Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #83

The IRS is investigating an incident in which a call from a taxpayer to an IRS agent ended up on Sirus/XM Satellite Radio’s Howard Stern Show.

Well, half the call, at least. And only a portion. It seems the agent -- Jimmy from Long Island -- called in to Stern and kept working while he was on hold. During that time, the agent was talking with a woman from Massachusetts regarding a tax bill; when Stern put him on the air the agent didn’t realize it and audio from his end of the conversation was heard on Stern’s show. The woman’s voice could not be heard.

During the call, Stern and sidekick Robyn Quivers tried to get Jimmy’s attention, and for the most part the call was uneventful ... just a bunch of numbers being thrown around. Finally, toward the end of the call, the woman gave Jimmy her phone number and he repeated it, so it made it onto Stern’s show.

The woman, whose name has not been released, has been telling news services such as Forbes, “I just feel terribly violated and I like I’m in jeopardy that my credit information might be out there and I’m just totally devastated.”

BS, in my opinion. I heard the call. You can too, at Yes, her phone number was heard, which was stupid, but it is not devastating. Early reports suggest that the text messages and calls were not prank, but people contacting her to warn of what was happening. Regardless, in my opinion, hardly more than a short-term inconvenience.

But I am sure she will be able to use the incident to slash her tax bill. Being put on the national stage may have just saved her some big bucks ... or facilitated the earning of big bucks through potential lawsuits.

Changes at KLOS

No wholesale changes, but the music is definitely starting to drift away from what it has been under the direction of new programmer Keith Cunningham. More ‘80s hair bands it seems, along with more music on the morning Heidi and Frank Show.

Changing the music is basic survival. While KLOS has been relatively stable music-wise for quite some time (about 30 years...), the competition has changed and has been eating away at the listener base. KRTH (101.1 FM), Jack (93.1 FM), The Sound (100.3 FM), and even KOLA (99.9 FM) all play many of the same songs that have been staples of KLOS, and in doing so have been cutting into the ratings.

But are ‘80s Hair bands (Whitesnake, Skid Row, etc) the right way to go? And while I am most certainly not a fan of Heidi and Frank, is adding music going to help? In both cases I have my doubts. But the fact is Cunningham is finally trying to differentiate KLOS for the first time in many years and programmers.

What I cannot understand, since Heidi and Frank tend to attract a slightly younger audience than many of the songs KLOS plays, why doesn’t KLOS move more current? Play some of the better new rock bands and perhaps spark a rebirth of real album rock radio? Not everyone is as old as I am ... and there are a lot of good bands that only get exposed on Sirius/XM or via other means. I for one would like to see a current AOR station again. Any takers?

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #82

Frazier Smith is a stand-up guy.
The man most famously known as the morning guy on KLOS (95.5 FM) from 1979 to 1984 in many ways changed rock radio forever. And he did it through his comedy born out of his standup routines perfected before he even landed in Los Angeles back in 1976, when he worked as part of a weekend program called “The Hollywood Nightshift.”

That program, which ran until 1979, starred the Fraze, Phil Austin, and Michael C. Gwynne doing improvisational comedy based upon a topic that was supposedly chosen spontaneously.

At KLOS he took a station known more for being the dull, corporate alternative to competitor KMET (now KTWV, 94.7 FM) and made it hip. Eschewing tradition, Smith talked. A lot. And he had lots of ongoing bits that were unusual for album rock radio at the time, which generally focussed on the music itself. 

Of course this was not new to radio; many in the past had done it prior to the arrival of Smith; Lohman and Barkley on KFI (640 AM) being just one example. But they tended to appeal to an older generation, while Smith did it for high school and college-aged kids who ate up his party animal aura and “too hip” image.

Smith left KLOS for KMET in 1984, moved to KLSX (now KAMP, 97.1 FM) when the Mighty Met became The Wave in 1986, and moved back to KLOS for a year in 1987. He even did a little work on KRTH (101.1 FM) in 2002, and was part of both (relatively) recent KMET reunions on The Sound (100.3 FM).
But ... did you know he’s still on the air? At KLOS, no less, Sunday nights from 10 p.m. to 12 midnight. And it’s not a rehash of what he did years ago ... Fraze is still “too hip,” but the content is current. Too Hip News last Sunday poked fun at Tom Brady ... 
using wording that was quite funny and, unfortunately, not able to be printed here.

