Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Radio Waves Podcast #165

Radio March 17, 2017

I wouldn’t put it on the same level as when the fictional WKRP in Cincinnati changed formats from Beautiful Music to top-40, but listeners to many of Saul Levine’s smaller Los Angeles stations must have been caught by surprise last week when most of them made some sort of switch.

First off, Levine’s first musical love -- Classical -- moved down the dial from the digital HD stream of 105.1 HD2 to 88.1 HD2. This puts classical onto Long Beach State’s signal that Levine happens to run from his Mount Wilson Broadcasting Company studios in Westwood.

You need an HD Radio to pick up the digital signal and those mentioned below; HD radios are widely available in many new cars and aftermarket car stereos as well as home tuners and radios. Levine has long been a supporter of the technology.

88.1 HD2 will feature classical music 24/7, while the main signal of 88.1 - KKJZ -- will continue to feature jazz and blues programming. The classical programming on 88.1 HD2 replaces a secondary jazz format the station used to run; 88.1 HD3 will continue as K-Beach, run by students on the campus of CSULB.

Now that classical has moved down the dial, it frees up 105.1 HD2 to become ... OLDIES. Real oldies. As in focussing-on the-1950s-and-1960s oldies, the songs long-ago abandoned by the major broadcast groups. Levine calls it K-Surf, to invoke images of the Southern California beach lifestyle and the songs that were once heard through transistor radios plastered against your ear. As I write this, Bobby Vee’s Devil or Angel faded segued into To Sir With Love by Lulu followed by Pipeline by the Chantays.

It’s only been on a few days -- the debut of the oldies format was last Saturday -- but Levine says the response has been tremendous. So much so that he’s thinking of putting the format full-time on KBOQ (1260 AM) full time; for now KBOQ will continue to play standards during the week, though it added oldies on the weekend ... leading to frantic calls and emails from fans of the standards format.

If all that sounds confusing, here is the program listing:

Classical: KKJZ 88.1 HD2 and online at KMOZART.Com, 24 hours

Standards: KBOQ Monday-Friday only, KKGO 105.1 HD3 and unforgettable1260.Com 24 hours, 7 days a week.

Oldies: KKGO 105.1 HD2 and LAOldies.Com 24/7, KBOQ 5 p.m. Fridays through 9 a.m Mondays.

All of the stations can be found via apps such as TuneIn and StreamS HiFi. It may even be on the iHeart app, but that has gotten so bloated I cannot stand using it any more.

For now the music is commercial and DJ free. I hope Levine adds DJs (and jingles!), especially to K-Surf, even if they are voice-tracked to keep costs down. Radio is a personal thing and DJs bring that connection, at least in my opinion. I’d do a shift for free.

Now, you may be thinking ... didn’t Levine just change 1260 to standards? Why is he thinking of switching to oldies so soon?

Here is where having independent broadcasters is so important. Yes, one could quip that formats change on 1260 more often than some people change underwear. I’ve joked about it myself, though the changes slowed down in the past few years. But that misses the point.
Levine could have sold out years ago and retired very comfortably. KKGO itself is worth a small fortune, KBOQ is worth less but would still fetch a decent amount ... and with the lack of commercials, one can easily assume that KBOQ currently doesn’t make enough to pay the electric bill. But Levine stays in radio because he loves radio, and he is constantly finding formats that are in his opinion missing from the local airwaves.

He did it -- and hit pay-dirt -- with country. He’s continued to support classical and standards. And now he’s playing oldies that absolutely no one else plays. I sincerely hope that the Levine Los Angeles radio dynasty continues for many generations.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Radio Waves Podcast #164

History in the Making

For the first time ever, an internet stream had enough listeners to take the number one ratings spot in a key demographic, listeners aged 18-34.

This happened in Nielsen’s January ratings report for the Tampa, Florida area. “Maxima 92.5” WYUU’s internet stream finished first 18-34, ahead of all broadcast stations in the area, including WYUU’s own on-air signal. Quite a feat for a stream that, for at least the previous year, didn’t register enough listeners to even make the ratings at all.

History in the making, right? Absolutely. But for all the wrong reasons.

Turns out that, according to radio industry consultant Randy Kabrich who studied the issue, the impressive ratings came from two -- count ‘em, two -- people who probably received some sort of streaming device during the holidays and left it on WYUU continuously. The likely Nielsen Portable People Meter (PPM) holders are a Hispanic female aged 18-24 who spent 32 hours per week listening to the stream, along with a Hispanic male aged 25-34 listening 20 hours per week.

