Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #100

All is not well with Pacifica public station KPFK (90.7 FM). According to sources, employees were told in August that salaries would be cut in half for a period of four months ... and that the move was made due to a staggering debt in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Now that debt is chump change to companies like Cumulus (owner of KABC 790 AM and KLOS 95.5 FM) and the other major players. But it’s huge to a small station like KPFK and Pacifica, a company that has essentially been hanging by a thread for at least a decade.

This is unfortunate, as unlike college stations that were originally intended as educational outreaches or student radio laboratories, KPFK was conceived as a public (service) station and has a long history of fighting for what it considers social justice. Perhaps it at times comes off as leaning so far left it is actually communist, it is also the only station in town to take on institutions and people that KPFK staffers and management feel are doing things wrong. LAUSD’s former superintendent John Deasy is but one example.

Of course those managers and staffers are what also made KPFK so irrelevant to much of Southern California. 
This will be difficult to fix.

Building a Program

Over at Cal State Long Beach, the radio program that was gutted when student-run radio station KSUL was shut down in 1981 in favor of professionally-run KLON (now KKJZ, 88.1 FM) is slowly but surely making a return.

Sources tell me that at least one class is in the works at the university, and that the hope is for a full radio-television major of study to return. Danny Lemus, the driving force behind student-run K-Beach (heard on the digital HD3 stream of KKJZ as well as on line) is the driving force behind this development as well.

SPERDVAC Convention Update

Recreations of classic episodes of radio’s Fibber McGee and Molly; the Lux Radio Theater; Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar; and Sherlock Holmes are on tap for the annual convention of SPERDVAC, the Society to Preserve and Encourage Radio Drama, Variety and Comedy.
In addition, there will be panel discussions featuring Noel Blanc (speaking of his father Mel), new radio dramas, celebrating the life of Spike Jones, the history of KABC (790 AM) and more.

The convention is November 6th, 7th and 8th at the Holiday Inn Media Center, 150 E. Angeleno Avenue in Burbank. For details on the convention, or on how to join SPERDVAC, head over to www.sperdvac.com or call 877-251-5771

Readers Write

“Your comments regarding ‘automatic sound' due to strong radio signals took me back to 1959 when as a ten year old I saved up enough money to buy an early transistor radio. The first portables featured two transistor circuitry that lacked much selectivity.

“I hurriedly rushed home to La Mirada to try out my new radio only to discover that I received KFI across the whole dial. Turns out that their broadcasting antenna was only about a mile from our home. Their 50,000 watt signal was too much for my humble radio.” -- Joe Paire, Long Beach

“I grew up on 178th street perhaps less than a mile from the KNX transmitters. We could all hear KNX whenever we picked up the telephone. A neighbor kid made a receiver out of a pair of headphones and about two feet of wire. And there were a couple of adults in the neighborhood who claimed they could "not not" hear KNX because of the number of metal fillings in their teeth. Our telephone experience gave their claims a lot of credibility. -- John Billings, Long Beach

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #99

“Oh, good,” my wife Jean says sarcastically as we drive somewhere. “You’ve found another ‘70s song.”

You see, my wife thinks I live too much in the 1970s. She’s right, of course, though only half way. I also live in the 1980s. Not that I have any particular affinity for the era itself ... it just happens to be two decades that included some great radio. And I love radio. I’m one of those radio geeks that listens to “scoped” airchecks ... recordings of great radio stations and DJs with the music mostly removed but commercials, Dj announcing and newscasts usually intact.

More on that later.

It turns out, based on some quality time spent with the TuneIn app available for smartphones, I am not alone. There are apparently quite a few people who like radio from that era.

A quick search shows three - count ‘em three -- Tune In stations dedicated to WCFL, a top-40 station in Chicago once owned by the Chicago Federation of Labor, that hasn’t played top-40 tunes since 1976.

KFRC was a station in San Francisco that was once the RKO-owned sister station to KHJ (930 AM) here in Los Angeles. On Tune In you can hear not a tribute in the traditional sense, but a continually-running set of old airchecks from its top-40 glory days, generally focussed on the late 1970s to mid 1980s.

