Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #95

                 Details are still sketchy but KRTH (101.1 FM) has demoted popular afternoon drive host “Shotgun” Tom Kelly. Kelly – whose contract was up for renewal – will be removed from the afternoon drive slot he has hosted for the past 22 years and will instead become the station’s “ambassador.” His last day is said to be scheduled for today (August 28).

                “Ambassador” according to the press release issued by the station means someone who will make personal appearances, work with clients (advertisers), be showcased in on-air features, and work on charitable events and special projects.

                “Ambassador” according to everyone outside of the (KRTH owner) CBS la-la land means “we don’t care that you’re one of the primary reasons for KRTH’s monster ratings and success for almost a quarter century, we pay you too much and we need to cut costs now.” Kelly is not the only long-time high-paid personality to be removed from their positions in the last few weeks. It does showcase that any class CBS once had is all gone. And for that matter, CBS radio itself is probably on the way out.

                Kelly deserves better. I hope he gets it.

                CBS Gone?

The latest -- and I must stress: totally unconfirmed -- rumor has cost-cutting at CBS-owned radio stations nationwide in full swing. It seems that no station in the chain is not being at least evaluated, and no personality is necessarily safe. KRTH is but one example.

Not that this is new in our corporate McRadio world. Large group owners such as CBS, IHeartMedia and Cumulus were never able to make their multiple-station pseudo-monopoly business plans work, so for years they’ve been laying off the very people who made radio what it once was, and have relied on their essential monopolies to retain ratings.

The ratings side has basically worked. If you don’t count teenagers who haven’t tuned into radio for at least a decade, total listenership to radio has held fairly steady. The problem is that advertisers figured out that listeners with no passion for a station do not make very good consumers. End result: revenue throughout the industry has dropped and the major corporate players are caught with staggering debt. Future years will be worse as the industry has no one to replace current listeners. No wonder stocks are at an all-time low for most radio groups.

In the case of the CBS, the rumor -- and again I must stress it is a rumor -- is that there is pressure on upper management to just dump the stations. But the stations cannot be sold until costs are in line with a supposed goal.

Here’s the juicy part of the rumor: once those costs hit that certain threshold, I am told, the stations are ready to go under pre-negotiated terms to Cumulus and one of the few remaining decent large radio groups, Entercom.

If true, that would shake up the entire industry. CBS is the last of the “original” group owners, though the line back to the original Columbia Broadcasting Company is stretched quite slim. KNX, for example, has been owned by CBS for the vast majority of its 93-year existence. NBC and ABC sold off their radio stations years ago.

Before the recent cuts that include the removal of Kelly from KRTH afternoons, I personally hoped the rumor was false. Now I am not so sure. It seems CBS is hell-bent on destroying stations the same way Cumulus has done with theirs, so I would be fine with Entercom taking control of the local CBS properties. Hopefully Cumulus won’t take part in the fire sale … if, again, the rumor is true.

Of course if they all went away and local ownership returned, that would be the best solution...

The Sage is Back

Since being removed from the lineup at KABC (790 AM), Larry Elder has been doing a podcast at www.larryelder.com. Currently the podcast is live from 12 noon the 3 pm, with the first two hours being available as a simulcast on CRN Digital Talk Radio (online) at crntalk.com.

Now those first two hours can be heard via tape delay every weeknight at 9 p.m. on KRLA (870 AM). Why not live and why not all three hours I don’t know, but fans of Elder are happy just to have him on the air again.

Ratings Quickies

I don’t cover the ratings monthly because I think we would both be tired of the constant coverage. But here’s some quickies from the July Nielsens:

• IHeartMedia and CBS combined control almost half -- 47.4 percent -- of the ratings. IHeart owns such stations as KIIS-FM (102.7), KOST (103.5 FM), and KFI (640 AM) among others. CBS counts KNX, KRTH, and KROQ among its eight local stations.

• The next largest group owner ratings-wise is Univision, with 8.6 percent of the radio listenership. Univision owns four stations in Los Angeles including KTNQ (1020 AM).

• The Sound (KSWD, 100.3 FM) found itself in the top-5 overall ... the best the frequency has done ever.

• KRRL (92.3 FM) and KPWR (105.9 FM) are neck and neck (3.2 vs. 3.1, respectively) after a few months of domination by KRRL. Interestingly, the station that seems to have been hurt more by KRRL’s format change early this year? KRRL sister station KIIS-FM, which found itself down in 4th place ... out of the top-three for the first time since, well, I can’t even remember.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #94

K-Jazz (88.1 FM) has added iconic jazz vocalist Steve Tyrell to its roster; Tyrell will host “The Steve Tyrell Show” weekdays from 6 to 9 p.m. beginning Monday August 31st.

