Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Radio Waves Podcast #145

Radio: September 30, 2016

I’ve been listening more and more to Alt 98.7’s morning The Woody Show. And I have to say I find it very entertaining.

Perhaps the best kept secret in Los Angeles radio, the morning program has been on the air at Alt 98.7 since April of 2014. Only relatively recently has the station actually promoted it, though the ratings of the program have been instrumental in raising the fortunes of the station overall. In August, Alt earned its highest rating in recent memory, tied with Real 92.3 at 8th place and a 3.4 share of the audience and solidly beating longtime alternative leader KROQ (106.7 FM), which was 19th with a 2.3 share.

The program is good enough to have attracted the attention of industry insiders; it was actually someone at a competing station who told me to check it out.

Jeff “Woody” Fife leads a cast that includes Ranae Ravey, Greg Gory and Jason “Menace” McMurry who are kind of like your cool friends you see at work, at school, or at parties. What impresses me personally is the intelligence level of the program ... these are not a bunch of ignorant fools. In fact, some of the bits they do poke fun at stupidity or modern society’s obsession with self-absorption.

As but one example called “First World Problems,” listeners call in to talk of the problems they have; once they describe their problem, Woody reads a news story of someone else suffering a tragic or depressing event, then ask the caller which problem they would rather have. While the idea is primarily entertainment, it does get one thinking of how trivial so many problems of modern living can be.

The show’s genesis dates back to 2006 at a station in San Francisco, known as Live 105. In an event that shows how radio has changed over the years, Woody and Ravey were fired in 2009 allegedly for airing an unreleased Green Day song. In years past stations would reward a jock for obtaining and airing a song before its release. It was all part of the competition ... but I digress.

All in all its a fun show with harmless fun humor as presented by personalities who are quite good in their craft. If you have not checked it out yet -- and judging by the ratings you already have -- you owe it to yourself to do so. Hear it weekdays from 6 to 10 a.m. on Alt 98.7 FM.

Congratulations ...

... to KRTH for winning the Marconi Award in the category of Classic Hits Station Of The Year.

The Marconi Awards were handed out by the National Association of Broadcasters on September 22nd in Nashville; the awards recognize excellence in broadcasting by personalities and stations. KRTH was the only local station to receive a Marconi.

New Name for New Format

The American Songbook on 1260 AM (simulcast on 105.1 HD3) has a new name: KBOQ. Formerly KMZT for the classical format, the name “K-Mozart” is still being used for the classical format that can be picked up on digital HD radios on 105.1 HD2.

Knocked Off

KLAA (830 AM) was off the air for an extended period earlier this month when a cars apparently hit power poles feeding the area that includes the station’s transmitter. 
The station went off the air due to the event during the early evening hours of September 14th. Power was not restored until the following day and the station resumed normal operations at about 2 p.m. September 15th.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Radio Waves Podcast #144

Radio: September 23, 2016

Longtime Los Angeles radio personality Cynthia Fox has (finally!) been named the new afternoon drive host of The Sound (100.3 FM).

Fox has been at The Sound for three years (first shift: August 26, 2013 filling in for Rita Wilde, in case you are a radio trivia buff) doing weekends and fill-ins. Her promotion to afternoon drive was a no-brainer to me, as she is a tremendously intelligent DJ with a true love of music.

An alumni of the Mighty Met KMET (now KTWV 94.7 FM), Fox has also been heard on KLOS (95.5 FM), KLSX (now KAMP 97.1 FM) and KMPC-FM (now KSCA, 101.9 FM).

The afternoon position opened up after Mark Thompson left mornings on The Sound; the afternoon team of Andy Chanley and Christian James Hand was split up so that Chanley could move back to mornings; Hand ended up moving to KLOS.

It will be great hearing Fox daily.

Speaking of Thompson

I kind of miss Mark in the Morning on the Sound. Especially the initial months that had him together with Chanley and Gina Grad. Fun, entertaining radio.

Rockoff Passes

You probably don’t know the name Neil Rockoff, but he is the man who was brought in by the (then owner RKO) suits to take legendary top-40 station KHJ Country. He also was part of KNX-FM (now KCBS-FM, 93.1) and KGBS/KTNQ (1020 AM).

