Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #66

Rick Dees is set to be honored by the Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters January 23rd. PPB President Chuck Street -- who happens to be Dees’ longtime traffic reporter from his days at KIIS-FM (102.7) -- will present the Art Gilmore Career Achievement Award at the PPB luncheon at the Sportsman’s Lodge in Studio City.

Now you may be thinking ... Dees a pioneer? He’s so young! How can a guy who just got started be a pioneer?

Easy. It was 1979 when Dees landed in Los Angeles, first at KHJ (930 AM) and then for almost a quarter century at KIIS-FM. 1979 is 36 years ago, even if it seems like yesterday to those of us who still live in the past.

Dees defined top-40 morning radio in Los Angeles for a generation of listeners, in an era when many thought the format was dead. His impact at KHJ was minimal due to owner RKO’s decision to change the format to country just when master programmer Chick Martin was hitting his stride (though ironically earning ratings the station would never see so high ever again).

But at KIIS, surrounded by a supportive General Manager Wally Clark, programmer Gerry DeFrancisco, a “Cast of idiots” that included the talented Liz Fultan, Dees’ own wife Julie, Danny Lemus and more, and an airstaff of talent seldom seen in the same building -- including Big Ron O’Brien, Paul Freeman, Bruce Vidal among others -- Dees helped lead a revolution.
Dees was the face of the station, literally, his face plastered on billboards and bus boards everywhere. The morning show would be the cornerstone of the entire format. And it worked: the “dead” top-40 format became so popular that like KHJ before it, KIIS-FM started setting ratings records and having copycat stations spring up across the nation.

Those ratings records, by the way, still stand: No FM station in Los Angeles has earned the ratings KIIS-FM had in the early to mid 1980s; only the AM stations of the 1960s and ‘70s commanded a higher rating than KIIS’s 10+ shares in the Arbitron ratings, and that was before the popularity -- and extra competition of FM.

In addition to radio, Dees could be found on television, and he has some music to his credit including the famous (infamous?) hit “Disco Duck” that sold more than six million copies. He received the Billboard Radio Personality of the Year award for ten consecutive years and has won numerous other prestigious awards including the Marconi Award and a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was even inducted into numerous Halls of Fame: The National Association of Broadcasters, National Radio, North Carolina Music, and Tennessee Radio. And this is just a partial list.

Dees still hosts syndicated countdown shows including the “Rick Dees Weekly Top-40” that can be heard throughout the United States and overseas. Just not here in Los Angeles, which I find quite strange considering his long history here. You can hear it online and through apps such as TuneIn, though. You can check out everything he’s up to at his website,

Yes, I’d say he is most certainly a pioneer and absolutely deserving of this PPB honor. On the dais at the luncheon will be Channel 4 weatherman Fritz Coleman, David Sheehan, and Scott St. James. But my hunch is that he’ll have some catching up to do with his old friend Clark, who will be there as well. 

Mark and (Not) Brian

The Sound’s (100.3 FM) Dave Beasing told me that Mark Thompson makes his return to the Los Angeles airwaves on February 2nd. I’ll have some more information on the show next week.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #65

After years of trying unsuccessfully to attract an audience worthy of mentioning, KABC (790 AM) -- the onetime king of talk locally and nationally -- is making some changes. Beginning January 20th, the station will feature two new shows and move one of the current programs to a new time slot.

The first of the new hosts is a household name to some television viewers. Cristina Perez has been on local television stations with her court-oriented programs “Justice for All” (KCAL Channel 9), “Cristina’s Court” (Fox Channel 11) and “La Corte de Familia” (Telemundo Channel 52). Her KABC show, called “Judge Cristina Live @9” will air weekdays 9 a.m. to 12 noon and focus on topical news throughout the region.

The second new program I’ve already mentioned in a previous column. “Dr. Drew Midday live with Mike Catherwood” will air weekdays from noon the 3 p.m. and feature the Dr. Drew Pinsky and show partner “Phycho” Mike giving thoughts on the news of the day and according to a station spokesman, give “comprehensive insights on a broad range of topics.” Of course, those topics will most likely be medical or human-behavior oriented given Pinsky’s background as a physician and host of KROQ’s (106.7 FM) dating/sex program, “Love Line.”

Moving to the coveted 3 to 6 p.m. afternoon drive slot is
former “Mid Day LA” hosts John Phillips and Jillian Barberie. The move changes the name of the show to “The Drive Home,” but the program content -- as well as the hosts -- will remain the same.
Also remaining the same are the other programs on the station, including Doug McIntyre in the morning, Mark Levin and Peter Tilden back to back at night, and “Red-Eye Radio” overnights until 5 a.m.

My take? I doubt that Cristina Perez will do much. I always thought the television judge shows were on the air because they were cheap schlock trying to live on the reputation of the old “People’s Court,” and hardly the basis for a radio station to make a comeback. I’m not sure why KABC management thinks this will be better than Bryan Suits, who will no longer be with the station.

I’m split on Dr. Drew. He is well-known, does a good program on KROQ, and could be interesting. I think it’s too close to call, but he has the potential to do something, especially since KFI (640 AM) has its weakest program on at the same time.

Levin will continue to take the station down, as will Peter Tilden, who has his talents totally wasted on his current program that seems to be a way to hock advertiser goods more than being a respectable program. Personally, I’d move Tilden to 6 p.m., tell him to run wild, and figure out a way to get rid of Levin. Nothing personal, nor am I giving an opinion about his politics. But his ratings are low enough that KABC should just shut off the transmitter for three hours. Six if you count Tilden’s wasted talent program ...

