Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #110

In what must be the most ingenious method of avoiding paying debt, iHeartMedia -- which is carrying a staggering debt load of $21 billion -- plans to buy its way into solvency. Or buy some time, as the case may be.

According to The New York Post, iHeart, formerly known as Clear Channel Communications, is planning to convert most of the $2.4 billion in unsecured debt into equity. This in turn will lower interest payments to the point where the company could actually break even.

How can it convert debt to equity? By buying it.

As near as I can tell, the scheme appears to be akin to buying debt on the open market, similar to how home loans get lumped together and then purchased by other companies. Only in this case iHeart appears to be buying itself, and then using the “equity” it has to do an end run on its balance sheets. 

If it can convince enough investors to go along and thus convert all the unsecured debt into faux equity, iHeart could save $100 million in interest payments every year, putting the company into the black instead of losing a predicted $50 million, $80 million and $120 million in 2015, 2016 and 2017, respectively.

Now to find a bunch of really stupid investors and convince them this is a good idea. Interestingly, history is on the side of iHeart, as investors constantly make bone-headed moves such as this. I mean, just look at Cumulus ... or iHeart ... or ...

As one source put it, the move “definitely reflects risk and desperation.”

More Cinder

Mike Wagner, former programmer of the original KRLA (now KDIS, 1110 AM) wrote to clarify a bit of information on the dance club owned by former KRLA DJ and popular television personality Bob Eubanks.

There were actually several locations of Eubanks' teen nightclubs called the Cinnamon Cinder. And they were the inspiration for a 1963 hit by the Pastel Six,” which like everything in life can be found on YouTube (www.youtube.com/watch?v=7CWlyeuhz40)
“This info comes from the You Tube page: ‘The Cinnamon Cinder was released by The Pastel Six (Bill Meyers) in early 1963, and was a one hit wonder for the group. The Cinnamon Cinder was also a chain of Los Angeles teen nightclubs started by KRLA DJ Bob Eubanks, which soon spawned a TV show, The Cinnamon Cinder Show (1963-65).’

“‘Acts performed live and were usually backed by a resident band from one of the clubs ... North Hollywood's Pastel Six were one of the most popular, and they got their chance to record ‘The Cinnamon Cinder (It's A Very Nice Dance)’, written by Russ Regan. The show was also known as Bob Eubanks' Hollywood Dance Time.’

“The house bands often backed up such big name artists as Jackie DeShannon, Dick and Dede, The Ronettes, Little Stevie Wonder, The Coasters, The Rivingtons, and Chuck Berry,” said Wagner.

Tim Grobaty wrote of the Cinder for the Long Beach Press-Telegram back in 2008, covering among other things why it was such a success. “strict regulations,” he said, quoting from an even earlier Press-Telegram story on the Cinder from 1963.

Those rules? No alcoholic beverages were served, and people with alcohol on their breath were stopped at the door. No youngsters under 18 were permitted. Single men past the age of 25 were strongly discouraged from seeking entrance. Girls were not permitted in if they are wearing capris or shorts. Boys were barred if they wore T-shirts, sweatshirts, club or school jackets, Levi's or tennis shoes.
According to Grobaty, rules and regulations at the Long Beach traffic-circle location were enforced by the club's manager, Mickey Brown, who was a former LAPD officer. My hunch is that this kept the club safe, while still giving the kids the feeling of having their own place ... and of course, an outlet for them to see their favorite artists.

It lasted eight years, as Grobaty wrote, “the Cinder closed when its wholesomeness had, according to a Press-Telegram reporter, gone to seed.”

I’m trying to figure out how, with his work at KRLA, later work with the Beatles, television programs and more, how Eubanks had time to think!

Seasonal Sounds

From 6 a.m. December 24th through 6 p.m. December 25th, JazzKNOB.org will present its annual 36-hour Christmas programming, Sounds of the Season, highlighted by a reading of Twas the Night Before Christmas by the late, great Chuck Niles. This special reading will be presented six times throughout the holiday special: 6 a.m., noon and 6 p.m. on the 24th; midnight, 6 a.m. and noon on Christmas Day.
JazzKNOB.org is an online tribute to former all-jazz radio station KNOB, licensed at the time to Long Beach. It is now Spanish-language KLAX (97.9 FM).