Let that sink in for a while as I recall the various problems associated with the PPM system: It doesn’t credit ratings well during spoken word programming (news, talk, DJ banter); it doesn’t work in noisy environments as when you’re in a car with windows down; it doesn’t work with headphones; it over counts background listening as in offices and stores; and there have been problems with data collection.

This latest hitch -- one in which a station stream can be credited as the top station via only two listeners -- proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Nielsen has nothing close to as many PPMs in the field as they need to calculate accurate ratings, especially when the data is further split into various subgroup demographics. Let me be clear -- the Nielsen PPM holders (the two listeners in question) did nothing wrong, and I have no doubt that they listened to the stream in question. But two people can propel the stream to the top of the ratings? In a city of over 2.5 million radio listeners? Really?

If this is not proof that Nielsen’s PPM is so severely flawed as a ratings system that its results can not be taken seriously, I don’t know what is. Radio stations have no alternative but to use it, as it is the only game in town. And some observers fault station owners for not wanting to pay the required fees that would make expanding the number of PPM holders a reality.

In my opinion, PPM is one of those things that looks great on paper, only to be proven unreliable and obviously flawed and invalid. The problem is what to do. Advertisers deserve to have a reliable determination of station ratings; it would seem that the Federal Trade Commission or Congress itself may need to get involved.

New Station in the IE

The longtime simulcast on 93.5 FM of KDAY/Redondo Beach and KDEY/Ontario has ended. KDAY will stay the course -- for now -- of playing classic hip-hop, but KDEY is now Wild 93.5 with an urban hits format designed to compete with KGGI (99.1 FM).

“Compete” may be s strong word, as Wild has a very limited regional signal and KGGI is a powerhouse that covers the entire Inland Empire and comes in strong even where I live in Southern Los Angeles. But if they super-serve the local community as the original license intended, it could work. Local businesses need to advertise too, and a local station is always a welcome addition to the radio landscape.

Now the choice of format? Going against KGGI ... as well as the Los Angeles stations that penetrate the market ... may not be the best move. As one post to the KDAY Facebook page said, “Why make a station with modern hip-pop music when we have Power 106, Real 92.3, and 99.1?? Good luck staying relevant.”

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Radio Waves Podcast #163

Radio: March 3, 2017

Cumulus Media, owner of 447 radio stations nationwide including KABC (790 AM) and KLOS (95.5 FM) locally, was dealt a huge blow last week in its effort to reduce its debt. Reuters reports that a federal judge rejected a plan that would have allowed the company to exchange a portion of its $2.4 billion in debt with ... other debt.

The plan involved exchanging “senior notes,” or loans that are soon due to be paid back, for “a combination of stock and up to $305 million in secured debt borrowed through a $200 million revolving credit line.”

I would love those terms. If I could borrow $305 million from a $200 million line of credit, I could pay off the entire line of credit and still have $105 million. Hmm...

The real question, other than the financial sleight of hand that this entire deal seems to be, is: can Cumulus use a line of credit to help it pay down older debt at a discount? Major debt holder J.P. Morgan said no, and the judge agreed. What happens next could decide the fate of Cumulus Media as a company and the repercussions may be felt throughout the industry, as iHeart, the largest radio company in the world, also carries a huge debt load. 

If Cumulus is unable to refinance by March 13, a previously-reached agreement with the majority of debtholders will expire; if that agreement expires, it could trigger what is described as a “springing maturity” of debt that could easily bankrupt the company.

Here is what I don’t understand. I’ve done a few columns on the idea of someone like me buying Cumulus outright. As I write this, Cumulus stock sits at just under 76 cents per share, giving it a total market value of just over $22 million. My plan would be to buy the company for what is essentially less than the value of KLOS alone, sell off the majority of the stations, and -- even if many of station sales were sold at fire-sale prices -- be left with about $2 billion to run the remaining ten stations I’d keep. Those ten stations would have no debt, meaning I could put the remaining money into talent, programming and promotion. With no debt and a huge cash stash to be used for running the remaining group, my ten station network easily be the most profitable, dynamic stations in the country.

