Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Radio Waves Podcast #154

Radio: December 2, 2016

“I’m getting a little tired talking about me,” quips legendary DJ Shotgun Tom Kelly. “Let’s talk about you ... Have you heard my show?”

It’s one of my favorite Shotgun lines. Unfortunately, as of late last month, I haven’t. Or perhaps the better word is can’t ... as KRTH (101.1 FM) let go of Kelly as part of a pre-holiday CBS bloodletting. In addition to Kelly, KRTH let go of longtime mid-day personality Jim Carson, who had been with the station for 22 years, while Tami Heide was cut from sister stations KCBS-FM (93.1) and KROQ (106.7 FM).

Obviously the cuts are aimed at making the stations more desirable to potential buyers; the spinoff of all CBS-owned radio stations that was expected to happen next year has been moved up to as early as the end of this year. I’ll be watching this and letting you know the details as they arrive.

Kelly had been with the station as afternoon drive personality for 18 years until almost exactly one year ago when he was moved to weekends, combined with new duties as the station’s “ambassador.” Duties included live appearances with listeners, meeting with clients, and generally helping to make the station stand out in the eyes and ears of the listening and advertising community.

“I was very pleased to become the ambassador, and I feel very fortunate that I was able to spend the last year meeting with clients and listeners,” Kelly told me. “Meeting with fans of me and the station ... signing autographs ... hearing stories about them listening to me and the station for the past (almost) 20 years ... it was a hoot.”

Officially, CBS is eliminating the position of ambassador. No other reason was given, though Kelly has two years left on his contract so presumably the cut doesn’t necessarily mean savings for CBS. What it probably does do is shift some costs away from the station (and presumably the same can be said of Carson and Heide’s situation ... and any similar cuts from CBS stations nationwide), to the parent company, making the station group more appealing to a potential buyer or buyers.

For his part, Kelly has no hard feelings. “I had quite a run,” he told me. “Almost 20 years at K-Earth, the longest run of my career, was a tremendous experience. And everything I’ve experienced here has been amazing. From receiving radio awards” (he received personality of the year multiple times) “to being honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame ... I am humbled. Most of all, I'll miss speaking with those incredible listeners daily.”

I’ve been listening to Kelly since I discovered radio and heard him on KCBQ (1170 AM) in San Diego back in the early 1970s. This is one of the few times in my life that I haven’t been able to hear him. But that doesn’t mean it will necessarily last long.

I don’t plan to retire,” he says. Right now he’s working on a television pilot with friend and former KRTH programmer Jhani Kaye entitled “Shotgun Tom Kelly’s Neighborhoods,” which takes viewers on video tours of areas around Southern California  -- using modern production technology including drones -- not done as entertainingly since the great Ralph Story highlighted Los Angeles decades ago. See a sample of it on YouTube (

Along with commercials, voiceovers, announcing and more, Kelly plans to stay active. Is radio out of the question? “Absolutely not,” he said. “I’d love to be back on radio of the right opportunity came up.” As one of the nicest, most knowledgable ... and talented ... people in radio, I hope that opportunity comes up soon.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Radio Waves Podcast #153

A few weeks ago I wrote of a news story out of Albuquerque, New Mexico in which a suspect with explosives was seen in the area of a transmitter site for numerous broadcast stations. Had a television station engineer not happen to be in the area and the suspect was able to follow through with his alleged plan, most of the television and FM stations in the area could have been knocked off the air. I mentioned that it might be time to rethink transmitter security.

Reader Anthony Chan of Monterey Park read the story, and it reminded him of something he read in the past. “I am assuming that you are a card-carrying member of SPERDVAC (the Society to Preserve and Encourage Radio Drama, Variety And Comedy), and receive their publication, RadioGram.”

Yes, I am, though I believe I let my membership lapse ... something I must take care of right away. But I digress.

“I have enclosed a reprint of an article from October, 2006 by Mr. Newcomb Weisenberger, recently deceased, who worked at KFI (640 AM) as an engineer for many years. Part of his tenure included the years of World War II; in this article he tells the story of the transmitter being guarded by soldiers with loaded rifles and guard dogs. The rationale was that they KFI and KPO/San Francisco signals were used by US Army Air Force navigators to keep their planes on course to Hawaii.”

It’s true. And one of the more interesting war-related radio stories.

As Weisenberger describes it, there were many in the industry who were curious why there were some strange things going on at KFI.

• Why, with the draft taking so many engineers away, was KFI allowed to keep so many ... and even added to the ranks?

• Why was KFI suddenly on the air all night long with no sponsored programs?