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #109

Ryan Seacrest has been without an official co-host ever since Ellen K moved up the dial (and down the hallway) to take over morning host duties at KOST (103.5 FM). That has now changed.
As was announced at the KIIS-FM (102.7) Jingle Ball held on December 4th at the Staples Center, Sisanie Villaclara will take over the co-host duties effective immediately. Sisanie, who uses only her first name on the air, has been mid-day (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.) host at the top-rated station for the past eight years. She will continue to serve as Music Coordinator for the station. 
Taking over Sisanie’s slot is Letty B. 
Jungle Ball featured a dozen artists performing on a stage that rotated between sets, to reduce change times after a band was through: One Direction, The Weeknd, Selena Gomez, 5 Seconds of Summer, Ellie Goulding, Shawn Mendes, Tove Lo, Charlie Puth, Zedd, Hailee Steinfeld, Conrad Sewell and DNCE. 
Eighties Rule 
The 1980s -- which as a reminder to oldies purists are more than 25 years old -- rule the Los Angeles airwaves according to the most recent Nielsen Ratings. KRTH (101.1 FM) dominated with a 5.7 share, one-half point higher than KBIG (104.3 FM) and KIIS-FM, which were tied for second at 5.2. I may be mistaken, but I believe that is the highest rating KRTH has seen, ever. 
KOST (103.5 FM), which will dominate the December ratings with its yearly holiday music, and KTWV The Wave (94.7 FM) rounded out the top-5 with ratings shares of 5.0 and 4.0, respectively. 
Jack (KCBS-FM, 93.1) and The Sound KSWD (100.3 FM) both bounced back from drops in October; both were up 0.3 to 3.8(tie for 6th) and 3.3 (9th), respectively. KLOS (95.5 FM) was up as well, to 2.4 (19th) from 2.2. 
As usual, KFI won the talk wars with an 8th place 3.4 share. The next-highest talk station was KPCC (89.3 FM) tied with KCRW (89.9 FM) for 23rd with a 1.8 share. The next highest commercial talk station was all-sports KSPN (710 AM) at 27th with a 1.4 share. The next highest commercial general talk station was KEIB (1150 AM) tied at 34th and 0.8. KRLA (870 AM) was 37th at 0.6; KABC (790 AM) was 38th at 0.5. 
The full story: 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.
 1. KRTH (5.7); 2. KBIG, KIIS-FM (5.2); 4. KOST (5.0); 5. KTWV (4.0); 6. KCBS-FM, KLVE (3.8); 8. KFI (3.4); 9. KSWD (3.3); 10. KNX, KRRL (3.2)
 12. KROQ (3.1); 13. KAMP (3.0); 14. KLAX, KRCD (2.9); 16. KPWR, KYSR (2.6); 18. KKGO (2.5); 19. KLOS (2.4); 20. KSCA (2.2)
 21. KLYY (2.0); 22. KBUE (1.9); 23. KCRW, KPCC (1.8); 25. KXOL, KXOS (1.6); 27. KSPN (1.4); 28. KFSH, KLAC, KUSC (1.0)
 31. KDAY, KJLH, KWIZ (0.9); 34. KEIB, KKJZ, KSSE (0.8); 37. KRLA (0.6); 38. KABC (0.5); 39. KFWB (0.4); 40. KKLA, KLAA (0.3) 42. KTNQ (0.1) 
Bad Commercials 
We’ve all heard bad commercials. Sit ‘n Sleep comes to mind, though I have to admit they’ve grown on me and I now listen to see how Larry will “kill” his accountant Irwin in each new “episode.” I still can’t take 1-877-Kars-4-Kids and fail to understand how any programmer lets those on their station. 
But the worst has to be the “Random Act of Helpfulness” ads from American Honda. 
It’s quite strange, considering that past advertising from Honda was fairly clever. I particularly liked the ads featuring meetings in such locations as “an abandoned oboe factory” or something similar. Also strange since to the best of my knowledge the current ads really do feature real people getting real help. 
The problem is that while they are supposedly real, they sound as fake as a three dollar bill. They are obviously set up ahead of time, and the “reactions” from the people helped are rehearsed ... poorly. Or if they are not, said people being helped are the most under-appreciative people on the planet. Even the people playing the parts of the dealers sound contrived. Considering the potential, Honda is really blowing it with this one.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #108