Why isn’t someone actually doing this? Or the related obvious question: why isn’t anyone forcing Cumulus to do this themselves? What am I missing? Shouldn’t a company that owes debt have to start selling stations to pay off said debt? And will someone please explain this to the FCC and Congress, both of which allowed this radio ownership model of “too big to succeed” to happen in the first place? The best way to make radio profitable again it to make it smaller, as consolidation has brought down the entire industry. 

A cap of ten stations total nationwide would go a long way to bringing back radio to the level of success it deserves. If new FCC chairman Ajit Pai really wants to help radio -- as he claims he does -- this should be the first move. 

Woody Mornings

It was KNX (1070 AM) that won the overall morning matings -- meaning all listeners aged 6 and over -- but it was Alt 98.7 FM’s The Woody Show that won the coveted and lucrative demographic of listeners 18-34.
If you haven’t heard the show yet, you should check it out. Yes, parts of it may be considered “light crude,” if there is such a phrase. Such as when they play recordings of someone, um, passing gas with listeners calling in to guess which of the morning crew passed it. But over all it is a remarkably creative, clever, funny and witty show that is well worth listening.

Stiffs and Hits

A funny thing happened as I was listening to recordings of The Real Don Steele on KHJ circa-1967 or so via ReelRadio.Com. Lots of stiffs. Thought not necessarily bad music. Let me explain.

I was told once by Bill Drake, who along with Gene Chanault consulted KHJ in the 1960s and KRTH (101.1 FM) in the 1990s, that KRTH could easily play tapes of KHJ and few would notice ... it was the same music.

Yet as I listened to recordings of Steele, I found just the opposite. Many of the songs were not hits, even when new. KHJ, and most hit stations of the era, tried to break as many new songs and new bands as they could. It was a bragging right as well as a survival technique, as many songs were shorter than three minutes and would quickly burn out if new music didn’t come in soon to replace it.

So unlike today, when a song can stay on station playlists for years, in the 1960s and ‘70s the entire playlist could be totally different in a matter of weeks. Thus, even “hitbounds” didn’t necessarily become hits at all. And old recordings such as on ReelRadio offer music that you truly may have never heard in decades, if you ever heard it at all. I’m not saying this is good or bad,  but it is a difference between radio then and now. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Radio Waves Podcast #162

