Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Radio Waves Podcast #56

I’ve been getting a lot of letters and emails lately regarding KRTH (101.1 FM) and their continued addition of even newer songs at the expense of even more (what some would call) oldies, especially those from the 1960s and ‘70s. KRTH abandoned music from the 1950s long ago.
As someone who spends far too much time living in the past -- one of my favorite things to do is to listen to top-40 radio station airchecks from the 1970s -- I feel your pain. To oldies purists, even the 1970s are too new; now that KRTH has added music as new as the 1990s ... well, the word blasphemy must come to the minds of some former listeners.
But some perspective is in order. When KRTH went on the air in 1972, the station played a mix from roughly 1955 through the British invasion years of the 1960s. That means the oldest song it played was 17 years old. This is now 2014. Seventeen years ago was 1997. 
The problem is that KRTH needs to move forward to avoid becoming irrelevant. Certainly there is a place for music of any era, be it the 1920s, 1940s, or the music KRTH used to play from the 1950s and ‘60s. Music I like too, mind you, even if I am too young to have experienced it when it was new.
But music from 1955 is almost 60 years old. Can you imagine KRTH playing music from 1913 when it launched?
Interestingly, KRTH is now playing much the same music it played during the era I liked. Before they went “all oldies” in 1986 or so, the format under programmer Bob Hamilton was a hybrid of current top-40, a little album rock, and oldies spanning back as far as the 1960s. It was in my opinion the best format KRTH ever ran; I liked the variety because I tend to get a bit tired of one genre. It was the station that played anything from Cream’s “White Room” to Bruce Springsteen’s “Pink Cadillac.” 
For a time, they even had a great morning team in John London and Ron Engelman. Weekends were made more special with themes: Souvenir of the Seventies was my favorite, but there were others, such as the Runner Up of Rock and Roll.
I personally wish they could still do such a format. There is a lot of good music available today that doesn’t get played on the radio, and much of it would fit such a hybrid format. But that’s not KRTH of today, as much as I would personally enjoy it.
Getting back to the point, stations that stagnate don’t do well: playing the same music they played in 1972 would most certainly lead to an untimely death for the station. And the recent changes have led to some of the highest ratings the station has ever seen, so it does appear to be paying off. And if you have a digital HD Radio or don;t mind listening online, KRTH HD2 does still play music from the 1960s. 
This does open up opportunities to other stations willing to take a chance. Stations that are underachievers or total ratings failures in their current incarnations: KDIS (1110 AM), KFWB (980 AM), KRLA (830 AM), KEIB (1150 AM) and KABC (790 AM) come to mind, though there are others. Maybe a current-leaning station that plays gold -- like the station I would program if ever given a chance -- might rejuvenate the Southern California radio marketplace.
Before I leave KRTH, I want to mention that Maggie McKay has been added to the weekend/fill-in roster. McKay comes most recently from KFWB, but you may remember her from the original KRLA (now KDIS) and KLSX (now KAMP, 97.1 FM), along with KCBS-FM (93.1 FM) before they became the jockless, soul-less Jack FM.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Radio Waves Podcast #55

One of the funniest people I ever met is Bern Bennett, who was a staff for roughly 60 years at CBS, beginning in 1944. He started in New York with CBS Radio, then known as the Columbia Broadcasting System, announcing the top-of the hour IDs for the radio network and traveling to all parts of New York to do the program announcing for the various big bands that performed live for some of the network shows.
As television grew in popularity, Bennett started announcing on TV too, and eventually became as well known as some of the program hosts, similar to the status of NBC staff announcer Don Pardo, who passed away this past Summer. Fans of the original Beat the Clock may recall Bennett being a big part of the show along with host Bud Collyer, and to this day I still don’t know if the overemphasized inflection -- or was it his voice breaking? -- was started on purpose or not as he announced Collyer’s name at the start of the show.
Bennett followed CBS television to Hollywood in 1960 and was heard for years on such programs as CBS’s coverage of the Tournament of Roses Parade, soap operas The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful; he stayed with those soaps even after retiring officially from CBS.
I originally met Bennett through former original KRLA (now KDIS, 1110 AM) music coordinator David Schwartz, who now can be found at cable television’s Game Show Network. I don’t remember the circumstances, but I believe Schwartz, Bennett, my Dad and I were off to a book signing related to game shows, one of Schwartz’ fields of expertise.