Holidays are in the air(waves) as KOST (103.5 FM) continues its annual tradition of playing Christmas and holiday music, and SiriusXM features traditional (channel 18), contemporary (channel 13), country (channel 58), Latin (channel 785), and Hanukkah (Channel 68) holiday favorites, with more scheduled to go on as the season progresses. Even New Years Day gets its own channel on December 31, billed as the ultimate soundtrack to parties around the country. 
It’s a killer ratings time for KOST, which dominates the ratings for December every time it switches formats. As one reader put it years ago, “it just puts me in a good mood. I love listening to KOST this time of year.” 
Rivera Ousted from Cumulus 
Changes continue at Cumulus Media, owner of KABC (790 AM) and KLOS (95.5 FM), under the direction of new CEO Mary G. Berner. Berner replaced Lew Dickie, who many -- myself included -- credit with accelerating the decline of the company. 
The latest move is to finally take Geraldo Rivera off the air in New York; Rivera was once heard on KABC in an East-Coast/West-Coast simulcast, though he was removed form the KABC lineup at the end of 2013. Since that time Rivera had been heard on WABC/New York exclusively, until he was allegedly locked out of the studio last week. 
“This is the end,” he posted on Facebook November 28th. “In the four years since I joined 77 WABC radio in my hometown of New York I have enjoyed uneven success, but managed to establish an open-mined core following.” According to Rivera, Berner (or her team) are not recognizing a handshake deal made to extend his contract that was made with the Dickies before their removal from the company. 
Speaking on the subject of the problems being suffered by his employer, he wrote, “As the company tanked, the men who employed me, the honorable brothers John and Lew Dickey ultimately found themselves in financial peril, over-extended and prey to hedge funders who gobbled up enough clout to oust them as managers and install someone who had no experience in broadcasting but who apparently impressed those adventurous investors.” 
While I tend to agree that someone with no experience in radio running a radio company is a bad idea, Rivera is a bit off-base. It was the Dickies who put the company in peril first by overextending to the point where massive debt held the company down, then by responding by gutting talent. The result: low-ratings, lower ad revenue, and even more debt. Cumulus stock has lost over 99 percent of its value since it hit $50 in December, 1999. 
Think I’m too harsh? Let’s turn the page over to Tom Leykis, who left radio for online media (www.newnormalnetwork.com) due in large part to the Dickie-effect. His response to Rivera: 
"’Uneven success?’ I challenge you to open up the ratings to the public. They will find the same thing you found in Al Capone's vault: virtually nothing. The fact that you think the Dickey Brothers are "honorable" shows what a radio neophyte you are. By not signing a contract with you, they PUT you in the position you're in right now, rather than showing ‘honor.’ 
“Most of us who've worked in radio have known the truth about the Dickeys and Cumulus Media before you ever heard of them. You've conveniently ignored their long list of firings of hundreds of professional radio people. 
“Your firing in this holiday season gladdens the hearts of many of us in the radio business because you had no business working in the business in the first place.” 
Cumulus stock was actually up last week and as I write this is trading in the area of 38 cents per share, double what it was at the close of last Friday. That’s a huge improvement, but still a long way from the $1 per share it needs to maintain in order not to be delisted from the stock exchange. 
Corrections and Clarifications 
Reader Pat Mooney of Torrance sent in some information regarding Bob Eubanks that I never knew. 
“Regarding Bob Eubanks' rise and career in Los Angeles radio: he created and owned the Cinnamon Cider right up the road at the Long Beach traffic circle (I think it is a car dealership now) 
“It was the place to be. The Upstairs Downstairs in Downey was started right after plus a couple other clubs.  But the Cider was the first. Heck, Art Laboe used to hang there.” 
And I wrote that Stephanie Edwards did not have any radio experience outside of Lucky Supermarket commercials ... longtime radio programmer Chuck Southcott checked in to tell me she actually did have some experience: “Edwards was part of the on-air talent Saul Levine hired to host his Broadway format” when it ran on then KGIL (now KMZT, 1260 AM).

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #107

KLOS Gets Jonsed

Guitarist Steve Jones of the punk band the Sex Pistols hosted a program on the old Indie 103.1 called Jonsey’s Jukebox. Featuring groundbreaking new music combined with guest interviews and discussions in a very laid-back manner, the program lasted five years on Indie, until the station changed formats to Spanish as KDLD in 2009.

In 2010 it got picked up by KROQ (106.7 FM) where it had a good run through early 2013. Now its back, courtesy of KLOS (95.5 FM).

The station says this of Jones’ program: “the only rule is doing whatever Jones wants.” That means exactly what it says. Jones brings in records from his personal collection and his guests from the past are legendary: Robert Plant, Brian Wilson, Iggy Pop, Courtney Love ... and more. Guests on the brand-new KLOS version that began in late October have included Billy Idol. Fred Armisen and Joe Walsh.

Hear the Jukebox every Friday from noon to 2 p.m. The answer the question: What exactly does this mean for KLOS?

That AM Sound

I thought it was just me ... certain songs from the 1960s or ‘70s I hear on the radio (or via other means) just don’t sound like I remember them.
Certainly that has much to do with having heard them on AM broadcast stations, what with the limited fidelity of most AM radios of the time. But it isn’t just that - it’s as if the processing was totally different. Punchier bass, for example. Or a fullness that is hard to explain, though experts in the production of record producer Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” could come close.

Interestingly, it had everything to do with AM radio, or more accurately with trying to make the sound coming out of limited-fidelity AM radios sound as good as it could sound.

The engineers at stations such as those in the RKO chain (KHJ, KFRC, WRKO, etc.) were geniuses when it came to sound processing. I was told that at KHJ here and KFRC in San Francisco, the audio processing chain was custom designed with multiple “magic boxes” that allowed tweaks to be smooth as silk without creating any harsh tones. Some say that at their peak of popularity, those two stations sounded as close to FM as an AM station could sound.

But FM sound was not the actual goal. Clarity and fullness were.

Richard Kaufman, who used to play an oldies format on the internet (Ricky the K’s Solid Gold Time Machine), has regrouped and is now using his talent to make songs sound like they once did.

A former small town DJ himself, Kaufman’s influences growing up included many of the East Coast versions of top-40 radio including WABC/New York. And he’s spent some time recreating the audio processing chain used by WABC in order to make songs sound like they used to ... when they were played on WABC.

“I have set up a vintage audio chain specifically designed to help digital recordings sound denser and richer with more punch and more bass,” Kaufman told me. “My whole concept is to get musicians, music producers and record labels to send me their thin sounding digital audio masters and I’ll run them through the audio chain and fatten them up.”

Want to hear for yourself? Kaufman has set up a YouTube account with songs that he has run through his processing. You can find it at http://tinyurl.com/AMSound, and I have to say, it is impressive.

While listening to the Beau Brummels’ “Just a Little,” a link to a recording from the 45 RPM record -- also on YouTube -- happened to show up. So I clicked on it ... and the difference is night and day. Kaufman’s version is definitely fuller, with more “up front” background vocals. The way I remember.

