Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Radio Waves Podcast #116

February 26, 2016

It’s been a while since my last edition of Readers Revenge, a time when you get to add to the conversation either covering things I missed or want to embellish.

As it turns out, call letters mean a lot to you as they do me, and quite a few responses came in with call letter meanings as well as stories of early broadcasting. Some of the meanings mentioned:

KUSC - broadcasting form the University of Southern California, which reader Bill Cosso claims has broadcast classical music since it went on the air. 

KGIL - named after original owner Gil Paltridge, says legendary programmer and DJ Chuck Southcott.

KECA - Earle C. Anthony, who owned what would later become KABC (790 AM), which itself is named after its later owner, the American Broadcasting Company. Thanks, George Lee of La Crescenta.

Adding to the KECA story is Steve Thompson of Glendale, who writes, “In 1929, Earle C. Anthony, a Packard automobile distributor and founder/owner of KFI, bought KPLA (1430 AM) and changed the call letters to KECA, after his initials. Ten years later he bought KEHE-780 from the Evening Herald-Express newspaper. He promptly took the station off the air and moved KECA to 780.  Anthony then moved the studios of KFI and KECA from his Packard dealership in Los Angeles to the former KEHE studios at 141 North Vermont. KECA moved to 790 in 1941 and today is KABC.” A complicated story, essentially confirmed by longtime reader of my column, George Schwenk.

Don Ward added a few: KJLH (originally on AM): John Lamar Hill; KMGM - owned by Metro Goldwin Mayer film studios, later to become KCBH - Crawford’s Beverly Hills (music store) and eventually KJOI - for the obvious K-Joy; KOCS - Ontario City Service; KSOM - Sound of (beautiful) Music.

KMAX - named after the owner, Max (and MaryAnn) ... “can;t remember their last names,” said Deanne Davis of Sierra Madre. Dacis and her husband John lauched a station in yucca Valley from 1988 to 1994 called KROR ... “The Mighty Roar of the desert.”

KPOP - The Popular Station, submitted by Phil Keosababian. KPOP was the original call sign for what later became KGRB and KTNQ.

KFWB - “Keep Filming Warner Brothers” or something related to “Westinghouse Broadcasting,” as both companies were owners at one time or another. Turns out to be more mundane - random sequential letters, says Wikipedia.

Joe McDonald of Whittier asked if three-call letter combinations were meant for “clear channel” stations, those with no other stations on the same frequency that cover large areas of the United States.Locally, KFI (640 AM) and KNX (1070 AM) are clear channel stations. Alas, while a good theory, it turns out that there were four-letter clears as well as three-letters that were not. KHJ (930 AM), for example, is not a clear channel. Three-letters were just what was issued in the early days of broadcasting.

Cory Moore of Compton noted a mis-spelling ... Auburn automobiles are spelled with a “u,” not with an “o” as wrote with Auborn ... I’m going to pretend I did that on purpose.

Next week: some interesting information on early FM broadcasting, including the problems with early stereo.

February 19, 2016

Kindness, Happiness and Joy. George B Storer. Ten-Q. “Kiss-FM.” Power 106. What do all of these have in common? They are all “names” for stations, or more accurately, variations of their call letters. 

Well, sort of.
I’m a call-letter guy, in the sense that I like when stations use their given call letters instead of a generic name that can be heard anywhere. But that idea tends to get lost as marketing managers do anything they can to stand out, even if standing out means being a carbon-copy of your co-owned station in Atlanta. Or San Diego. Or Pittsburg. Or all of the above.

But call letters have a certain mystic, due mainly to the fact that only one AM, FM or television station can have the same call sign. Anywhere. For example while you can find “My FM,” (one of the top winners in the stupid name contest) in Los Angeles; Independence, Kansas; Chicago, Illinois; or even Idaho Falls, Idaho, there is only KBIG-FM.

So what do call letters mean? And why?

