Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #79

If your radio seems a little happier this week, perhaps it is celebrating... this is the week -- 50 years ago -- that KHJ (930 AM) set the radio world on fire with a top-40 format called Boss Radio.
I could write this story every year. And I probably do.
KHJ was a has-been station for many years, offering up five different formats in five years. That is not to say that the station was always unsuccessful.

As the West Coast affiliate for Mutual Broadcasting, KHJ in its early years actually had much success, and many network shows originated from the studios of KHJ. But the 1950s and early ‘60s were not kind to Radio 93. The big money came from sister television station KHJ-TV Channel 9. KHJ Radio was a bad joke.

When consultants Bill Drake and Gene Chanault were brought in to change KHJ, they hired Ron Jacobs as programmer; Jacobs had previously competed against Drake in Fresno. In early April, 1965, the staff around the station figured these new managers were simply the latest of the format of the day ... and would be gone soon enough.

Even the LA Times had doubts. In “The Radio Beat,” columnist Don Page wrote:

“Requiem for a lightweight. It’s too depressing to to recount the long unhappy life of radio KHJ. By now most of you know that 40 years of programming will hear the referee say ’10” on Monday. Mercifully it will be a clean knockout. Whether KHJ moves into the hallowed rating circle is unimportant. It remains that quality, purposeful programming has lost at KHJ.”

This was published on May 2, 1965, during the “Sneak Preview” KHJ launched to counter competitor KFWB (980 AM) trying to steal KHJ’s thunder. The format change was supposed to happen May 5, but a newsman from KHJ thought he was going to be fired and jumped ship, taking some of the secrets with him.

Suddenly KFWB was calling themselves Boss Radio, playing Boss Hits and 20/20 News. Jacobs decided to transition earlier, and The Real Don Steele launched the sneak preview at 3 PM on April 27th. To show the quick thinking inside the KHJ building, a promo was voiced by Drake in which he put KFWB on the defensive, stating “some stations may try to copy KHJ’s boss sound and we cordially invite them to try.” He invited listeners to sample KFWB and KRLA as example of pre-Boss Radio, then return to KHJ - ”originators of Boss Radio.”

The format was simple: no long jingles, no DJ chatter, and a strict commercial limit. Build excitement with promotions on a clean, uncluttered sound and make the station larger than life.

That commercial limit actually accomplished two things: It allowed KHJ to always be back to music faster than the competition, and it allowed the commercials time to be sold for a higher amount since it would be more valuable to advertisers.

Jacobs was the man to put all of these ideas into action. He was and still is a radio programming genius. Even in his advanced years, I am convinced he could take a station today and decimate the competition, especially since so many stations today have the same problem as the leaders of yesterday: they are burned out, boring, and predicable.

I caught up with Jacobs by telephone; he returned to his longtime home of Hawaii years ago. Some of the more interesting facts I discovered:

• There really was very little time from the conception of the ideas of Boss Radio to its ultimate launch. Jacobs wasn’t even hired until early April. That’s less than a month to develop a format that changed radio forever.

• Those rumors you may have heard regarding Jacobs calling the jock on duty over a special telephone line to ream them over perceived mistakes? Totally true. But it may have not been anything they actually did. “I would drive around town and listen to jazz on the radio,” he told me. “Then I’d call and yell ‘What was that?’ The DJ would say ‘you mean ...’ I’d say ‘yeah that. Don’t do that again.’ Then I’d return to listening to jazz. That worked as well as monitoring the station.”

• After he left KHJ in late 1969 to start Watermark and American Top-40, he never listened to KHJ again.

I’ll have more from that interview another time. Back to Don Page:
“One thing you’ve got to say for RKO-General (the owners). By eliminating personalities such as Michael Jackson, Joe Dolan, Red McIlvaine, Paul Compton, Army Archerd, Steve Allen (plus good music and news) and replacing them with rock ‘n’ roll, it showed class. All third.”

I wonder if KHJ ever grew on Page. In less than six months, the station was number one in Los Angeles. Stations around the country emulated it, some successfully, others not. KFWB changed to a news format three years later, and KRLA (now KDIS, 1110 AM) by 1970 was sounding more album-oriented.

KHJ really was the station that changed radio. Airchecks as heard on easily show what the typical station sounded like pre- and post- 1965, and it is dramatic. That influence is the reason people fondly remember the station’s top-40 format 50 years after its launch and 35 years after the format was dropped. Too bad so many programmers have forgotten the lessons learned, but that influence does still hold today even if so many stations have gotten lazy again.

Happy 50th, Boss Radio.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #78

I Heart Media -- a name chosen primarily to make you forget that they are the evil empire formerly known as Clear Channel Communications -- had a top-three sweep and four stations in the top-10 in the Nielsen ratings released last week.