Better? That’s debatable. The goal of audio processing in the era of FM radio and later vinyl records was to lay off of the processing. To have a more “open” feel. AM top-40 sound processing was not meant to be open at all, but instead to jump out of the speaker; songs were processed to get around the typical AM radio’s limitations.

But it is a unique sound that is lacking in the minds of some, and it explains why so many oldies of that era just don’t sound right to me today. Take a listen for yourself and let me know what you think.

Cumulus Death Watch

Closing stock price as of Friday, November 13: 27 cents per share, a 6.9 percent decline from the previous Friday’s close of 29 cents. Still an improvement from November 12th’s 23 cents per share.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #106

Sound Visit

Dave Beasing, programmer of The Sound (100.3 FM), took some time last Friday to speak at San Pedro High School’s Career Day. Speaking to two different classes for about 30 minutes each, Beasing told of radio’s challenges and how programming, promotion and marketing all work together.

“When I first started in radio, social media didn’t even exist,” he told the classes. Now it’s one of our marketing tools.” He showed video clips of material from Mark in the Morning as a demonstration of how to attract an audience, and told of how some bits that at first seem to fall flat can be saved through creativity.

“Media is changing,” Beasing explained. “All of the traditional so-called legacy media now involve very high-tech modern skills. You might ask yourself ‘what  does this video have to do with radio?’ A lot ... if you do it right.

“Someone going into radio today should be great at shooting and editing video, web design, social media, all of this. Because as a radio station we need to be part of our listeners lives 24-7. If somebody is your friend, they are always with you -- not just when they want something from you. So we need to be part of their lives even when they're not listening ... when they're on Facebook, when they're on Instagram, when they're on Twitter, we want to be there.”

Changes at KABC

Last week’s mention of Art Bell’s return to local radio via KABC (790 AM) neglected to mention the other changes at the heritage talker.

Leo Terrell had been holding down the KABC morning courtroom since Judge Christina Perez left the station in May. Now Terrell’s version of the program is gone as well, a victim of the station’s ongoing ratings problems. Terrell remains with KABC in a fill-in capacity.
In its place is the Peter Tilden Show every weekday morning from 10 a.m. until 12 noon; Tilden had been heard previously on the station at night.

But wait - Tilden is still on at night, albeit earlier than his former 9 to midnight slot. Supposedly live at 6 p.m. as well as his morning duties, Tilden must have the longest working day in talk radio. Maybe that’s why his shifts sound like a taped podcast, made using bad equipment (can someone buy him a real microphone so it doesn’t sound like he’s talking through a wall?) ...
At 7 p.m. is the Best of KABC, whatever that means, followed at 8:00 by two hours of Jonathon Brandmeier’s syndicated program, Art Bell comes on at 10:00, as mentioned last week.

Death Watch

On December 31, 1999, Cumulus Media stock was at an all-time high of $50.75. November 6th at the closing bell, it was worth 29 cents. That’s a loss in value of more than 99 percent ... how much longer can the company survive, especially if the stock ends up delisted on the NASDAQ exchange as it has been warned may happen by May, 2016?
A Lot Like Christmas

SiriusXM has beaten KOST (103.5 FM) to the punch, with the launch of two all-holiday music channels November 2 and more to come as the season gets closer. Get details at blog.siriusxm.com.

I’m betting KOST will jump in, perhaps as soon as Monday.
Healy Recordings

Reader Richard Campos asks, “Any idea how we can hear the old Jim Healy sports broadcasts?” As a matter of fact: yes. YouTube has quite a few, posted by fans of the legendary broadcaster who retired from KMPC (now KSPN, 710 AM) in late April, 1999. Amazing what you can find there. If you’ve never heard Healy or you want to hear him again, do a search on YouTube.

Funding Reel Radio

Richard Irwin’s top-40 radio museum known as Reel Radio (reelradio.com) is the reason I wanted a fast modem back in the days of dial-up internet. I love listening to the old recordings of classic radio.

In an effort to pay down some bills from licensing fees, streaming costs and more, the nonprofit organization has set up a Go Fund Me page at GoFundMe.Com/Reelradio, where fans can donate to help pay down debt and help keep the site alive.

Or just go to the main site for ReelRadio and donate there ... and listen to how radio used to sound.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #105

This is the big weekend for SPERDVAC - the Society to Preserve and Encourage Radio Drama, Variety And Comedy. It’s their convention weekend held November 6th - 8th at the Holiday Inn Media Center at 150 E. Angeleno Avenue in Burbank.

I’ve already written about much of what you can do at the convention. There will be recreations of Fibber McGee and Molly; Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar; Sherlock Holmes; and two versions of the Lux Theater. There will be panel discussions including one with Noel Blanc who will speak about his father, Mel; and there will be numerous stars and others who were part of early radio and television programs on hand for entertainment and meet and greets.

What has more recently come together is a panel discussion moderated by KABC (790 AM) expert and former show host Bill Moran. This will feature Eric Tracy, Carole Hemmingway, Tommy Hawkins, Royale Oaks, George Green Ira Fistell, and Michael Harrison talking about the history of KABC radio from the days in which the station mattered.