Closer to home we have The Mighty 690, mentioned here recently, that acts as a tribute to the Border Blaster XETRA (690 AM) from Tijuana, Mexico. One of the last of the powerful AM top-40s, it played the format until changing to oldies sometime around 1984.

And of course KHJ, which shows up with a few choices including one that doesn’t work, a station out of American Samoa using the name as a tribute but playing current music, and Radio Bop ‘60s that uses the slogan “Boss Radio is Back!”

Then there’s RichBroRadio programmed by Rich “Brother” Robbin and Bobby’s B100 (tribute to San Diego’s first FM top-40, KFMB) programmed by Bobby Rich, both legendary programers in Southern California radio.

BossBossRadio is one of the few that has actual current DJs spinning the records, though they are on tape, not live. Makes for some fun listening though ... complete with new jingles. Rachel Donahue is among the DJs you can hear (Saturdays and Sundays, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.), as is former KLAC (570 AM) adult standards programmer, Brad Chambers (Sundays from 4 to 7 p.m.)

I call them tribute stations, but that is a bit of a misnomer for a few. Some simply play music from the era and a few jingles, which is a great way to hear music but not truly a real tribute. Stations were not ever about the music. Or the jingles. Or the contests. It was the full package, and that included DJs who were real stars. This made radio that was bigger than life. Regardless, check them out, find some of your own, and let me know what you think.

Museum Help

I’m not sure how much longer Richard “Uncle Ricky” Irwin wants to continue with ReelRadio.Com, an online museum of airchecks -- the most you can find in one place.

It’s a lot of work ... a true labor of love ... and the costs to cover the running of the site, which includes paying the appropriate music licensing fees for the “unscoped” airchecks -- those with music still included -- continues to rise.

The thought that the site may go down scares me (see how I live in the past, above). Hopefully donations will increase in the next few months, which in turn may convince Irwin to continue; in the meantime, if you haven’t ever visited the site, head on over. A small donation of $10 gives access until February, 2016, which is the site’s 20th anniversary. More donations will help the site live longer, but Irwin hopes to make it to at least that date if possible.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #98

One of the most interesting features I have ever heard on the radio can be found on the Mark Thompson Morning Zoo (aka Mark in the Morning) on The Sound (100.3 FM). I’m not sure what the official title of the segments is called, but I call them “song dissections.”
Christian James Hand (sorry if I keep thinking of Mr. Hand in Fast Times) is an accomplished artist with a varied career that revolves around music. He is a drummer, producer and mixer; has been on the radio in Los Angeles and New York; he’s stage-managed and tour-managed for bands including members of the Wu Tang Clan; toured with Peter Gabriel; worked at Island Records; and helped produce music videos including “Hey Ya” by Outkast. When I contacted him he was in the middle of producing a country album.

You might say music is in his blood.
On The Sound, he takes a song and splits it into its elements. Track by track, instrument by instrument, vocal by vocal. Listeners hear the full musical story of songs from legendary artists and bands such as Queen, Led Zeppelin, Rush, and Yes, among others.
The first one I heard myself (I was late to the party) was for “Killer Queen” by Queen ... and I was mesmerized. I am not particularly good at picking out details of songs, thus dissecting this one was totally eye (or ear) opening. When you get the details, you realize the true genius of the artists; in this case I was utterly astounded by the complexity and artistry  -- and small details in the instrumentation and vocals that I had missed -- in a song I had heard hundreds of times.

Want to hear one for yourself? If you haven’t caught one on the air -- or you want to hear one again (they are fascinating, I tell you) -- they are available as podcasts on the Sound website, www.thesoundla.com. Browse through the Mark in the Morning podcast pages or do a search of “Christian Hand.”

Fired on the Air ...

Austin Beutner, who until earlier this month served as the publisher of The Los Angeles Times, learned that he had been fired while listening to the radio on the drive to work. According to Politico.Com, Jack Griffin, the CEO of the Times' parent company Tribune Publishing, hadn't told Beutner the news personally by the time the publisher left for work in spite of it being released to news services at about 3:30 a.m. Instead, Beutner found out as he drove to work listening to KNX (1070 AM).

