Napa's 'Sauvignon rock' a rare vintage
The talented team of KVYN (99.3) includes DJ Bob St. Laurent (left), DJ Mindi Levine and Program Director Larry Sharp.
By Ben Fong-Torres
June 23, 2013
Sometimes, smaller is better. At least Larry Sharp
thinks so. Sharp is the program director and general manager of KVYN (99.3) in Napa. He's also the music director, sales supervisor and a news announcer. That's because he's working at a station in Napa.
In recent years, Sharp has been the program director at KUFX ("K-Fox"), the Entercom-owned classic rocker in San Francisco and San Jose. Before that, he was PD for KSAN ("the Bone"), the Cumulus Media rock station.
Early this year, he landed at "the Vine," which shares space with KVON-AM, a news-talk-sports station that's been around since the mid-1940s. (Ira C. Smith
, in his 37th year covering local sports, maintains an office here.)
The two stations are in a low-slung, Mission-style building in a residential neighborhood in West Napa, a few miles from Main Street. The studios are compact; the ambience, cozy. The front door has a welcome mat, a paper "Open" sign and, on the window, decals for Visa and MasterCard.
"We do take credit cards," Sharp explains, sitting in his sun-drenched office. "Bottle Rock (the music festival) paid by credit card."
Welcome to Napa. Which is exactly how Sharp feels. "I've never been happier," he says. "The corporate climate in large-market radio is dysfunctional. I want no part of it." (KVYN's owner, Wine Country Broadcasting, is based in San Francisco, and its only stations are KVYN and KVON.)
Sharp, 57, has also cut his commute down from an hour or two - to and from San Francisco - to mere minutes. Thirteen years ago, he moved to Napa.
Just before Sharp joined KVYN, I'd been listening to the station. (It streams at 993thevine.com
.) I encountered an unlikely, almost haphazard mix of James Brown
, Katy Perry
, disco, reggae, country, hard rock and oldies. (I also enjoyed morning DJ Bob St. Laurent
's midweek traffic report: "Traffic? There is none.")
Eclectic music fans may have marveled at the scattershot mix. But, Sharp says, most radio listeners like specific kinds of music, not a bit of everything.
Soon after arriving early this year, Sharp trimmed the playlist. "I tried to keep the best elements without being so diverse that no one was happy," he says. "Now, it's today's pop, with a little classic rock and crossover country." The music is still varied, ranging from Tim McGraw
to Bob Marley
and Gloria Gaynor
, along with all the Bruno Mars
and Alicia Keys
you might want.
Sharp's strategy is to program to adult women ("They do most of the shopping") and to Napa's population of 140,000. (KVYN's signal ranges from Calistoga to Vallejo.) While, over in Sonoma County, KRSH ("the Krush") plays alt-country, blues and rootsy rock, Sharp says Napa is different. "It's more working class. It's relatively conservative, musically speaking."
His mainstreaming seems to be working. Although Sharp can't quote Arbitron ratings (KVYN is not a subscriber), he says he has heard that the station has moved from nonexistent to an increasing presence in the Napa County ratings.
Sharp has installed big-market formatics. Except for occasional interviews on "Good Morning, Bob," the DJs don't talk much. They, and recorded liners, spout the station slogan, "Sauvignon Rock," an invention of Sharp's. (He also came up with "the Bone" for KSAN.)
"I was driving around near vineyards," he recalls, "and I saw this sign for a Sauvignon Blanc. Something about 'light, crisp, delicious.' I thought, 'That's what our music is.' " He admits, "I was ridiculed mercilessly at first."
Being at a small station, Sharp has more latitude than most. "I don't feel we have a direct radio competition," he says. Some San Francisco stations are within reach, but, he notes, "If you want to hear what's going on in Napa, how the weather is, or what to do, you'll tune in to these two stations - KVYN and KVON."
KVYN is so local that Bob Sarlatte
, the comedian who, along with Michael O'Brien
, does an oldies show Sunday nights, drives from San Francisco to Napa for his broadcast, rather than recording it or performing live over digital phone lines. "He just likes doing it live," Sharp says.
And while most stations would not program three female DJs in a row, "the Vine" does. "C.J.
" (Carmen Shantz
) is on at 10 a.m., followed at 2 p.m. by Mindi Levine
. Tracy Green
handles the 6-10 p.m. shift. (Overnights are automated.)
Sharp chuckles at the novelty of it. "It was that way when I got here," he says. "I have a great staff. They've held on through tough times. They're good DJs, they're pleasant to listen to, and women enjoy listening to women."
"Absolutely," says Levine, who's been at KVYN for two years. "It's been a great reaction. We see it on Facebook, from phone calls and on the street. But there's been a hearty response from men, too, which is nice. We're hitting everybody, and that's a marketer's dream."
Levine notes that she, Green and Shantz aren't just DJs: "We're all asked for our opinions and input, behind the scenes. We get to be heard." In more ways than one.