Just a few weeks back, amid the piles of superlatives and celebratory blurbs in our Best of Charleston issue, City Paper missed a great opportunity to highlight one of the few bright spots on the radio dial.
It's been nearly two years since local company Apex Broadcasting switched the long-running 96 Wave (96.1 FM) rock format to an "Adult Hits" format under the name Chuck FM. According to the company's advertising, it was to be the station that "plays everything" — meaning one Top 40 hit from the last few decades after another, minus any DJ chatter.
We got some big news last fall when Apex announced that Chuck FM was "moving across the dial" to a new frequency, 101.7 FM. This move would be a step up, giving Chuck an improved coverage area and a stronger 100,000 watt signal.
Apex Broadcasting currently operates three FM stations and one AM station in the Charleston market. Their newest FM frequency, 95.9 FM, is scheduled to be on the air soon, likely with a non-music speciality format of some sort. The best news comes from the AM side of things, though, with the funky new sounds of Classic Soul 1390 WXTC.
In recent years, Apex's WXTC bounced quietly along as a gospel-formatted station under the moniker of Heaven 1390, the same frequency held for years by WCSC, one of Charleston's earliest radio companies, which dated back to the 1930s.
Operating with the power of 5,000 watts non-directional by day and 5,000 watts directional by night, Apex's new station isn't nearly as electronically mighty as Chuck. Musically, however, the soul/funk/vintage R&B playlist of WXTC grooves and sways with ease, unlike the zig-zagging, chaotic, and almost lifeless songlist at Chuck.
There are no DJs on the air at any time on Classic Soul 1390 — only pre-programmed announcements and promos. Fortunately, the station manages to emit some funky personality and character from hour to hour. Chuck's roller coaster style of hits usually jerks back and forth, from hits by glam metal bands and '80s synth-pop acts to lame '90s diva pop and '70s hairspray vocalists. Classic Soul 1390 stays on track with a more defined and consistent theme within the overall "soul" style.
I first heard of Classic Soul 1390 last month when City Paper Managing Editor Chris Haire dropped by the music desk to boast about his favorite new soul station. Soul station? I initially assumed he must be confusing traditional gospel music with the more secular vibes and grooves of genuine soul music — the cool collision of early-era R&B, gospel, rock 'n' roll, and '60s blues.
It would be great, I thought, if a local station suddenly started digging deep into the vaults for deep soul cuts — the pop sounds of Motown, the super-bad music that spawned true funk and early disco, the soul hits just outside of what most mainstream "oldies" stations endlessly regurgitate.
Luckily, he had not mistakenly tagged the sound — Classic Soul 1390 was on. So far, between the commercials, station promos, and occasional "classic soul comedy" moments of Richard Pryor, the station sounds strong and confident. The sets meander only slightly, touching on the exquisite "traditional" soul hits of Smokey Robinson, Otis Redding, Ray Charles, the Supremes, Al Green, Percy Sledge, and early James Brown, and veering surprisingly deep into the more rhythmically aggressive and lyrically progressive late-'60s and '70s funk of Sly and the Family Stone, Parliament, the Chi-Lites, and late-era James Brown and Marvin Gaye.
This music writer and listener can dig it. Now if they could only hire a killer DJ to actually announce the tunes.
Check out www.apexbroadcasting.com for more.