Tyrell is an accomplished vocalist and entertainer with a talent to attract listeners cutting across generations and a very distinctive voice. Under then-programmer Brad Chambers, he was the image voice for adult standards station The Fabulous 570 (later The Fabulous 690) back in the days when KLAC (570 AM) wanted ratings.

Following Tyrell at 9:00 is a new program focussing on bebop hosted by Bubba Jackson and dedicated to the memory of Chuck Niles, one of the foremost advocates of bebop on jazz radio for decades. 

Blame Arbitron

Nielsen owns the company now, but it was Arbitron that developed the PPM system for ratings collection. PPM is a system that “hears” what station someone tunes in and uses the data to calculate ratings.

The problem is that the system relies heavily on audio ... the PPM signal “hides” in the station’s audio, and experts tell me that many voices don’t work well with the system. In other words, talking and silent passages won’t work, so talk and classical music stations -- which feature voices or silent passages -- are at a distinct disadvantage.

That’s why stations put those awful music beds under much of the programming, including KFI, which will now play an upbeat diddy as they tell you of some tragic news event.

And there’s the rub: the move may allow for better ratings collection, but it makes the station unlistenable. Ratings may be “higher,” but the count in my estimation includes fewer actual listeners. I know I for one cannot stand the music beds, and I tune out.

I cannot be the only one. This is a problem that must be addressed before the system implodes. PPM seems to be unfixable.

OTR Convention

SPERDVAC - the Society to Preserve and Encourage Radio Drama, Variety And Comedy - is in the late planning stages for their annual convention. This year it will be held in Burbank at the Holiday Inn Media Center, 150 E. Angeleno Avenue on November 6th, 7th and 8th.

I’ve been to a few of the conventions and they are a blast. There are Meet and Greets with stars old and new, panel discussions, and old time radio program re-creations that are amazing to watch. It truly takes you back to another time.

Information will be updated as it is confirmed on the SPERDVAC web site, www.sperdvac.com.

Mighty Five

My wife says I live too much in the past. But it’s not just me. 

Chris Torrick was a huge fan of one of my favorite stations of the past, XETRA/Tijuana, Mexico, which during the early 1980s was using their huge transmitter just South of the US border to send top-40 hits our way as “The Mighty 690.”

The Mighty 690 was one of the last high-powered top-40 AM stations in the country (U.S. or Mexico, in case you are asking which country). Torrick liked it so much he set up an online streaming station playing much of the same music.

“That crazy idea I had about bringing ‘The Mighty 690’ back as an online station is creeping up on its 5th anniversary,” Torrick told me. “Since we started we have exceeded 2000 Facebook friends and have exceeded an average of 10,000 listening sessions per month.”
And now it’s not just on your computer. Apps are available for iPhones, Androids and Blackberries so you can now tune directly via your smart phone.
“I never thought that it would grow like it has, but I am so stoked about this and the future,” Torrick concluded.
        Monday, August 10th at 9 a.m., KFI (640 AM) made the switch to the FM band. At least through the magic of digital HD radio. KLAC (570 AM) did the same.

It’s not really anything new, as KABC (790 AM) has been simulcast on KLOS’s (95.5 FM) extra HD stream for years, as has KMZT (1260 AM) which is one of the extra channels on Go Country’s (105.1 FM) HD signal. To hear any of these HD signals over the broadcast airwaves you must use an HD-capable tuner, found in many new cars and trucks. They are available online as well.
What makes KFI’s move significant is that the station has essentially given up on the AM HD signal. The significance? KFI was among the first to broadcast using HD, and it is -- or was -- considered one of the best success stories for HD digital broadcasts on the AM band. More on that later.

Here’s how it works: using an HD radio, tune to KOST (103.5 FM) and wait for the radio to lock onto the digital signal. Once that is done, simply tune up one channel to hear the KFI simulcast. To hear KLAC on FM, do the same thing but on KYSR (Alt 98.7 FM). You can save them as presets for direct tuning in the future, though you won’t hear anything until the tuner buffers enough data ... similar to listening online.

Audio quality is good, though it could be better. Surprisingly, the KFI feed sounded a bit less “full” to me than I remember from when they used HD on their AM signal until earlier this Summer, though that could be a false memory. Currently KNX (1070 AM) and KMZT (if you are close enough to receive it) have the best sounding AM HD signals in town.

The problem comes when you reach a bad signal area. Unlike AM HD or the main signals on FM, which drop to analog in weak signal areas, the signals on the extra FM channels just drop out completely. I found KFI dropping out as I drove to the beach Monday on the South side of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. KLAC dropped out even more, which is not that unexpected: the signal for Alt 98.7 itself is among the worst in town, so the HD has trouble staying locked.