Radio: Feb 24, 2017
Entercom and The Sound have agreed to a “multi-year” contract extension for legendary mid-day personality “Uncle” Joe Benson, meaning that Benson -- and for that matter The Sound itself -- will hopefully be around for a long time to come.
Benson “is the best known and most loved classic rock DJ in Los Angeles, said Sound programmer Dave Beasing. “He’s literally written the book on classic rock and he’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.”
He really has written the book ... Uncle Joe’s Record Guides are a series of informative books covering everything from The Beatles to The Who, and more. He is also an avid amateur race car driver and as the voice of NASCAR at the Auto Club Speedway in Pomona is an announcer for every motorsports event in Southern California.
With Entercom merging with CBS Radio in the near future and the combined company being one over the local FM station ownership limit, The Sound is potentially vulnerable to be sold off once the merger is complete. I asked Beasing if this agreement means he and The Sound will be hanging around. “Probably a good sign,” he quipped, though in reality I am sure no one really knows yet. Heck, with the new FCC the chances are ownership limits will be repealed.
Regardless, it’s nice to know that a good guy is getting treated well. Since he arrived in town back in 1980, Benson has indeed proven himself an expert on music and really is one of the nicest guys in radio.
Moore March Madness
Kip Moore has been chosen as the guest host of Go Country (KKGO, 105.1 FM) mid-days for the month of March. His on-air gig starts Monday and runs through March 24th.
The MCA Nashville and multi-platinum recording artist will share personal stories and give his perspective on country music as he plays the hits weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Don’t live locally? Go Country has you covered. Just go to or use the Go Country 105 mobile phone app; the station streams its on-air signal live.
Little Bit of Heaven
It was 30 years ago this month -- Valentine’s Day -- when the legendary KMET (now KTWV, 94.7 FM) ceased to exist, becoming at the time the radio equivalent of a lava lamp ... also known as The Wave. And while Valentine’s Day was the day of the change, the air staff had been fired the week prior.
What went wrong? Success. KMET became a force when programmer Sam Bellamy put together a staff of great jocks ... and supported them in their craft. Success led to management feeling they could do it even better, forcing Bellamy out and leading to a revolving door of programmers who didn’t understand the magic of the station. Some DJs will also admit that they missed the boat on some new music just as KROQ (106.7 FM) was gaining traction.
The Mighty Met has been remembered recently in numerous Facebook postings; I still believe the format -- playing current music -- would work today. There are so many good local band not being played on the radio that could drive a resurgence of rock radio ... if only given the chance.
Waggy Nominations
In preparation for the upcoming radio achievement awards, also known as The Waggies, I am accepting nominations for anything in any category ... once all are in, I’ll compile the list based upon my opinion and your input. So far, open nominations include:
• Best AM station: KNX
• Best FM station: KOST
• Best morning show: Kevin and Bean, KROQ
• Best morning show: The Woody Show, Alt 98.7
• Best morning show: McIntyre in the Morning, KABC
• Best afternoon show: The Drive Home, KABC
• Best newscaster: Terri-Rae Elmer
What are your thoughts? Send them in today. Email and traditional US Mail are equally accepted!
CBS Trademarks and Entercom
A side-effect of the merger of CBS’ radio division with Entercom, reported here last week, is licensing, considering that CBS plans to keep it’s television division in-house. Namely: what happens to the CBS Radio name and the stations once owned by CBS that carried the CBS name in some way?
Turns out its already been settled. According to Inside Radio (InsideRadio.Com), the terms of the deal spell out “in explicit detail” what will happen with the “CBS Brands,” meaning everything related to the famous eye to the names of stations and programming suppliers themselves. Anything related to trademarks and CBS-centric broadcasting as a whole.
Considering the detail involved, it would appear that this deal has been in the making longer than one would realize.
Here are the basics: The merged company will be called Entercom. Entercom can continue to use some of the CBS brands for a limited time after the date of the merger. CBS Radio, Inc is good for one year, upon which the division that launched CBS as a broadcast company will cease to exist. CBS Sports Radio can be used for the sports radio network until December 31, 2020.
Stations that use the CBS letters in the callsigns – KCBS-FM here in Los Angeles, KCBS in San Francisco and WCBS and WCBS-FM in New York can keep using the identities for the next 20 years.
Radio stations that share common call letters with CBS television stations in various markets will be allowed to keep the calls “perpetually,” according to Inside Radio and other sources. This would include legendary call letters such as KDKA/Pittsburgh, WBBM/Chicago, KYW/Philadelphia, WWJ/Detroit, WBZ/Boston, WCCO/Minneapolis, and WJZ/Baltimore; these stations harken back to the earliest days of radio broadcasting.
Interestingly, the KCBS-FM calls are considered “storied” by some reports; I would argue that longtime Angelenos would more likely consider KNX and KNX-FM to be the storied calls. No one outside of the CBS executive tower ever gave a hoot about using CBS in the call-signs here. Now KNX? There you have something. KNX, by the way, will be allowed to stay forever since it is not tied with any CBS branding or common television call letters. In fact, if I were involved with Entercom, due to the fact that I live in the past I would change KCBS-FM back to KNX-FM.
