Alternative music station hijacked in ownership change

  • 2001-11-22
  • Elina Cerpa
RIGA - When Radio KNZ came on air in November 2000 it was one of the Baltic states' few alternative radio stations, serving up an eclectic blend of international and local rock, punk, funk and metal to listeners in the Latvian capital of Riga.

The student station offered an alternative to the bombardment of commercial sounds normally found on Latvian radio - until this fall.

After a majority stake in the station changed hands in September those early hopes of breaking the mold seem doomed.

Offered the chance by new owners Controlata to relocate from the dingy student hostel where KNZ was born, disk-jockeys eagerly hauled turntables, amplifiers and their treasured disks across town in late October.

But they turned up for work the following day to find they had been replaced by Whitney Houston-playing charlatans.

The station is now churning out "dreary, over-played hip-hop," complained DJs in a letter to students after learning their services were superfluous to requirements.

Nora Rieksta, one of the station's sacked producers and a student at Latvia University, told The Baltic Times, "It was then that we understood KNZ was dead."

Gunta Lidaka, former owner of a 78 percent stake in the station, defended her decision to sell to Controlata, which owns two radio stations in the eastern Latvian city of Daugavpils and several Russian-language newspapers. "Changing KNZ into a main stream commercial station was necessary - it wasn't profitable," she said.

But this does not satisfy the station's minority shareholders - the student board of the University of Latvia, which holds a 10 percent stake, Madars Stramdieris (6 percent) and Sigita Snikere (6 percent).

KNZ, it is true, was not particularly popular, judging from surveys conducted this summer by marketing and sociological research company BMF Gallup Media. KNZ was winning only 3 percent of listeners in Riga, or 19,000 people, while Radio SWH had 20 percent (131,000 people) and Radio B and B 31 percent (204,000 people).

But the tiny station's listeners were nothing if not devoted.

"I miss it very much," said dejected furniture store owner Atis Zilberts, 30. "Now I don't know what to listen to in the mornings. It's true that KNZ lacked professionalism, but they played great music."

Now the once cutting edge station is spinning run-of-the-mill tunes in the hope of charging ahead in the ratings.

Ojars Rubenis, chairman of the National Radio and Television Council, said he regretted KNZ's takeover but had warned its founders it might not prove economically viable.

"There is a great need for this kind of station," he said. "It's a way for students to communicate with society - a healthy product that they create."

Rubenis added, however, that the director of Latvian Radio, Dzintris Kolats, has high hopes for a new student radio project currently brewing under Latvian Radio's roof.

The Baltic Times will be keeping its ears open.