First was KIIS-FM, which other than during the Christmas music season in which sister KOST takes over tends to live in that top spot ... and has for much of the time I have been writing this column. For the month of March, the most recent ratings available, KIIS earned a 5.3 attracted 5.3 percent of the Los Angeles radio audience. Right behind was KOST at 5.1 and KBIG at 5.0, tied with CBS-owned KRTH.

The fourth I Heart station was KFI tied at 9th place with a 3.5 share.

The Sound KSWD continued its Rocket to Stardom with its own ratings record, earning a 3.9 share (tied with KLVE). This is the third up month for the classic rock station and almost a full point higher than it stood in December when it had a 3.0. Is the difference the new morning show, Mark on the Morning? Hard to say since I don’t have the breakdowns ... yet ... but it is probably a bit of that and a bit of the station sounding a bit fresher as all personalities seem to be opening up a bit more.

The first ratings period for the new Real 92.3 was quite impressive compared to February, up 0.7 to 3.2. However that isn’t saying much yet ... Hot 92.3 had a 3 share in December and the sample may have been skewed as the station ran no commercials during its first month using the class-less slogan “10,000 joints in a row.” There is no question the station hurt competitor Power 106, as Power was down to 2.8 from February’s 3.6 and January’s 4.0. We’ll see if the trend continues and I get my wish granted for the return of top-40 K-WEST 106 under the direction of programmer Chuck Martin ...

Sports? Killin’ it. KSPN leads the pack at 29th place with a 1.1 share of the audience. Closest competitor KLAC right there at 37th place and 0.6. The Beast 980 (KFWB) and KLAA tied for absolute last place in the ratings list, 41st with a 0.1 share. Add all those ratings together and you end up at 1.9, which would still only make for 29th place in the city. KFWB and KLAA are so low that even the Communist KPFK beats them both with a 0.2 ... 

Not that long ago, KFWB was beating KNX with a news format and KLAC was in the 2 shares with either Country music or more recently Standards. Yes, Martha, music does work on AM.

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. KIIS-FM (5.3); 2. KOST (5.1); 3. KBIG, KRTH (5.0); 5. KAMP (4.0); 6. KLVE, KSWD (3.9); 8. KCBS-FM (3.7); 9. KFI, KTWV (3.5)
11. KRRL (3.2); 12. KNX (3.1); 13. KROQ (2.9); 14. KPWR (2.8); 15. KPCC (2.6); 16. KLYY (2.5); 17. KYSR (2.4); 18. KKGO, KLAX, KSCA (2.3)
21. KBUE (2.2); 23. KLOS (2.0); 24. KXOL (1.7); 25. KUSC, KCRW (1.5); 27. KJLH (1.3); 28. KSSE (1.2); 29. KSPN (1.1); 30. KDAY, KWIZ (1.0)
32. KKJZ (0.9); 33. KEIB (0.8); 34. KFSH, KKLA, KRLA (0.7); 37. KLAC (0.6); 38. KABC (0.5); 39. KTNQ (0.4) 40. KPFK (0.2); 41. KFWB, KLAA (0.1).

Spacin’ Mason Passes

Scott Mason once worked at UCLA’s student station KLA, before my time there. More recently he has been an integral part of the CBS Los Angeles radio stations. Mason passed away last Sunday; here is the letter sent to employees of the Los Angeles CBS station group from Dan Kearny, local market manager:

“The entire CBS Radio family is grieving today over the passing of Scott Mason, who has been part of CBS since 1979.    With his spirited passion for radio and unwavering dedication to his work, Scott’s accomplishments were numerous, from being an on-air personality at KROQ to hosting diverse programs like the popular “Loveline” and “OpenLine,” a long-running public affairs show, to overseeing the design and construction of CBS Radio L.A.’s state-of-the art facilities on the Miracle Mile. Our thoughts today are with his family and all those who knew and worked alongside Scott during his amazing life and career.

“Due to Scott's wishes, no funeral services will be held. A memorial will be planned in the weeks to come.”

Among his numerous radio duties, Mason worked twice for legendary programmer Rick Carroll: first at the age of 14 answering phones at KKDJ (now KIIS-FM), then again as a personality and engineer in 1979 when he was still in his teens and Carroll was launching new-rock KROQ. He stayed with KROQ (and later the CBS cluster) until his death. He will be missed.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #77

The first low-powered FM station in the Los Angeles area is now on the air. KBUU (97.5 FM) launched full time in early March and can be heard along the coast near Malibu, broadcasting with a 50-watt transmitter from a hilltop overlooking Paradise Cove from studios located in a spare bedroom of station founder Hans Laetz.