Now on to the Eye … there is no way CBS will allow that to stay with stations not owned by the remaining CBS corporation. That iconic graphic is so associated with CBS that it may be among the most recognized logos ever produced. Entercom thus has 12 months from the closing of the merger to totally remove the famous eye “from all goods, services, and materials in the Licensee’s possession or control.”
Truly the end of a broadcasting era.
Tweeden Joins McIntyre
Don Barret reports on LARadio.Com (retired? Sure…) that Leeann Tweeden is joining Doug McIntyre on KABC(790 AM) as news anchor, replacing Terri Rae Elmer who was recently let go. Her local experience includes co-hosting LA Today with Fred Roggin on KLAC (570 AM) and co-anchoring Good Day L.A.; national experience includes co-hosting duties on UFC Tonight and being a part of  FSN’s The Best Damn Sports Show Period. She also does social and political commentating on various television and cable programs.
Accepting Nominations
Awards shows are all over television right now; let’s take some time to recognize radio. I am now accepting nominations for your favorite stations and shows; send a note via email or US Mail and let me know what you consider the best of local radio. I’ll compile and we’ll set up time for a future awards column, The Waggies.
Radio: February 10, 2017
Just when you thought things were looking up -- Cumulus Media stock price sinking like the Titanic, both Cumulus and iHeart laden with so much debt that bankruptcy is all but inevitable, and CBS unable to figure out a way to sell its group of stations -- the bottom fell out.
Instead of getting closer to breaking up radio monopolies and returning radio to smaller owners who want to compete and create, we are getting another mega-group.
CBS announced last week that it will merge its 117 radio station group with Entercom’s 127 in a special tax-free deal, creating another huge group of 244 stations, far less than iHeart’s 850 or Cumulus’ 460 but still another too-large effective monopoly. This can’t be good.
The problem is that as the companies have gotten larger, they have been far less successful financially as the lack of innovation has driven active listeners away in droves. While CBS was once known as a well-run company, that descriptor was lost over the past two years as it, like its competitors did prior, cut costs instead of innovating programming. I can see little positive with combining it with Entercom, at least at the outset.
Radio needs smaller ownership limits and smaller companies, not larger. The current model never brought promised efficiencies, so instead of trying to grow revenue, managers cut costs. Promotions, programming, anything that would attract listeners and make them active, loyal participants in the station’s identity was lost. Today over much of the FM band, stale formatting has led to radio becoming a background entertainment service. Much like the Muzak service once heard in department stores years ago. Ad revenue has declined as much as 40 percent over the past decade.
And AM is even worse, with so little reason to listen, one ownership group is actively investigating the idea shutting the entire band down for good.
The one thing that the deal has going for it is that many consider Entercom a decent company that may -- if it still allows its local managers to actually do their jobs -- continue to be well-run. Entercom will control the operations of the merged company, and the deal doesn’t encumber the company with the huge debt load that is facing iHeart and Cumulus. Perhaps now that CBS station group isn’t trying to look good to a potential buyer, constant cuts as seen at the company over the past two years can cease. I don’t believe it, but it is a possibility.
Local Effect
The merger will put a few markets where the companies overlap in a position of being over the current ownership limits. In Los Angeles, Entercom owns only once station: KSWD The Sound (100.3 FM), but CBS owns KROQ (106.7 FM), KRTH (101.1 FM), KAMP (98.7 FM), KTWV (94.7 FM), KCBS-FM (Jack, 93.1), and KNX (1070 AM) along with television stations KCBS-TV Channel 2 and KCAL-TV Channel 9.
This puts the new Entercom one over the local ownership limit of five total FMs. Which one would go? Tough call, as the company has to consider revenue, costs, signal strength and more. KROQ has the worst signal even if it brings in tons of revenue. One thought has KROQ moving to another frequency.
But your favorite station may be in jeopardy not only due to the required selloff, Entercom may actually be stupid enough to put an all-sports format such as the horrible CBS-Sports once heard on KFWB (980 AM) on a local FM. They’ve done similar moves in other cities.
All sports is bad enough: sports talk in Los Angeles has never even come close to earning what one might consider respectable ratings ... and it is one reason for the mass exodus of AM radio listeners to FM. But CBS Sportsradio is the bottom of the barrel, and the idea of putting it on an L.A. FM is being thrown around by industry observers. Yet even just carrying Rams football lowered ratings on The Sound, so perhaps common sense will prevail.
Even so, up to two of your favorite stations may be in jeopardy as this moves forward. RadioInsight.Com mentioned a possible swap involving The Sound to Cumulus, owner of KLOS (95.5 FM) ... effectively removing KLOS’ main (and usually higher-rated) competitor. Other observers say that The Wave is vulnerable, as it is reportedly the lowest revenue-generating station of  the CBS cluster. In the end, anything can happen as the company balances revenue, costs, and sale profits.
As I said from the start of this column, this merger can’t be good, at least for listeners
I’ll reverse myself if Bonneville takes back ownership of The Sound. One of the best companies in the industry, Bonneville owned The Sound until a swap two years ago put it under the Entercom brand.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Radio Waves Podcast #161

