Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #74

It was over a decade ago -- 2002, to be exact -- that the FCC selected Ibiquity Digital Corporation’s HD Radio as the only digital broadcasting system allowed in the United States. In those 13 years a lot has changed in the world. But one thing has remained relatively constant: most people still don’t know what HD Radio is, and even fewer know if they want an HD Radio receiver.

For the uninitiated, HD Radio is the brand name for a system that sends one or more digital streams right next to the analog signal received by traditional radios. Because it is sent in the assigned channel of a particular AM or FM station, it is considered “in band, on channel” ... though the system’s detractors will point to interference caused by the digital signal’s “splatter” as proof that it isn’t quite as on-channel as fans suggest.

I own an HD radio. In fact I own a few, both in the house and my truck. Home radios are all but impossible to find now -- at least without spending big bucks, but the availability of car radios is exploding due to the system’s inclusion on many factory stereos as well as aftermarket units from companies like Alpine, Sony, Kenwood, JVC and Pioneer.

Most people actually discover HD Radio by accident when their factory stereo suddenly makes their favorite AM station sound better than they are used to hearing ... at least if their favorite AM station broadcasts in HD.

The original intent of HD was to make AM sound better and FM sound phenomenal. Along the way, National Public Radio had another idea: multiple stations on the same frequency (FM only; AM is limited to the primary signal due to small channel spacing). So most FM stations take route two ... multicasting. It lowers the potential sound quality but can still sound good to most people. And the extra stations can add more choices to your daily drive.
It works like this: tune to an FM station; wait for the digital signal to lock, and then tune up a channel ... formerly “hidden” stations will appear. Such as:

K-Beach, the student-run radio station broadcasting out of Cal State University Long Beach and carried digitally via KJAZ (88.1 FM). Officially the K-Beach signal is found on KJAZ 88.1 HD3, the third digital stream on the frequency. This station plays student and local volunteer shows with a variety of interests including music, talk and sports; it’s morning program “Mornings on the Beach” (9-10 weekday mornings) features Golden Mike winning “Hi-Definition News;” my favorite musical program is Even Richard Steven’s “Classic Hits at the Beach” Mondays from 3-4 PM.

Speaking of classic hits, while KRTH (101.1 FM) plays primarily music from the 1980s, K-Earth Classics on 101.1 HD2 still plays those songs you love from the 1960s. A few from the ‘50s and ‘70s as well. And nary a commercial to be found.

Remember when KROQ (106.7 FM) was on the cutting edge of music? Relive those days -- including some of the original DJs -- via “Roq of the ‘80s” on 106.7 HD2. Programmed locally by Freddie Snakeskin, this is one of the few corporate HD stations run like a real station ... DJs, ads (though few) and great music. Thus it is also one of the most successful HD stations in America.

Love classical music? Want an alternative to KUSC (91.5 FM)? Then KKGO 105.1 HD2 is your “go to” station. It is a simulcast of K-Mozart (1260 AM) in very full fidelity.

Can’t figure out what KTWV (94.7 FM) is playing this week? Tune into 94.7 HD2 and hear what The Wave once was: smooth jazz. Very relaxing. Very hip. For ten years ago at least.

And that’s just a sample -- stations up and down the FM dial broadcast multiple HD streams. The problem is that no station properly promotes itself to begin with, and they don’t promote their HD streams at all. No wonder more than a decade has passed since approval and most people still don’t know what HD Radio is.

Which is too bad. Radio has the potential to reinvent itself, and feature formats that are not necessarily mass appeal but could still attract a dedicated audience. Formats like those above along with big bands and adult standards (Chuck Southcott and Brad Chambers: we need you on an HD signal in town) would sell HD radios AND whatever product advertisers wanted to sell. 

I wonder why radio station owners are so afraid to promote this correctly? Or at all?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #73

It’s been years since anyone paid attention to KLAC (570 AM). So long ago that many forgot that the station used to play music ... like most AM stations, music is the last format that attracted an audience large enough to be meaningful. In the case of KLAC, it was adult standards that immediately followed country.
But that was a long time ago. For the past decade or so KLAC has been sports. Not that anyone cares. Outside of the entertaining Petros and Money Show in the afternoon, none of the shows have been noteworthy. And the ratings have reflected that for seemingly ever ... such as in the most recent Nielsen Ratings that has KLAC at a 0.5 share of the audience. Put into perspective, if you combine the ratings of all the sports stations in town -- KLAC, KLAA (830 AM), KSPN (710 AM) and KFWB (980 AM) -- you have a 1.8 share of the audience ... good for 24th place. Combined.