According to Moran, there will be a focus on what made KABC a heritage station (“lots of stories,” says Moran), a reflection on the careers of the hosts since they left the station, and how talk radio has changed since KABC first debuted the talk format in Los Angeles in the 1960s ... and how it is changing again.

The KABC panel runs Saturday from 4 to 7:30 p.m.

For more information about the convention, head over to the SPERDVAC website at www.sperdvac.com, email sperdvac@gmail.com, or call 877-251-5771. It’s too late to order tickets via the website, but you can pay for admission at the door (cash or checks only); costs range from $40 for the Sunday brunch and program to $200 for the entire weekend.

Speaking of KABC ...

Art Bell was once the host of Coast to Coast AM, heard locally on KFI (640 AM) from midnight to 5 a.m. weekdays and until 6 a.m. weekends.

He basically retired from the show more than once for reasons that never made much sense to me; I always thought he was a bit, well, unstable ... which may explain his popularity on an overnight program dedicated to the paranormal and UFOs.

Well, he’s back. And KABC has picked up his new syndicated program, Midnight in the Desert. This new program, which airs locally from 10 p.m to 1 a.m. weeknights, is about ... paranormal activity and UFOs. Unfortunately for fans, its tape-delayed by an hour: the program is live from 9 p.m. to midnight pacific time. To find ways around that if you want to call in, for example, head to ArtBell.Com.

Otherwise, tune in and be entertained. Let me know what you think ... it will be interesting to see how this works for KABC.

Saving AM ... Again

The FCC is finally actually doing something about AM radio’s problems, though I fear it will turn out to be too little too late. It’s called the AM Radio Revitalization Order which among other things makes it theoretically easier for a station to upgrade its transmission facilities without having to perform some difficult engineering.

But reading the order seems to be more of an AM Broadcaster Revitalization Order, as the focus of the order seems to be more directed at moving stations off the band or allowing them to decrease coverage than actually helping them survive on the oldest broadcast band.

Allowing (encouraging) stations to obtain FM translators in which to simulcast the signals on FM, allowing a station to cover with a strong signal on only 50 percent of its licensed area rather than the current 80 percent when making location changes, and allowing nighttime coverage of a similar 50 percent of coverage area rather than 80 percent seems to go against the idea of “saving” AM.

There are many more new rules as well as proposed rule changes so I am going to wait until my engineering friends have a chance to comment, but I have to say, so far I am unimpressed with the FCC. Not that I expected more.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #104

It started with Jenna, a caller to The Sound’s (100.3 FM) Mark in the Morning who described her suspicions regarding her boyfriend’s potential cheating. So while Jenna listened in the background, show host Mark Thompson called her boyfriend Kevin, pretending to be awarding flowers that could be delivered to anyone he wishes. When Kevin sent them not to Jenna but instead to Jenna’s sister Tanya with a love note, Jenna went ballistic.

Thompson then added Tanya to the call, who fought on the air with Jenna and Kevin and announced she was pregnant. When Thompson added Tanya’s boyfriend David into the mix, all heck broke loose. It was as if we were listening to an audio version of those bad television “talk” shows like Jerry Springer. You know, the shows in which the people fighting on the set are actually actors paid to fight.

Turns out, we were. The entire segment on Thompson’s program was fake, portrayed 100 percent by actors. Deep down you couldn’t have not suspected such, as the scenario became more and more absurd. 
But did you know that all such scenarios presented on radio are fake?

“One of the reasons we did this,” explained Thompson on the air, “is to answer a question we receive frequently.” That question: “why don’t you do those things where they give the roses and they bust people?

“One of the most understood rules in radio is that when I call you on the radio, I have to get your permission to go on the air with me. I can’t even air you saying the word ‘hello’ without your permission. I can’t record you without your permission.” Thompson said. “We would lose our license and be fined into the multi millions of dollars. The lawsuits would be through the roof. If you heard these, they are completely fake.” 

So where do these segments come from? Actors, of course. There are companies that supply comedy (and other) bits to radio stations, including these scenarios. The company supplies a script, and the hosts either talk directly to them over the phone or worse, just splice in their voices to an already prepared script.

To what stations? Many. Not just local, but nationwide. And the companies that provide the service are major programming suppliers, some owned by conglomerate radio station owners. You might hear the same voices, perhaps doing the same bit, on stations across the country, not just here in Los Angeles.

Because I was not able at press time to get comments from the stations and programs that run the alleged fake bits, I will refrain from printing them here. But Sound programmer Dave Beasing confirmed what was stated on the Thompson program: it is illegal under both California law and FCC rules to air or record someone without obtaining consent prior to the start of a recording, and thus “they are all fake.”

All of them. On every station that airs them.

A search under the subject revealed an article from 2011 (http://tinyurl.com/morningprank) entitled “Your Favorite Wacky Morning Radio Show Is a Festival of Lies,” which describes the exact same situation, including testimonies from actors who work for Premiere Radio Networks and United Stations ... the actors who play the parts of the “callers” and those called. And it’s not just morning shows ... it seems some actors are used as planted callers on traditional talk shows as well, though I assume it happens less in major cities than smaller towns. Is anything real any more?