Venture far from its signal area and you’ll pick up a 72,000-watt Spanish station out of Riverside or a 50,000 religious station in Santa Barbara. But along Pacific Coast Highway from Tracas to Escondido Beach and a few other spots, 97.5 KBU, as it is called, comes in loud and clear.

As well, you can stream it on your computer at; soon to be available on the smartphone TuneIn app.

Right now its not much to speak of. Continuous music when I tune in, with a few announcements; Laetz says that hosted shows -- prerecorded at first, unfortunately -- will be the bulk of the broadcast day with NPR shows “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition” set to begin later this month.

“Malibu is one of the few areas of Los Angeles County that does not receive NPR affiliates cleanly, due to the mountains blocking the signals of NPR affiliates KCRW (89.9 FM), KPCC (89.3 FM), and KCLU (88.3 FM),” explained Laetz. “I believe we are the first low powered FM station in the nation to win NPR licensing rights,” he said.

About 8000 people live in the station’s broadcast area, which includes Trancas, Zuma Beach, Point Dume and the Paradise Cove area. That makes KBU truly local. 
The Rock of Torrance
Low Powered FM stations are actually nothing new. In the old days when the FCC actually did something useful rather than  to let three media companies control over 75 percent of the nation’s radio stations, licenses were issued to local community organizations -- mostly colleges and universities -- in the educational part of the band.

One such station was KNHS, licensed to the Torrance Unified School District in 1967 and that broadcast from the campus of North High School utilizing at first a one-watt transmitter and later a full 10-watts on 89.7 FM. That 10-watts covered an area extending from approximately Palos Verdes Drive North at the border of San Pedro all the way up into Redondo Beach.
Unlike educational licenses today, in which professionals staff the stations and little education is involved, KNHS was truly student-run and driven. They played the music. They covered local athletics. They kept the logs. They did the transmitter readings. All on a shoestring budget.

Unfortunately, short-sighted thinking (or downright stupidity) on the part of the Torrance school district allowed the license to expire during an era in which such licenses were not allowed to be returned after expiration. Some reports have it expiring in December of 1983, just one year after an unnamed television news segment brought some great publicity about the amazing radio program at North High (see Other reports have it on the air possibly as a pirate until as late as 1991 ... records are a bit hard to find.
But KNHS -- and others such as also defunct KSUL at Cal State Long Beach -- are exactly what educational licenses were designed to provide ... student experience in radio. That the FCC stopped issuing the licenses (or allowing renewal when accidentally expired) showed the new era of the FCC in which money is everything and public airwaves are not public at all. Indeed, there are no students allowed at KUSC (91.5 FM), KJAZ (88.1 FM), KCRW, KPCC, KCLU, KCSN (88.5 FM). Locally, that leaves KXLU (88.9 FM) as the only “educational” station broadcasting under the spirit and intent of their educational license.

In my opinion, that is criminal and the “professional” broadcasters on the educational band should lose their licenses. Unfortunately the impotent and corrupt FCC has proven it will do nothing.
Meanwhile, stations such as KNHS and KSUL remain but memories.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #76

Years ago, one of my favorite internet sites to visit was ReelRadio.Com, a site dedicated to preserving the history of (primarily) top-40 radio. It was so much fun, in fact, that my wife, Jean, bought me a new, faster dial-up modem (remember those?) in order to hear the new RealAudio 3 files back in the 1990s.

Over the years as my computers and the internet got faster, ReelRadio got bigger and better. To the point where, today, there are over 3000 selections from which to choose. Classic top-40 radio from KHJ, KRLA, Ten-Q, KFI and more, along with stations from around the country and Canada such as CKLW, WLS, WCFL and KCBQ.

And a few surprises ... such as some radio satire (search for “nine” and “99”) or the famous 1972 “recycled” documentary as heard on San Diego’s KGB as it transitioned to album rock from top-40. The oldest recording on the site is also a treat: 15 minutes with Bing Crosby as heard on KHJ in 1931.

There’s the groundbreaking -- and ratings record-setting -- History of Rock and Roll as heard on KHJ in 1969, narrated by Robert W. Morgan. And Rush Limbaugh playing the hits in the 1970s under the name Jeff Christie. All typically presented in glorious low-fidelity mono as originally heard on your AM tuner.

Not all are AM, either. You can hear recordings of KKDJ before it became KIIS-FM. Or KIIS-FM, for that matter, in its days spent dominating all stations in America ... along with others such as KIQQ with Boss Radio transplants Morgan and The Real Don Steele.
It truly is an online museum of historical recordings known to us radio geeks as “airchecks” ... a clearinghouse of recordings, as their purpose statement explains, “both archival and educational.” And it gives both those who produced the airchecks -- the DJs -- as well as listeners a chance to talk about what they hear ... to “offer comments on our exhibits and to participate in a dialogue about Top 40 Radio, the people, the music, popular culture and history preserved in these airchecks.”

