Thursday, June 21, 2018

Radio Waves Podcast #226

Radio: June 22, 2018

Last week I had a chance to sit down and talk with Chuck Martin, the last programmer of KHJ (930 AM) before the popular top-40 station went country in November of 1980. Martin and longtime KHJ engineer/production director Douglas Brown joined me and LA Radio Studio’s Michael Stark for a career-spanning audio interview of Martin that will be available shortly at LARadioWaves.Com.

I’ll have details on the the interview and a story on Martin here when the audio interview is posted, but I will tell you: I am still giddy over the experience. In my humble opinion, Martin is among the best music radio programmers to ever make it in Los Angeles, and I am convinced that his experience, expertise, and tremendous passion could still take a station from “worst” to “first” ... just as he did at KHJ.

Or would have had the suits in charge not blown it by going country. I just wish more people in radio had even half the passion of Martin. Details soon!

NAB Wants More

Radio consolidation has been such a tremendous success that two of the three largest companies are in bankruptcy, the longterm viability of the third is questionable among some observers, and advertising revenue has not even come close to levels the industry saw in the pre-consolidation days.

So what does the National Association of Broadcasters want? More consolidation. And they are lobbying the FCC to allow any one company to own up to eight FM stations in any large market, an unlimited number of AM stations in those markets, and no cap at all in smaller markets.

You hate liver and onions? Here, have more.

Consolidation has brought the industry to its knees. Station groups are so large, that management is incapable of running them. Promised savings never materialized, so programming was cut. Hourly spot loads, or advertising time, increased to make up for declining revenues, causing ad rates to plummet. 

Essentially, radio created its own competition. Without consolidation and the decimation of good programming, services like Spotify, SiriusXM or even iPods would never have become the force they are now. Through bad decisions, radio executives pushed listeners away ... just as AM programmers pushed listeners to FM in the 1980s.

What radio needs to survive is vastly reduced ownership caps, and the FCC would be wise to consider such rather than the tremendously damaging actions being proposed by the NAB. Neing that the FCC has been impotent for decades, though, I am sure the NAB will get whatever it wants.

Bresee Passes

It is said that Frank Bresee’s love of radio came from a school field trip to then-KFAC (now KWKW, 1330 AM) when he was ten years old in 1939. The radio actor, announcer and historian passed away June 5 at the age of 88.

Through the years he played various roles on programs such as Red Ryder and Major Hopalong, hosted his own program presenting old time radio programs on KNX (1070 AM) and other local stations as well as Armed Forces Radio, and worked as an assistant on Bob Hope’s radio show.

Along the way he collected scripts, transcription discs, and more; his collection -- including 3,900 audio tapes -- is stored at the Thousand Oaks Library.

No information was available as to the cause of his death.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Radio Waves Podcast #225

Radio: June 15, 2018

Richard Irwin was a former radio personality and program director at stations including KAFY/Bakersfield and KROY/Sacramento. He is perhaps better known as the man behind the top-40 radio online museum called ReelRadio, aka Uncle Ricky’s Reel Radio Repository, a site that featured hundreds of recordings of radio stations from around the United States and a few from Canada.

Irwin passed away last week after a long battle with health issues that were causing him great pain. He will be missed.

After leaving radio he became a software engineer and webmaster. It was his expertise in both that allowed him to set up a site for one of his hobbies, collecting airchecks of radio stations, and sharing it with the world.

ReelRadio was the site that got me hooked on the internet more than a quarter century ago. I even had to buy a faster dial up modem - remember those? - in order to hear the recordings encoded in RealAudio - remember that?

For a radio junkie like me, ReelRadio was even better than being a kid on a candy store. I could relive my youth and more ... there were recordings of KHJ from the Boss Radio years through the amazing comeback days of programmer Chuck Martin. The Mighty 690. KIIS and KIIS-FM. Chicago’s WCFL and WLS. Everything.

Over the years the site expanded and improved. Unedited airchecks were added, and Irwin even restored some recordings to full length, taking the time and care to match the music to the original recording in speed and sound -- not easy work. He even added the same processor as used on many stations of the era to add to its authenticity.

The site itself had its ups and downs, relying at various times on donors and subscribers, eventually becoming a nonprofit organization. Irwin and the ReelRadio Board of Directors made sure music licensing fees were paid, even though realistically they probably wouldn’t be needed.