First, the basics. In the United States, call signs begin with the letter K, W or N. N is reserved for military and government use, so we are left with K, generally for stations West of the Mississippi River and W for those East. But it wasn’t always that way: prior to January, 1923 the dividing line was the Eastern borders of New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. And the rule was not always fully enforced anyway, so there are some Eastern K stations and Western W stations, though few and far between. According to mentalfloss.com, the most Eastern of the Ks is KYW/Philadelphia, still using the same call sign, and the most Western W station was WLAY/Fairbanks Alaska, which broadcast in 1922 and ’23.

Three letter call signs were all issued in order, similar to ho license plates are issued for cars. Originally, four-letter calls were issued in the same way ... KDKA followed by KDKB, then KDKC, etc. Soon the Federal Radio Commission, precursor to the Federal Communications Commission, allowed stations to request specific call letter combinations, and that’s when the real name game began. And while the original assignment for three-letter calls was arbitrary, after the requests were allowed, stations could request three-letter combos as they became available.

And even the arbitrary letters had marketing meaning ... old timers may remember when KHJ used the slogan Knowledge, Happiness and Judgement; or later Kindness, Happiness and Joy. Supposedly, KFI stood for Farm Information, but like KHJ and KNX, the KFI calls were issued randomly. Other meanings, for stations that may or may not still exist locally:

KGFJ - Keeping Good Folks Joyful
KMPC - MacMillan Petroleum Company
KFAC - Fuller, Auborn and Cord (automobile dealershios owned by station owner E. L. Cord)
KGBS - George B. Storer
KIIS - Not “kiss” but instead “K Double-I S,” chosen because the letter IIS look like 115, the AM frequency that once was the home of the station.
KFSG - Four Square Gospel church.
KPPC - Pasadena Presbyterian Church.
KPCC - Pasadena City College.
KRLA - Radio Los Angeles (KTLA Channel 5 stands for Television Los Angeles).
KCSN - Cal State Northridge.
KBIG - “Big.” The station has one of the most powerful FM signals in Los Angeles.
KBRT - “Bright.” Once paired with KBIG playing beautiful music as Big and Bright.
KEZY - “Easy (listening).”
KTNQ - Ten Q, the ten meaning the rounded-off frequency, 1020 AM.
KROQ - The “rock” of Los Angeles in the 1970s as an AM station; Rock of the 80s later.
KMZT - K-Mozart.
KPFK - named for the owner, Pacifica.
KRKD - broadcasting from the “Arcade” building in downtown Los Angeles.
KLSX - Classics.
KPWR - Power (106).
KRTH - formerly KHJ-FM; named “K-Earth” in the early 1970s due to a format that never happened, harkening back to the attitude that eventually launched earth day.
KSWD - Sound, as in “The Sound.”
KSUL - Cal State University Long (Beach).
KSBR - Saddle Back (College) Radio.
KDAY - “Day,” once a daytime-only station on AM
KGRB - Gloria (and owner) Robert Burdette
KBOB - Bob (Robert Burdette owned this one as well)

I am running short of space so I’ll stop for now. I know, absolutely, I am missing more than a few. If you would like to add to this list please drop me a line. Even if it is out of town but perhaps still well-known. The Chicago Federation of Labor’s WCLF comes to mind, as does once-owned-by-Sears WLS ... World’s Largest Store.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Radio Waves Podcast #115

I honestly thought he was joking.

I was at the local gym talking with someone after a workout, who mentioned the National Football League’s absolute protection of the name “Super Bowl” and the way that radio stations are afraid to even say the game by name for fear of being sued. 

That just wouldn’t happen, I thought to myself. I must have misunderstood.

Turns out, he was right. There ARE some stations, owners and DJs afraid to mention the game by name. Maybe most of them. I hadn’t noticed listening, but in checking over websites such as The Sound (100.3 FM) at thesoundla.com, “Super Bowl” is indeed not always mentioned. In its place: “the big game.
Why the fear? The NFL has a lot of money tied up in sponsorships and endorsements and doesn’t want the “Super Bowl” name used if it would weaken the brand, such as if a station ran a promotion that even hinted any direct tie to the NFL.