Time was when you had a SINGLE station with signals as strong as these you’d be looking to change formats. 

But all that’s about to change ... owner iHeartRadio, formerly known as Clear Channel, has the answer. KLAC as we know it is gone. In it’s place: AM 570 LA Sports.

What’s new? Get this ... a brand new logo! A couple new shows, too. Oh, and did I mention the brand-new logo? It’s a really nice logo.
The day starts with Dan Patrick 6 to 9 a.m., followed by the all-new “LA Today” with Bill Reiter and Leann Tweeden from 9 a.m. to noon. Jay Mohr follows until 3:00, at which time Petros and Money take over.

Highlighting the co-ownership of the station with the Los Angeles Dodgers, “Dodger Talk” featuring David Vassegh and Kevin Kennedy will air every night all year long at 7 p.m., or following the Dodgers games when they are playing.


“Your  report should of been about how iHeart Radio changed nice family station Hot 92.3 from a station with loved DJs such as Art Laboe, who is a legend here in Los Angeles, honored by Angelinos ...  to a vulgar, thuggish, no class or respect station. This is a travesty. Our Latino culture was kicked to the curb ... total discrimination ... for a station that totally glorifies  thugs, drugs, and vulgarity. Sick. And Big Boy was totally in on it; he already had a million dollar job he walked out on, for 3.mill, knowing his fellow DJ's would be kicked to the curb. Los Angeles lost a fabulous station ... for a group of greedy low lifes.” -- Dorothy Ortega

I’ve gotten emails and read posts on Facebook stating pretty much the same thing. Losing Hot is particularly tough for fans because there is no replacement: no other station in town plays the same music. If you live in the right area you can hear old school -- and Art Laboe, whose syndicated show moved after Hot changed formats -- on KQIE/Riverside (104.7 FM). 

Of course what I really want is for Laboe to bring back the original 1110 KRLA (now KDIS, 1110 AM) and program the tunes as he did in the 1970s and early ‘80s. KRLA was the original old school station ... with ties to East LA going back decades. But that’s just me living in the past again.

“How do I go about letting KABC (790 AM) know that they did not make a good choice in replacing Brian Suits with Judge Christina Perez? While she appears to know her legal stuff, her voice -- which is all soft and sweet -- is annoying to listen to speaking about such heavy duty matters. Does anyone else feel the way I do? I change the station to KFI (640 AM) from the 9-10 a.m. spot when I am in the car during morning drive.” -- Fern Reisner 

No, you are not the only one. I’ve received a few letters such as yours, along with quite a few asking where they can find Suits (short answer: I cannot find him either). My hunch: I’m not expecting the show to last. 

Rumor Mill

John Phillips is on the short list to become the new host of the syndicated Red Eye Radio, to replace Greg Gutfeld. I unfortunately have not been able to catch Phillips to get his thoughts ... we keep missing each other. Next week, I should have the scoop. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #72

The Los Angeles Superior Court lifted a temporary restraining order that prevented Kurt “Big Boy” Alexander from joining the air staff of the new Real 92.3 (KRRL). Emmis Broadcasting had sought the order and a preliminary injunction (denied by the court) after Alexander left Power 106 to join iHeartMedia’s Real.

Emmis’ position was that they had the final right of refusal as well as the ability to meet any offer made by competitors. They also stated that they had invested heavily in Alexander, in effect making him the star that he is.

The court disagreed, and Alexander should be in place at Real waking Los Angeles from his new home as of this week.

New PD

Keith Cunningham is the newest program director to make his way through the revolving PD door that is KLOS (95.5 FM). He replaces Derek Madden, who was promoted to run a station in Minneapolis, KXXR.

The revolving door of PDs -- Cunningham is the third at the station in three years, including almost a year with no PD at all after Jack Silver was let go in 2012 -- is an expression of how bad things have gotten at the aging rocker. I’ve seen this before at stations that lost their way. Most dramatically, it parallels what happened with former competitor KMET (now KTWV, 94.7 FM), which went through numerous programmers after the legendary Sam Bellamy was forced out ... none of whom understood what she did and why it worked.

