RadioWaves: December 25, 2015
Looking Back at the Radio Year: 2015
I suppose one could say that 2015 was a typical year in radio. And in some ways, one would be right, as radio always includes various format changes, personnel changes, passings, and cutbacks. Yet, even with all its faults, radio is a very personal medium … changes affect us as listeners personally.
In what seems to have become a yearly ritual, cutbacks caused the loss of many of our friends. One of the last holdouts — CBS — took out the chopping block and fired numerous people nationwide. Locally the cuts hit KROQ (106.7 FM), with the firings of Lisa May, and newsman “Doc” (aka Boyd R. Britton); on KRTH (101.1 FM) we said “so long” to Christina Kelley, Jay Gardner, and Charlie Tuna while afternoon personality “Shotgun” Tom Kelly was moved to weekends … and lower pay. Freddy Snakeskin, the man behind the programming of KROQ HD2 and the writer for the humorous on-air IDs on Jack (93.1 FM) was also let go. May, by the way, landed on her feet over at crosstown KLOS (95.5 FM) as the newest part of the Heidi and Frank morning program.
The entire staff of Hot 92.3 FM was let go in February, but that wasn’t cost-cutting. In fact, it probably cost the station a figurative ton of money to attract Kurt “Big Boy” Alexander away from Power 106 as part of the format change to Real 92.3, LA’s newest hip-hop station. The change immediately caused a noticeable drop in Power’s ratings as Real now beats Power in the ratings.
In response to the loss of the “old school” tunes formerly heard on Hot, KQIE/Riverside (104.7 FM) quickly decided to go all old-school, while KTWV The Wave (94.7 FM) added more of the old-school hits. Both moves proved popular with listeners.
February also marked the return of former Mark and Brian partner Mark Thompson to the local airwaves, this time paired with Andy Chanley and Gina Grad on The Sound (100.3 FM). In an unusual twist, the move actually led to more employment at the station as former morning man Joe Benson took over Chanley’s mid-day shift … while allowing him to sleep in. The show is now one of LA’s best morning programs.
Longtime sidekick to Ryan Seacrest (and before that, Rick Dees) on KIIS-FM (102.7) Ellen K moved up the dial to KOST in October to host mornings alone. Mark Wallengren, who hosted mornings at KOST for, well, forever, now does afternoons at the soft rock station.
Ratings company Nielsen had to admit that its highly touted PPM ratings system is seriously flawed and may have led to misleading ratings reports due to the technology that relies on a special Portable People Meter to “listen” to the radio to collect data for ratings calculations. It is said that stations with many silent passages — talk and classical, for example, were particularly hard-hit … and it may have inadvertently hurt personality radio as well.
Of course while Nielsen had to admit it, they did not, at least at first. Instead, they remained silent as the Telos Alliance marketed a product called Voltair, which allegedly helped boost ratings of stations by changing the way an inaudible signal — the signal that is read by the PPM system — is processed. Months went by before Nielsen admitted any issues with the system; in October they revised it to address the alleged problems. So far no independent testing has confirmed the fix or compared it to what Voltair (allegedly) did.
Howard Stern made the news in 2015, and not just because he’s re-signed to SiriusXM b for another five years (announced last week). In what has to be the most amazing set of circumstances, a call from a listener ended up giving out personal information, including her telephone number, of a woman who was speaking with an IRS agent.
It seems the agent was on hold with Stern and took a call; when Stern placed him on the air and Stern and sidekick Robyn Quivers tried to talk with him, the agent didn’t notice and continued with the call from the taxpayer … who found out about the incident when listeners to Stern’s program called her to tell her about it.
A coup of sorts that will most likely prove top be too-little, too-late at least rid the radio world of John and Lew Dickie. As leaders of Cumulus Media, they drove stakes through the hearts of stations and station staffers and personalities nationwide, causing the loss of listeners and ultimately the loss of most of the company’s stock value. In October, Mary G. Berner was given the title of CEO, replacing Lew Dickie; brother John, who was in charge of content and programming, left the company on the same day.
Gary Owens , longtime television and radio star who’s iconic voice graced the airwaves of stations including the original KMPC (now KSPN, 710 AM), KPRZ (now KEIB, 1150 AM), KFI (640 AM) and KFWB (980 AM) left us in February at the age of 80.
Scott Mason, longtime radio personality and engineer most recently Chief of Operations at KROQ passed away in April. Mason had suffered from kidney problems much of his (adult) life and had received two kidney transplants; the second transplant in November, 2012, involved a kidney donated by fellow KROQ morning personality Gene “Bean” Baxter. Mason was 55.
We had to say “good bye” forever to Shana LiVigni, who came to Los Angeles as the first female DJ on top-40 KHJ (930 AM) back in 1976. Better known for her work in album rock radio, she was a huge part of KLOS (95.5 FM) beginning in 1980; she passed away far too young in July at the age of 62.
Sam Frees, better known as The Freeze Disease, was heard on KROQ, KNAC (now KBUE, 105.5 FM) and KACD (now KDLD, 103.1 FM) had been battling cancer; he passed away from a heart attack in September at the age of 54. Former associate “Madd” Maxx Hammer spoke of Frees to LARadio.Com’s Don Barrett: “Sam was a natural born talent, joining KROQ direct from his previous position … as a waiter at Marie Callender’s in Garden Grove.”
This is the last column of 2015; I hope it was a good year for you. I also hope your holidays are happy and bright. See you next year!