Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Radio Waves Podcast #44

There have been rumors of a change to KFWB (980 AM) for a long time.
Owner CBS has an all-sports syndicated format with no LA home -- though you can hear it on an HD digital radio if you 93.1 HD2 -- and the almost un-rated KFWB was one of a handful of stations rumored to pick up the format if CBS management ever was stupid enough, er, wanted to put it on station more people could hear.
If you haven’t heard CBS Sports Radio on the HD signal, I can give you a one word summary: awful. The hosts are bad, the production values are bad, and the star of the format -- Jim Rome -- has been irrelevant for years. His show is so burnt that the flame can do no more.
So perhaps it makes sense for CBS to kill off what was left of the once-proud KFWB once and for all. According to reliable sources, the current format will be gone by early September and replaced by CBS Sports Radio.
Few people will mourn the loss of KFWB circa the last few years. The once proud station that was known for top-40 in the 1960s as “Color Radio,” then as all-news beginning in 1968 has been on life support since dropping all-news in 2009 to become news/talk ... news in drive time but mostly uninspired talk shows the balance of the day and leased access on weekends.
Until the news/talk format made its debut five years ago, it was often ahead of sister KNX (1070 AM) in the news format ratings. Ratings tanked after the change, culminating with the most recent rating of 0.2 to 0.3, meaning that only about 0.3 percent of the radio audience in Los Angeles tunes to KFWB on average. So, no, few people will care.
But is sports the way to go? Hardly. There are already three all-sports formats that are hardly lighting the ratings world on fire in Los Angeles: KLAC (570 AM), KSPN (710 AM), and KLAA (830 AM); four if you count XEPRS (1090 AM) out of Mexico which comes in almost as strong as a local. The combined ratings for the current four? 2.4. Can Los Angeles support a fifth all-sports format, especially one as bad as CBS Sports Radio? And more importantly, will anyone care?
Ownership Problem
And yet a bigger question looms large: Why is CBS being allowed to change the format anyway, instead of having to sell it outright? The station is run by a trust because CBS bought KCAL-TV Channel 9 twelve years ago, putting the company over the ownership limit of eight radio and television stations, with a maximum of two televisions within that eight.
In Los Angeles, CBS owns television channels 2 and 9 along with radio stations KNX, KFWB, KCBS-FM (93.1), KTWV (94.7 FM), KAMP (97.1 FM), KRTH (101.1 FM), and KROQ (106.7 FM) ... for a total of nine. With the weakest signal, KFWB is the logical one to sell, which is why CBS -- years later -- finally placed it in a trust. But for twelve years they have held onto a station that should have been sold exactly twelve years ago. I also know that there have been offers, but CBS turned them down. What is going on here? Why isn’t the FCC doing its job? What politics is CBS playing to illegally remain over the limit?
More on both issues in a future column, along with what might happen to some of the better current shows.
KHJ Finding Religion
Liberman Broadcasting has reached an agreement to sell KHJ (930 AM) to Immaculate Heart Catholic Radio for about $10 million. Immaculate Heart will begin broadcasting religious programming in October.
I was concerned that the we might lose the legendary call letters again, but it seems my fears are unfounded. According to Immaculate Heart listener relations representative Laura Bissonnette, the founder of the network grew up listening to 93/KHJ and even promised to eventually sing the historic jingle on the air. “The call letters will remain,” she said. That’s good news.
I wonder if they would lease time during some overnight hour so I could recreate top-40 KHJ some time ...

