Radio: September 16, 2016
Friends, colleagues, competitors and listeners all joined together on Saturday, September 17 at the Soy Y Luna Mexican Restaurant in Tarzana to celebrate longtime Los Angeles DJ Paul Freeman’s retirement as well as to raise a glass to the memory of Charlie Tuna, who passed away in February.
Being that Freeman was on the air locally for 40 years, he has many fans. And judging by the standing-room-only crowd in the admittedly small restaurant, a large number of them were there. Most recently Freeman was the afternoon drive host on Go Country 105, but he is perhaps best known for his work on KIIS-FM (102.7) during that station’s days of dominance in the early 1980s.
Radio celebrities on hand were party host Craig Powers (KEZY), Machine Gun Kelly (KHJ), Dave Sebastian Williams (KHJ), “Commander” Chuck Street (KIIS), Mike Wagner (KRLA), Danny Lemos (KIIS), Benny Martinez (K-WEST) and a huge number of other amazing personalities and behind-the-scenes people who worked with him throughout his career.
There was much talk of Freeman’s long career and virtually unmatched local staying power. There were many stories of Tuna as well, including those of his professionalism, friendship and dedication. It was obvious to me that Tuna touched the lives of everyone in attendance in some positive way.
Brush With Greatness
Also in attendance was Chuck Martin, a man I have been wanting to meet in person for many years. Martin was the last top-40 programmer of KHJ (930 AM) before the suits in New York changed the format to country in 1980, and he was also the man who launched “KHJ on FM” when he switched K-WEST (now Power 106) to top-40 in late June of 1981.
To give perspective, Martin took KHJ -- a station badly damaged by a revolving door of programmers, many of whom did not understand the station or the Los Angeles market -- and almost instantly fixed years of neglect. He revamped the lineup including the addition of Rick Dees to the morning shift, expanded the music mix to appeal to a broader audience based on his knowledge of Los Angeles’ changing demographics, and introduced a new presentation, which included some of the best jingles since the original Johnny Mann jingles in 1965.
Martin says that from a percentage standpoint, he oversaw the largest increase in the ratings the station saw since 1965. “Of course some former programmers made that easier by taking them so low,” he laughed. Yet the truth is that Martin brought KHJ back from the brink ... only to be forced out when station owner RKO’s New York management secretly decided to go country ... a decision made far before the ratings came out. Had RKO only known ... or been more patient, radio history may have been drastically different. And maybe, just maybe, AM radio would not be the wasteland it is today.
I hope to have a long-form interview with Martin in the near future. I place him among the best top-40 programmers ever, along with such legends as Ron Jacobs, Charlie Van Dyke, and John Rook, among others. Talking with him at the party, I realized he still has it: he understands the audience, understands demographics, and understands good radio.
Treat of the Week