Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #107

KLOS Gets Jonsed

Guitarist Steve Jones of the punk band the Sex Pistols hosted a program on the old Indie 103.1 called Jonsey’s Jukebox. Featuring groundbreaking new music combined with guest interviews and discussions in a very laid-back manner, the program lasted five years on Indie, until the station changed formats to Spanish as KDLD in 2009.

In 2010 it got picked up by KROQ (106.7 FM) where it had a good run through early 2013. Now its back, courtesy of KLOS (95.5 FM).

The station says this of Jones’ program: “the only rule is doing whatever Jones wants.” That means exactly what it says. Jones brings in records from his personal collection and his guests from the past are legendary: Robert Plant, Brian Wilson, Iggy Pop, Courtney Love ... and more. Guests on the brand-new KLOS version that began in late October have included Billy Idol. Fred Armisen and Joe Walsh.

Hear the Jukebox every Friday from noon to 2 p.m. The answer the question: What exactly does this mean for KLOS?

That AM Sound

I thought it was just me ... certain songs from the 1960s or ‘70s I hear on the radio (or via other means) just don’t sound like I remember them.
Certainly that has much to do with having heard them on AM broadcast stations, what with the limited fidelity of most AM radios of the time. But it isn’t just that - it’s as if the processing was totally different. Punchier bass, for example. Or a fullness that is hard to explain, though experts in the production of record producer Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” could come close.

Interestingly, it had everything to do with AM radio, or more accurately with trying to make the sound coming out of limited-fidelity AM radios sound as good as it could sound.

The engineers at stations such as those in the RKO chain (KHJ, KFRC, WRKO, etc.) were geniuses when it came to sound processing. I was told that at KHJ here and KFRC in San Francisco, the audio processing chain was custom designed with multiple “magic boxes” that allowed tweaks to be smooth as silk without creating any harsh tones. Some say that at their peak of popularity, those two stations sounded as close to FM as an AM station could sound.

But FM sound was not the actual goal. Clarity and fullness were.

Richard Kaufman, who used to play an oldies format on the internet (Ricky the K’s Solid Gold Time Machine), has regrouped and is now using his talent to make songs sound like they once did.

A former small town DJ himself, Kaufman’s influences growing up included many of the East Coast versions of top-40 radio including WABC/New York. And he’s spent some time recreating the audio processing chain used by WABC in order to make songs sound like they used to ... when they were played on WABC.

“I have set up a vintage audio chain specifically designed to help digital recordings sound denser and richer with more punch and more bass,” Kaufman told me. “My whole concept is to get musicians, music producers and record labels to send me their thin sounding digital audio masters and I’ll run them through the audio chain and fatten them up.”

Want to hear for yourself? Kaufman has set up a YouTube account with songs that he has run through his processing. You can find it at http://tinyurl.com/AMSound, and I have to say, it is impressive.

While listening to the Beau Brummels’ “Just a Little,” a link to a recording from the 45 RPM record -- also on YouTube -- happened to show up. So I clicked on it ... and the difference is night and day. Kaufman’s version is definitely fuller, with more “up front” background vocals. The way I remember.

Better? That’s debatable. The goal of audio processing in the era of FM radio and later vinyl records was to lay off of the processing. To have a more “open” feel. AM top-40 sound processing was not meant to be open at all, but instead to jump out of the speaker; songs were processed to get around the typical AM radio’s limitations.

But it is a unique sound that is lacking in the minds of some, and it explains why so many oldies of that era just don’t sound right to me today. Take a listen for yourself and let me know what you think.

Cumulus Death Watch

Closing stock price as of Friday, November 13: 27 cents per share, a 6.9 percent decline from the previous Friday’s close of 29 cents. Still an improvement from November 12th’s 23 cents per share.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #106

Sound Visit

Dave Beasing, programmer of The Sound (100.3 FM), took some time last Friday to speak at San Pedro High School’s Career Day. Speaking to two different classes for about 30 minutes each, Beasing told of radio’s challenges and how programming, promotion and marketing all work together.

“When I first started in radio, social media didn’t even exist,” he told the classes. Now it’s one of our marketing tools.” He showed video clips of material from Mark in the Morning as a demonstration of how to attract an audience, and told of how some bits that at first seem to fall flat can be saved through creativity.

“Media is changing,” Beasing explained. “All of the traditional so-called legacy media now involve very high-tech modern skills. You might ask yourself ‘what  does this video have to do with radio?’ A lot ... if you do it right.

“Someone going into radio today should be great at shooting and editing video, web design, social media, all of this. Because as a radio station we need to be part of our listeners lives 24-7. If somebody is your friend, they are always with you -- not just when they want something from you. So we need to be part of their lives even when they're not listening ... when they're on Facebook, when they're on Instagram, when they're on Twitter, we want to be there.”

Changes at KABC

Last week’s mention of Art Bell’s return to local radio via KABC (790 AM) neglected to mention the other changes at the heritage talker.

Leo Terrell had been holding down the KABC morning courtroom since Judge Christina Perez left the station in May. Now Terrell’s version of the program is gone as well, a victim of the station’s ongoing ratings problems. Terrell remains with KABC in a fill-in capacity.
In its place is the Peter Tilden Show every weekday morning from 10 a.m. until 12 noon; Tilden had been heard previously on the station at night.

