Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Radio Waves Podcast #60

Every year, Don Barrett has taken a poll of subscribers and visitors of his radio “watercooler,” LARadio.Com. The results have been trickling out over the past week or so, and as it turns out, they are a list of the heavy-hitters in Los Angeles radio. Barrett says that over 200 people participated in the poll this year.
The morning favorite was Doug McIntyre of KABC (790 AM) followed by Bill Handel of KFI (640 AM), KROQ’s (106.7 FM) Kevin and Bean, KNX’s (1070 AM) morning duo of Vicky Moore and Dick Helton, Joe Benson of The Sound (KSWD, 100.3 FM), Colin Cowherd on KSPN (710 AM), KPWR’s (105.9 FM) Big Boy, KRLA’s (870 AM) Brian Whitman, Ben Shapiro and Elisha Kraus, and Sirius/XM Satellite Radio’s Howard Stern (Channel 100).
Favorites from 9 am to 12 noon were, in order, favorite Dennis Prager (KRLA), Jim Carson (KRTH 101.1 FM), Rush Limbaugh (KEIB, 1150 AM), KABC’s Bryan Suits, KFI’s Bill Carroll, Linda Nunez and Tom Haule of KNX, Andy Chanley of The Sound, KFWB’s (980 AM) Jim Rome, Kat Corbett (KROQ) and Kychal Thompson (KSPN).
From Noon to 3 the winners were John Phillips and Jillian Barberie (KABC), Mason and Ireland (KSPN), Jim Carson (KRTH) Sean Hannity (KEIB), the wild mixture of people on KNX, Andy Chanley again (his shift overlaps), Michael Medved (KRLA), Larry Mantle (KPCC, 89.3 FM), Jack on KCBS-FM (93.1), and KFI’s Thompson and Espinosa.
And finally, just this week, afternoons came out with the winner being John and Ken (KFI) followed by Diane Thomson and Jim Thornton (KNX), “Shotgun” Tom Kelly (KRTH), Larry Elder (KABC), Julie Slater (The Sound), Hugh Hewitt (KRLA), Rich Capperela (KUSC, 91.5 FM), Gary Moore (KLOS, 95.5 FM), Deborah Howell (The Wave, 94.7 FM), and Petros Papadakis and Matt “Money” Smith (KLAC, 570 AM).
Heavy hitters, yes. But did you notice something interesting? If you go by this list, AM radio is on par with FM in popularity, and talk and sports dominated. Obviously there is a little skewing going on.
And of course, there is. The responses came from readers and subscribers of LARadio.Com, a website that tends to attract radio fans (fanatics?), probably (read: definitely) skews older than the average radio listener and in general attracts people like me. Would my votes be the same as the results? In some cases yes, but for the most part, interestingly, no. But that is because of my aversion to political talk radio.
Yet without exception (or perhaps more accurately with few exceptions), I respect and admire every broadcaster on the list. And it does make you realize that radio is still a powerful medium that reaches the hearts and minds of listeners. As we celebrate Thanksgiving this week and spend time with our families, I, for one, am thankful that I can still hear my “radio family” on the air. No other medium is so intimate, so personal. 
Happy thanksgiving, and I hope you enjoy the start of the holiday season.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Radio Waves Podcast #59