The methods they use to enforce their intellectual property border on -- if not actually becoming --on thuggery. Every year the league sends out letters spelling out what can and can’t be said in advertisements and promotions. In 2006 it made good on threats by sending cease and desist letters to Clear Channel Communications (now iHeart Media) stations across the country, arguing that their Super Bowl ticket giveaway campaigns violated NFL trademarks.

In a more famous case that actually proved the pettiness of the NFL, the league forced the cancellation of a church Super Bowl watching party, due to the church using the Super Bowl name in advertisements, asking for donations to see the game, and planning to show the game on a television larger than 55 inches.

And while none of these would -- in my opinion -- stand up in court, it costs money to defend yourself, and few organizations have more money than the NFL. So “big game” it is, even though the NFL tried -- unsuccessfully -- to trademark that too.

Not everyone is afraid, by the way. I did note that KLOS (95.5 FM) made mention of Lady Gaga singing our national anthem at the Super Bowl on its home page (955klos.com).

Good thing national treasures that actually matter, such as the names of things inside Yosemite Park, could never be trademarked by some unscrupulous company in order to demand money for their fair use. Oh, wait ...

Bad Dates

No not Valentines dates. But it was this weekend in 1987 that the legendary KMET (now KTWV, 94.7 FM) played its last song; the air staff having been fired the week before. And this weekend in 1986 is when KEZY (now KGBN, 1190 AM) switched off album rock for all-news, a format that lasted about 20 minutes as I recall. The KMET change became known as the Valentine’s Day Massacre; both resulted in the loss of once-popular stations. 

Canned Tuna

Charlie Tuna is one of the two featured DJs on ReelRadio this week, as an uncut aircheck of him on KHJ (930 AM) from February 27, 1970 was found and uploaded. A small donation is required to hear the recording, but it is well worth it. Tuna is spot on with quick wit and legendary pipes; if you want to hear “oldies” as they are supposed to sound (before they were oldies), along with great personality and amazing station production, this is it.

This Sunday is also the date that curator Richard Irwin is supposed to let ReelRadio fans know will happen with the site, as Irwin plans to move and may not be able to update weekly as he has done since 1996.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Radio Waves Podcast #114

Feb. 5

Norway, which announced last year that all analog FM transmissions will cease in 2017 -- the start of the end is to be January 11, 2017 -- is already seeing some FM stations disappear.

In their place is all-digital broadcasts on an entirely new band known as DAB+ which is being used in Western Europe, Australia and China but which was not authorized for broadcasts in the United States.

Radio in Norway is far different than in the United States, with broadcasts dominated by networks affiliated with the government. The first stations to shut down, though, are independent, and seem to be doing so out of cost-cutting motives; RadioWorld.Com says that the FM stations owned by Bauer Media featured two local broadcasts while the replacements will be just one national digital station.

Prior to the decision to adopt the HD Radio system for digital broadcasts in the United States, there was debate on whether we, too, should go with DAB. In the end FCC was swayed by arguments that keeping traditional radio alive benefits listeners today, while HD Radio can broadcast in a fully digital mode as well, making today’s frequencies viable in the future.


I gave BMW engineers some flak last year for being unable to do what engineers at other carmakers can do: provide AM radio reception in a hybrid car. Yet still the BMW i3 arrives in the hands of buyers without that AM capability. It would seem that BMW shares engineering with the diesel group over at at Volkswagen.

It turns out, however, that AM reception is not impossible, it is just turned off. BMW considers this a “feature,” as explained by company spokesman Dave Bunchko when the issue first materialized:

“We learned from our experience with MINI E and BMW ActiveE that the electric motor causes interference with the AM signal. Rather than frustrate customers with inferior reception, the decision was made to leave it off. HD Radio is standard on the i3 and through multi-casting, many traditional AM stations in key markets are available on secondary and tertiary HD signals.”

Interesting that Chevrolet, Ford, Toyota, Honda, Nissan and all others were able to make it work. Regardless, AM is available on the i3 after all, as long as the owner can do some tinkering. You can read about it here: http://tinyurl.com/BMW-AMRadio, though without owning one I have no clue what is involved in accessing the system.

And, He’s Gone ... Again

I’ve gotten a few letters and emails on the subject, so it’s worthy of an explanation.

