Radio Waves: 9/4/15

KRTH Fires Three

“From the entertainment capitol of the world, a million dollar weekend … where we’ll be firing your favorite DJs all weekend long. K-Earth 101!” — satirical jingle recorded for the Tom Leykis Show podcast.

The ink — electronic and otherwise — had barely dried on the column last week when another shoe dropped over at KRTH (101.1 FM): Evening personality Christina Kelley and longtime production director Jay Gardner were let go, as was the legendary Charlie Tuna, who had been doing weekends.  Kelley and Tuna were not allowed to have a last show, an indication of how much respect management has for them … and their listeners.

So what do we make of the moves? Firing three talented people and removing “Shotgun” Tom Kelly from afternoons and making him an “ambassador?” This happening at a station just one-half point out of first place?

A source close to the station claims the rumors mentioned last week are all false. It’s not cost-cutting … there will be replacements. The program director, Chris Ebbott, just has a vision for KRTH that doesn’t include any of the “boss radio” elements that served KRTH well since 1972. And the stations are most certainly not for sale, they said.

Ebbott, who arrived from Toronto before he began his stint at KRTH, previously helped launch Jack-FM (93.1), a corporate cookie-cutter format with no soul … and no DJs.  In other words, we should have expected this.

All I can say is general manager Dan Kearney must have a lot of faith in his programmer to allow him to take one of the highest-rated stations in Los Angeles and essentially dismantle it. Or he just allowed the biggest mistake in recent radio history. Unless … there is more to the story.

Well, there is. Those replacements? I could not get confirmation at press time, but it appears that the assistant programmer and the music director will assume Kelly’s and Kelley’s slots. That means there is no (or little) extra cost. The station is expected to go jockless after the night shift ends, cutting even more … and basically doing what you’d expect a small market station to do. Not something that should happen in Los Angeles. Will listeners ultimately care? KRTH appears to bet they won’t.

“Revenues are down 40 percent since 2008,” said the source close to KRTH. and that seems to be the new norm. My response: Radio created that problem with dull, lifeless formats that are the anthesis of local radio. Most stations are background entertainment, and that’s why stations cannot get advertisers to pony up. Super-long commercial sets and large numbers of commercials every hour dilute the value of ads even further. In essence, bad programming decisions created the mess, and further moves such as at KRTH will only exacerbate the problem.

Tom Leykis, who left CBS station KLSX (now Amp Radio, 97.1 FM) years ago and currently hosts his own podcast heard daily on www.BlowMeUpTom.Com, had this to say: “Getting rid of proven talents of a top-3 radio station is proof positive that the business model of local terrestrial radio is about to come to an end.”

Leykis is right. The sad truth is that every CBS station in town could just as easily be programmed in Pittsburgh; there is no real connection to listeners, though the moves by KRTH could help stations like KLOS (95.5 FM) and The Sound (100.3 FM) that often play similar songs and have a lot of listener overlap. As a one programmer told me, “the move (by KRTH) may help (stations that compete against KRTH) … until we reach the point where too many people just give up on radio.”
Is it the fault of CBS? Surprisingly, no. CBS actually held out longer than the others and for that I give them credit. It was the likes of Cumulus and Clear Channel (now IHeartMedia) that set the tone of McProgramming, pushed by an FCC that allowed companies to buy an unlimited number of stations that they could not even begin to support. The result was a fast race to the bottom and an uncertain future with no young listeners taking the place of old guys like me. The winners? Satellite radio, internet radio services, and the likes of Apple, maker of the iPod and iPhone. Had radio remained important to listeners, those alternatives would have failed. CBS held on far longer than many would have expected; the problem is that we who love radio hoped that they would be able to continue.

New at SiriusXM

There’s a new channel lineup at SiriusXM, with a few channels moved and a new series of limited edition channels.

Some are too late to mention: Road Trip Radio (Channel 18) was set to end September 1st and Yacht Rock (Channel 31) ends September 7. Stations like these could easily be added permanently. One of the funniest changes revolves around Channel 4, which until recently played big bands and such as “40s on 4.” Now it’s rap with “Pitbull’s Globalization.” Miss the ‘40s? They are still there on Channel 73. But I can imagine the shock when listeners tuned in to hear Tommy Dorsey and instead heard Pitbull.