Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Radio Waves Podcast #157

Radio December 23, 2016

Tributes have been pouring into the KLOS (95.5 FM) website after the news that longtime rock radio personality Bob Coburn had passed away December 17th at the age of 68. KLOS is, of course, the station where Coburn spent most of his career, though he had been heard on five other local stations including KMET (now KTWV, 94.7 FM), KLSX (now KAMP, 97.1 FM), KZLA (now KXOS, 93.9 FM), KPPC (now KROQ, 106.7 FM), and KCBS-FM (93.1). He also was host and later owner of the popular syndicated program Rockline.

Coburn had been diagnosed with lung cancer earlier this year and had dedicated himself to fighting it as best he could. Unfortunately when it was diagnosed it was already at Stage 4; he died surrounded by family and friends.

Coburn’s radio career started slightly illegally ... using a five-watt transmitter that he and a friend used to broadcast music to their local Dallas, Texas neighborhood. They even took requests ... for a time, at least. After about three months, officials from the FCC tracked them down, presented a cease-and-desist order, and left with their transmitter. 

Not that the incident dampened his desire to DJ ... he used that as his “experience” to land a job at KAND/Corsicana, Texas, which lasted for two weeks until he quit so he could attend his girlfriend’s prom. Next was KPLT/ Paris, Texas; eventually he worked his way to KPPC in 1969, then down to San Diego’s KGB (now KLSD, 1360 AM) when legendary programmer Ron Jacobs launched the station’s AOR format in 1972.

In Los Angeles he worked for another legendary programmer,  Sam Bellamy, at KMET from 1975 - 1979 where he did afternoons and worked as music director, before moving on to others. He hosted Rockline from 1981 to 1994, and again from 1997 to 2014 when it ended it’s syndicated run.

Sam Bellamy told me of Coburn’s contributions to KMET and more: “Bob had a big hand in formulating the sound and success of KMET. He broke new bands, new artists ... his ear was unbelievable ... truly golden.

“He was always out listening to new bands and helping artists. He was a  mentor to bands, artists and even aspiring DJs, and was a gift to us all. His energy was amazing.

“His passion directed his path. A passion for music -- he discovered some great rock and roll -- a passion for radio and a passion for life. He loved radio, loved his life in radio, and his passion propelled him to his success. He left a real mark in the industry and will never be forgotten.”

KLOS is where he spent that majority of his career, working at the station three different times, most recently as the late morning host 9:30 to noon. He’d been running “Rockline Replay” -- best of segments from the popular interview show -- for the past two years.

The station opened up its website to listener and artist tributes, which can he heard and read at 955KLOS.Com. In addition, the regular programming was dropped for most of the weekend in favor of recordings from Rockline.
Even competitor The Sound (100.3 FM) paid tribute on air and on the station website. This demonstrates the community that is or can be local radio.

Michael Stark, who runs the LA Radio Studio in San Pedro, told me, “I was never real close to BC, but having worked at KLOS during the "golden era" (as characterized by the great Michael Benner in his tribute to him), I did know him, conversed with him occasionally and found he was one of the most musically knowledgeable jocks I ever worked with. He LOVED the music.”


Cuts at KNX

Just when you thought radio was already cut to the bone, CBS -- once the crown jewel of local and national radio quickly turning into coal -- fires three from KNX (1070 AM): Linda Nunez, Steve Grad and Ed Mertz. Loyalty has no rewards in radio, especially when the owner is trying to make the stations look more profitable -- if far less listenable -- to potential suckers, er, buyers. Shame on CBS.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Radio Waves Podcast #156

Radio December 16, 2016

After more than eight decades broadcasting from studios on La Cienega, KABC (790 AM) and sister station KLOS (95.5 FM) moved to new studios that were the former location of Westwood One Radio Networks a short drive away in Culver City, South of Washington Boulevard.

The La Cienega location at one time was home to Hearst’s KEHE (named after the Evening Herald Express newspaper) which broadcast at 780 on the AM dial. Earle C. Anthony -- owner of KFI (640 AM) and KECA -- bought the property from Hearst and moved KECA from 1430 on the dial to 790 in the 1930s. When Anthony sold the station in the 1940s, it remained on the property and would later become KABC.

The current studios are not that old, and are such a model of good planning that the set designers of Frazier used KABC as the model for the studios shown on the popular television show. They include spacious rooms with adjoining booths for news reporting and call screening. Scott Fybush of Fybush.Com uses the word “majestic” to describe the studios and the small details that are often left out of more modern construction projects. Of course when the just-vacated studios were built in 1989 -- replacing the original 1930s studios -- KABC and KLOS were flying high, so no expense was spared in the design. Station manager George Green made sure of that.

So why move? Money. The current owner of KABC and KLOS is Cumulus, and the value of the property -- Cumulus reportedly sold it for $90 million -- will help pay down some of its massive debt. The site will soon be a mixture of homes and retail space.

According to KABC morning man Doug McIntyre, the new facility is a bit smaller, but the old location actually had more space than they needed. And though he has actually been part of the La Cienega facility since 1982 when he was a guest on the Ray Breim Show, he’s excited about the move.