For the most recent ratings, KLOS found itself at a 2.0 share, behind The Sound’s 3.4, Jack-FM’s 3.2, KROQ’s 2.9 and 98.7’s 2.5.
The problem has much to do with competition that never existed before. KLOS has for years played rock form the 1970s ... I used to joke that listening to KLOS today is the same as listening to the station when I was in junior high and high school ... the music is the same. And it worked for a long time ... back when stations like KRTH (101.1 FM) were playing hits from the 1950s and ‘60s.

Now its a different era ... you can hear essentially the same music on Jack, KRTH, The Sound, and KOLA (99.9 FM), all of which have done a better job at staying fresh-sounding. The Sound, for example, throws in “ah-ha” songs you haven’t heard in a while. And they’ve hired some of KLOS’ best talent to play those songs -- Rita Wilde, Joe Benson, and Cynthia Fox. KRTH has the upbeat “Boss Jock” image with great DJs and exciting jingles. Jack has the variety and KOLA has a playlist that eclipses most of the others.

KLOS? Not so much. Stale might best describe it, though that sounds far more harsh than I intend. On the positive side - it IS a heritage station and it does have a name. I hope new programmer Cunningham takes the time to learn the history of the station and its contribution to Southern California radio. Perhaps he can freshen up the music, and even take the station back to the present. It certainly would be nice to have an album rocker that plays current music not heard on 98.7 or KROQ (106.7 FM). Fans of Sirius/XM’s The Pulse know what I am talking about.

What I really expect to happen? Nothing. That’s been the course for years, and I am not sure why it would change now.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #71

The ink had barely dried on last week’s column regarding cutbacks at local stations when it was announced that KROQ (106.7 FM) -- the station that showed newsman Boyd R. Britton the door -- had let another part of the morning Kevin and Bean Show go.

Technically, it was not a firing. Lisa May worked for the company that supplies traffic reports to KROQ and management simply decided to cancel the contract for traffic reports.

Or at least -- based upon initial reports and statements made on the air -- it was assumed to be management. Turns out it was Kevin and Bean themselves who made the decision to terminate both Doc and May. The logic being that no one tunes to KROQ for news or traffic, and it was time to take the show in a fresh new direction.

I disagree. Not everyone goes to the internet for news. Well-done news reports are a tune-IN, not a tune-out. Intelligent people WANT news on the radio; they WANT to be informed on their way to school. To the office. To wherever. Stations that treat their listeners with respect do well. It appears that Kevin and Bean don’t necessarily think too much of their listeners. Or at least their listener’s intelligence.

Regardless, the entire world knows that May was far more than traffic. She was indeed an integral part of the program. In fact, I would bet that most people didn’t realize she wasn’t in the studio with the boys. Of course the boys themselves aren’t in the same studio either; Bean -- Gene Baxter -- moved to Seattle over a decade ago and (like Mark Thompson does on The Sound) broadcasts from his house.

May has been with the show almost since it’s inception, back in 1990. She’s funny, intelligent, and a perfect partner for Kevin and Bean. She could have easily been hired away from Total Traffic to sit in studio, though I am not sure she would go for it, or that Total Traffic would allow it. So that “new direction” means no news and a new partner, Allie MacKay, who most recently worked with the KTLA Channel 5 Morning News as a lifestyle reporter.
Listeners are not sitting by idly. A “Boycott KROQ until Lisa May Comes Back” Facebook page appeared on February 20 -- merely two days after she was let go -- and there are online petitions to get her back. One on PetitionBuzz.Com had the message that “We’re Out Without Lisa May” ... #WOWLisaMay.
May’s own Facebook page has been swamped with posts from fans offering support, while posts on KROQ’s page have been harshly critical of the decision ... with KROQ staffers seemingly busy removing said posts as quickly as they can. Fans of Doc are ticked off as well, posting that mornings will not be the same.

Frankly, I am surprised that KROQ management went along with the decision. It takes the station down at least a tier, allows listeners to sample other stations -- and perhaps stay away -- and most likely will yield nothing in return. But then again, I’m old-school ... I like radio news. I like pros like Doc. And while I always thought traffic reports on radio were pretty useless, I still tune in to them. And I also like Lisa May.

On the other hand, I’m old-school. Kevin and Bean don’t want old-school ... they want young. They want increased ratings. Will it work? Time will tell. In the meantime, what are your thoughts?