After some time spent in what curator Richard “Uncle Ricky” Irwin called “jukebox mode” in which access to some exhibits was limited as the nonprofit ReelRadio Board of Directors worked out some issues, I was pleasantly surprised to find that as of late March, ReelRadio is back in full operation with a slightly cleaner interface and even more exhibits. 

To attempt to cover the costs associated with running the site such as the time spent encoding the files as well as maintaining the servers and paying bandwidth and music licensing fees, ReelRadio requires a small yearly membership fee of $20 to start, $15 to renew. I personally think it is a great deal for all the entertainment value I receive; even my wife thinks they are fun, though she does think I am a bit weird for spending so much time listening.

She is right of course.

Regardless, I’m just excited that ReelRadio is back. Check it out for yourself and let me know what you think.

Droning On

KFI (640 AM) -- already one of the better news sources among Los Angeles radio stations -- plans to improve coverage of certain news events by equipping reporters with news drones. According to assistant programmer Neil Saavedra, “Reporters will complete both classroom and field training with an instructor and the KFI News Drones will now be a part of their general news gathering technology.” The drones will be part of general news gathering but interestingly will not be used on-air; instead they will be used for the station’s website and on social media.

"There is no doubt in my mind that this is the future of news gathering," said KFI programmer Robin Bertolucci in a press release. "The news drones will be a great addition to our content capturing technology. Our listeners demand dynamic content on our website and social media. Not to mention, they’re just really, really cool."

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #75

The Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters celebrated the careers of two distinguished local legends at their luncheon last week at the Sportsman’s Lodge in Studio City.

Radio and television star Wink Martindale was inducted into the organization's Diamond Circle, a prestigious honor for a member who has made a significant contribution to broadcasting; while KRTH (101.1 FM) afternoon drive personality “Shotgun” Tom Kelly received the Art Gilmore Lifetime Achievement Award ... and a tribute that often ventured into the area of a roast.

Martindale grew up listening to radio’s Golden Age shows including Gene Autry’s “Melody Ranch.” His first radio job was at a 250-watt station run by his Sunday school teacher; soon he was on WHBQ/Memphis and eventually Los Angeles at KHJ (930 AM), the original KRLA (now KDIS, 1110 AM), KFWB (980 AM), KGIL (now KMZT, 1260 AM) and his radio dream job working for the Singing Cowboy himself, the original KMPC (now KSPN, 710 AM) -- owned at the time by Gene Autry.

Martindale is also famous for his work in television, most notably as host of game shows such as “Tic Tac Dough” where his infectious smile and positive attitude was given national exposure. Martindale is one of the most upbeat people I know, and he lives by his personal mantra of always making a positive influence on everyone he meets.

Kelly is similarly positive and like Martindale, everyone he meets is a friend. He loves radio. Loves it, and loves entertaining his fieneds ... and has since his mom sent him down to a local store to see a live remote broadcast.

I listened to him when he made it to San Diego on KGB, KCBQ and B-100 (KFMB-FM), the first FM station in San Diego to hit number one in the ratings. On television he won awards for the kid’s game show “Words-a-Poppin’” and numerous other local programs.

In 1997 he moved to Los Angeles to take over the afternoon drive slot replacing -- “succeeded,” Kelly insists, as “no one replaces” -- “The Real” Don Steele, who passed away from lung cancer.
On the dais honoring Kelly were television’s Harold Green, “Natural” Neil Ross, Kerri Kasem, Robert David Hall, PPB President “Commander” Chuck Street, KRTH morning man Gary Bryan, Lou Waters, former boss Jhani Kaye (who also produced a video of Kelly’s broadcast life), PPB Chairman of the Board Jeanne DeVivier Brown and KFI evening funny man Tim Conway, Jr ... all of whom donned official Shotgun Tom hats -- albeit only briefly -- to make him feel more at home. Or to mock him ... whichever.


Membership in the Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters is open to anyone with 20 years experience in radio, television, or a related field of entertainment, and for a limited time they are waiving the initiation fee of $50. For reasons unknown, even I quality for membership ... if you or someone you know does as well, head over to PacificPioneerBroadcasters.Com and click on “membership.”

Adult Standards on HD

Just last week I mentioned that adult standards music should be one of the formats on HD Radio ... and now it is. Saul Levine’s Mount Wilson Broadcasters announced March 26 that standards have returned to Los Angeles via digital radio on 105.1 HD3. Called “Unforgettable,” you need an HD Radio to receive it -- internet access is coming soon -- or you can hear it via a smartphone app such as StreamS or TuneIn.