What About Dees

One of Rick Dees’ better bits when he hosted the morning show on KIIS-FM (102.7) was “Candid Phone,” in which he called people and described, for example, that a man’s Porsche was almost done being painted -- by brushes, or that a woman’s son was “a homo sapien.” “He was just on a date with a girl last night” the mother exclaimed! This is essentially the same as heard on local stations today - were these fake too?

Absolutely not, says one of the former associates to the show who I am leaving anonymous to protect him ... just in case. “I was not present at ALL the tapings, but all the ones that I observed or participated in were all real calls to real people. Of course, they WERE heavily edited, but, to my knowledge, not fake. We often didn't notify callers in advance that we were recording them, but once it was revealed, the participant always gave their consent to the recording AND to airing those recordings.”

“Remember, this was when Rick was at his zenith, EVERYONE wanted to be roasted on Candid Phone.” 

Dees himself says they were real as well. “The key for me with Candid Phone is (and was) to use real people,” he told me.

I should also point out that the laws on recording and airing such bits became stricter sometime in the early 2000s, so Dees Candid Phones probably were indeed both legal and real. 

Somehow I am relieved.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #103

Two weeks ago I presented an indictment of the current radio model in general, in which a few companies own and operate a huge number of stations, along with details of a shakeup at Cumulus Media specifically, as the Dickey brothers who founded the company were essentially forced out by a Board of Directors coup.

I did not realize that what I wrote would affect so many readers personally, and I have to say it was humbling. I received a huge number of emails from people who work, or worked in the industry, and according to the responses received, I underestimated the damage done by consolidation and by the Dickeys. Here is a sample, with anything incriminating removed to protect identities:
“Stellar article you wrote, precisely nailing how the Dickey Brothers took down the best radio stations on the planet. Thanks for writing what so many of us have felt for way too long. Goodbye Dickeys and Dickey sycophants...don't let the screen door hit ya.”
“Bravo! I have been in radio for 48 years and have never, ever read an article so informative to the professional, the lay reader, and the investor. Nor, have I ever read an article about the medium as factual as yours. It's greatly appreciated.”
“The Dickey's should be in jail. So should the Mays. (I am a) 40 year vet.”
“Your article regarding Cumulus could not be MORE spot on. Back in the 90s, I earned a degree in Television and Radio, and had several courses specifically about Deregulation and Consolidation and how it would impact the industry. Even back in 1992, when deregulation was just around the corner, our professors talked about a world where content was dominated by advertisers and corporations, while they eroded our freedom of speech and journalistic integrity. 
“Those dark days forecasted 20 years ago are here. Corporate interests have sucked all of the fun, true talent and creativity out of radio. Advertisers determine what content hits the air, and that touches all air personalities. Talent has been abandoned and those that remain are the people willing to still work for $8 an hour.”
“I could not possibly love your story more. After 18 years, I got a snootful of their business model in 2012 in the form of an insulting contract renewal that I was blessed to be able to decline. I have landed in the arms of a competitor, and life could not be better. Many others have not been so lucky. Yours is the best idea — they need to get out of the radio business which still, for all its modern challenges, is an industry that relies on organic, emotional bonds between personalities and audience, a concept that is Kryptonite to them.”
Your article was spot on.  Its amazing that companies keep cutting the source of their revenue. Its not rocket science. Thanks again for the brutal honesty in your article.”
“I work in the business you're reviewing here, and I can tell you that there's a lot of quiet desperation inside.”
“Whenever a conglomerate moves in, we have to find a new station, as we’re always the first to go. So far Cumulus hasn’t made it up this far ... But taking KGO from #1 to #20 in a matter of months is (quite a) feat.”
“I'm not sure where you got your info about Cumulus...but you nailed it.”
Westwood One was once the company's most profitable division and really humming along. Then Cumulus bought the company. They gutted the business and starved it for resources.  The Dickeys unraveled most of what was built, fired 90% of the staff. What they did was actually worse than you wrote: they created a culture of fear. There is no saving Cumulus.”
“I  applaud you for exposing this big flop to the public. I  can tell you some things that happened to me personally while under the  stress of this group. My prayers have been answered. I was so violated and hurt by the powers that be until I still have crying spells and nightmares. You are a VICA for all hurt by the actions of these folk.”
Only two emails countered my position, and neither actually refuted what I wrote about Cumulus. One was from a competing company and essentially questioned some of the data I spoke of, specifically the downward trend in listening. Related to that was an email that was directed not to me but my Publisher.   “I am writing to question the level of journalism the Los Angeles Daily News uses regarding its articles. I refer to the 10/6 article entitled “Cumulus Media, a dark cloud on the Radio Industry” by Richard Wagoner. If this was to be an opinion piece, it should have been clearly labeled as such since there was absolutely no factual information or anything close to that in making the wild accusations made by Mr. Wagoner.” This was written by the President of the Southern California Broadcasters Association, Thom Callahan.
In the email, Callahan asserts that outside of Cumulus, every major radio group is experiencing strong stock value and bringing solid returns to its investors. He sites NASDAQ but doesn’t give specifics, such as Emmis losing 66% of its value since February, 2014 and iHeartMedia dropping over 50% in the past year (and these are just two examples); the stunning amount of debt being carried by many of these companies and the fact that at least two are teetering on bankruptcy.
He also stated in the email that radio listening is at an all-time high. Yet he sites data that refutes the reality. Yes, “reach” is at an all-time high, that is the number of people who do happen to tune in a radio. But Time Spent Listening to radio has been in a gradual decline according to ratings company Nielsen, and other studies from such companies as Edison Research back that up. The longterm trend is clear.
“I have to ask the obvious; is Mr. Wagoner a disgruntled former employee from a Radio station? What does he hate so much about Radio and why is he assigned to cover it?” he asks.
For the head of the SCBA to not know that my column has been around since 1987 and for him to not know the difference between a reporter and a columnist is at best embarrassing. It is my love of radio (and yours) that keeps this column going, not a hatred of anything but bad programming. And paid hacks for a broadcast organization that, according to at least one former programmer I know, has no reason to still exist.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #102

