Radio Waves: 5/4/12

In Depth with KFI’s Bertolucci

A few weeks ago I traveled up to the KFI studios in Burbank to have lunch and meet with KFI’s (640 AM) program director Robin Bertolucci and Marketing Director Neil Saavedra.

The meeting was inspired by the controversy that was surrounding the top-rated talk station at the time, due to comments made by some of the station’s hosts. I personally wanted to find out Bertolucci’s own feelings toward the controversy, but I had no other item on the agenda and wanted an open discussion regarding the station, its past, and its future.

Bertolucci is one of the most dynamic, positive people I have ever met. She seems to understand the pulse of Los Angeles talk radio far better than anyone I have ever spoken with, and it is more apparent than ever that the stellar heights KFI has achieved under her watch were not by any means an accident. Highlights of the conversation included:

• In an era of budget cuts especially among the larger station groups, Bertolucci was able to increase the size of KFI’s news department and provide for 24-hour local content. “I was new to the position and they were letting me do whatever I wanted,” Bertolucci said. Saavedra added that they knew it was somewhat of a gamble but the efforts are worth it, and I agree. KFI has one of the most honored news staffs in the industry.

• Bertolucci knew that comments regarding Whitney Houston made by afternoon co-host John Kobylt were over the line. Why did it take two days to suspend him? “I honestly didn’t hear it,” she explained. “As soon as I found out I called John and told him we would have to suspend the show; he agreed.”

• While KFI has single-handedly dominated the ratings of AM stations in Los Angeles — and across the country most of the time — Bertolucci would love to be on FM. It won’t happen any time soon, but KFI on FM would be even bigger than it is now, in the opinion of Bertolucci.

When I asked about what I consider misleading statements from John Kobylt and partner Ken Chiampou regarding such topics as teacher pensions and benefits, Bertolucci was sympathetic. “Sometimes I cringe when I hear them talking about teachers … I always think about my own daughter’s teacher, and she is wonderful.” But she also realizes that part of the appeal of the program is the hosts’ rants, especially Kobylt’s. She realizes she walks a fine line between keeping the hosts in line and giving them the freedom to do what they see fit.

I came away from the meeting impressed. As but one example, while so many stations give up basÖics such as news, KFI makes a point to remain the same full-service station it has always been. Only now, instead of playing farm reports, top-40 music, or light rock and love songs (remember “Pillow Talk?”) they play talk. And Bertolucci makes sure all day parts are covered, including weekends. You won’t find infomercials on KFI like you’ll find on many other stations.

This attention to detail is what makes KFI the dominant player it is today.

Mighty Music

Don Barrett’s LARadio.Com reports that The Mighty 690 has returned.

It seems that the Mighty 690 slogan had never been trademarked, so Chris Torrick, an intern at the station (XETRA, 690 AM) during its top-40 days took the name to launch an online music channel playing hits and recreations of the jingles from the 1980s, the same era that found the original station playing the same hits.

Check it out at TheMighty690.Com.