Fans of Art Bell, original host of Coast to Coast AM heard overnights locally on KFI (640 AM), were excited when he returned to the air via SiriusXM satellite radio in September, 2013. That show lasted six weeks before he decided to end it. Then they were excited when he launched an internet program -- later carried by KABC (790 AM) -- in July of last year. That program ended December 11th.

As always, the reason was “security,” as he and his family  were allegedly subject to trespassing on his property -- and threats -- from someone he believes wants him off the air. Far be it for me to doubt him, but personally I think he -- while a popular host with a true knack for entertainment -- is a few kilohertz short of a frequency. 

Jan. 29

The Radio and Television News Association of Southern California honored numerous broadcast stations in the area at their 66th Annual Golden Mike Awards held January 23rd at the Los Angeles Universal Hilton Hotel.

The Golden Mikes are presented annually by the RTNA, the non-profit group representing broadcast newsrooms in Los Angeles, San Diego, and all of the other markets from Fresno to the Mexican border. The group also coordinates pool coverage of major events and fights for broadcast coverage in courtrooms, and provides scholarships for the next generation of broadcast journalists.

The Golden Mike is Southern California's most prestigious -- and most coveted -- broadcast journalism prize. What sets the Golden Mikes apart from other competitions is the Standard of Excellence: Unlike most awards contests in which winners are determined by selecting which entry is the "best" among all those submitted in each category, winners of the Golden Mike Awards must also meet the Standard ... if the judges decide that no entry in a category meets this "Standard of Excellence", then no award is given.

Awards are split by news department size, Division A being radio stations with six or more full-time news staff members and Division B consisting of stations with five or fewer full-time newspeople. Here are the 2016 winners, recognizing the accomplishments of 2015:

Best News Broadcast over 15 Minutes (Div. A): KNX (1070 AM) (B): No Award

Best News Broadcast Under 15 Minutes (A): KPCC (89.3 FM); (B): K-BEACH (88.1 HD3)

Best Sports Segment (A): KFWB (980 AM); (B): KVTA (1590 AM)

Best Traffic Report (A): KNX; (B): No Award

Best Sports Reporting (A): No Award; (B): KCLU (1340 AM, 88.3 FM)

Best Spot News Reporting (A): KFI (640 AM); (B): KCLU

Best Live Coverage of a News Story (A): KNX; (B) No Award

Best Documentary (One Division): KNX

Best News Public Affairs Program (A): KPCC; (B): KKJZ (88.1 FM)

Best News Reporting (A): KPCC; (B): KVPR/Fresno (89.3 FM)

Best News Reporting by a Radio Network or Content Syndicator (One Division): Westwood One

Best Hard News Reporting (One Division): KPCC

Best Feature News Series Reporting (One Division): KVPR

Best Investigative Reporting (A): KPCC; (B) No Award

Best Serious Feature Reporting less than one minute (One Division): KFI

Best Serious Feature Reporting one minute or longer (One Division): KPCC

Best Light Feature Reporting less than one minute (One Division): KFI

Best Light Feature Reporting one minute or longer (One Division): KPCC

Best News Special (A): KPCC; (B): No Award

Best Entertainment Reporting (A): KPCC; (B): KCLU

Best Business and Consumer Reporting (A): KNX; (B): KCLU

Best Government and Political Reporting (A): KPCC; (B): No Award

Best Medical and Science Reporting (A): No Award; (B): KCLU

Best Use of Sound (A): KPCC; (B): KCLU

Of note is K-BEACH, the student-run station out of Long Beach State, winning Best News Under 15 Minutes for its Hi-Definition News. That’s two years in a row for the station, which broadcasts as a secondary HD channel on KKJZ’s digital stream.  That’s right ... students. Maybe there is a future in radio!
Holiday Ratings

The results are in: KOST (103.5 FM) owned the airwaves in Los Angeles during the December Holiday season which basically covered most of December. For the month, KOST was more than twice as popular as the second-highest station, with a 12.3 percent share of the audience compared to KBIG’s (104.3 FM) 4.7.

And you wonder why it starts to sound a little like Christmas earlier and earlier every year ...