Rockoff passed away September 7th at the age of 78.

Tom Leykis, former local personality and now heard via the internet at BlowMeUpTom.Com worked with Rockoff. He wasn’t too kind in his posting of the news on his Facebook page:

“I've waited and waited, but this f-ing guy refused to die,” Leykis began. “78-year-old Neil Rockoff finally bought the f-ing farm last week.

“Primarily known as The Man Who Fired Rick Dees at KHJ, launching him into his phenomenally successful 23-year run as the morning jock on KIIS-FM, KHJ's then-new Country format died three years later.

“For his next act, Neil and a group of undercapitalized partners bought WNWS, a Miami radio station I was working for in 1984 with studios in an old Cuban beauty salon and it became the one radio station where I've ever worked where we were expected to bring toilet paper to work because we never had any.

“Once, when I needed some letterhead to write back to a listener, I was asked, "can't you use plain paper?"
Ultimately within 14 months, the group was forced to sell. Didn't strike me as the "great businessman" as claimed in his obituary. Ultimately, I bailed on that dump and moved to another station.

“He threatened to sue me for leaving before the sale took place, but he clearly couldn't afford to do it, One of the worst radio experiences in my career. Good riddance to bad rubbish.”

Tom really needs to stop holding back and tell us what he really feels.

Cumulus Death Watch

Cumulus Media, which has been maneuvering to try to stay listed on the stock exchange, has been given another reprieve by NASDAQ, which requires stocks to have a value above $1 to remain listed.

It’s been an issue for a while. The stock was originally supposed to be delisted in May of 2016; the company made some minor changes to the stock listing and was given more time. Now with another deadline approaching, the company hopes stockholders will approve a reverse split in which one share would be issued per eight shares currently held.

At the current price of 34.6 cents per share, that would give a price of $2.77 per share. The stock hit $50.75 on December 31, 1999, meaning it has lost over 99 percent of its value since that peak. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Radio Waves Podcast #143

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

Jim Conlee filling in for Dave Sebastian on Ten-Q in 1979, courtesy of Airchexx.Com. Hear it at In this recording, Sebastian (aka Dave Sebastian Williams) was out ill, so programmer Conlee filled in at the last minute.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Radio Waves Podcast #142

Airwaves: September 9, 2016

Readers Revenge

I received a lot of mail regarding the New American Songbook on KMZT (1260 AM, 105.1 HD3). Such as:

“We were so pleased to find this station go back to The Great American Songbook. What a pleasure it is to hear great music again. Our favorite singers are ‘Dead Singers,’ such as Sinatra, Crosby, Clooney. etc. And don't forget the Big Bands. -- Lee and Rusty Willoughby, Canyon Country

“I read you column in the Daily News every week and enjoy it, but never as much as last week when I read the American Standards were returning to 1260 AM here in Santa Clarita. I have nothing against Mozart and I do listen to him, but when I'm driving I like to listen to American Standards ... guess I'm getting older.
“I used to listen to KRTH (101.1 FM) for the oldies I grew up with in the late 50's-60's but now they play stuff I can't stand. Anyway just wanted to let you know you made my day. M. Wright, Santa Clarita

With a slightly different view:

“I listened to KGIL (now KMZT) in the ‘old days’ when they played wonderful, varied, quality ‘adult’ music! From Sergio Mendez to Tony Bennett to John Denver to The Beatles. I have tried to get into the new format a few times over the past couple of weeks, but I just can't stick with it for more than two songs in a row.

“It reminds me of piano bar music from the 70s. There is an emotionally flat nature to the music, and it seems to have the same, slow, tired beat from song to song to song ... elevator music with a vocal component. I keep wondering who their target audience is ... people over 85 who are confined to beds in convalescent hospitals? What a pity. It would be thrilling if the station could go back to its roots. -- Marilyn Noyes, West Los Angeles

Today’s Column Question:

“Is there any radio stations that play music from the 1920's and 1930's? I've downloaded lots of songs and converted them to MP3's and I thought there might be something on air.  I've learned to enjoy Rudy VallĂ©e among others.” -- John Buckingham, Long Beach

I am sure John already knows the answer to that: no, at least not on the air. Even SiriusXM satellite radio doesn’t go back before the 1940s. However, I did find The 1920s Radio Network on the Tune In smartphone app. As I write this they are playing The Boswell Sisters. A search of 1920 or 1930 yields a few stations of interest, so while it’s nowhere to be found on the traditional airwaves, you CAN use your phone as a really expensive transistor radio. Or considering the era, a miniature vacuum tube radio as the case may be.