Regardless of the circumstances, Bennett immediately went into joke-telling mode; turns out that between announcing duties, there was lots of time for jokes. He had an amazing wit, a sharp mind, a great memory, and an amazing ability to tell stories. Most of the jokes I cannot repeat, due to my own poor memory and the fact that almost all of them were dirty.
He told stories about his career, the big bands, the difficulty of managing traffic in New York to make it between the venues for the live programs, the move to television, the people he worked with, and how much he enjoyed working with CBS. I found out that more recently he lived literally right down the street from me: walking distance from my house.
In his spare time, he worked with the LA County Sheriff's Department station in Lomita, acting as one of the citizen patrol volunteers. He was generous, and he loved people.
When I last spoke with him, Bennett told me about some heath issues he was having. My memory was that in his 80s, he was beginning to have occasional seizures perhaps related to epilepsy. I told him I’d help him any time. And then, suddenly, he was gone. Poof. No word.
I went to his condo ... new renters with no knowledge. Lomita Sheriff’s hadn’t heard from him either. Now and then there were clues, such as a brother that made contact with Schwartz, but otherwise, nothing. Even internet searches turned up nothing ... good or bad. I figured he moved somewhere to be with his brother, the only family I had ever heard about; Bennett himself never spoke of family, though I knew he was divorced.
So it is with sadness that I report that Bennett passed away on May 29th, 2014 at the age of 92. His death went unreported except for a short mention in actor union SAG-AFTRA’s magazine, which said he died in the morning, somewhere in San Pedro. Which means I was still close to him even though, unfortunately, I was no longer close to him. Perhaps he was in a care home.
He would have turned 93 last Sunday, October 19th. And I knew him well enough to know that he would not want anyone to be sad. So whether you were a fan or not, this might be a good time to go tell someone a joke and make them feel better. If you can make it dirty, so much the better; Bern would have wanted it that way.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Radio Waves Podcast #54

KIIS-FM is back atop the Los Angeles ratings pile, according to Nielsen (formerly Arbitron) which released the monthly ratings for September. The hit music station came in at 5.2, just 0.2 above second place (and sister station) KBIG. KPWR was right behind in 3rd place with a 4.7 share of the audience.
Ratings are released monthly, though unless something amazing happens I tend to report them quarterly -- Arbitron used to release them quarterly until the company changed the way it collects ratings information a few years ago -- since I think most people would get tired of every 4th column or so being just about ratings (let me know if I am wrong).
But I find it interesting that KIIS-FM’s 5.2 matches what it had in June, the month KRTH beat it with a 5.5, one of the highest ratings KRTH has earned. This time KRTH found itself in 4th place at a 4.5 -- a full point down from June and 0.4 from August ... making you wonder why there is so much volatility in ratings.
Talker KFI was back solidly in the top-10, though not in the top-three as was the norm a few years back. This time it 8th with a 3.3 share, compared with competitors KABC and KEIB (tied for 36th at 0.6) and KRLA (tied for 37th at 0.5). Turns out KFI’s real competitor may not be any of the other commercial talk stations these days; the closest talker is actually noncommercial KPCC, which was just one point below (2.3 share) and in 20th place.
The sports stations are just killin’ it. Or not: KLAC earned a 0.9 share, KSPN: 0.8, KLAA: 0.5, and KFWB, with their first month of sports, though only a short time with the full new format: 0.1, the lowest-rated station on the Nielsen list. Next month KFWB will either show some growth ... or find itself off the ratings list for the first time ever. Should be fun. 
The Sound KSWD tied Jack KCBS-FM, both earning a 3.0 share at 9th place. KLOS was 21st with a 2.2 tie with The Wave KTWV.
KNX was flat from August but up 0.3 from June, coming in tied for 13th with Hot KHHT and KROQ at 2.7.
