ON MARCH 15, 2011, Portland's only hard-rock station, 101.1 KUFO, went silent after 21 years on air. As if its sudden dismissal wasn't enough of an insult, the FM radio waves were wiped clean of all things heavy and replaced by conservative talk radio. Not only did this change eliminate hard rock from the dial, it also cut off a promotional channel for events like this year's all-day Rockfest (an event later re-titled "Save the Rock") at the Washington County Fairplex on Sunday, August 28.
As devastating as this loss may be, did anybody really hear that final riff? Will the masses still file into coliseums for hard-rock shows, or will KUFO's absence damage Portland's reputation as a metal-friendly destination? Longtime on-air personality Marconi Bologna claims that when the station shut down, listeners were up in arms.
"I started a KUFO Facebook fan page, and within three days we had 5,000-plus 'likes.' The fans of KUFO had such passion for the station. They wanted to stage a protest."
Bobby "Fatboy" Roberts, a recognizable voice from KUFO's past (and currently a freelancer for this very paper), agreed with Bologna's sentiment, but thought that the fans lacked follow-through.
"There was a fair amount of backlash, but it died down rather quietly. It was more aimed at the fact the station was allowed to nosedive like it did, and less that it wasn't going to be there anymore."
The lackluster response to the loss of hard-rock radio in the Rose City could've been due to the fact that nobody really lost it. Hard rock and metal is a niche market. A Christian Mistress or Skeletonwitch fan could never turn to the FM dial to satiate their fandom, and Roberts believes that savvy fans moved on well before the station's lights went out. "They realized that no matter how much they called the radio station, they weren't going to hear Mastodon at 3:30 pm after they got out of school. They'd get an AC/DC song, and then three straight from the indiscernible sludge of Nickelback/Seether/Crossfade/Puddle of Mudd, and they finally said, 'Fuck it. I know the stuff I like is out there somewhere.'"
So the fans may not need to tune in to hear what they want, but how about the local bands? Who will help them spread their wares around town? Promotions Director Lisa Wood was laid off from KUFO in 2009 before the station flipped, but not before she created the Viva La Luna show to support local bands trying to get play.
"I don't think much has changed for the independent band," she explains. "Every once in a while you get lucky and there's a local music show allowed, but they bury it on a Sunday night when there are fewer people listening and hardly anyone in the higher ranks genuinely cares. They just know it looks good to say they had a local music show."
As far as the multi-record-selling acts, they seem to be doing fine without the radio waves pushing their gigs. The Slayer/Rob Zombie show had a decent turnout, and Rockfest was packed with thousands of maniacs foaming for acts like Korn and Five Finger Death Punch.
So perhaps Portland may live on as a hard-rock and metal town after all, even without the crutch of broadcast radio. "I guess Portland doesn't need rock radio," admits Marconi while speaking at Rockfest. "The big acts have dedicated fans, they'll find a way to hear about the shows."