• In addition to the money-losing night-time broadcasts, why was KFI using its full 50,000 watts 24-hours a day when it used to power down at night and sign off completely at midnight? The extra electricity, and the third shift of a full engineering staff must have cost a fortune. And much of the signal was being sent over the ocean where no one was listening.

• Why was the KFI property patrolled by armed US Army riflemen, and why were several 30.06 Springfield rifles with live ammunition kept in the KFI transmitter tube locker?

• Why were there searchlights on the roof, “menacing, vicious guard dogs on the loose all night,” and why did the American flag fly dawn to dusk?

Talking among the engineers soon became guesses, later to become verified facts. Earle C. Anthony, owner of KFI at the time, had received a classified letter from the USAAF requesting -- read: ordering -- him to operate the station at full power 24-hours per day, every day.

According to Weisenberger, “our guesses were right. Mr. Anthony came to us and read words that stated directly that the United States Army Air Forces would be using the signals of KFI 640 and KPO 680 to guide our new military airplanes to Hawaii.”

A newly developed “Direction Finding Device” would be used on the planes to track the signals. Using triangulation, much the same way modern devices use satellites for tracking and navigation -- including the navigation system in your car and on your phone -- the military airman could track the plane’s direction by tuning into the signals and sampling the overlap. 

It worked as long as the signals were reliable, uninterrupted, and carried all the way to Hawaii. Being clear channel stations -- no other station on their frequency -- and operating at full power, that was easy for both KFI and KPO. Both stations probably carried all the way to Japan.

This is just one of the times AM radio helped in the war effort, but it is one of the most fascinating. If anyone has more information I’d love to hear it. I doubt that many who were directly involved are still around, but if you are ... or you are a relative or friend of one and you have a story to tell, please drop me a line.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Radio Waves Podcast #152

Radio November 18, 2016

KOST (103.5 FM) beat even itself this year as management sought to unite opposing sides after the election: the station’s yearly sojourn into holiday music is already in full force, having made its debut November 9th.

According to a video on the KOST website (, Santa made the switch after a letter from Little Susie in Southern California explained that all the adults around her were always yelling over the election, and asked if he could do something. So he logged on to the station master control and started playing holiday music to make people feel better ... even if it is before Thanksgiving. WAY before Thanksgiving. On a day that must have hit 85 degrees.

And while they were the first to make the move on the local airwaves, they were not the first overall. Sirius XM launched its first holiday music channel on November 2nd (Holly, Channel 17).

What gives? Why so early? Simple: ratings. It seems people really do like holiday music, and ratings for KOST always go through the roof for the ratings period. In years past, KOST could jump as many as five or more places in the ratings as it dominates the holiday season. SiriusXM does not release listenership estimates, but it must certainly do well in internal surveys, otherwise it wouldn’t use up to seven channels for specialized formats -- traditional to country, soul to Latin and special New Years programming with staggered starts and stops from through New Years day.

No I haven’t listened yet. I am a true traditionalist who used to get on trouble for not actively promoting Christmas in  July when I worked at the old Sears Catalog Surplus Store in San Pedro. I’ll start tuning in after Thanksgiving ...

Interestingly, while the move helps KOST, it has not tended to help other stations that made the move in the past. KRTH (101.1 FM) and KTWV (94.7 FM) tried it a few years ago with no bump in the ratings. It appears that people are conditioned to tune in KOST when they want the holiday sounds.

Learning from the Polls

Fred Jacobs, founder and president of Jacobs Media, wrote a post recently that tied the Presidential election to radio, especially as to how polls can be so accurate ... yet so wrong.

What’s the tie-in? Ratings. How accurate are ratings when listeners can be just like voters ... passionate about a station, or just “meh?”

In other words, are ratings really a reflection of listenership if some stations garner huge ratings just be being played in an office or even in the home ... but as background noise ... while others have listeners who actively take part in the presentation?

That’s a point I have been trying to make for years. The reason radio has seen declines in advertising revenue is because it has become a de facto background entertainment system. Muzak for the modern era. 

Yet when you give people a reason to really listen, they become active listeners, hear the ads, and revenues rise. The Woody Show (Alt 98.7 FM), Kevin and Bean (KROQ, 106.7 FM), most of the hosts on KFI (640 AM), Heidi Frosty and Frank (KLOS, 95.5 FM), Cynthia Fox (The Sound, 100.3 FM) and a few others ... they all give reasons to tune in. What we need is more, and while it may be wishful thinking, I think it’s coming.
We may be on the cutting edge of the revival of entertaining radio. I hope 2017 is the year of the radio.
More PPM Troubles

Ratings company Nielsen announced that eight percent of the Portable People Meters used to collect ratings data lost connectivity and thus were not working due to the move to a new audio data collection site. This may affect the “December” ratings period that is actually began the first week of November, due to each “month” being four weeks long rather than a full month. 