A few years ago Irwin thought he’s run afoul of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and he thought the site would have to drastically change; I am happy that I was part of the resolution to the dispute through personal contact with Jonathan Lamy of the RIAA. It was the least I could do for Irwin, considering how much entertainment value he provided me over the years.

More recently Irwin’s health declined and he was in intense pain most of the time. He never had a chance to update the site the way he had hoped -- including re-encoding the audio files into something more modern. So he placed it in limp-mode, and was searching for someone “qualified” to take it over. I  -- and I am sure others -- offered to help do so, but I soon realized that he was not ready to give it up ... yet ... it was his baby, after all and I understood his reluctance.

When he entered the hospital for surgery that promised to alleviate his pain, he shut the site down temporarily until he recovered. unfortunately, he never had the chance: tests got delayed and he passed away before the surgery could be scheduled.

Irwin’s passion in preserving access to radio’s history cannot be denied. His site was extraordinary well-done and was unmatched anywhere else on the internet ... or anywhere else off the net for that matter. Nowhere else could you find the depth and breadth of the collection he put together. His presence will most definitely be missed.

I personally hope the remaining members of the ReelRadio Board or Irwin’s family will let his legacy live on, either through reopening the present site or finding someone who can take over operations and update it and run it in the way Irwin intended. I would be interested in being a part of it, if I can help in any way.

In the meantime, I am going to take some time to reflect on the wonderful person who was Richard “Uncle Ricky” Irwin. The man who gave me and uncounted others world-wide over a quarter century of camaraderie and friendship thorough what I consider the best website ever conceived. Rest in peace and without pain, Uncle Ricky, you will be missed.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Radio Waves Podcast #224

Radio: June 8, 2018

Big news for former KRTH (101.1 FM) afternoon drive personality Shotgun Tom Kelly: not only has he been selected to lead the Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters as the organization’s president effective September, 2018, he’s also landed at SiriusXM and will be hosting afternoon drive on channel 6 -- Sixties on Six.

Kelly will begin his new show in “about a week,” he says.

Kelly is the perfect person to lead the PPB. With an extensive radio and television background in both San Diego and Los Angeles -- I grew up listening to him on the legendary KCBQ/San Diego -- as well as an amazing head full of broadcast trivia and information, he fully represents the goals and ideals of the PPB. I look forward to his presidency.

Ratings troubles

As previously reported, ratings company Nielsen removed four households from the Los Angeles ratings pool and is retroactively recalculating the ratings for the region going all the way back to October, 2017.

The company still refuses to state exactly what was found to be wrong, but issued a statement stating that the homes “did not meet our data quality and integrity standards.”
My hunch would be that at least one person in each household either did something to help raise ratings of their favorite station -- on their own or influenced by someone or something -- such as to play a radio on a particular station as the Portable People Meter “listened” in order to help calculate ratings, or someone in each household was directly or indirectly connected with a station.

That is just a guess of course ... I honestly have no clue. But the change did affect the ratings of some stations in the first month of revisions released in late May. In the revised March ratings, ver half of the top-20 stations in town gained a tenth of a point, while KLAX (97.9 FM) lost a full point, causing it to drop from its original 9th place finish to 15th.

The revised 2.4 share is consistent with the 2.5 share the station earned in April, a month when the suspect households are assumed to have already been replaced.

KLAX owner Spanish Broadcasting System was quick to respond to the revised ratings. “SBS, and other Spanish-language broadcasters, vehemently object and protest such unilateral, and seemingly, discriminatory actions taken by Nielsen,” said SBS General Council Richard Lara, “which unfairly and disproportionally exclude Hispanic-listener households from the ratings methodology. The restated ratings and rankings reports are, in SBS’s view unreliable.”

It would be helpful if Nielsen explained exactly why the households did not meet its quality and integrity standards. But more important than that should be the frightening fact that four households in a city as large as Los Angeles can cause a 29 percent change in ratings for one station.

In other words, regardless of what happened, SBS is right, though not in the way it is trying to argue. Essentially, Nielsen’s system is flawed so badly that the ratings indeed are unreliable. Not just in the restated numbers, but in all numbers. Four households should not make a 29 percent difference in a city with over 11 million listeners aged 6 and over.

Something is just not right.

