Free-form commercial rock radio took a blow in Indianapolis on June 18 when the owners of WKLU filed their intention to sell the station to Russell Oasis, a Miami-based businessman who owns several stations already. Oasis hasn’t disclosed his plans yet, and WKLU Secretary/Treasurer Dan Quinn calls any speculation “garbage,” but a change in format seems imminent after the $6.6 million deal. The handover will occur in the fall, after the FCC grants approval.
WKLU, at 101.9 FM, was started by Bruce Quinn in 1992 with financial backing from the Quinn family as an attempt to return a station to Indianapolis that followed the free-form rules of the ’60s and ’70s. It was an effort that flew in the face of the radio industry’s trend towards consolidation, computerization and standardization, a trend given a huge boost by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which allowed the massive expansion of Clear Channel and other chains. While Oasis owns nowhere near as many stations as Clear Channel, he is likely to bring the same philosophy to WKLU.
Bruce Quinn, who is legally blind, has a voice that sounds uncannily similar to Stephen Root’s radio station purveyor in Oh Brother Where Art Thou? And it has always been his passion to let others hear that voice. WKLU operated virtually as his personal fiefdom until a third stroke in March led his wife, Mitzi, to urge him to step down from day-to-day operation of the station.
The offer from Oasis “came down rather quickly,” Dan Quinn said. The timing was perfect for the Quinn family. “Being in charge of a mom and pop business in the face of corporate competition is challenging,” he said. The Quinns said they had received offers before.
Bruce Quinn has recovered somewhat and is helping Mitzi run WHUM in Columbus, which plays an eclectic blend of Irish folk songs, pioneer songs, early rock songs and big band songs, in what Bruce Quinn calls with understatement an “interesting mix of music.” He will be using money from the sale to help run the non-commercial WHUM. “The community [in Columbus] was just starved for cultural diversity,” Mitzi says.
101.9’s signal is relatively weak, and Oasis would presumably need to improve it if he wants to attract more advertisers. For now at least, Oasis has told the disc jockeys not to worry about keeping their jobs.