“Holiday” is the 13th rating period of the year and covers the final four weeks of the year ... in December. 

All PPM ratings markets were affected from November 3rd to November 9th. Nielsen says the meters are already back on line and that ratings tallies and final calculations should not be affected much. It will be interesting to see if some stations have large jumps for the month.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Radio Waves Podcast #151

Radio November 11, 2016

You may not know his name but you have probably heard (literally) his work; from 1970 until he retired in 2013, he has been an engineer at numerous stations throughout Southern California including almost four decades as Chief Engineer at KIIS/KPRZ (now KEIB, 1150 AM) and sister KKDJ/KIIS-FM (102.7 FM). His expertise and ear for sound helped shape many stations.

Just over three years after his retirement, Mike Callaghan passed away last week at the age of 72.

He arrived on the LA radio scene in 1970 when he decided to take classes in electronics at Pasadena City College. He tested out of one of his classes and within two weeks was hired as an engineer at KPPC AM/FM, owned at the time by the Pasadena Presbyterian Church even though it ran a freeform rock format. Studios were located in the basement.

The key word is “were.” A month after starting, he had to move the studios; legend has it that it had to do with church elders being perturbed by a system that had been rigged up in the studio to help with programming. As explained on Callaghan’s website, a set of plastic statues of the Holy Family with lights was set up “so that when the first commercial was done, Joseph would light up, when the second commercial was done, Mary would light up, and when the jock turned up the volume too loud for the transmitter, Jesus would light up.”

Besides KPPC and his many years at KIIS, Callaghan engineered for a year at KWST (now Power 106) during K-WEST’s beautiful music era.

His many projects included designing a huge 46-foot cruiser with two studios, a transmitter system that had two transmitters feeding the antennas -- the first time it had been done, designing and building home studios, and installing the AM stereo system at KPRZ/KIIS. If memory serves correctly, though I may be wrong, he was a consultant in the development of digital radio transmissions before USA Digital Radio evolved into Ibiquity with its HD Radio system.

Career Day

The Sound (100.3 FM) programmer Dave Beasing took time out of his busy schedule to speak with San Pedro Senior High students last Friday as part of the school’s Career Day.

Beasing explained that radio is much more than what is presented on the air. So much is off the air marketing: Facebook, websites, Twitter. Much creative content is done in those areas, which opens up numerous opportunities for creative individuals interested in working in radio.

He also spoke of how stations are run, talked -- positively, I might add -- about personalities and talent from stations throughout the area including his competitors, how ratings work, and the various ways that stations try to gain a competitive edge.

Beasing was one of over 50 speakers at the school, the second year he has done so. In the past, KFI (640 AM) personality Mo’Kelly (Morris O’Kelly) gave a similar presentation; it is nice to see that radio supports our local schools ... the students were very appreciative.

Trouble in paradise

Just three weeks ago, Cumulus did an eight for one reverse stock split to artificially boost its stock price above $1 and avoid being delisted from the NASDAQ exchange. The day it happened, the stock was valued at about $2.40 per share.

Last week the price hit a low of $1.03; as I write this it recovered to $1.13. But the signs are clear as day: Cumulus in its current form is not long for this world.

So I have an idea. At $1.13 per share, the market cap of the company is a little under $26 million. Meaning you can buy the entire company for about the same price as one or two of their large market stations. Problem is, you have to assume a huge amount of debt, incurred when the company overbought and overpaid for its 454 stations over the years. About $2.5 billion in debt. Yes, billion.

My plan: buy the company for $26 million. Then sell all but the best ten properties or so. Assuming an average of $11 million per station (likely far lower than most stations would fetch but a figure that matches the latest sale price of KFWB 980 AM), selling 444 stations would yield almost 4.9 billion in revenue. 

In other words, if I went by my own ideas for ownership limits, I could buy the company, sell most of its assets to other independent owners, own ten stations outright, pay off the debt, reclaim the purchase price and still have $2 billion left to run the remaining stations. And that’s being exceedingly conservative.

Considering this is an easy way to make money AND end up with a set of solid radio properties owned debt-free, can someone please explain to me why anyone still thinks large debt-laden ownership groups are working at all?

Now do you want me to tell you how to save retail companies like Sears? It’s just as easy ...

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Radio Waves Podcast #150

Radio November 4, 2016

It really wasn’t that long ago that The Wave (KTWV, 94.7 FM) was considered dead. Languishing for years, it seemed that owner CBS’ management and programmers really didn’t know what to do with the format. One thing was certain: the “smooth jazz” format that had evolved out of the New Age format that was used when manager Frank Cody killed off then-rocker KMET in 1987 was itself dead.