Each rating (share) is an estimate of the percentage of listeners aged 6 and over tuned to a station between the hours of 6 am and 12 midnight, as determined by Nielsen Ratings. Here’s the full list:
1. KIIS-FM (5.2) 2. KBIG (5.0) 3. KPWR (4.7) 4. KRTH (4.5) 5. KLVE (4.3) 6. KOST (4.1) 7. KAMP (4.0) 8. KFI (3.3) 9. KCBS-FM, KSWD (3.0)
11. KLAX (2.9) 12. KSCA (2.8) 13. KHHT, KNX, KROQ (2.7) 16. KBUE, KRCD (2.6) 18. KKGO, KLYY (2.4) 20. KPCC (2.3)
21. KLOS, KTWV (2.2) 23. KYSR (2.0) 24. KUSC (1.9) 25. KXOL (1.6) 26. KDAY (1.4) 27. KCRW (1.3) 28. KFSH (1.2) 29. KHJ, KKJZ, KLAC, KSSE (0.9)
33. KJLH, KSPN, KWIZ (0.8) 36. KABC, KEIB (0.6) 38. KLAA, KRLA (0.5) 40. KTNQ (0.3) 41. KPFK (0.2) 42. KFWB (0.1).

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Radio Waves Podcast #53

Picking on KFI
I detest music beds. On any station. You know what I mean ... when a station thinks it needs to add “excitement” to its programming and management thinks the best way to do it is to add some annoying music loop to play while the DJ is talking. What it does instead is act like fingernails on a chalkboard. Note to programmers: Your listeners hate this.
KFI (640 AM) has taken it to new heights. Whenever their traffic reports come on, music -- so bad it sounds like a reject from a European “house” concert  begins. On a regular radio where AM fidelity and perhaps some welcome static covers it, you may not notice it as much. But on HD Radio or on-line, it is repulsive. No matter what, it is also a tune-out. I can no longer listen to traffic reports on KFI  they are so annoying, I have to tune to a competitor. These new traffic reports are actually worse than Kars for Kids ads and “You’re killing me Larry.”
Note to KFI: Just drop the music on both traffic and weather. It is NOT helping. Unless you are trying to send listeners to KNX (1070 AM) or KABC (790 AM). KABC has a bed too, which they should drop as well, but at least it is not nearly as grating.
What’s in a Name?
Sure you’ve heard the ads for financial planning guru and syndicated KFI show host Rick Eddleman. And the tag line ... “visit us at RickEddleman.Com. That’s RiceStellman.Com
Well, actually, no. ... If it were RiceStellman.Com, it wouldn’t be RickEddleman.Com. So using the word “that’s” is fully inappropriate.
But here’s the rub: NONE of the above websites are correct. Yet you’d never know it since Eddleman never spells his name on the air. 
His name is actually Ric Edelman. And it seems he does understand the spelling confusion, as you actually can type “RickEdleman.Com” (not two “d” letters as I have above) and most browsers will redirect to RicEdelman.Com. But RickEddleman.Com does not work, nor does RiceStellman.Com, as the website is actually RiceDelman.Com. And I still don’t understand that connection.
Quick Takes
Go Country 105 (KKGO, 105.1 FM) will have a new morning show. Beginning Monday, Graham Bunn and Deborah Mark will wake you up. Current host Larry Morgan moves to evenings to co-host with Ginny Harman, and Klaudia Aresti -- former Morgan morning partner -- leaves the station.
I forgot to tell you the results of the Tom Leykis program auction. The winner, wanting to remain secret for now, will have the show originate for one day from his house, and comes from Powell Butte, Oregon. Winning bid: $4200. 
SPERDVAC -- the Society to Preserve and Encourage Radio Drama, Variety and Comedy will play host to special guest Stanley Dyrector at its meeting Saturday October 11 from 12-2 at the West Valley Library, 19036 Vanowen Street, in Reseda. Dyrector started his career as a radio actor and writer, writing many of the episodes of the Sears Radio Theater. Hear the meeting on YesterdayUSA.Com Friday, October 17 at 10:30 pm.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Radio Waves Podcast #52

This is the story of the big bad RIAA trying to blow the house of ReelRadio down. Or not. Depending on who you talk to and who you believe.
It all started in July, when the Recording Industry Association of America -- the RIAA -- sent a letter to my absolute favorite website -- ReelRadio.Com -- stating that ReelRadio was “out of compliance” with the statutory license they are operating under that allows ReelRadio to stream old recordings of radio stations, also known as airchecks, unscoped ... meaning including music as it was played on the radio.
ReelRadio is an online historical museum with thousands of recordings from radio stations across the country dating back as early as the 1920s. Many are “scoped,” meaning with the music removed. Many others are unscoped, and that is what the RIAA was writing about.