History Lesson

Like the old joke that there are three kinds of people in the world: those who can count and those who can’t, reader and radio historian Steve Thompson of La Crecenta send this email:

“You recently mentioned 93 years of radio ... Yes, KHJ (930 AM) and KFI (640 AM) went on the air in 1922, but KNX began in 1920 as 6ADZ, a five-watt amateur station broadcasting at 1500 kHz. In late 1921, it became KGC and moved to 833 kHz, sharing time with several other stations. It became KNX in 1922.”

Thompson is right, which means KNX has a history extending to 95 years. He also mentioned a neat website with some broadcast radio history: Alex Cosper has a list of radio stations in Los Angeles in 1922: www.playlistresearch.com/history/laradio1920s.htm.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #97

My niece got married last weekend in Big Bear. AT the reception there was a DJ who was quite good, mixing songs together that one would think could not be mixed, and playing a variety of songs some of which I have not heard in a long time.

And then it hit me. Oldies are not dead, they are just in hibernation.

Yes I know the arguments. I’ve made some of them. Songs from 1965 would be 50 years old today. Imagine listening to KRTH (101.1 FM) in 1972 -- the year the station launched as an automated oldies station -- and hearing “My Buddy” by Henry Burr, Edie Cantor’s “Oh, Is She Dumb,” or “April Showers,” by Al Jolson ... all top hits in 1922.

But here I am at the reception of my niece Erin and her new husband Collin watching people of all ages dancing and singing to songs spanning the years from the 1940s to today, with a seeming focus on the 1960s and 1970s. Suddenly it all made sense: the time is ripe for a station owner -- perhaps one of the new owners of whatever stations CBS decides to sell (if they do, and I think they will) in Los Angeles -- to play songs older than 1980 again. “Dusties,” as KGFJ (now KYPA, 1230 AM) used to call them.

Imagine this: take a low rated random station that no one has tuned in at all for the past five years. KFWB (980 AM), for example. Dump the CBS sports format that no one will miss, bring back a revised contemporary version of the old KFWB jingle ... in short form for modern attention spans ... get some good DJs (I know a few) and play music focussing on 1955 to 1975. You can play more, but those two decades would be the focus. Pure gold. 

Don’t be afraid to play oldies. There is a reason people still love Art Laboe, the creator of Oldies But Goodies, and remember fondly stations like KFWB, the original KRLA (now KDIS, 1110 AM), KHJ (930 AM) and yes, the early years of KRTH. A good variety of oldies would not only span the decades, it would span generations. Before KRLA was ruined by inept management, listeners would include grandparents, parents, and children ... all at the same time.

Like at my niece’s wedding. Teenagers to seasoned citizens were all dancing to songs from the 1940s to today.

The music would be a chance to build an audience on AM radio as well, which frankly has not had much going for it in about a decade itself. (One of my dreams is to program an AM music station just to prove it can still be done successfully; I’m still holding out for KHJ, but KFWB or a revised KRLA would be a start ...)

Would the audience skew old? Probably, at least at first. But that’s great: older listeners still buy things and respond to advertising, if the ad agents actually feel like selling. Skewing older is better than having no listeners, as is the current situation with almost all AM stations right now. 

And I think the format would indeed bring in younger listeners as they discover AM radio for the first time, many of whom have tired of today’s negative radio vibes. Oldies sound great on AM anyway, the way they sounded when they were first played.

I think I could beat KRTH with it. And I’ll work cheap (for a while). Any takers?

Automatic Sound

In spite if even my own pronunciations, AM radio is not dead. How can it be when it can be received so easily?

Such as when my son plays guitar in the garage ... and KNX (1070 AM) and KRFM (1280 AM) get picked up by either his guitar, his amp, the foot pedals, or whatever. Between strums I can hear the news and the gospel at the same time. It’s quite fascinating.

I am sure it has much to do with the transmitter locations being so close. KRFM is licensed to Long Beach and must be close; KNX has their transmitter site off of 190th Street in Torrance, mere miles from my house.

It reminds me of the stories of the original KDAY (now KBLA, 1580 AM), which sent most of its daytime power of 50,000 watts down one of the streets of Santa Monica. It seems home water pipes picked up the signal so well you could hear KDAY fairly well without a radio.