Sirius-ly Exciting

SiriusXM had gotten way too heavy with really bad television theme song knockoffs that are part of the Totally ‘70s channel. Lately they’ve thankfully pulled back a bit on those and added what are known in the industry as “jock logos” or jingles featuring the DJ’s name just as done on top-40 stations of the past. 

It is a much-needed and welcome change to the programming. It’s a small addition, but it makes the channel sound so much better. I hope they keep it up.

Now to get my gig on the channel ... 

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Radio Waves Podcast #141

Radio September 2, 2016

The Rest of the Story

I was a HUGE fan of London and Engelman when they were heard on KRTH (101.1 FM) and K-WEST/Magic 106 (now Power 106 FM) in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The wacky duo -- who would do spoofs of television shows and often bring listeners and advertisers into their bits -- left Los Angeles for Tampa, Florida and then San Francisco in 1984, never to be heard locally again. And unfortunately, it was soon after that when they broke up and went their separate ways. The breakup was the definition of “ugly.”

John London ended up doing talk shows in San Francisco while former partner Ron Engelman went to Boston, back to San Francisco, and Dallas, and a handful of other cities. He passed away August 29, 2007 following a three-year battle with lung cancer. 

A reader of Don Barrett’s LARadio.Com asked about the program; Barrett added some information about Engelman’s life I had not heard before.

“In early 1993, Ron became a talk host at KGBS-Dallas, wrote Barrett. “Shortly after his arrival, all hell broke loose. ‘Waco hit and all of a sudden I and the station became a link with David Koresh and the Branch Davidians,’ said Ron. ‘Tapes of my show were being monitored and obtained by the FBI. I was on virtually every single press outlet. At one stage the Branch Davidians hung a banner from the fortress that said WE WANT RON ENGELMAN.’
“The government would not let Ron approach the compound and controversy swirled. He made an emphatic point that he did not agree with David Koresh, but, as Ron said, ‘POWs during the war were treated more humanely.’ After the Waco incident, he lost his job and had "a real, real tough two years."
The other fact I had never heard? His lung cancer was apparently related to exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. He died at the age of 68. I was lucky enough to converse with him via email shortly before his death.

Ratings Problems

Nielsen isn’t giving specifics, but they ratings company is “dismissing” 35 households representing 55 people holding Portable People Meter ratings collection devices that automatically “listen” and decode radio station signals in order to calculate ratings.

Nielsen says it is because of “irregular compliance patterns” -- meaning something didn’t look right in those reports -- and that the company’s “quality standards” were not met.

According to Nielsen, the households and people involved account for very little in the overall calculation of ratings. Which overall may be true ... but as some station owners have pointed out, if you’re not in the top-tier of the ratings or if your station relies on particular demographics, those PPM holders COULD make a huge difference in the ratings. It is well-known that the PPM is the best we currently have but it is woefully deficient in having enough meters in the field for accurate measurements in all demographic breakdowns.

Ownership Rules Stand

While I didn’t get my wish -- a return to limited ownership rules such that no more than 20 AM, FM or television stations can be owned by any one company nationwide nor more than three in any one market -- the FCC finally showed a little backbone by not recommending further loosening of the current ownership limits.

Broadcast companies want looser rules even though the deregulation model has been a dismal failure. Since allowing single entities to own as many as eight stations in large markets and virtually as many as they want nationwide, radio stocks have nosedived in value while huge debt loads have killed creativity ... leading to huge declines in revenue and opening the door for alternative entertainment services.

Perhaps the FCC leaving things as-is is a start. Now it’s time to lobby the Commission and Congress to bring back real ownership limits and (sorry to borrow this slogan) make radio great again.