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Wednesday, October 17, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Kezx Is Taking It Easy

Attention, beautiful-music mavens: Come out of your elevators. There's a new place to hear syrupy stylings of ``Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,'' ``Bridge Over Troubled Water'' and ``Love Me Tender.''

At midnight Sunday on KEZX-FM (98.9), Jackson Browne stopped singing and ``Little Green Apples'' kicked in. With that unlikely segue, the station - now known as ``EZ 99'' - officially scrapped its progressive-music format.

The new format, built on a heavy dose of orchestral versions of familiar pop songs, has not been easy listening for some loyal KEZX listeners.

``I listened about five minutes,'' said Jim Anderson, a 37-year-old computer programmer at Safeco drawn to the old KEZX for its eclectic offerings from so-called alternative artists such as Suzanne Vega, R.E.M. and John Hiatt, and local acts including The Posies and Michael Tomlinson. ``I thought it was a joke.''

No joke. Anderson called the radio station. He got a busy signal.

One KEZX receptionist counted 49 complaint calls - including one from the Seattle public defender's office - during a 45-minute period Monday.

``The lights on my phone aren't even flashing, they're so backed up,'' another receptionist said Monday morning. ``Half the people have turned on their radios and want to know why they can't find the station.''

The reason: Ratings. The station's owners reckon the reincarnated KEZX will appeal to a broader audience and, hence, to more advertisers.

KEZX does not have the Montovani market to itself, though. KBRD-FM already purveys a similar music mix.

Judging from the quantity of phone calls, the old KEZX had its share of loyal listeners.

But ``they never bothered to write it down'' in the diaries used by Arbitron to measure ratings, said station manager Peg Dempsey. ``They're stunned when I tell them only 1.5 percent of the available listeners tuned to us'' each week. That figure, from the summer Arbitron ratings, compares with a 10.2 for market-leading KIRO-AM.

Dempsey had cauliflower ear Monday, answering about 70 calls from former listeners. Some were members of the Committee to Save Progressive Music, a group that circulated petitions and staged a brief sit-in at the station last week. The group hopes to persuade some other local station to adopt a format like the one KEZX abandoned.

``I feel pretty beat up,'' Dempsey said.

Wright Thomas, president of Park Communications, parent company of KEZX-FM since 1975, and 17 other radio stations around the country, said he fielded ``some calls'' from Seattleites who contacted his office in Ithaca, N.Y., to complain.

The new format has already found a few fans, according to Dempsey. But she doesn't expect any converts from the ranks of old KEZX supporters.

``If you lean back and close your eyes,'' said one listener, the sound of violins swelling in the background, ``you can almost feel the dentist's drill.''

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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