But when it works, it does sound nice. If you happen to own an HD radio, give it a listen and let me know your thoughts.


That KFI would drop their HD signal on AM may be a signal of sorts ... that owner IHeartMedia believes HD on AM is dead. Ultimately, that would mean AM itself is dead, since HD was originally conceived to help bring AM on par with FM in sound quality. If HD doesn’t work on KFI -- among the most powerful stations in the United States and one in which it should work flawlessly -- small stations are doomed. Or so some say.

The loss of HD wouldn’t be a bad thing if AM stations would open up their audio as they did during the AM stereo days; audio bandwidth was cut drastically on the analog signal to make room for the HD stream. Without HD, perhaps wideband AM can return. Wideband analog AM sounds wonderful on a good radio, though still noisier than HD.

And of course there is that pesky need for programming that people actually want to hear.

Wheel ... Of ... Hits

You know his as Pat Sajak, longtime host of the immensely popular television game show, Wheel of Fortune. But Sajak has an earlier life, a more important life ... as a top-40 radio DJ.

Airchexx.Com found a tape of Sajak as heard on WSM/Nashville, recorded June 23, 1975. It’s a different style, though still laid back and in control as he is with Wheel.

Hear Sajak play the hits at http://tinyurl.com/SajakWSM

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #93

I had a chance to visit the studios of The Sound (KSWD, 100.3 FM) last week as a fly on the wall of the Mark in the Morning program. Primary host Mark Thompson was in town for some events related to the Orange County Fair so Sound programmer Dave Beasing thought it would be a good time to come up; Thompson normally does his part of the show from his home in Charlotte, North Carolina vis the magic of computers.

I figured I better dress up for the occasion ... instead of shorts and a t-shirt I went all out and wore jeans and a t-shirt. Thompson, on the other hand was in shorts, a t-shirt and flip flops, more often walking barefoot around the studio as the morning’s events unfolded.

I was fascinated to find that the show had less prep work than I had anticipated ... and at the same time, more prep work than I had anticipated. In different ways, of course.

The day’s program was fully structured down to the minute as to the type of material -- comedy bit, interview, music, etc. -- to be presented. Yet nothing was in any way pre-rehearsed. Even a recording of a comedian’s opinions on clowns or an old sound bite of Thompson himself was scheduled, but not pre-played. The crew actually had no idea what was going to be said; that information was exclusive to show’s producer who provided the audio clips.

“I do that on purpose,” Thompson explained. “I want the reactions to be real. When you hear laughter, or anything else for that matter, it’s real.”

Also real is the reaction when things go wrong. The show is planed down to the minute, but that doesn’t mean it actually happens as scheduled. Segments may run long, stars to be interviewed may be late. While I was observing, Parker Posey (Starring in “Irrational Man”) was delayed and her time ran into time that was for Simon Pegg (“Mission Impossible - Rogue Nation”). Thompson decided to interview them together, and for a time Pegg interviewed Posey. Live radio at its best, though it could have turned into a real fail had the stars not been so gracious to each other.

The main studio features screens everywhere. Direct access to the internet, the main program screen which controls the music and commercials played (a computer version of the old cart system for radio old-timers), a television showing current news and a web-cam enabled computer that normally acts as the feed for Thompson when he’s back home in Charlotte. Andy Chanley runs the main board, Gina Grad (who has one of the most infectious laughs I have ever heard) is constantly able to look up information via her own iPad, and even Thompson is constantly checking things on the net or via the show notes he keeps in a pile in front of him.
Things you may not know:
• Little is discussed ahead of time, other than what comes up next. Thompson calls it “improv radio,” even as he claims to hate improv.

• The show actually only runs until 9; the 9-10 a.m. hour is a “best of” from each morning’s program. “We found that the typical listener listens for a very short time,” says Thompson, “and the audience in later hours is totally different than the earlier hours.”

• Even the end of the program, where the show is “turned over” to “Uncle” Joe Benson at 10 a.m., is pre-recorded before hand, in a different studio. That the entire thing is seamless is a testament to the talent of the producers and modern computer-based recording equipment.

My take on the whole thing: Thompson, Grad, and Chanley may be the most interesting -- and intelligent -- program of its type on the radio.


I had hoped to blame my editor, but alas, it was all my fault. Reader Ralph Westfall asked, “Saw your column in the Long Beach paper. It didn't say how serving Southern California for 93 years correlated with a 47th anniversary. Maybe like a guy in a bad marriage? Joking...”

As I said, it is my fault. I should have said KNX is celebrating its 47th year as an all-news station, though it went on the air in 1922.