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Local Beat

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RIP: The Pig.

Flinn Broadcasting's Radio Pig at 107.5 FM became Q107.5 "The #1 Hit Music Station" on March 8th, switching its call letters from WMPS to the Flinn-owned WHBQ, home of Dewey Phillips' groundbreaking Red, Hot & Blue once upon a time.

The new station has ditched the The Pig's Americana/Triple A format for a Top 40/Contemporary Hits Radio format, and one that seems to present a fuller version of the actual charts than its closest local cousin, WMC FM-100, mixing the expected rock and pop hits with hip-hop and R&B acts such as Outkast, Nelly, and Usher. (If anybody hears current Top 40 residents J-Kwon and Brad Paisley on the station, please let Local Beat know.)

One could argue that the genre mix of the new format is theoretically more progressive than the largely white-folks-with-acoustic-guitars world of Americana. But the angry Pig fans who have been bombarding Local Beat with e-mails since the format change seem to disagree, with most dismissing the new station with some variation on the theme of "the worst music played on about four other bad stations." The Pig clearly built a strong rapport with its listeners. It made room for local music and felt more spontaneously programmed than most commercial stations (a feeling helped along by a personable on-air staff that often seemed interested in the music they were playing).

At the least, Q107.5 staffers don't seem eager to defend the format change. Questions about the switch to promotions director Thad Caperton were referred to program director Steve Richards, who referred them to general manager Donald Biggs, who hadn't returned calls as of press time. One former Pig on-air personality reported a chaotic scene in the weeks leading up the change, with on-air staff (at least those who remained following a staff shake-up in January) informed that the format would change to all-'80s, which seemed to be the case initially. But the '80s format that emerged late last month evolved into a bizarre, eclectic mix that incorporated jazz and polka and classical music, with station promos boasting "the best of the '30s and '40s," among other things. It seemed to be a stunt devised to clear the listening palate for a new format, which finally happened last Monday morning.

Given the history of Flinn Broadcasting and the propensity of owner and erstwhile mayoral candidate George Flinn to make changes among his slate of local stations, perhaps Pig fans shouldn't be so shocked by the move. But that must seem like a cold comfort.

It's shaping up to be a big year for Big Star. The famously influential Memphis band is currently back at Ardent Studio this week recording its first album in 30 years (original members Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens bolstered by Posies Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow). Next month, the band (with original bassist Andy Hummel and later singer-songwriter Chris Bell's brother David Bell joining for the ceremony) will be honored by the local chapter of The Recording Academy for its 2004 Heroes Awards, a new event that is replacing the organization's annual Premier Player Awards this year. (Though the Premier Players will likely return next year.)

Other recipients of the Heroes Award will include former Elvis sidemen Scotty Moore, Bill Black, and D.J. Fontana, Louisiana-born bluesman Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, and Sun session leader Ike Turner.

According to Jon Hornyak, executive director of the Memphis chapter of the Recording Academy, "The 50th anniversary of rock-and-roll made Scotty, Bill, and D.J. obvious choices, which led to Ike Turner, because if it wasn't for what he did with Sam Phillips a few years earlier who knows [how things might have developed]. The board suggested Gatemouth because we're a regional chapter that also includes St. Louis and New Orleans. And Big Star was suggested as a way to honor someone a little more contemporary."

The Memphis Heroes Awards are set for Tuesday, April 13th, at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts. Each honored artist is expected to give a 20-minute performance. The event's after-party will occur at the Gibson Lounge with entertainment from Free Sol and Voodoo Village. Tickets are currently on sale through Ticketmaster.

But before that, Big Star will be honored with a panel at this week's South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas. Stephens and former Memphian and Ardent engineer Terry Manning will speak on the panel dedicated to Big Star's #1 Record. It will be one of many Memphis connections at SXSW this week: Local label MADJACK will have a showcase with performances from Cory Branan, The Tennessee Boltsmokers, Rob Jungklas, and Eric Lewis & Andy Ratliff. The Reigning Sound and The Lost Sounds will play a showcase for California's In the Red label. Lucero will play the showcase event for their current label, New York indie Tiger Style.

Other Memphis bands at SXSW include Viva L'American Death Ray Music and Stout, along with several Memphis-connected acts, including The Cool Jerks, The Preacher's Kids, Mr. Airplane Man, Garrison Starr, and Sharde Thomas & the Rising Starr Fife & Drum Band, who will provide the prelude music for Thursday's keynote conversation with Little Richard.

E-mail: localbeat@memphisflyer.com

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