In History

57 Years ago last week, the first approved FM (multiplex) stereo broadcasts commenced. At midnight Eastern time on May 31/June 1, 1961, WGFM/Schenectady began broadcasting in stereo. At midnight Central time it was WEFM/Chicago. And in Los Angeles at Midnight Pacific time it was KMLA (now KKLQ, 100.3 FM). Those three are “officially” the first stations in the United States to broadcast in stereo after the FCC set June 1st as the day when multiplex broadcasts were authorized. 

But there may be one more. According to a story in industry newspaper Radio World, KCFM/St. Louis broadcast in stereo at the same moment as WEFM, using a stereo generator designed and built personally by station Chief Engineer Ed Bench.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Radio Waves Podcast #223

Radio: June 1, 2018

As I was driving today, unable to hear parts of songs or worse, large portions of stand-up comedy from John Mulaney as I tooled around town listening to SiriusXM Satellite Radio, I figured I better do a followup to the reception-problem column I wrote a few months ago.

Here’s what has transpired since that previous column: absolutely nothing. Unfortunately I put the issue on the back burner for a few reasons ... primarily that reception in my area seemed to improve for a time ... but now it seems it is as bad as ever. Perhaps worse. Time to follow up.

Here are the zones in which I personally experience consistent reception troubles with both the original XM satellites and repeaters, as well as the newer SiriusXM system:

• The 29000 block of South Western Avenue in San Pedro/RPV
• Westmont Drive in San Pedro
• The 405 Freeway South of the 605
• The 405 near LAX

Readers of this column have offered other areas of problem as well:

• Artesia Blvd and Aviation, Redondo Beach
• Artesia and Inglewood, Redondo Beach
• 110 Harbor Freeway near the LA Convention Center
• Gaffey Street between the 110 offramp and 1st Street, San Pedro
• The 405 between Manhattan Beach and Wilshire Blvd.
• Santa Monica Blvd. West of the 405 traveling to and from Beverly Hills
• The 55 Freeway between Dyer and Edinger
• The Ventura freeway between Reseda and Balboa Blvd
• Harbor Blvd. in Fullerton
• The 91 Freeway in Fullerton
• Magnolia and Garfield in Huntington Beach
• The 210 Freeway near Azusa Avenue
• The open plains of both Texas and Oklahoma

There are more, but you get the idea. One reader wrote that there are too many to list and that the problem makes the service unusable.

Interestingly, I never had the reception problems I have now when I was using a radio that picked up the old, original Sirius system. That may be a clue. Astute readers also noticed that in areas of bad reception, they notice cell towers. Certified Communications Engineer Bob Burchett of Enterprise Electronics brought up the cell-tower connection as well, pointing out that this has actually been an issue for a number of years.

“I recall the fight Sirius and XM had with the FCC over use of frequencies in the service for terrestrial coverage to augment the satellite service,” Burchett explained. “They wanted more; the FCC wanted them to use less of it and reduce power. That was some years ago.”

So while I will be forwarding this column to Sirius/XM engineers for comment, I believe the issue is this:

The original XM and newer SiriusXM systems use satellites, of course, but rely (more than perhaps they should) on terrestrial repeaters to help provide consistent reception both in cars and indoors. The problem is that some cell towers operate on the same frequency, and  a phenomenon called “intermodulation” creates a third signal out of the two already there that wreaks havoc on the radio service.

My hunch: The original Sirius system relied more on direct satellite reception, and was less prone to interference of this type.

Basically, the signal is there ... the radios just cant see it. SiriusXM, AT&T and T-Mobile are all supposedly working to fix the issue. But as cell towers proliferate, satellite radio reception deteriorates. And all of the companies want the others to pay for the fix.

As I said, I am contacting SiriusXM engineers for their take on the issue; if/when I hear something I will let you know.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Radio Waves Podcast #222

Radio: May 25, 2018

The Los Angeles radio scene lost two good friends recently.

Bill Watson, who helped make RKO top-40 radio stations into regional format leaders as national program director under consultants Bill Drake and Gene Chenault, died May 15th at the age of 88. 

Watson was Drake’s right-hand man and worked with RKO’s KHJ (930 AM) here in Los Angeles in the mid to late 1960s, along with KFRC/San Francisco, WRKO/Boston, WOR/New York, and some stations outside of the RKO chain that Drake and Chenault consulted such as KGB/San Diego, KYNO/Fresno and CKLW/Windsor, Ontario that sent its massive signal into the Detroit area.

