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New station hopes to outfox country cousins

The new kid on the block is new in name and location only.

Citrus County's new FM radio station, WXOF, 97.1, hit the airwaves Thursday with a group of experienced radio hands at the helm.

The 6,000-watt "Country Fox," based in Hernando, employs many veterans of the music business, some with experience at 100,000-watt stations.

For example, program director Chuck Britton has been an on-air personality in Chicago, as well as being a backup voice on Casey Kasem's old syndicated American Top 40 show (now done by Shadoe Stevens) and the national tour voice for Pink Floyd, Styx and others.

David Arthurs and Hugh E. Tolle, co-owners of Heart of Citrus Broadcasting, the company that owns the station, are also experienced: Arthurs once owned the Citrus County Chronicle, and Tolle has worked in the promotion and financial end at a station in Lakeland.

But they've all come together at a Citrus County country music station, which happens to be located not far from another country station, WTRS-FM, 102.3, and within range of Tampa and Orlando stations all fighting for the same market.

Alan Chatman, the general manager at WXCV-FM (Citrus 95), an adult contemporary station, said the competition won't necessarily affect his station's ratings.

"I think people that listen to country are going to listen to country, and people that listen to adult contemporary are going to listen to contemporary," Chatman said. "Their biggest concern is TRS, because they're going after the same listenership."

WXOF president and general manager Yulee Commander also downplayed any possible competition between her station and the others in the market.

"I think people, in general, they tune in and hang in with the radio station that fulfills their needs," she said. "I think all radio is good radio."

The "Country Fox" also represents a homecoming for Commander, who was born in Homosassa and attended Citrus High School.

Yet her career in radio began in 1967 at, of all places, a Motown station in Jacksonville.

Later, she saw that FM stations were beginning to overwhelm their AM counterparts, and joined a Top 40 FM station. She later became vice president of WIVY-FM in Jacksonville, where she had been immediately before coming to Inverness.

Yet her change in station format does not reflect a change in her personal musical taste.

"I was country before country was cool," Commander said. "I've kept up with the music, and I knew one day I'd be venturing into this."

She said the biggest factor in her decision, besides being able to come home again, was that she could see the station being built from the ground up.

Commander, born Eyuleene Hamm, one of nine children of Allie and the late Carl Hamm of Homosassa, got her radio name partly from the Yulee Sugar Mill in Homosassa.

"The name has gotten me in and gotten me out," Commander said, laughing at the memory of being unable to check out of a hotel once because it had her registered as Commander Yulee. "It's been a conversation piece."

Commander, who helped spearhead the effort to get a half-sized replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial into Jacksonville, said community support will be a focus of her station and lauded her competitors, including WXCV and WTRS-FM, for their community work.

"I think competition is healthy," Commander said. "I'm one who pushes for radio."