Radio February 3, 2017

In what is the strangest ratings period of the year due to changes in listening habits brought on by the holiday season, KOST (103.5 FM) once again dominated the City of Angels, coming in with a 10.7 share of the audience ... more than twice the 4.7 ratings share earned by KBIG (104.3 FM) and KTWV (94.7 FM) which tied for second. Right behind was KIIS (102.7 FM) with 4.6; rounding out the top-5 was KRTH (101.1 FM) with 4.1.

The holidays have been good to KOST for many years. The station started playing holiday music during the season years ago and is now known as the place to hear holiday tunes. This year country formatted KKGO (105.1 FM) got into the fray and, while not nearly as high as KOST, managed to earn its highest rating in at least six months: 2.8. 

Indeed, Go Country may have hurt KOST’s holiday party just a bit ... last year KOST had a 12.3 rating -- still more than twice the 4.7 KBIG had during the holiday, 2015 ratings period. A 1.6 drop from 2015 is significant.

The season was not as kind to a few local stations. Alt 98.7 (KYSR) was down just slightly more than half a point to 2.8 from a 3.4 share the month before. The Sound (KSWD 100.3 FM) moved below a 2 share to 1.9 from 2.2 (and 2.4 the month prior). KLOS (95.5 FM) even declined slightly to 2.0 from 2.2. 

But while I am sure the staffers are disappointed, there is little reason to worry ... one month does not make a trend, and as I said before, the weeks leading up to Christmas make for ratings anomalies that don’t necessarily carry over to the rest of the year. In the case of The Sound, they are done with the holidays and the Rams, so things should be looking up.

Old news: KFI (640 AM) dominated talk. Seems like I’ve written that for most of the past 30 years. 20 at least. This time KFI was in 10th place overall with a 3.1 share; the next highest AM station was as usual, KNX (1070 AM) in a two-way tie with Power 106 (KPWR) for 15th and a 2.7 share. KFI’s closest competitor? KPCC (89.3 FM) tied for 24th with KBUE and KLYY with a 1.5 rating. Closest commercial competitor? KRLA (870 AM) at 33rd with a 0.8 share, or KABC (790 AM) a couple slots below at 0.6.

And even though they don’t care about ratings directly, being a listener-funded station, it’s still fun to type the legendary call-letters KHJ (930 AM), which earned a 0.2 share ... low, but still on the list.

Each rating is an estimate of the percentage of listeners aged 6 and over tuned to a station between the hours of 6 a.m. and 12 midnight, as determined by Nielsen:

1. KOST (10.7) 2. KBIG, KTWV (4.7) 4. KIIS (4.6) 5. KRTH (4.1) 6. KLVE (3.6) 7. KCBS-FM (Jack), KRCD, KSCA (3.2) 10. KFI (3.1)
11. KAMP, KRRL (2.9) 13. KKGO, KYSR (2.8) 15. KNX, KPWR (2.7) 17. KLAX, KXOS (2.1) 19. KLOS (2.0) 20. KJLH, KSWD (1.9)
22. KROQ, KXOL (1.8) 24. KBUE, KLYY, KPCC (1.5) 27. KDAY (1.4) 28. KCRW (1.3) 29. KUSC (1.2) 30. KSPN, KSSE, KWIZ (1.0)
33. KRLA (0.8) 34. KFSH, KLAC (0.7) 36. KABC, KEIB, KKJZ (0.6) 39. KTNQ, KWKW (0.4) 41. KFWB (0.3) 42. KHJ (0.2) 43. KKLA, KLAA (0.1)

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Radio Waves Podcast #160

Radio: January 27, 2017

Simon Sinek is an author, motivational speaker and a business/marketing consultant. In an interview from an episode of Inside Quest (InsideQuest.Com), Sinek spoke of “Millennials” -- those born roughly after 1984 -- and their attitudes toward life and work.

Part of the interview got into technology, specifically cell phones. The short version (which I think applies to people from other generations just as much as Millennials): some people get addicted to their cell phones and social media. “Engagement in social media and our cell phones releases a chemical called dopamine,” he explained. It feels good when you get a text, when you get a “like” ... and when you get those you get a hit of dopamine ... “the same chemical that makes us feel good when we smoke, when we drink, and when we gamble.”

“It’s highly, highly addictive,” he said.

What does this have to do with radio? In my case it explains why I so much enjoy hearing old radio airchecks, such as found on ReelRadio.Com, and more, as well as my general love of all things radio.

When I was young, my Aunt Ina gave me a 10-transistor Realtone radio. I was hooked. Through the years I collected, repaired -- and listened -- to many different radios. Most of them in the early days AM, through which I listened to the powerhouse top-40 stations and competitors KHJ (930 AM), KRLA (now KDIS, 1110 AM), KCBQ/San Diego (1170 AM), KEZY (now KGBN, 1190 AM) and KFI (640 AM). 

