blind Boys of Alabama, a staple of American roots music and a major influence for such popular musicians as Dirty Dozen Brass Band. They can also play songs from visiting bands, such as the McCloskey Brothers, who played the Half Moon Saloon last week.

“Our goal is to play a lot of music,” said Mauro. “The bottom line is we’re trying to create a format for stake-holders in our community. That doesn’t necessarily mean homeowners, but the people who are here year-round. When I talk to people, I get the vibe that they want to hear stuff like String Cheese. We’re also looking at covering more high school sports and local news that typical small-community radio stations do. That’s what made radio special in the first place, a connection to the community.”



“If it’s done properly, it can be the heart and soul of a community,” said Leigh.

Because they’re the official “little guys” of local radio, Mauro says they have the freedom to take more chances with their listeners than most.

The original Zephyr was launched on Christmas Eve of 1985, and had more of a rock focus, said Mauro. The new incarnation is song-driven rather than artist-driven, meaning if the song fits they’ll wear it.



“It still has to kind of make sense,” said Mauro. “We don’t want to have train wrecks, where it doesn’t fit.”

“But when you look at somebody’s record collection, you don’t just see one genre,” added Leigh. “There’s diversity in there.”

Since the Zephyr is so new, they’re still tweaking the format. They will be bringing a few specialty music programs to the air, such as blues, or a hard-edged alternative show. They’ll also invite local non-profits to share their mission statements on the air. They look forward to a steady parade of locals through the studio.

No major change on a radio station is going to be met with 100 percent approval. There have been some complaints the station has gone soft, and some pointed insults at the characters of the men initiating the changes.

“Well, compared to Lincoln Park it is soft,” said Leigh. “I was the architect of the old format, and it was too hard, it wasn’t marketable. If you have to have Lincoln Park in your daily life, feel free to stop by and see Denise at B-Side.”

Leigh began sports broadcasting in 1985, and then moved on to rock radio. According to him, this is the first time his wife has ever listened to him on the air. Justin Hurley, owner of the Half Moon Saloon, gives the station a thumbs-up.

“I can finally listen to the radio since KFMU went off the air,” he said. “It’s what KBCO used to be. I like the more public radio station format – eclectic. Also, it’s nice to have a station that will play incoming bands on the air.”

Tony Mauro and Steve Leigh can be heard on 97.7. For more information call the station at 845-8565.

Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at wrenw@vaildaily.com or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.


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