Radio Waves: 12/8/17

Cumulus Declares Bankruptcy

The ink had barely dried on last week’s column regarding the financial problems with Cumulus Media — owner locally of KLOS (95.5 FM) and KABC (790 AM) — when the media giant officially, finally, declared bankruptcy.

The move comes a month after the company defaulted on a payment of nearly $24 million of principal and interest on more than $2 billion the company has in debt. If approved, the bankruptcy — pre-arranged with the majority of debtholders —  will cut about $1 billion in debt, leaving the company in much better financial shape.

It will also take the heat off of CEO Mary Berner at least temporarily. Under Berner, Cumulus has continued to struggle financially and in the stock market. But employee turnover is said to be far lower (though I’m not sure if this is due to happier employees or fewer cost-cutting layoffs) and employee morale is said to be better.

In my opinion the best move Berner made was to give local control back to the local market management. Former CEO Lew Dickey was known as a hands-on manager who wanted to approve everything. Berner has given decision-making back to the General Managers and programmers at the station and market level; this is a huge change that could help make Cumulus viable again.

In Los Angeles, KLOS is in a good position to become the local rock leader; programmer Keith Cunningham has revitalized the station and moved it away from classic rock to a classic-current rock hybrid. I personally hope he adds more current music, but whatever Cunningham decides, KLOS is in a far better place than it was just two years ago.

KABC is a different story. The station has some good shows with good hosts, but for various reasons (cough! marketing!) it has remained stagnant in the ratings. Perhaps the time has come to move from talk to a more full-service news/talk/music approach. Regardless, the time is ripe for a KABC comeback. If it stays talk, my suggestion would be to separate Jillian Barberie from The Drive Home and let John Phillips do the show on his own. Dump the replays and weekend paid programming as well … it kills the ratings.

And here’s an idea as well: buy 100.3 from Educational Media Foundation. EMF vastly underpaid for the station as former owner Entercom found an owner that wouldn’t compete with Jack or KRTH as would The Sound. EMF could sell the station to Cumulus at a big profit, benefiting both companies at once. 100.3 could relaunch The Sound and KLOS could go mostly current. Done right, Cumulus could own the rock market in all demographics in Los Angeles.


I had a chance to be in the same building as about 50 radio legends once more, as the semi-annual Los Angeles radio reunion took place last weekend at Fuddruckers in Burbank. The best story, though, came from Machine Gun Kelly, who spoke of his time at KHJ (930 AM). “Best station I was ever at,” Kelly told me of his tenure that began at the age of 21.

It was his departure from the station that was so great. “John Sebastian (the new programmer) came to me about five minutes before my shift,” Kelly explained. “He told me that the station was moving in a new direction and that I had to tone it down … no more of those (trademark) long yells of his name when he went on the air. I said sure, I’ll can do that.

So as my shift starts, I turn on the mic and yell ‘3 o’clock at K-H-J Los Angeles’ followed by the longest ‘with Machiiiiiinnnnnne Guuuuuuuuuun Kelly’ I have ever done It was probably at least 15 seconds long.

“Sebastian angrily walks into the studio and says ‘you’re fired.’ I tell him ‘that’s fine, I’ve already been hired by Ten-Q … I’ll see you on the air at six tonight.”

Kelly knew what was coming and had been hired by Ten-Q (KTNQ, 1020 AM) already … he was just waiting for the day to leave. Things like that happened back in the days when stations competed for listeners.

Winker Fun

Airchexx.Com has a fun recording of Wink Martindale filing in on the morning shift of KFWB in June of 1965. Lots of horn blowing to add excitement … typical for many stations of the era. Reached for comment, Martindale told me, “Geeez!!! Hard to believe I thought that was ‘entertaining’!!!!”

Regardless of his own opinion, Martindale sounds like he was having fun and the recording is an example of a long-gone era of early top-40 radio. One thing you might find interesting: marred only by tape hiss, the fidelity of the recording shows how good AM radio used to sound through a good AM radio. This is also a good example of Martindale prior to his evolution into one of the best MOR/Adult Standards radio hosts ever to grace the Los Angeles airwaves. You can hear the same friendliness he exudes on his television game shows too.

Odd hearing cigarette commercials on radio. This was prior to the ban of such advertising by the FCC.

Unfortunately, Martindale was hampered by KFWB’s programming that included quite a few stiffs record-wise. No wonder KRLA and KHJ “convinced” KFWB to change to news just two years later.