I took an old Citation III tuner out of my brother’s closet and connected it to a guitar amplifier so I could hear KKDJ (now KIIS-FM, 102.7), K-100 (now KSWD, 100.3 FM) and B-100 (KFMB-FM/ San Diego, 100.7 FM). I would listen to the top-10 on KCBQ and post it to the chalkboard in my garage.

Through the years and stations I formed a bond with stations and personalities. I truly think this was my dopamine source growing up. When I first heard the “jock logos” -- jingles that sang the DJ’s name -- when  K-WEST went to top-40 in 1981, I was on a high the entire night while working at the local Sears catalog surplus store in San Pedro.

Radio was my life and it still is, which is why this column exists. I still listen to radio more than any other entertainment source ... I wonder if any stations or personalities today elicit the same response to kids growing up as they did to me? Thoughts?

More Ratings Problems

The Portable People Meter (PPM) from Nielsen sounds like an amazing way to collect ratings data. At least on paper. Have stations send a signal that can be decoded by an electronic box worn by those chosen to help determine the popularity of various radio stations. Automatic listening determination. Much better than the old system of relying on memory ... in which those elected to represent various demographics write down in a diary the stations and times they listened during the week.

Or is it actually better? There are already known problems: problems with decoding the electronic signal during quiet passages or spoken voice (talk) programming, problems decoding in noisy environments such as when a PPM holder is in a car with the windows down, too much credit if the PPM holder is in a business playing a station as background music, and problems with connections to the data collection system that rendered the ratings for December all but useless.

Now another problem is cropping up: headphones. Listen to radio with headphones? Then the PPM box cannot hear the signal at all so no ratings credit is given.

Jacobs Media reported on this recently, noting that the “headphone problem is glaring - yet ignored.” Jacobs claims that 17 percent of their respondents listen to radio using headphones at least half of the time they listen to radio, often while working out or walking, jogging or running. That’s huge.

Jacobs is pushing for a solution to make the PPM better. I wonder if we’d be better off going back to diaries.

Cumulus Bonuses

Three top executives at Cumulus Media (owner of KABC, 790 AM and KLOS, 95.5 FM) received bonuses at the end of 2016, including President/CEO Mary Berner, who took home a whopping $1.087 million extra. What did she and the others do to earn that? You tell me ... as of press time the stock price of Cumulus was at its lowest ever, closing at 97 cents per share on January 20.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Radio Waves Podcast #159

Radio: January 20, 2017

HD Radio has been available to the consumer in the United States since 2002 when it was selected by the FCC as the standard for digital in-band on-channel broadcasts on the AM and FM bands

Unlike some parts of the world which decided to go with an entirely separate digital broadcasting band with the ultimate goal of shutting down traditional AM and FM stations, the FCC in the United States decided to select a system that allowed traditional broadcasts on AM and FM. This under an assumption that someday -- perhaps -- digital broadcasts would take over and analog shut off, though no mandate was given and no timetable ever suggested. 

HD Radio -- the HD is a marketing term and has no meaning -- was developed by iBiquity Digital Corporation. In its current form, a station tuned in on an HD Radio is first heard in analog, and after a few seconds to allow for buffering, switches to digital.

On AM stations, the change in sound quality is dramatic. Hearing AM with no background noise and increased fidelity is somewhat startling the first time you hear it, though between limitations of the system and poor encoding by some stations, digital artifacts can make the signal sound unpleasant to some listeners. When done right as with KNX (1070 AM) the results are stunning.

On FM the change is less dramatic due to FM’s natural high fidelity, but done right the station will sound fuller and with more high frequencies than analog FM. HD FM stations can also receive sub-channels, meaning that a station can broadcast more than one channel of programming on the same frequency much like digital television stations.

For listeners, the main problem with HD has been the availability of radios capable of receiving HD signals. In the early years, Sangean, Sony and a few others had home tuners, there were no portables, and radios for cars were hit and miss.

More recently, automakers have been adding HD radio to their offerings, aftermarket stereos with HD tuners have improved and become more readily available ... but home tuners became almost nonexistent as Sangean, Sony and the others discontinued all of their HD radio offerings. And portables? Few and far between.
Well Sangean is back in the game with three models introduced in the second half of 2016, and all available by late year. And while I have not reviewed or tested -- or even seen in person -- any of these models, the release of the models may mean that HD Radio is on the upswing.