Then there’s the paid programs that KABC runs all weekend long. Programs that bring in money, but keep ratings down ... way down. So my gut feeling on KABC is ... flat. They have the potential to do something. This is not the way. Something tells me that programmer Drew Hayes is being held back.

Savage Nation

I know I will get at least one inquiry about syndicated host Michael Savage, and it is an interesting question - why doesn’t KABC carry “The Godfather of talk radio” when he is on numerous Cumulus stations across the country? Cumulus, of course, also owns KABC.

Well, it appears Savage is not the powerhouse he claims to be. I don’t have the resent numbers, but an article from last year on NewsBusters.Org by Jeffrey Lord showed that where Savage replaced other hosts on stations across the country, ratings declined. As much as 50 percent in New York; 59 percent in Chicago. No, I don’t see Savage making a comeback here after failing to attract an audience in Los Angeles years ago.

Host Your Own Show

Always thought you could do a better job than the current host? Even if that host is Tom Leykis, who moved his program to the internet (

With a starting bid of $9.99 and an end time of Friday January 16 at 9:23 p.m., Leykis wants to give you a chance to prove it. If you read this in time and want to give it a shot, head over to and place a bid. All profits go to the show.

“As the producers of this show, our hope is that, by doing this, we'll find the next fresh talk show talent and that we would want to actually use you as a fill-in some time after this appearance,” Leykis wrote on the eBay auction page. “But for that, you'd have to be really, really good, and frankly, we have our doubts.”

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #64

Martindale on KHJ

Recent mentions of KHJ (930 AM) and the format change to religious talk brought in some amazing emails and letters. radio and television personality Wink Martindale was among the senders, and I share his story here. This is the first time I have ever heard of rock music being played in KHJ prior to the well-known game-changing Boss Radio format launched in April, 1965.

“The year was 1959. KHJ's  EARLIEST rock year!” Martindale began. “I was morning man at RKO's WHBQ/Memphis during the fifties. The RKO stations, with WHBQ leading the way, were preparing to make the programming switch from network radio to this trendy new format termed  ‘rock 'n roll.’” 
KHJ -- until 1950 a part of the Don Lee Broadcasting System until the chain was bought by what would later become RKO Radio -- had for many years been the West Coast feed for the Mutual Radio Network, Martindale explained. “Many of radio's most popular dramatic shows had originated from its studios at the corner of Fountain
and Vine. Thus a move from drama to music was considered a pivotal event. Rightly so.

“As a 21 year old kid from Memphis I just happened to fall into the mix.” But it wouldn’t be easy, especially for a chain that had no experience in the format. “The station had its work cut out for it...big time!
It was rock and roll radio’s infancy. “Just a year earlier KFWB (980 AM) had ushered in rock in Los Angeles with Chuck Blore at the helm introducing ‘The Seven Swingin' Gentlemen.’ Almost overnight ‘Color Radio Channel 98’ took the city by storm with ratings never before imagined ... on AM no less.” Of course this was years prior to the rise and dominance of FM music radio.
“To its credit RKO bigwigs had recognized rock as the force it had become early on” Martindale said. “They simply didn't know how to successfully implement it at KHJ. As one who had played rock in Memphis I was brought in to be the ‘morning man.’ But with several of its Mutual network voices still under contract they foolishly elected to have these dulcet toned voices become rock jocks. It was almost comical.”
Proving that management in radio could be as bad then as it can be now, Martindale showed how RKO messed it up: “The station's playlist would include ‘Venus’ by Frankie Avalon ... But not ‘Stagger Lee’ by Lloyd Price. Their rationale? Far too 'loud!’” All the while attempting to compete with KFWB. “Needless to say this ‘chicken rock’ format never got to first base.”

His tenure at KHJ was short-lived. “Thankfully within a year I was offered the morning show at Pasadena's KRLA (now KDIS, 1110 AM), which by now was in competition for KFWB's vast audience. I felt I had been given a get-out-of-jail reprieve! In a note of irony, by late '62 Gary Owens departed KFWB for afternoons at KMPC (now KSPN, 710 AM). Program Director by then, Jim Hawthorne offered me the slot. Finally I felt the joy of hosting my dream job, the coveted morning show at KFWB. 

“By 1966 I had left the station to further my career in game shows, though I continued in radio doing middays for 12 years at Gene Autry's KMPC.

As to KHJ itself ... “History shows the introduction of Boss Radio by programmer Ron Jacobs and consultants Bill Drake and Gene Chenault made mince-meat of the powerhouse we once knew as Color Radio, KFWB.”

So, as the late, great Paul Harvey used to say, “now you know ... the rest ... of the story.”

Marketing 101

While I’m on the topic, I cannot believe that Immaculate Heart Radio is totally blowing the marketing for their new religious talk format on KHJ. Instead of using the legendary call letters, they use the lame “AM 930” moniker with some generic words to “sell” the format. Same thing with their on-air ID ... so devoid of the stations’ rich history that could be used to help promote the format, even if it is a long way removed from top-40.

If I were Immaculate Heart, I’d take the history of the station and hype it. In years past, the call letters were said to connote Kindness Happiness and Joy. The billboard and on-air IDs should say something to the effect of:

“Kindness, Happiness and Joy ... Immaculate Heart Catholic Radio on 93/KHJ Los Angeles.” The billboard could mention “AM radio” or “on your AM dial” if management is worried about potential listeners who never venture off of FM. But that’s an easy addition.

The KHJ calls have a long history in Los Angeles, dating back to 1922. I tune in periodically because of that, and I’m not even Catholic. The owners should use that to their advantage. Few stations have such a history; even fewer have the same call letters they had at inception.