But wait - Tilden is still on at night, albeit earlier than his former 9 to midnight slot. Supposedly live at 6 p.m. as well as his morning duties, Tilden must have the longest working day in talk radio. Maybe that’s why his shifts sound like a taped podcast, made using bad equipment (can someone buy him a real microphone so it doesn’t sound like he’s talking through a wall?) ...
At 7 p.m. is the Best of KABC, whatever that means, followed at 8:00 by two hours of Jonathon Brandmeier’s syndicated program, Art Bell comes on at 10:00, as mentioned last week.

Death Watch

On December 31, 1999, Cumulus Media stock was at an all-time high of $50.75. November 6th at the closing bell, it was worth 29 cents. That’s a loss in value of more than 99 percent ... how much longer can the company survive, especially if the stock ends up delisted on the NASDAQ exchange as it has been warned may happen by May, 2016?
A Lot Like Christmas

SiriusXM has beaten KOST (103.5 FM) to the punch, with the launch of two all-holiday music channels November 2 and more to come as the season gets closer. Get details at blog.siriusxm.com.

I’m betting KOST will jump in, perhaps as soon as Monday.
Healy Recordings

Reader Richard Campos asks, “Any idea how we can hear the old Jim Healy sports broadcasts?” As a matter of fact: yes. YouTube has quite a few, posted by fans of the legendary broadcaster who retired from KMPC (now KSPN, 710 AM) in late April, 1999. Amazing what you can find there. If you’ve never heard Healy or you want to hear him again, do a search on YouTube.

Funding Reel Radio

Richard Irwin’s top-40 radio museum known as Reel Radio (reelradio.com) is the reason I wanted a fast modem back in the days of dial-up internet. I love listening to the old recordings of classic radio.

In an effort to pay down some bills from licensing fees, streaming costs and more, the nonprofit organization has set up a Go Fund Me page at GoFundMe.Com/Reelradio, where fans can donate to help pay down debt and help keep the site alive.

Or just go to the main site for ReelRadio and donate there ... and listen to how radio used to sound.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Radio Waves Podcast #105

This is the big weekend for SPERDVAC - the Society to Preserve and Encourage Radio Drama, Variety And Comedy. It’s their convention weekend held November 6th - 8th at the Holiday Inn Media Center at 150 E. Angeleno Avenue in Burbank.

I’ve already written about much of what you can do at the convention. There will be recreations of Fibber McGee and Molly; Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar; Sherlock Holmes; and two versions of the Lux Theater. There will be panel discussions including one with Noel Blanc who will speak about his father, Mel; and there will be numerous stars and others who were part of early radio and television programs on hand for entertainment and meet and greets.

What has more recently come together is a panel discussion moderated by KABC (790 AM) expert and former show host Bill Moran. This will feature Eric Tracy, Carole Hemmingway, Tommy Hawkins, Royale Oaks, George Green Ira Fistell, and Michael Harrison talking about the history of KABC radio from the days in which the station mattered.

According to Moran, there will be a focus on what made KABC a heritage station (“lots of stories,” says Moran), a reflection on the careers of the hosts since they left the station, and how talk radio has changed since KABC first debuted the talk format in Los Angeles in the 1960s ... and how it is changing again.

The KABC panel runs Saturday from 4 to 7:30 p.m.

For more information about the convention, head over to the SPERDVAC website at www.sperdvac.com, email sperdvac@gmail.com, or call 877-251-5771. It’s too late to order tickets via the website, but you can pay for admission at the door (cash or checks only); costs range from $40 for the Sunday brunch and program to $200 for the entire weekend.

Speaking of KABC ...

Art Bell was once the host of Coast to Coast AM, heard locally on KFI (640 AM) from midnight to 5 a.m. weekdays and until 6 a.m. weekends.

He basically retired from the show more than once for reasons that never made much sense to me; I always thought he was a bit, well, unstable ... which may explain his popularity on an overnight program dedicated to the paranormal and UFOs.

Well, he’s back. And KABC has picked up his new syndicated program, Midnight in the Desert. This new program, which airs locally from 10 p.m to 1 a.m. weeknights, is about ... paranormal activity and UFOs. Unfortunately for fans, its tape-delayed by an hour: the program is live from 9 p.m. to midnight pacific time. To find ways around that if you want to call in, for example, head to ArtBell.Com.

Otherwise, tune in and be entertained. Let me know what you think ... it will be interesting to see how this works for KABC.

Saving AM ... Again

The FCC is finally actually doing something about AM radio’s problems, though I fear it will turn out to be too little too late. It’s called the AM Radio Revitalization Order which among other things makes it theoretically easier for a station to upgrade its transmission facilities without having to perform some difficult engineering.

But reading the order seems to be more of an AM Broadcaster Revitalization Order, as the focus of the order seems to be more directed at moving stations off the band or allowing them to decrease coverage than actually helping them survive on the oldest broadcast band.

Allowing (encouraging) stations to obtain FM translators in which to simulcast the signals on FM, allowing a station to cover with a strong signal on only 50 percent of its licensed area rather than the current 80 percent when making location changes, and allowing nighttime coverage of a similar 50 percent of coverage area rather than 80 percent seems to go against the idea of “saving” AM.

There are many more new rules as well as proposed rule changes so I am going to wait until my engineering friends have a chance to comment, but I have to say, so far I am unimpressed with the FCC. Not that I expected more.