The HDR-16 is a portable radio that can be used as a clock radio as well. It runs on four C-size batteries or an AC adapter. Sound quality is said to be good, and reception for both analog and digital is said to be excellent. Street price: $100.

The HDR-18 is a table radio/clock radio that runs on AC power only. It features dual alarms, a nice acoustically-tuned wood cabinet, and a manual dimmer for the display. Sound quality and reception are said to be excellent; the one drawback this radio seems to have is the lack of any type of backup for the clock or alarm settings. Sangean dropped the ball on that.

The HDT-20 is a component tuner to be added to a home stereo system, the replacement for the long discontinued but excellent HDT-1 series. As with the HDT-1 and 1X, the HDT-20 features an optical output for direct digital connection to a receiver or similar.

My understanding is that the current chipsets for HD radios are even more selective than even the best of the old, so my hunch is that digital reception on any of these tuners is impressive. Sangean tends to make excellent analog tuners as well ... my HDT-1 and 1X can pick up stations clearly that some tuners can barely receive.

My only problem ... I already own more than my share of HD Radios, so I’ll have to leave it to you for any real reviews. If you happen to own one of these radios or the tuner, please drop me a line and tell me what you think.

And together we can pressure KFI (640 AM) and KABC (790 AM) to bring their HD signals back to the AM band. The HD FM simulcast is just not the same magical experience as when they broadcast HD on AM.

Radio: January 13, 2017

The Project Yellow Light website ( explains: “Hunter Garner had a dry wit, a wicked sense of humor and a creative mind. He loved music, running, and had many friends from all walks of life.”

On June 10, 2007, Garner died in a car crash that killed both him and the driver of the car, his good friend. The cause of the accident? Distracted driving, or driving while using a cell phone.

The Project Yellow Light/Hunter Garner Scholarship was founded as a legacy to Garner by his parents. The goal of the organization is to encourage safe driving habits, and one of the ways it does so is an annual competition open to high school juniors and seniors who plan to attend college as well as college and university undergraduates; high school and college level submissions will be judged and winners selected separately. Entries can be done by teams.

This year Project Yellow Light has added a new category - Radio. There will be one first place prize to be awarded in the High School Contest and the College Contest for a total of two prizes. The winning entrants from each level will each receive a $2,000 scholarship and have the opportunity to be considered for use as the basis for a public service message by the Ad Council, which means the winning entry has the potential to be aired on iHeart radio stations across the nation (iHeart is one of the sponsors of Project Yellow Light).

Interested? Here’s how it works: Create a radio recording that lasts exactly 20 seconds to be heard by young drivers who are new to the road. You have full creative license, though the recording must be in good taste. The website has links for inspiration (invalid as of this writing; hopefully fixed soon) as well as tips for effective radio advertising. The clearer the audio the better ... this is intended for broadcast, after all. Professional grade recording equipment and processing is recommended.

You can also submit entries in the video and billboard divisions as well. Winning entries in those divisions will be featured on billboards and television stations nationwide as well. In addition, all first place winners will receive moving expense gifts valid for 12 months courtesy of U-Haul.

Check out the PYL website for more information and official rules. Entries for the radio contest are due on or before April 1st, finalists will be notified in May, and winners will be chosen by June.

Rams Ratings

Was it due to just being a bad team, was it due to my theory of most fans bypassing radio and just watching games on television, or was it both?

Probably both, as it seems ratings for the Rams were dismal on radio as well as being down on television, One source told me that Sunday game-time ratings on The Sound (KSWD, 100.3 FM) were down as much as 25 percent compared with pre-Rams ratings; on television ratings were down to an average of 8.0 from 8.3 in 2015. Yes, that means ratings were lower with a local team. Reportedly ratings were up on KSPN (710 AM), though that’s not hard to do when you start so low.

For at least twenty years I’ve been told that professional sports on radio (and all-sports formats) garner ratings. I’m still waiting for proof.

Levine Debut

Known as Beaver Cleaver during the 1970s on Ten-Q as well as a premiere television writer, producer and director, Ken Levine made his podcast debut on January 6th. Go to and scroll down to Podcast Episode 1: Hollywood & Levine's Maiden Voyage.