The original letter sounded ominous. “As part of a routine review of services utilizing the statutory license,” it reads, “we discovered that your service fails to comply with the following requirements”
Those requirements, according to the letter, include making sure that any recordings were more than five hours long and available for no more than two weeks. In addition, the online streaming player must identify the song title, artist and album the song came from as it is played.
Obviously these rules are intended for music services that stream music for the music itself. ReelRadio, on the other hand, streams music as part of a historical recording. Most recordings are recorded from mono AM radios, interference and all, and the streaming is done with ReelPlayer, basically incapable of doing the song identifications without someone entering the data song by song, stream by stream It would take continuous work for years to go through the thousands of recordings ReelRadio has in its archives.
The RIAA letter continues: “In order to continue operating under the statutory license, you must remedy these violations,” and adds a line about, “seeking any other remedies in law or equity.”
So I wrote a scathing letter to the RIAA’s Executive Vice President of Communications, Jonathan Lamy. Paraphrasing from multiple emails ... “Not so fast,” he says, “we just want ReelRadio to be part of a web page” called “WhyMusicMatters.Com.” If ReelRadio wants to continue to operate as it has been, that’s fine with the RIAA, according to Lamy.
But for reasons unknown, while Lamy tells me that, the RIAA official letters do not.
ReelRadio’s Richard Irwin, in the meantime, sent a reply asking for more time to become “compliant.” I personally disagree with that plan -- I think ReelRadio should just go back to playing unscoped airchecks as before, as I think the RIAA truly doesn’t care. But it’s not my site so my opinion is immaterial. I am not the one who received a threatening letter.
Officially the chain of events looks like this: Reelradio receives threatening letter, and responds by removing unscoped airchecks form the site. The RIAA receives complaints from ReelRadio fans and sends a “clarification” email stating that they just want ReelRadio to be “compliant” so they can be listed on the website. ReelRadio explains what they do and asks for an exemption. An RIAA attorney offers guidance on what can be done, which Reelradio determines is unworkable. ReelRadio then asks for more time to become compliant. The RIAA does not respond to ReelRadio, and has not since August 12th.
And they won’t. Lamy says they have already made numerous attempts to explain that they only wanted to do “vetting for the website (WhyMusicMatters).” In his last email to me, Lamy told me in no uncertain terms: “We’ve reached out a number of times, both formally and informally. Our General Council took the time to reach out to Mr. Irwin directly. We are not writing more letters.” 
In the meantime, the Board of Directors of nonprofit ReelRadio are still justifiably frightened of what the RIAA might do. It’s not like the RIAA does not have a history of going after its own consumers. Only in this case, the RIAA and its members actually lose out ... many times I myself have bought music after hearing a long forgotten song on a scratchy unscoped aircheck on ReelRadio. And I am not alone. Additionally, ReelRadio does indeed pay the RIAA licensing fees through the supposed noncompliant statutory license.
But until ReelRadio feels reasonable assured that they won’t be sued into oblivion, they won’t put the unscoped airchecks back. At the risk of going under anyway, since supporter donations have dropped tremendously since the airchecks went away.
Yet a solution is simple, and I call on the RIAA to do the following: Get the General Council (who I believe is attorney Susan Chertkof) to call ReelRadio and have a real conversation. Then put in wiring what Lamy has told me numerous times: That the RIAA only cares about vetting for the site, that they truly don’t care what ReelRadio does since it is an online museum, and that they understand that ReelRadio is by no means a music downloading site. 
It’s easy. And it is so very disturbing that three months have gone by without resolution to what should be a very easy solution. I call on the RIAA to do the right thing. Fix this now. There is no reason for this to continue.
Unless those who say the RIAA is essentially evil are correct.
Changes at CBS
CBS-owned KNX (1070 AM) and KFWB (980 AM) let go of programmer Andy Ludlum Money 101 reporter Bob McCormick. And over at KRTH (101.1 FM), four of the six weekend and fill-in jocks were let go last week as well: Sylvia Aimerito, Dave Randall, Christian Wheel and Bruce Chandler.
Programmer Chris Ebbott told LARadio.Com’s Don Barrett that “We are making some changes to the sound of our weekends. Will have an announcement about those plans soon.” My hunch is that lower cost has a lot to do with those changes, but I am not totally convinced of that either. Details, as they arrive.