Monday marks a new day for Ellen K. Longtime (25 years) sidekick to both Rick Dees and Ryan Seacrest on the KIIS-FM (102.7 FM) morning drive shift, Ellen will move down the hallway of the IHeartMedia building in Burbank to take over the morning shift on KOST (103.5 FM).
Current KOST morning host Mark Wallengren -- 30 years in that position -- moves to afternoons on the same station, forcing out current afternoon drive host Bruce Scott who leaves the company. No word at press time for Ellen’s replacement with Seacrest on KIIS.

Changes at KFI

Mid day (1-3 p.m.) hosts Mark Thompson and Elizabeth Espinoza have been replaced at KFI (640 AM); their last day was October 9th. Replacing them is Gary Hoffmann from the morning Bill Handel show and Shannon Farren from afternoon drive’s John and Ken. Jo Kwon will do the news during the program.

Be a Rebel

Rebel Industries, which is a marketing company dedicated to tying a client company more closely to culture at large as a way to make products stand out, recently launched Rebel Radio, designed to highlight underground culture and underground influences.

“All culture starts underground, the Rebel Radio website explains. “The hit-makers impacting modern culture today began as underground phenomena.” Rebel Radio shines a spotlight on these “rebels,” showcasing their influence and “reflecting on the roots and future of underground culture.”

Hosted by Josh Levine, CEO of the company, the weekly interview program explores youth culture and the journeys of those involved in what Levine feels is the creative next big thing.

Hear it for yourself via the website (recordings of all past shows are available at www.rebelradio.net) or hear the program live each week via Dash Radio, itself an up and coming internet radio service that provides live 24/7 programming via smartphone apps and an online presence at www.dashradio.com. Rebel Radio airs live on Dash’s “Hot Topic” station Thursdays at 6 PM locally.

New Station

Low power FM station KCLA (100.7 FM) is broadcasting from somewhere in San Pedro. Not sure where yet as the clear weather has allowed San Diego’s KFMB-FM to come in about as strong as a local on that frequency and saturate most of San Pedro with contemporary music. I’ll have details on KCLA as soon as I can get them.


Last week’s column on the changes happening at Cumulus and the radio industry as a whole brought more letters than I have ever received from a single column; all but two were in support, many telling impassioned stories of what it was like to work in or around Lew and John Dickey. I have never been so humbled by something I have written in my life. 

I unfortunately made a mistake in regard to the genesis of the company, and I’ll leave it to a reader -- wishing to remain anonymous -- to fix it for me:

“The Citadel/Dial Global purchase didn't happen until 2011.  Cumulus DID start in 1997, but on the local level in the Atlanta market. The big transformation came in 2006 when the Dickey's partnered with three capital investment firms to purchase Susquehanna Radio. This purchase is what allowed Cumulus to catapult to the national level with a stable of medium and large market stations. Up until Susquehanna, they were small potatoes.”

 Next week: a sampling of the responses pro and con, edited to remove the identities of those brave enough to speak out.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #101

The current ownership model for radio stations in which a few corporations own a huge number of stations in each market has been documented here and elsewhere to be a dismal failure.

The promised cost savings from efficient operations of “clusters” of stations never materialized, leading owners to cut other costs ... such as the money spent on personalities and staff ...  the very people that made stations sound great.

Programming quality decreased because stations that once competed for listeners were now under the same ownership, and care was taken not to attract listeners to a station at the expense of a co-owned sister station. The net result: listeners tuned out and the industry changed radically to the point where many stations have become background entertainment, leading advertising revenue to tank.

Few areas experienced this decline as much as Los Angeles, in which two companies, IHeart Media and CBS, control a huge percentage of the listening pie -- 47.4 percent in the most recent Nielsen ratings -- and even one of the better group owners, Entercom, is running a national contest on its Los Angeles station, The Sound (100.3 FM).

To put the last statement into perspective (though I am not meaning to pick on the company), Entercom is giving away $1000 four times ($4000 total) in a contest available to listeners of Entercom stations nationwide. In the pre-consolidation days, RKO’s KHJ gave away $1000 a day, and that was in 1975 and but one example. Even in 1984, KHJ gave away a car a day for a month. For many stations, such contests -- all local since companies were limited to owning a total of 14 stations nationwide, seven AM and seven FM -- this was typical.

No wonder radio listening, especially among young people, is at an all-time low. Radio is forcing listeners to discover alternative means of entertainment since radio itself is in such decline, disarray ... and denial.