At KHJ he was technically above local program director Ron Jacobs, though Jacobs was given the power to do what he wanted. Interestingly, it was Jacobs who gave Watson his first local job out in the Inland Empire when he hired Watson as afternoon drive DJ and programmer of KMEN (now KKDD, 1290 AM) in the early 1960s. Under Watson, KMEN jumped from worst to first, earning ratings as high as 70 ... meaning 70 percent of listeners were tuned to KMEN.

After Jacobs resigned from his position at KHJ in 1969, the station went through a few programmers before Drake brought in Watson to program KHJ directly. I am told -- though I have not confirmed -- that under Watson, KHJ earned its highest rating ever. 

Eventually, Drake, Chenault and Watson left KHJ to take over programming of K-100 (KIQQ, now KKLQ, 100.3 FM), later moving on to the original KMPC (now KSPN, 710 AM) where he programmed from 1975-78 and again from 1982-87 when he retired from broadcasting.

Mark Morris, one of the nicest guys in radio, passed away May 2nd. He was 54.

Morris was both in front of and behind the microphone of numerous local stations including Loyola Marymount’s KXLU (88.9 FM), KNAC (now KBUE, 105.5 FM), the original KMPC and KRLA (1110 AM), among others. Most recently he could be heard hosting a show on Hot92.3TheBeat.Com

Always with a smile on his face and a humorous story or jke at the ready, Morris rarely missed a chance to get together with friends and colleagues at the radio reunions held periodically at Fuddruckers in Burbank. Unfortunately, his health had been declining the last few years and he died of a ruptured fistula.

Mo’ Nominations

Morris O’Kelly, known to his fans as Mo’Kelly, has been nominated for six Southern California Journalism awards, including Radio Journalist of the Year.

O’Kelly’s show can be heard on KFI (640 AM) Saturdays and Sundays from 6 to 8 p.m. The awards, which are presented by the Los Angeles Press Club, will be announced at a banquet on June 24th.

Others nominated for Radio Journalist of the Year are freelance Deepa Fernandes and KCRW’s (89.3 FM) Susan Valot.

Bad Ratings

Nielsen announced last week that it has removed four homes from the ratings panel for Los Angeles, and will be releasing revised ratings for the metro area going back to October, 2017.

The four households were removed for “non-compliant behavior, which is a generic term for “they did something we don’t like.”

Being that a household can have more than one meter, a device that “listens” to audio to determine what station is being heard, and the effect multiplies. One observer said that a top station with a share of 5.0 (five percent of the listening audience) may have only 12-14 meters detecting it ... so four households with as many as 20 meters or so could have a huge effect. We will find out as the revised ratings are released over the next few weeks.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Radio Waves Podcast #221

Radio: May 18, 2018

When I was young, my father used to ask questions about Sam Hill. “Who the Sam Hill is that?” Or “What the Sam Hill is going on?” My brothers and sisters always wondered who Sam Hill was ... asking Who the Sam Hill is Sam Hill?

I thought I found the answer one time while visiting downtown Prescott, Arizona, when I saw a store called Sam Hill’s. But I think the definitive answer comes from the All Access Music Group, AllAccess.Com, a website dedicated to the music and radio industry.

“Sam Hill Ends Midday Duties at KALC (Alice 105.9)/Denver” reads the headline posted last week. The story reads: “ENTERCOM Hot AC KALC (ALICE 105.9)/DENVER, CO MD/midday host SAM HILL is coming off the air to focus on programming Classic Hits sister KQMT. She'll continue handling music duties for ALICE.

“That leaves an opening for middays on ALICE.” Interested persons are asked to click a link “if you'd like to fill it.”

The mystery is solved.

New Knee

Saul Levine, the amazing independent radio station operator who owns KKGO (105.1 FM) and KSUR (1260 AM) is recovering from knee replacement surgery. I send wishes for a full and fast recovery.

Rumors are running wild that some tweaks will be made to the formats on the secondary HD channels available through KKGO as well as KKJZ (88.1 FM), which Levine operates under contract from the CSULB Foundation. No details yet but I am told that the tweaks should be well-received.

Bonus!

