Radio Waves: 8/10/18

KPRO Leaves the Air

The Inland Empire lost a radio station last Friday, as KPRO (1570 AM) left the air, a victim of declining listenership to AM radio and the vastly increasing value of property in Southern California, which makes the land many stations sit on with more than the stations themselves.

But it’s a station with a local presence dating back to 1957 when it was put on the air by husband and wife Ray and Helen Lapica and Helen’s sister, Ollie Shervan. After the three original owners passed away ownership transferred to Ray and Helen’s children, Ronnie Olenick and Larry Lapica.

According to Olenick, her father originally ran the station much like he thought a newspaper should run. “He’d go out to the City Council meetings and interview local politicians. He liked to editorialize,” she told me this week. “In many ways it was the beginning of local talk radio!”

“He thought he would be able to use the station to make an impact on the community,” Olenick explained. “What he didn’t realize is that you can’t make an impact unless you sell ads, and ads can be hard to sell.” Eventually Ray went to law school and left the running of the station to Helen and Ollie.

To show how much has changed in the years since the station went on the air, Ray Lapica once held a license for an FM station as well, which simulcast the AM programming. But it was sold to another company as there were so few listeners to FM radio at the time. The new owners eventually let the FM station go “dark,” or off the air. 

Over the years the call letters changed a few times. Originally they were KACE; 1976 brought KHNY; KMAY came in 1978, and the KPRO calls have been in sue since 1986. The station has broadcast at 1570 AM since the beginning.

Formats have changed over the years as well. Talk, country music, “you name it,” Olenick told me. For the past 30 years or so the broadcasts have been religious, the most recent years as block programming sold to ministers and preachers. That hasn’t paid the bills, though – Olenick explained that she and her brother have been putting their own money into the station for quite some time, though “we did it because we knew the land was worth something.”

In the end it was a tough decision to let the station go, due to the longtime family and local community connections. That longevity includes the staff: station general manager, Valorie Stitely has been with KPRO since she was a teenager, over 40 years.

“We tried to sell the station, but could not find a buyer for it and that’s why it is now dark. But the land the transmitter and studios are on was sold; the developer will be building new houses on the property,” Olenick said.

I personally hate to lose a local radio presence, but I can understand why it happens. Perhaps some day someone else can pick up the license for 1570 and share transmitter space with another station as has been done by numerous stations in populous cities throughout the country. In the meantime, I hold my glass high as a toast to a station that was run by the same family for 61 years. Ronnie and Larry: enjoy your retirement from radio!