Airwaves: November 20, 2015
KLOS Gets Jonsed
Guitarist Steve Jones of the punk band the Sex Pistols hosted a program on the old Indie 103.1 called Jonsey’s Jukebox. Featuring groundbreaking new music combined with guest interviews and discussions in a very laid-back manner, the program lasted five years on Indie, until the station changed formats to Spanish as KDLD in 2009.
In 2010 it got picked up by KROQ (106.7 FM) where it had a good run through early 2013. Now its back, courtesy of KLOS (95.5 FM).
The station says this of Jones’ program: “the only rule is doing whatever Jones wants.” That means exactly what it says. Jones brings in records from his personal collection and his guests from the past are legendary: Robert Plant, Brian Wilson, Iggy Pop, Courtney Love … and more. Guests on the brand-new KLOS version that began in late October have included Billy Idol. Fred Armisen and Joe Walsh.
Hear the Jukebox every Friday from noon to 2 p.m. Now answer the question: What exactly does this mean for KLOS?
That AM Sound
I thought it was just me … certain songs from the 1960s or ‘70s I hear on the radio (or via other means) just don’t sound like I remember them.
Certainly that has much to do with having heard them on AM broadcast stations, what with the limited fidelity of most AM radios of the time. But it isn’t just that – it’s as if the processing was totally different. Punchier bass, for example. Or a fullness that is hard to explain, though experts in the production of record producer Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” could come close.
Interestingly, it had everything to do with AM radio, or more accurately with trying to make the sound coming out of limited-fidelity AM radios sound as good as it could sound.
The engineers at stations such as those in the RKO chain (KHJ, KFRC, WRKO, etc.) were geniuses when it came to sound processing. I was told that at KHJ here and KFRC in San Francisco, the audio processing chain was custom designed with multiple “magic boxes” that allowed tweaks to be smooth as silk without creating any harsh tones. Some say that at their peak of popularity, those two stations sounded as close to FM as an AM station could sound.
But FM sound was not the actual goal. Clarity and fullness were.
Richard Kaufman, who used to play an oldies format on the internet (Ricky the K’s Solid Gold Time Machine), has regrouped and is now using his talent to make songs sound like they once did.
A former small town DJ himself, Kaufman’s influences growing up included many of the East Coast versions of top-40 radio including WABC/New York. And he’s spent some time recreating the audio processing chain used by WABC/New York in order to make songs sound like they used to … when they were played on WABC.
“I have set up a vintage audio chain specifically designed to help digital recordings sound denser and richer with more punch and more bass,” Kaufman told me. “My whole concept is to get musicians, music producers and record labels to send me their thin sounding digital audio masters and I’ll run them through the audio chain and fatten them up.”
Want to hear for yourself? Kaufman has set up a YouTube account with songs that he has run through his processing. You can find it at http://tinyurl.com/AMSound, and I have to say, it is impressive.
While listening to the Beau Brummels’ “Just a Little,” a link to a recording from the 45 RPM record — also on YouTube — happened to show up. So I clicked on it … and the difference is night and day. Kaufman’s version is definitely fuller, with more “up front” background vocals. The way I remember.
Better? That’s debatable. The goal of audio processing in the era of FM radio and later vinyl records was to lay off of the processing. To have a more “open” feel. AM top-40 sound processing was not meant to be open at all, but instead to jump out of the speaker; songs were processed to get around the typical AM radio’s limitations.
But it is a unique sound that is lacking in the minds of some, and it explains why so many oldies of that era just don’t sound right to me today. Take a listen for yourself and let me know what you think.
Cumulus Death Watch
Closing stock price as of Friday, November 13: 27 cents per share, a 6.9 percent decline from the previous Friday’s close of 29 cents. Still an improvement from November 12th’s 23 cents per share.