Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Radio Waves Podcast #57

November 17th is the expected launch date of the all-new, all-Catholic 93/KHJ (I sincerely hope they don’t do the lame “AM-930” type of name made popular by such stations as KFI ... AM 640).
There is somewhat of a cosmic force at work here. For those who are as insane as I am about radio (and KHJ in particular), you may remember that it was on a cold, dark night almost to the day 34 years ago -- 9 PM on November 7, 1980 -- when the suits at RKO forced KHJ to make the ill-fated switch from top-40 to country. The world of radio was never right again.

Too melodramatic?

Anyway, Immaculate Heart Radio expects to have full control of the station and change over to their syndicated religious programming sometime on  November 17th. They are planning a big launch event, which you can read about as it develops at http://ihradio.com/khj-invite.

I suppose this means I need to start lobbying hard to try to convince them to allow me to run a weekly upbeat, positive-message pop music program to keep the real spirit of Boss Radio KHJ alive. I’m not thinking actual religious music, but pop music with upbeat, positive lyrics very similar to what KHJ tended to play during its top-40 days ... an era when one station could actually appeal to the whole family.

Wouldn’t it be cool to have the old KHJ back (with some current music), if only for a few hours a week? I’m sure the chance of doing so is nil, but still ... It could even attract listeners to the regular format. I do understand that Immaculate Heart Radio founder Doug Sherman grew up listening to KHJ. Perhaps at least he could run the old jingles.

What Went Wrong

So what went wrong in the dark days of 1980? What made KHJ change to country in the first place, only to stumble for a few years before being sold off twice and changing to Spanish music sometime around 1988?

Most observers blame FM. With better fidelity, there is some truth to it. But far more important was the revolving door of programmers, and inept upper management in the ranks of owner RKO General who essentially destroyed any real chance KHJ had to compete. As my friend Michael Stark says, bad management is not a new thing ... it goes back decades.

What did they do? First off, constantly changing focus. KHJ had one programmer -- ONE -- from the top-40 launch in 1965 to when Ron Jacobs left in 1970. Jacobs had a laser focus on everything, supported by consultants Bill Drake and Gene Chanault, who were forced out soon after Jacobs left. After that, a new programmer seemed to arrive every year or so, often tweaking the format in negative ways, but many just living off of KHJ’s past. Just as FM competition was heating up, KHJ added to their commercial load each hour. Music narrowed. Disco arrived. Talent was under-appreciated, causing some of the station’s best talent to jump ship.

When great programmers did stay around a while, the RKO suits often interfered, such as the rumored forcing of Chuck Martin -- KHJ’s last top-40 programmer and the man who brought it back from the dead -- to remove “ethnic” music from the playlist. Some felt it was a way to save face when the ratings were good and the suits had already made the decision to go country. In the end, listeners didn’t leave for FM, they were pushed.

This is all ancient history, of course, and it ultimately wouldn’t matter. In 1987, RKO was found by the FCC to be unfit to hold a broadcast license due to fraudulent billing practices and related company actions dating back years, and they were forced to divest all stations, including KHJ.
Hard to believe it was that long ago. I really do need to spend some time in the present ...

Christmas Music Pool

Anyone want to guess the correct date and time of the switch to Christmas music by KOST (103.5 FM)? Second contest: will any other local stations make the switch this year? For KOST, it’s always been a ratings booster. For others, not so much. But the temptation is always there.

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