Malibu is about to get its own radio station.
Hans Laetz announced that construction will begin soon for the transmitter system that will broadcast KBUU (97.5 FM), a brand-new low-power FM designed to cover Malibu with a city-grade signal and coverage extending from the tunnel off the 10 Freeway in Santa Monica all the way to the Ventura County Line. All that with about 100 watts of effective radiated power.
The plan is to become an affiliate of National Public Radio. Yes, I thought the same thing: do we really need another NPR station when Southern California already has about 400 such affiliates? Laetz explains it this way: 
“Malibu is arguably the only municipality in all of California without reliable NPR coverage. The mountains block KCRW and KPCC and we are getting a lot of requests from Malibu people for ‘Morning Edition’ and ‘All Things Considered.’” He says the current affiliates have been supportive, but he has not heard anything yet from NPR itself.
The good thing is that Laetz isn’t planning NPR all day. Frankly, it would defeat the purpose of low-power community radio to have a national programming service. Northing against NPR itself, but my main complaint of current college-owned stations is that they are almost all professionally-run and staffed stations -- with no students involved other than as peons -- and thus are not following the terms and requirements of their educational licenses. But I digress.
Laetz appeases me when he continues. “We have some very exciting ideas for 9a-5p and after 7. We are going to let community members program their shows. Daytimes, overnights and weekends will be modern rock with a coastal twist. A little Hawaiian slack key and Texas roadhouse rock thrown in.
When will it happen? 
“Quite literally, the engineer and I are going to go up the hill with shovels to dig the hole for the 97.5 tower foundation next week,” Laetz said. “We've ordered and paid for the antenna and transmitter. We could ... emphasis could ... be on the air for testing and calibration around December 10. We are awaiting fiber lines to be trenched up the hill by the phone company and can't really go on the air 24/7  until that happens (although we could park a laptop up there and read the meters via cellphone email).
“I am telling my board of directors I plan ... emphasis on PLAN ... to do a soft rollout on Jan. 5 or so ... This is going to be fun.” 
It certainly will. More on this as it develops.
KLOS Property Sold
Not the station, just the property. The land that houses the studios of KLOS (95.5 FM) as well as the studios and transmitter of KABC (790 AM) is in the process of being sold, according to industry reports. A contract to sell the 10 acre parcel -- located in Baldwin Hills -- for about $125 million has been signed and will take 12-18 months to close.
What will happen to the land is unknown. Right now reports are that Cumulus will lease it back, but longterm the land would have to be developed to bring in that kind of cash. And if it is developed, you can kiss goodbye any chance of KABC being heard from that location ... engineers I spoke with explained that any building on the land will destroy the AM ground system buried there, rendering the KABC signal essentially worthless.
So when it comes down to it, Cumulus seems to have decided that the land underneath KABC is worth more than the station itself. Regardless, the sale will help Cumulus pay off some of its staggering debt, estimated right now at $2.5 billion.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Radio Waves Podcast #58

Old news that I neglected to report: Don Barrett’s LARadio.Com is officially back in action after being shut down for the “last time” in 2012.
The local radio news site was only truly down a short while. After some time off for relaxation and thinking, Barrett began to do occasional updates when big or newsworthy events came around. 
Now its updated pretty much daily, or at least weekday daily. The site itself is free, though readers can support him with a modest donation that brings in extra coverage of radio events via email.
If you’ve never been to LARadio.Com, you owe it to yourself to visit. Barrett is a big supporter, critic, cheerleader, and historian for Los Angeles and Southern California radio. 
ReelRadio Limbo
The ReelRadio.Com saga continues, with absolutely no new word yet on their negotiations with the Recording Industry Association of America (aka “the evil” RIAA) to try to run “unscoped” (i.e. including full song recordings) airchecks of classic radio from the past.
The main page just mentions that “patience is a virtue.” Hopefully that means some real headway is being made in the organizations discussions with attorneys.
Shannon in LA
Scott Shannon returns to the Los Angeles airwaves ... via a syndicated program heard Sundays from 6 to 10 a.m. on KRTH (101.1 FM).
I’ve only heard (part of) it once, so far, but it is an oldies-based show featuring the top hits from a particular month and year, from what I can tell. Called “America;s Greatest Hits,” it essentially replaces the Beatles programming formerly heard on KRTH Sunday mornings.
Shannon was the creative force behind Pirate Radio KQLZ (now The Sound, 100.3 FM) back in the 1990s. Hard to believe its been that long.
Readers Revenge
You had some interesting insights and opinions on some of my recent columns. Here’s a sample:
“I would like to get in on this Christmas music pool. I believe KOST 103.5 FM will start playing all Christmas and winter songs starting on Thursday, November 13, at 12 noon.  I believe KTWV 94.7 FM will be the only other local radio station that will be playing all Christmas and winter songs, starting on Wednesday, November 12, at 6:00 p.m.  I don't think either station will start any earlier than that, they usually wait until the Veteran's Day holiday is over. 
“It will be fun to see what others think. If KTWV does play all Christmas music, I think they will stop on Christmas day, at midnight, December 26. I think KOST will stop sometime on Friday, December 26, probably around 6:00 p.m.” -- Russ, Glandale 
Regarding my living in the past and my constant talking about Boss Radio: “You think the 1980s was ‘long ago.’ I remember when KHJ was part of the Mutual Broadcasting System, and Frank De Vol had the staff band. -- Ray Sherman

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.