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Radio Waves Podcast #43

In what at first glance appears to be a David vs. Goliath story, the Recording Industry Association of America launched an assault against websites that stream music, including those that are not music sites at all. 
ReelRadio.Com, a site in existence since 1996 -- and as a lover of radio’s rich history, THE reason I wanted a faster modem in those early days of the commercial internet -- received an ominous-sounding letter June 7. In it the RIAA stated that:
• The service fails to comply with certain requirements
• In order to continue operating under its statutory license, the site must remedy the violations.
Now keep in mind that ReelRadio is most certainly not a music service. No one in their right mind would use the site as a way to download music ... most of the recordings are made on old cassettes or reels taping an hour or so of old AM top-40 stations ... low-fidelity with DJs talking over the start and the end of a song.
ReelRadio is a living library. A place for radio geeks like me to hear historical recordings on demand. There is absolutely no way for sites such as this to follow what the RIAA requires and be beneficial in any way to the public. In essence, following the requirements means that the site is unusable for the vast majority of people. 
What rules? Such as the requirement for “archived recordings” to be over five hours in length and available for no more than two weeks. Or having a service that displays text information on the song title, album and artist for each song played, as it plays. ReelRadio files are generally less than an hour, and they chose RealAudio as the file system because of its ease of use in the early days and the difficulty in copying files.
And yes, ReelRadio has been paying the required fees for streaming music for as long as I can remember.
Obviously the RIAA doesn’t get it ... that ReelRadio and similar sites are not music sites at all. Ironically, I’ve probably spent quite a bit on music heard on these recordings ... songs I hadn’t heard on today’s radio in years. To require that the recordings be available as the RIAA desires would be the equivalent of going to an art museum and not being able to see most of the paintings ... just a few that the curator is able to show, for a limited time only.
Clearly, the action of the RIAA, as spelled out in that letter, denies the public a chance to hear an audio art form, and denies the chance to hear and important part of broadcast history.
Or maybe not. I contacted Jonathan Lamy, RIAA executive VP in charge of communications to essentially tear his head off for this action. In my mind I was ready to write a column blasting the RIAA and imploring everyone to stop buying any music. To his credit, Lamy responded -- calmly -- that the intent of the RIAA is not exactly as was imagined.
“We’re trying to offer consumers a guide to licensed services,” Lamy told me. “We want to list all services that have licenses. That’s good for everyone right? It shows they are legit.”
Lamy says that the original letter was not a legal threat. “We’re trying to offer consumers a guide to licensed services. We want to list all services that have licenses.” That listing references a website at “We aren’t trying to stop Reel from offering unscoped airchecks,” he insists. He sent me a copy of a followup email as proof.
I’m not sure I believe him yet, but I’m willing -- for now -- to give the benefit of the doubt. I’ve read the original letter, though, and it does sound like a real threat. Whether the RIAA intended to scare or not, was not listed on that letter, so I understand the fear on the part of ReelRadio to continue as usual ... even though I can state unequivocally  that members of Reelradio like me would detest the way the site would have to work to gain compliance.
If I take Lamy at his word, though, it would appear that things can and should be worked out. I am hoping that cool heads prevail, that common sense and reasoning come through, and sites like ReelRadio will be able to continue to exist as they were.
It’s a win-win for all ... the sites, the public, and the RIAA and associated artists who gain from exposure to music that may not have been heard on the radio -- if at all -- in decades.
And if an agreement can’t be reached? I’ll certainly have a scathing followup ...

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Radio Waves Podcast #42

For the first time since November, 2009 -- and I believe for only the second time ever -- KRTH (101.1 FM) is the king of Los Angeles radio, knocking KIIS-FM (102.7) out of the top spot with a huge jump of 1.3 since March and 1.7 since January. For the period ending in June, KRTH earned a 5.5 share of the Nielsen ratings compared with KIIS-FM’s 5.2.
This comes on the heals of a transition started by the oldies station (can I say “oldies?”) years ago to add what many longtime listeners consider the radio equivalent of blasphemy ... now playing songs as recent as the 1980s or early 1990s. Yet those who protest the move miss a simple point ... those ARE oldies. 
A song from 1984 is now 20 years old ... older than the ‘50s music that KRTH played as oldies but goodies when it signed on in 1972. KHJ (930 AM), former sister station  to KRTH, considered oldies -- “gold,” as they called it -- anything from about five years ago or older. Playing a song from 1955 today would be the equivalent of playing a tune from 1913 back in 1972!
KBIG, KPWR and KOST rounded out the top five with ratings shares of 4.9, 4.8 and 4.1, respectively ... about the same as the last few months.
KSWD The Sound (100.3 FM) continued its growth spurt that began in February and now has the highest ratings it has seen in years under this or previous formats: tied (with KROQ) for 10th place with a 2.9 share, just slightly below Jack-FM’s (KCBS-FM, 93.1) 3.0. This puts The Sound and Jack at a solid lead over KLOS, 21st with a 2.1 share.
Talk radio isn’t totally dead, but it is getting there. KFI (640 AM), which was only recently battling for the top spot and certainly a perennial top-five station, seems to have settled into a consistent, comfortable spot just outside the top-10 ... #12 to be exact, with a 2.8 share. My hunch, is that listeners are getting tired of the same old thing, and the extra long shifts for the hosts don’t seem to be helping ... Owner Clear Channel may have finally cheapened KFI enough to make it vulnerable.
Not that the listeners are going to the other talkers. Every other talk station remained about the same as it was last month ... or last year, with the exception of KEIB (1150 AM) which is up to 0.8 from 0.4 in January. That beats KABC (790 AM), which has been at 0.5 for the last six months outside of a 0.6 share in March. Most of the ratings for KEIB come from Rush Limbaugh’s 9 to noon shift, even though it seems he’s always on vacation.
And finally ... classical KMZT (1260 AM) showed up in the ratings this month!
The full story ... Each rating is an estimate of the percentage of listeners, aged six and over, tuned to a station between the hours of 6 a.m. and 12 midnight as determined by Nielsen:
1. KRTH (5.5); 2. KIIS-FM (5.2) 3. KBIG (4.9); 4. KPWR (4.8); 5. KOST (4.1); 6. KAMP (4.0); 7. KLVE (3.6); 8. KSCA (3.1); 9. KCBS-FM (3.0); 10. KROQ, KSWD (2.9)
12. KFI (2.8); 13. KHHT (2.7); 14. KTWV (2.5); 15. KKGO, KLAX, KNX, KRCD (2.4); 19. KYSR, KBUE (2.2)
21. KLOS (2.1); 22. KXOS (2.0); 23. KLYY, KPCC, KXOL (1.9); 26. KUSC (1.6); 27. KDAY (1.5); 28. KDLD (1.2); 29. KCRW, KSPN (1.1)
31. KHJ, KSSE (1.0); 33. KJLH, KLAC, KWIZ (0.9); 36. KEIB, KFSH, KKJZ (0.8); 39. KABC, KRLA (0.5) 41. KLAA (0.4); 42. KFWB, KPFK, KTNQ (0.2); 45. KMZT (0.1)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Radio Waves Podcast #41