“It’s brand new with a very modern vibe,” he explained in an interview the Sunday before his first broadcast from the new studios. While weekend shows originated from the new studios as of 6 p.m. on Saturday December 10, McIntyre’s was the first of the major weekday shows to broadcast there beginning at 5 a.m. Monday.

“I spent almost a quarter century at the La Cienega studios, so it is a bit strange to be moving, but it’s a good time. There is a positive vibe with the station, and a positive vibe with the move.”

And as if nature agreed with the move, McIntyre told a story of cats. “At one time we had 23 cats on the property. As time went on, just one was left, an old cat we named ToupĂ©. Well, ToupĂ© died last week, so we buried  him using the same shovel that was used to break ground on the new studios that were competed in 1989. It was a silver shovel with George Green’s name on the handle; we buried the cat in the back. It’s as if everything has gone full-circle”

Elmer Gone

Terri-Rae Elmer, who did news on McIntyre’s KABC morning show for the past five years after a longtime stint on KFI, was let go from the station. No reason was given, but it is known that her contract was not renewed.

Hopefully Elmer will return to the air soon; she is an accomplished reporter with a sharp wit. Will she return to KFI or perhaps move to KNX (1070 AM)? Time will tell.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Radio Waves Podcast #155

Radio December 9, 2016

Recently I wrote of the military use of AM radio signals being used to help our planes make the trip to Hawaii during World War II, using the signals of KFI (640 AM) and a station in San Francisco to work as a crude triangulation system.

This brought in some fascinating emails, the first of which speaks of the early days of AM radio when decisions were being made for stations broadcasting on a clear channel, meaning they were the only station on a frequency, the idea being that smaller communities would be able to receive radio from the power but possibly distant clears.

From reader Don Muller: “While thumbing through old engineering files, I ran across correspondence between the FCC and engineers at KOY Phoenix. It was somewhere between 1920 or maybe 1922 regarding offering KOY the ability to be a 50KW clear channel 1-A licensee rather than KFI. The idea was instead of having emergency broadcasts done from a facility on the west coast susceptible to invasion, it might have a better chance of surviving an attack a few hundred miles inland. 

“A completion time frame was given, but the folks at KOY weren't able to either come up with the funds to run a 50KW transmitter or perhaps felt the small, sparsely populated, desert city of Phoenix could not support or need it. Letters showing the cost of buying the transmitter and estimates of monthly electric bills was evidently what led to the FCC giving the venerable license to KFI/Los Angeles in 1922.”

As to the triangulation system, I assumed incorrectly that it was used only for military airplanes. Correcting me is Don C. Moss: “The early Automatic Direction Finding technology you wrote of used every major clear channel station located in major cities around the nation. This method of radio navigation was also used by commercial carriers as well as the military.

“ADF continued to be a back up navigation method after development of the next long distance navigation system, VHF Omnidirectional Range, was developed. Now, of course, GPS navigation has made both systems obsolete.

“The times of station operation were noted on the aviation navigation charts; The military requirement for 24/7 transmission was unique to the war years.”

Was radio responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbor? Some have felt that the strong signals served as homing beacons to keep enemy bombers on course. But perhaps it wasn’t homing, but the instead a tragic mixup. Reader Gene Smith submitted this:

“There were limited operating hours for the Hawaiian Islands Air Warning radars due to high failures. On Dec 7 at 7 a.m. the Air Warning Service -- stations and information center -- was shut down. However, Private George Elliott wanted extra practice on radar, so the radar system itself was left on for Pvt. Joseph Lockard to provide training. Elliott detected a large target and Lockard confirmed that it must have been a large flight approaching. He attempted to contact the Info Center but it had shut down. So he called on the administration line to the switchboard operator, who found Lt. Kermit A. Tyler still hanging around the center to take the call. He advised ‘no problem’ and assumed it was a flight of B-17s from the mainland. Less than an hour later, the attack on Pearl Harbor commenced.

“During the Congressional Investigation into Pearl Harbor,  Tylor explained himself. ‘You see I have a friend who is a bomber pilot and he told me that any time they play this Hawaiian music all night long, it is a good indication that our B-17s were coming over from the mainland, because they used it for homing. When I had reported for duty (at the Information Center) at 4 o'clock in the morning, I listened to this Hawaiian music all the way into town, so I figured then that we had a flight of B-17s coming in;  that came to mind as soon as I got the call.’" 


Hundreds of years of on and off-air experience were on hand at the semi-annual informal Los Angeles radio reunion held last Saturday at Fuddruckers in Burbank. Bruce Chandler, Sam Riddle, Shadoe Stevens (who my German Shepherd “Shadow” is partly named after), and many more were there. I had a nice long talk with Chandler and Chris Roberts about their early days in Riverside and San Bernardino.

But the story of the day came from Stevens, as told to me by others. Seems he had agreed to step down from programming at the original KRLA (now KDIS, 1110 AM) and just do a regular air shift, some time in the early-mid 1970s. He decided to go back to school and he realized that after the pressure of programming and the long work days, he was just happy to have the three-hour shift. He’d arrive happy, be in a good mood during the show, and leave happy. He was happier than he’d been in years.

Then one day the programmer who replaced him called him into the office to let him go. The reason? He was too happy, and the other DJs were bothered by his attitude.

No you can’t make this stuff up. And yes, radio had its bad management even in the top-40 glory days!