Rodney on the Roq

There’s something comforting about the idea that Rodney Bingenheimer is still on the air, even if the legendary DJ is stuck in the awful Monday morning 12 midnight to 3 a.m. slot on the station he helped put on the map: KROQ.

During the station’s glory days of the 1980s and 1990s, Rodney on the Roq was found much earlier ... Sunday’s before midnight at least. 

But he still plays an eclectic set of songs -- it is said he is and has been the last DJ in town to have full control over what he plays. Recent songs ran the gamut from the Summer Cannibals “Don’t Make Me Beg” to the Beatles “Your Mother Should Know.” He even played a Flamin’ Groovies track recently: “I Can’t Hide.”

Bingenheimer has always been on the cutting edge of music, and his show brought a lot of street cred to KROQ in the early days of the station’s New Wave format. My friend Frank Pereyda was a weekly listener in those days; I still have an audio recording Frank made for me circa 1980 when Bingenheimer did a program featuring songs from the ‘60s psychedelic/garage era ... bands like Love (My Little Red Book) and The Standells (Dirty Water) ... songs that were not at the time and still are not played on the radio.

A shame that Bingenheimer is not heard earlier ... such as when people are actually awake. But at least he’s still there. That’s something.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #81

Good news for fans of Lisa May, formerly heard as part of the Kevin and Bean morning show on KROQ (106.7 FM) throughout much of its history. You may recall that traffic reporter/sidekick May -- and newsman Doc -- were unceremoniously dumped from the program they helped build back in February.

May has landed on her feet, with the help of KLOS (95.5 FM). Station owner Cumulus Media announced late last week that May would join the program as a traffic reporter and “contributor” beginning May 11.

Contributor? Kind of a catch-all, since May did, and does, mush more. Explains KLOS programmer Keith Cunningham: “May isn’t just a traffic reporter or female sidekick, she’s a radio brand and she’s beloved by Southern California radio listeners. She’ll be doing a lot more than traffic and we can’t wait to get her in the building.”

This is not the first time May has been on with the morning duo. In March, she was on with Heidi and Frank to do the sendoff she was not allowed to do before being let go from KROQ. It appears that this accidental audition got things in motion that led to her being added to the show permanently.

If you happened to hear the program this week (which airs weekdays from 6 to 10 a.m.), let me know what you think. Personally I think she can only add to the program.

Problems at Neilsen

When Arbitron Ratings initially released the Portable People Meter, the claim was that radio station ratings would be far more accurate than ever before.

Unlike the old days which used a diary system in which people would write their listening habits down in a diary, often much later than the listening actually took place, PPM would measure actual listening as it happened. People agreeing to wear a meter would wear it all day, the meter would pick up audio in the environment, and as long as the station encodes their audio with a special signal, the PPM can decode listening habits. Instant ratings, accurate down to the minute. Or so they say.

Problems started surfacing even before Arbitron was bought by the Nielsen Company. Were there enough PPMs in the field? Probably not, as one meter counts for as many as 2500 listeners ... or more. I don’t recall the total number of PPMs in the field for Los Angeles, but I do recall being shocked at how low it is.

Worse, Arbitron still “weights” particular demographics because it seems some age groups or ethnicities have an aversion to wearing the PPM. So an already small number of PPMs becomes even smaller when split up into demographics, so suddenly one person can make a huge difference in ratings calculations This was seen last year when Nielsen recalled the entire Los Angeles ratings report to recalculate it after it was determined that someone manipulated a PPM.

Now it turns out that the PPM itself may have issues. It appears that certain formats may have trouble being picked up consistently, and that external forces -- wind through a window while driving, for example -- may prevent the PPM from accurately crediting listening. Likewise, a station heard but with static as in long-distance listening or listening to a weak signal may not be credited at all.