For years The Wave was like a boat without a rudder. Then last year, following the demise of Hot 92.3 FM (now KRRL, Real 92.3 FM) the station added many of the same songs formerly heard on Hot. Smooth Jazz had became Smooth R&B, evolving into The Soul of Southern California. The result? As of the most recent ratings, The Wave is now the number two-rated station in Los Angeles with a 4.7 share of the audience, behind 2016 leader KOST’s (103.5 FM) 5.4 share and ahead of former leader KIIS-FM’s (102.7) 4.5 tie with KLVE (107.5 FM) and KRTH (101.1 FM).

For the record, this is not the first time The Wave has hit 4.7; it did so in May and June before slipping to an average of 4.2 in the Summer months. But it is the first time it has hit 2nd place, something I do not believe has happened in the history of the station’s frequency.

After a drop that must have shocked management, KFI (640 AM) was back as the top-rated AM station in town, with a 3.1 share in 11th place. KNX (1070 AM) was right behind at 12th, tied with KAMP (97.1 FM) and Real 92.3, all with shares of 3.0. The next-highest AM station -- KLAC (570 AM) was way down at 27th place, in a four-way tie with KUSC (91.5 FM), KWIZ (96.7 FM) and KCRW’s (89.9 FM) combined FM and on-line streaming simulcast with a 1.4 share of the audience.

Nothing seems to affect The Sound (100.3 FM) ... with the loss of morning man Mark Thompson and the gaining of The Rams broadcasts, one would think that something would change. One would be wrong: The Sound’s 2.6 is basically the same as the rating it has held for most of the year. Same story for KLOS, which 1t 2.3 is about what it has been most of the past year as well. 

On the other hand, KROQ (106.7 FM) seems to be hurting, though ratings are certainly respectful still. Yet this month’s 2.2 share is quite a drop from May and June’s 2.9. Even more interestingly, competitor and alternative format leader KYSR (98.7 FM) has been relatively flat at 3.2 ... generally what it has averaged since May. It appears that 98-7 is bucking the nationwide trend of struggling alternative stations while KROQ is currently a victim of the downturn. 

KHJ (930 AM) made a return to the ratings list after disappearing for a while, earning a 0.3 share. Being supported by listener donations rather than advertising, owner Immaculate Heart Radio isn’t complaining. But if they ever want to turn over programming duties for at least part of the week or weekend, I’m ready to make it rock again ...

The full story: Each rating is an estimate of the percentage of listeners aged 6 and older tuned to a station between the hours of 6 a.m. and 12 midnight, as determined by Nielsen:

Station - Format - Oct 2016 Rating
KTWV-FM Rhythmic AC 4.7
KIIS-FM Top 40 4.5
KLVE-FM Spanish Hits 4.5
KRTH-FM Classic Hits 4.5
KBIG-FM Hot AC 4.4
KSCA-FM Regional Mexican 3.5
KCBS-FM Adult Hits 3.3
KRCD-FM Spanish Adult Hits 3.3
KYSR-FM Alternative 3.2

KFI-AM Talk 3.1
KAMP-FM Top 40 3.0
KNX-AM News 3.0
KRRL-FM Urban 3.0
KKGO-FM Country 2.7
KSWD-FM Classic Rock 2.6
KPWR-FM Top 40 2.4
KLOS-FM Classic Rock 2.3
KROQ-FM Alternative 2.2
KXOL-FM Spanish Contemporary 2.2

KLAX-FM Regional Mexican 2.1
KBUE-FM Regional Mexican 2.0
KLYY-FM Spanish Adult Hits 2.0
KXOS-FM Regional Mexican 2.0
KPCC-FM News-Talk 1.7
KJLH-FM Urban Adult Contemporary 1.6
KLAC-AM Sports 1.4
KUSC-FM Classical 1.4
KWIZ-FM Spanish Variety 1.4
KCRW-FM Variety 1.2 (1.4 including the online simulcast)

KDAY-FM Rhythmic Adult Contemporary 1.1
KABC-AM Talk 0.8
KEIB-AM Talk 0.8
KRLA-AM Talk 0.8
KSPN-AM Sports 0.8
KSSE-FM Spanish Contemporary 0.7
KFSH-FM Christian Contemporary 0.6
KKJZ-FM Jazz 0.6
KHJ-AM Religious 0.3
KTNQ-AM Spanish Talk 0.3

KLAA-AM Sports 0.2
KKLA-FM Religious 0.1