I have heard the future of AM radio. In a 2006 Lincoln Navigator. Well, not exactly. But what could have been the future of AM radio, anyway.
The story starts with a bad fuel pump in my ’99 Silverado. I knew it would take a while for me to have time to get the part and install it, so I borrowed a Lincoln Navigator from my brother. As I always do, I started playing with the radio ... or in this case the AM/FM/6 CD changer that must have been the top-line stereo of the day.
Tuning through FM was impressive enough. The car has a nice subwoofer hidden somewhere in the cabin that brings nice depth to the sound (my own personal opinion is that all car systems should have subwoofers, by the way. And most home systems as well). But when I tuned to AM I did a doubletake ... KNX (1070 AM) sounded fabulous ... very clean and clear. 
I have an HD radio in my Silverado, so I am used to KNX sounding great. But I knew this wasn’t an HD radio. Something was up. It turns out that, while this is not (that I can tell) an analog AM stereo receiver, it IS a variable bandwidth tuner. In other words, with good reception, the radio opens up and brings in the high end of the sound spectrum. If reception is spotty, or if there is interference, the radio automatically decreases the bandwidth, lowering fidelity but reducing noise.
With KNX being an HD station and limiting their analog bandwidth (digital HD streams don’t work well if a station has really good analog fidelity) I did quickly realize that not only was this not quite “high” fidelity, but that I was also picking up some of the sideband interference that comes from the HD radio stream. But the fidelity was still impressive; I have not confirmed but I believe that KNX uses a version of HD radio that allows better than typical analog sound.
Tuning to KMZT (1260 AM) brought out the real potential of this system. Even with spotty reception, the classical music that came out of my speakers was truly breathtaking. Station owner Saul Levine told me a while back that K-Mozart broadcasts a high fidelity signal, and I believe him. There were clean highs and nice lows ... the way I know AM radio can sound on a good receiver.
So I got to thinking (and agreeing with others who have proposed this solution): While I am not anti-HD, the problems with digital HD radio in the current analog-digital hybrid system doesn’t always work, especially with lower powered or very directional AM signals. And it wreaks havoc with many stations at night. These problems may be mitigated if AM transitioned into an all-digital system, but that is unlikely to happen soon, if ever.
Why can’t manufacturers make an AM radio that receives high-fidelity analog broadcasts, as can this Lincoln radio, along with HD signals where they are available? It would give the best of both worlds, and is probably the easiest way to “save” the AM band, at least technically. All that would be left to do is find decent programmers to actually program compelling content. I personally have that covered already, though the band may need some other great programmers besides me ...
Short Takes
Reader Joe Paire wanted me to mention that Bryan Suits’ “Dark Secret Place” is back on the air on KABC (790 AM) at 9 p.m. Saturday nights ...
An audio memorial and celebration of Liz Fulton’s life and career will be taped July 12 for future airing on K-Beach (88.1 HD3) and on the internet at Best known as Rick Dees’ newscaster and station news director during Dees’ early days on KIIS-FM (102.7), Fulton passed away June 7 at the age of 61. The date and time of the memorial broadcast is to be determined ...
To those who miss Kristen Cruz since she left (read: was forced out of so that owner Clear Channel could save a few bucks on) the KOST (103.5 FM) “Mark and Kristen” morning show, head over to her blog at