The joys of AM radio, now celebrating 93 years of service to Los Angeles.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #96

“From the entertainment capitol of the world, a million dollar weekend … where we’ll be firing your favorite DJs all weekend long. K-Earth 101!” — satirical jingle recorded for the Tom Leykis Show podcast.

    The ink — electronic and otherwise — had barely dried on the column last week when another shoe dropped over at KRTH (101.1 FM): Evening personality Christina Kelley and longtime production director Jay Gardner were let go, as was the legendary Charlie Tuna, who had been doing weekends.  Kelley and Tuna were not allowed to have a last show, an indication of how much respect management has for them … and their listeners.

    So what do we make of the moves? Firing three talented people and removing “Shotgun” Tom Kelly from afternoons and making him an “ambassador?” This happening at a station just one-half point out of first place?

    A source close to the station claims the rumors mentioned last week are all false. It’s not cost-cutting … there will be replacements. The program director, Chris Ebbott, just has a vision for KRTH that doesn’t include any of the “boss radio” elements that served KRTH well since 1972. And the stations are most certainly not for sale, they said.

    Ebbott, who arrived from Toronto before he began his stint at KRTH, previously helped launch Jack-FM (93.1), a corporate cookie-cutter format with no soul … and no DJs.  In other words, we should have expected this.

    All I can say is general manager Dan Kearney must have a lot of faith in his programmer to allow him to take one of the highest-rated stations in Los Angeles and essentially dismantle it. Or he just allowed the biggest mistake in recent radio history. Unless … there is more to the story.

    Well, there is. Those replacements? I could not get confirmation at press time, but it appears that the assistant programmer and the music director will assume Kelly’s and Kelley’s slots. That means there is no (or little) extra cost. The station is expected to go jockless after the night shift ends, cutting even more … and basically doing what you’d expect a small market station to do. Not something that should happen in Los Angeles. Will listeners ultimately care? KRTH appears to bet they won’t.

    “Revenues are down 40 percent since 2008,” said the source close to KRTH. and that seems to be the new norm. My response: Radio created that problem with dull, lifeless formats that are the anthesis of local radio. Most stations are background entertainment, and that’s why stations cannot get advertisers to pony up. Super-long commercial sets and large numbers of commercials every hour dilute the value of ads even further. In essence, bad programming decisions created the mess, and further moves such as at KRTH will only exacerbate the problem.

    Tom Leykis, who left CBS station KLSX (now Amp Radio, 97.1 FM) years ago and currently hosts his own podcast heard daily on www.BlowMeUpTom.Com, had this to say: “Getting rid of proven talents of a top-3 radio station is proof positive that the business model of local terrestrial radio is about to come to an end.”

    Leykis is right. The sad truth is that every CBS station in town could just as easily be programmed in Pittsburgh; there is no real connection to listeners, though the moves by KRTH could help stations like KLOS (95.5 FM) and The Sound (100.3 FM) that often play similar songs and have a lot of listener overlap. As a one programmer told me, “the move (by KRTH) may help (stations that compete against KRTH) … until we reach the point where too many people just give up on radio.”

    Is it the fault of CBS? Surprisingly, no. CBS actually held out longer than the others and for that I give them credit. It was the likes of Cumulus and Clear Channel (now IHeartMedia) that set the tone of McProgramming, pushed by an FCC that allowed companies to buy an unlimited number of stations that they could not even begin to support. The result was a fast race to the bottom and an uncertain future with no young listeners taking the place of old guys like me. The winners? Satellite radio, internet radio services, and the likes of Apple, maker of the iPod and iPhone. Had radio remained important to listeners, those alternatives would have failed. CBS held on far longer than many would have expected; the problem is that we who love radio hoped that they would be able to continue.

    New at SiriusXM

    There’s a new channel lineup at SiriusXM, with a few channels moved and a new series of limited edition channels.

    Some are too late to mention: Road Trip Radio (Channel 18) was set to end September 1st and Yacht Rock (Channel 31) ends September 7. Stations like these could easily be added permanently. One of the funniest changes revolves around Channel 4, which until recently played big bands and such as “40s on 4.” Now it’s rap with “Pitbull’s Globalization.” Miss the ‘40s? They are still there on Channel 73. But I can imagine the shock when listeners tuned in to hear Tommy Dorsey and instead heard Pitbull.