It's the end of 101.9 The End as we know it
Radio » Gone are personalities such as Chunga; station now broadcasts automated playlists.
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The End has a new beginning. The 101.9 FM Salt Lake City station KENZ that helped found the format known as "album adult alternative" in 1996 dispensed with on-air personalities early this week.

Using a format some industry analysts call "robo-radio" or "jockless," the station now broadcasts automated playlists of hits from the past 15 years spanning pop music genres including rap, alternative rock and heavy metal.

The positions of several on-air staffers, including long-time morning personality Jimmy Chunga and Grant Ruby, were eliminated.

Eric Hauenstein, market manager for station owner Citadel Broadcasting, wouldn't comment on the station's personnel changes. He acknowledged, however, that ratings measured by radio audience research company Arbitron had not been "as strong as they once were" over past months.

The station overhaul, Hauenstein said, was a chance to be the first Salt Lake City station to adopt the format in a competitive market. "Presently, the station doesn't have any personalities on it," Hauenstein said. "In time, we'll re-evaluate that."

One industry insider, and a former employee at the station, said the move signaled a change in the way Arbitron measured listeners.

In the past, the number of listeners was gauged by a diary system in which people wrote down which stations they listened to. Three years ago the audience research company rolled out a new measurement system. Using a "people meter" pager, it registered and recorded stations people listened to throughout the day, whether driving, working or doing chores.

The new pager system, which hit Salt Lake City last October, benefited stations with mass appeal and those that people listen to at work in group settings.

" The End wasn't either of those," said Mike Peer, known as Parker when he was the program director at the station. "It played cool music for cool people with an individual appeal to people in the age group of 25 to 49."

Peer, who left the station in December, has launched an Internet radio station for children, www.munchkinradio.com. "It surprised me that they [The End] took this direction in format change, but the change itself didn't surprise me," Peer said. "They're playing a ratings game, and a revenue game."

Some industry analysts have speculated that both satellite and Internet radio are shaving off listeners who used to tune into locally unique radio stations, or what's now termed as "terrestrial" radio stations.

Peer disagrees, saying that most satellite subscriptions are given out free with new car purchases and have a renewal rate of only about 13 percent.

Hauenstein said there was no parallel between the format change at The End and competition from satellite radio. "Terrestrial radio still attracts 90 percent-plus of listeners in this community and most other communities," he said.

Neither Chunga nor Ruby returned calls for comment. Ruby, however, has sent Twitter messages regarding his departure.

"Radio doesn't have to die, but it's sure doing a hell of a job killing itself," Ruby tweeted on April 21.

bfulton@sltrib.com