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Radio Waves Podcast: Special Edition - Legendary KRLA DJ Dave Hull and The Beatles

Radio writer Richard Wagoner joins Mike Stark in an interview with legendary LA radio DJ - Dave Hull - "the hullabalooer".  Dave talks about the times he spent with the Beatles leading up to their first Hollywood Bowl performance in 1964.  Included are rare interviews Dave did with the band and music from the Bowl performance

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Radio Waves Podcast #40

New programmers at KRTH and KTWV
I don’t have much information on new KRTH (101.1 FM) programmer Chris Ebbott, but almost everything I have heard sounds positive, save for the fact that he helped launch Jack-FM (KCBS-FM, 93.1) ... can you tell I am still not a fan of the station with no soul?
Ebbott has experience in adult hits, classic hits, and traditional top-40, which is a good match for KRTH -- an oldies station with a top-40 approach. KRTH itself is in good shape already, with some of the highest ratings in years. It will be interesting to see what Ebboott does with the last remnant of Boss Radio in Los Angeles.
Taking a much harder job is Ralph Stewart, just-named programmer of The Wave (KTWV, 94.7 FM). The Wave is so bad off that my suggestion would be to just jettison the entire format, move Jack-FM to the frequency and launch a hot adult contemporary format on 93.1, called 93/KHJ.
Why so harsh? The Wave launched in 1987 as a “new age” station (aka “lava lamp” radio), morphed into smooth jazz, and then into the mess it is today ... smooth jazz, smooth rhythm and blues, or smooth doo-doo ... take your pick. The name has no meaning any more, having been so damaged over the years as programmers tried to salvage what was left of a once decently popular station. Stewart has his work cut out for him, and he’ll have to do it all while maintaining his current job as operations manager at sister Jack-FM.
Talking to Animals
This is a program you have to hear to really understand, but SiriusXM’s (subscription required) Animal Intuition is one of the more entertaining shows on the satellite service’s talk channels.
Hosted by Sonya Fitzpatrick, the program involves listeners calling in to find out about their pets. Through their pets. You see, Fitzpatrick can talk to animals.
Or so she says she can. And who am I to doubt her?
According to a program description, Fitzpatrick “helps pet lovers connect with their pets -- both living and passed on -- and teach you how to see things from a pet’s point of view.”
A typical call involves the listener giving Fitzpatrick the name of their pet, followed by the host asking questions or making statements often from the viewpoint of the (alleged, just to keep it legal) pet. Not probing questions, in the traditional sense, and according to stories written by people who have had one-on-one sessions with her, not “fishing” questions that can then be mixed up and parroted back either.
A recent show got into specific items such as “who is the woman who took care of (the cat) while you were gone recently? And “who is the man with the golf clubs?”
Fitzpatrick calls herself an “animal communicator,” and claims that she realized from an early age that she had a special connection with animals .... that she found it easier to communicate with animals than humans.
Now don’t get me wrong ... I’m not saying that I necessarily believe she is a “pet psychic.” But I’m not saying she’s not either. Regardless, her show is extremely entertaining, and she is pretty darn convincing. In fact, if I had the time to sit on hold, I’d call in to see what she could tell me about my own pets, past and present.
Hear her program live Sundays from 2-4 pm (with a repeat airing 6-8 pm) locally on SiriusXM “Stars” Channel 106.
Album Sides
In case you read this in time ... The Sound (KSWD, 100.3 FM) is playing the top-25 favorite album sides as chosen by listeners beginning July 4th at 8 am. Programmer Dave Beasing claims that he is indeed counting the votes to determine the list. Album sides only, by the way ... not full albums.
Not to be outdone, KRTH presents the Firecracker 400, the top-400 songs of all time as (also supposedly) determined by listeners beginning at 10 am July 3rd and continuing all weekend long.