While all of the major group owners can be considered guilty to some extent, the absolute worst offender by far has been Cumulus Media. Founded by Lew Dickey in 1997 when he purchased and combined Citadel Broadcasting -- itself a poorly-run conglomerate -- and Dial Global, the company soon became a radio giant, with 460 stations in 90 radio markets along with programming providers such as Westwood and ABC Radio. It is the second-largest radio group owner in the country, second only to IHeart Media.

Too bad the giant has no clue how radio works. Lew Dickey and his brother John had no business ever running anything related to radio, and the proof is seen locally on KABC (790 AM) and KLOS (95.5 FM), two once-great stations that -- especially in the case of KABC -- were allowed to wither and die. 

And it wasn’t just in Los Angeles; it was seemingly everywhere. In San Francisco, the Dickey’s meddling caused the destruction of KGO. In New York, their “expertise” killed WABC. The story is repeated over and over in almost every one of their 90 markets, and the situation got so bad that Wall Street even noticed: the company stock dropped more than 80 percent over the past year, closing at a mere 73 cents October 2, leaving it with a market cap of just under $171 million.

Compare that to its debt load of $2.5 billion and net operating income of just $11.8 million, and you can see there is a problem. The market cap itself -- about the equivalent of a mere ten major market FMs -- has the company worth far more broken up than together. The question is: why isn’t the Cumulus Board of Directors taking notice? 

Well they finally did. Announced last week and effective October 13, Lew Dickey will step down from his position of President and CEO of Cumulus, while brother John -- an executive VP in charge of content and programming has already left the company. Lew will unfortunately stay on as Vice Chairman.

John’s replacement was not announced at press time, but my dog Shadow could put together a better programming team. Lew is being replaced by Mary G. Berner who came to the company from the magazine side of the media industry and has no radio experience herself. She has her work cut out for her, and her lack of radio experience is not helpful: Cumulus stations have for so long been so badly programmed and/or promoted that most -- dare I say all -- would be better off in the hands of other, hopefully small or independent owners.

What should be done? Cumulus should divest itself of all stations. Staggering debt, a total company valuation that is worth far less than the station portfolio and a dearth of programming expertise at the top make my point. That won’t happen, yet at least. But if real radio programmers are not brought in soon, there’s a good chance it will have to happen. Just turn off the lights if you are the last one to leave the building. Or buildings ...

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #100

All is not well with Pacifica public station KPFK (90.7 FM). According to sources, employees were told in August that salaries would be cut in half for a period of four months ... and that the move was made due to a staggering debt in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Now that debt is chump change to companies like Cumulus (owner of KABC 790 AM and KLOS 95.5 FM) and the other major players. But it’s huge to a small station like KPFK and Pacifica, a company that has essentially been hanging by a thread for at least a decade.

This is unfortunate, as unlike college stations that were originally intended as educational outreaches or student radio laboratories, KPFK was conceived as a public (service) station and has a long history of fighting for what it considers social justice. Perhaps it at times comes off as leaning so far left it is actually communist, it is also the only station in town to take on institutions and people that KPFK staffers and management feel are doing things wrong. LAUSD’s former superintendent John Deasy is but one example.

Of course those managers and staffers are what also made KPFK so irrelevant to much of Southern California. 
This will be difficult to fix.

Building a Program

Over at Cal State Long Beach, the radio program that was gutted when student-run radio station KSUL was shut down in 1981 in favor of professionally-run KLON (now KKJZ, 88.1 FM) is slowly but surely making a return.

Sources tell me that at least one class is in the works at the university, and that the hope is for a full radio-television major of study to return. Danny Lemus, the driving force behind student-run K-Beach (heard on the digital HD3 stream of KKJZ as well as on line) is the driving force behind this development as well.

SPERDVAC Convention Update

Recreations of classic episodes of radio’s Fibber McGee and Molly; the Lux Radio Theater; Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar; and Sherlock Holmes are on tap for the annual convention of SPERDVAC, the Society to Preserve and Encourage Radio Drama, Variety and Comedy.
In addition, there will be panel discussions featuring Noel Blanc (speaking of his father Mel), new radio dramas, celebrating the life of Spike Jones, the history of KABC (790 AM) and more.

The convention is November 6th, 7th and 8th at the Holiday Inn Media Center, 150 E. Angeleno Avenue in Burbank. For details on the convention, or on how to join SPERDVAC, head over to www.sperdvac.com or call 877-251-5771

Readers Write

“Your comments regarding ‘automatic sound' due to strong radio signals took me back to 1959 when as a ten year old I saved up enough money to buy an early transistor radio. The first portables featured two transistor circuitry that lacked much selectivity.

“I hurriedly rushed home to La Mirada to try out my new radio only to discover that I received KFI across the whole dial. Turns out that their broadcasting antenna was only about a mile from our home. Their 50,000 watt signal was too much for my humble radio.” -- Joe Paire, Long Beach

“I grew up on 178th street perhaps less than a mile from the KNX transmitters. We could all hear KNX whenever we picked up the telephone. A neighbor kid made a receiver out of a pair of headphones and about two feet of wire. And there were a couple of adults in the neighborhood who claimed they could "not not" hear KNX because of the number of metal fillings in their teeth. Our telephone experience gave their claims a lot of credibility. -- John Billings, Long Beach