As two of the three largest radio ownership groups, iHeart and Cumulus, make their way through bankruptcy and continue cutting costs, positions and their future viability, the top executives of both companies continue to receive huge amounts of money in regular salary compensation and bonuses.

Bonuses? Yes, bonuses. They can’t run a company to save their lives, but the top executives of both companies received huge bonuses as the companies they run go down the proverbial toilet.

iHeart’s compensation board authorized billions in bonuses for CEO Bob Pittman, COO Richard Bressler, and General Counsel Robert Walls for each quarter of 2018; the CEO of Cumulus, Mary Berner, netted $3.8 million in bonuses last year. All of this made me realize that they really do have the wrong people running those companies ... I could run each company into the ground much cheaper.

Bustany Passes

The last living co-creator of American Top-40, Don Bustany, passed away in late April at the age of 90. 

Bustany, along with Tom Rounds, Casey Kasem, and Ron Jacobs, launched American Top-40 on July 4, 1970. Originally airing on just a handful of stations, AT40’s affiliate list eventually grew to hundreds of stations nationwide and around the world. Kasem hosted until 1988 when Shadoe Stevens took over; Stevens hosted until the program was cancelled by its distributor in 1995.

Kasem re-launched the countdown show in 1998; Ryan Seacrest has been hosting the program since 2004.

You can hear recordings of the ‘70s version of AT40 on SiriusXM Satellite Radio Saturdays at 9 a.m., Sundays at 6 a.m. and Sundays at 9 p.m. on Channel 7.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Radio Waves Podcast #220

Radio: May 11, 2018

Dave Beasing isn’t your normal radio guy. He spent ten years designing and programming The Sound (now KQLZ, 100.3 FM) and developing it into a ratings leader. Previous experience had him working with radio stations nationwide as a consultant with Jacobs Media, and he programmed KYSR (and its predecessor KXEZ) before the current alternative format.

He’s always been an innovator, looking for ways to push the medium forward while recognizing its history. At The Sound he knew the importance of social media and websites as extensions of stations, and he made TheSoundLA.com into one of the most visited station websites in town. The Sound was more than a station, he explained to me long ago, it was a full brand of entertainment designed especially for Los Angeles.

So with a long history of success with radio programming, consulting and innovating, what’s he doing now?

Podcasts.

Podcasts? Yes, podcasts. The anti-radio.
 
Borrowing on his experience putting content on his own station website as well as on Facebook and more, Beasing has produced all types of podcasts. More recently he moved into a new field: branded podcasting, designed to be a part of a brand’s marketing. Think infomercial, but better - designed to be interesting enough to compel people to download and subscribe.

He recently had one of his podcasts -- nameless, due to the wishes of the company behind it -- debut toward the top of the podcast chart with thousands of subscribers. But Beasing is very happy with the success. Marketing, after all, is in his blood and is one of the reasons The Sound was such a success. Beasing knew that the most successful stations throughout history were not only well-programmed, they were well marketed.


Withdrawal

I am having withdrawal symptoms ... dry mouth, can’t sleep ... due to the sudden shutdown of ReelRadio.Com, the virtual museum of classic top-40 radio stations. Here you once found recordings of stations dating back to the 1920s.

The founder of the site, Richard Irwin shut-down the site, hopefully temporarily, due to health issues. Posted on his Twitter page and reposted on the Fans of ReelRadio Facebook page, Irwin wrote, “REELRADIO will be taking a break until my body is healed. My hands may be broken but my heart is thankful for all the support over 22 years. Thank You!”

Best wishes for a speedy recovery.

Big Birthday

I missed this one - KNX (1070 AM) just celebrated 50 years as an all news station, having launched the format way back on April 15, 1968.

But that’s not all. May 4th marked the 96th birthday of KNX itself, or at least since the station adopted the KNX call letters.

The station had its genesis as Fred Christian’s amateur station 6ADZ, which went on the air on September 20, 1920 at 1500 AM. It moved to 833 AM and shared time as KCG with other stations by government decree that made all local stations use the same frequency and broadcast different hors of the day.

Power increased to 50 watts on May 4, 1922 when it became KNX, a far cry from the 50,000 watts it broadcasts with today from a transmitter site off of 190th Street in Torrance. It became a CBS-owned station in 1938 and stayed with CBS until it was sold to Entercom last year.