A company called Telos can install something at a station called Voltair, a technology that allows a station to be better “heard” and decoded by a PPM. Think about that ... without Voltair, a PPM could miss actual listening, and this has been proven in computer studies of PPM. With Voltair the system works better, at least in theory.
If this does not prove that PPM is flawed -- possibly fatally -- I don’t know what does. It will be interesting to see how the industry responds to this development. Will PPM be improved? Will it be changed? Dropped? or will another company come around and show Nielsen the door?

No Seventies

American Top-40: the Seventies has been removed from the schedule at KOLA (99.9 FM). Programmer Gary Springfield says it came down to ratings. “The show has had consistently bad ratings for over a year,” he told me.

Since I live in the seventies, it makes me sad. Must be the damn PPM ...

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #80

It’s been a while since Larry Elder has been heard on the local airwaves -- the Sage from South Central was shown the door at KABC (790 AM) last December -- but that didn’t stop him from being honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

He’s in rare company. Only a handful of political talk hosts have a star: Bill Cunningham (awarded in 1960), Ray Briem (1992), Dan Avey (2006) and Bill Handel (2009), according to the Hollywood Reporter.

I actually have little information on Bill Cunningham, and his inclusion on this list may be a mistake. It seems there are two, and even the Hollywood Walk of Fame info page has it incorrectly listed as the current conservative talk host. The current syndicated host is named after the radio pioneer who earned the star as host of “Meet the Boss” from 1944 to 1952 ... hardly a political-sounding show.

Regardless, Elder was the recipient of the 2,548th star on April 27th -- Larry Elder Day in Hollywood, according to Hollywood Chamber of Commerce President Leron Gubler. The star can be found near Hollywood and Vine, across the street from the famous Pantages Theater. On hand for the celebration were Jon Voight and Dean Cain.

You can still hear Larry via podcast -- live from 3-6 PM locally as well as on demand -- at www.LarryElder.Com

Boss Followup

Last week’s column on the 50th birthday of KHJ’s top-40 “Boss Radio” format brought out quite a few responses. One caught an error ... it was not Bill Drake who voiced the promo asking listeners to check out the competition for examples of “pre-Boss radio,” it was station morning man and official voice Robert W. Morgan. Hear it at about the 3 minute mark at

One of the more interesting emails received came from Mary Cahill, who asked why I didn’t mention KHJ’s current format, religious talk with programming from Immaculate Heart Radio, a Catholic broadcasting group.

When I explained that it just wasn’t the focus of my story but that I was personally excited to hear one of the current hosts mention “new affiliate, 93/KHJ”, she wrote back: “I also like to hear ‘93 KHJ’ - I've been listening to that station for 50 years! I arrived in the U.S. on April 29, 1965.”

Few stations can claim listenership that long. That’s impressive.
Would it Work?

The question does come up ... would a station like KHJ work today? Or is today’s radio audience so fractured that it would be doomed?
Let’s think this through. The major elements of Boss Radio were:

• Play the currently popular music.
• Limit DJ chatter, but encourage personality.
• Interesting and innovative contests to lure listeners, especially teens.
• Limited commercials so the focus is on music.
• An award-winning news department that made news entertaining.
• Quick jingles to eliminate on-air clutter
• Focus on being bigger than life, entertaining, fun and accessible.

In a word: yes. I believe successful would be an understatement.
Today’s top-40 radio -- as well as many other formats -- is as cluttered as the popular stations were prior to April, 1965. Sound beds under any talk, 10 minute commercial breaks (or longer). Worse: DJs not allowed to do much more than read cards, yet the messages on the cards themselves are part of the clutter. Quick jingles are gone, replaced by long promos.

No matter the music, a station that adopted the philosophies of original programmer Ron Jacobs, last programmer Chick Martin, or many of those in between would clean up ... just like KIIS-FM when they did exactly that in the early 1980s and set ratings records for the era. 

I dare say that KRTH (101.1 FM) and Go Country (105.1 FM) do much of that now, and that is why those two stations are among the most popular of their type in the country. Even KFI (640 AM) has elements ... their “more stimulating talk” has much in common with Boss Radio.

Good radio is good radio, and good radio would keep people from seeking alternatives such as iPods ... at least that’s my opinion. What are your thoughts?