Radio Waves: 4/5/19

What I would do with KABC and KLOS

Last week I printed some of your suggestions for what you would do if you owned KABC (790 AM) and KLOS (95.5 FM), this question the result of a friend who passed along a column regarding the financial troubles of owner Cumulus and the possibility that the company may sell the stations. “What would you do with them,” he asked.

At first I thought much along the lines of some of the suggestions. Tweaks to KLOS, perhaps adding music to KABC and making it a full-service station in the vein of the late, great original KMPC (now KSPN, 710 AM). The suggestion of making a deal with Saul Levine, owner of K-SURF (1260 AM, 105.1 HD2) and splitting eras of oldies was intriguing as well.

The main point in my thinking (and that of many of the suggestions that came in) is the simple idea that AM radio, in its current form, is dead. KABC itself is last place among the talkers, almost last in the entire city, and tied with the internet stream of KFI (640 AM). I can’t recall the last time the station earned above a 1 share, and that says a lot considering that KABC originated full time talk radio in Los Angeles.

At the same time, even leader KFI is tied for 6th place with a 4.0 rating – a very good finish but a far cry from what it once was and what talk radio used to earn. It appears that with rare exception, talk is not the future.

I have long held that AM programmers pushed listeners to FM. It was not the better fidelity of FM, though that is certainly a part. But a lack of desire to compete made it happen. Often the last good ratings ever earned by former AM greats were when the stations played music: KHJ (930 AM), KRLA (now KRDC, 1110 AM), KEZY (now KGBN, 1190 AM), and XETRA (now XEWW, 690 AM) are but a few examples. 

Interviews with potential listeners, young and old, reveal that they don’t listen to AM not because of sound quality, but because of programming. Give them something they want, and they will at least try it out. The great bias against AM is most definitely programming, far more than sound quality.

So what I would do with KABC is blow it up. I would first look at the coverage map of the station, then go visit every high school and college campus and social hangout where the signal reaches strongly and talk to potential listeners. Find out what they like to hear, what they feel is missing: musically and feature-wise. Research the listening habits of kids and young adults who use Spotify, Apple Music, and any other streaming service. 

Hire a staff that is thoroughly trained and professional, but young and relatable. Hire some of the high school and college kids to be on-air and work in promotions and at events. Name it something like C-79 or 79BC, and market it using the elephant in the room. Ads like:

“We know what you’re going through; we’ve heard it ourselves. ‘you listen to AM radio? What are you a freak?!?’ But we know you know better, so few made a better station for you. Not only do we play more music, but we play more new music and break more new bands than all other stations in Los Angeles – combined. The new C-79: your station.” The idea is to make it hip to the younger crowd – the same listeners that must be attracted to the band in order for it to survive.

As to KLOS? That’s an easier fix. KLOS has no real direction, which is good and bad. Bad because you don’t know what you’ll hear when you tune in, as it changes drastically by day part. But good because it isn’t stymied by being stuck with one format. Essentially KLOS could be anything.

So I would make it an “active Rock” station, just like the amazing Rock 108 in Waterloo, Iowa. Active rock is a much more open format than is alternative, meaning you can play new music of a much wider variety than Alt (98.7 FM) and KROQ (106.7 FM) which are held back by the genre. My KLOS would still play the best alternative tracks, but the best progressive, best classic rock, best metal …

Top it off by letting the DJs – and the current staff is definitely perfect — run wild with their own promotional and on-air ideas, and encourage them to help find new music to play . Let everyone have their own version of Jonsey’s Jukebox, arguably the best show on the station.

KLOS is already active in the community, but I’d push for more. I want my station(s) to be in the city somewhere all least weekly, if not daily. You’d have a modern-day KMET on the FM; combined with my AM, we’d have the 12-34 demos to ourselves.

One final thing: limit the darn commercials. It’s better for listeners and better for the advertisers who would gladly pay more if their ads were one among two or three, not one lost among 10. No more than seven or eight minutes of commercials per hour.

More Seventies Sounds

K-Surf announced that starting Sunday, April 14th from 7 p.m. to 12 midnight, the station will feature Super Sounds of the Seventies in a new show airing in that slot weekly. In addition, K-Surf will add more seventies tunes to the playlist overall, while keeping the ‘50s and ‘60s in tact. 

I am sure there will be many who complain of the change, but in some ways this makes sense. The ‘50s and ‘60s will still be there, and no other stations play much from the 1970s any more. I doubt it will change the overall sound of the station, and if it brings in more listeners, all the better.

Birthday Wishes

In addition to me celebrating the 17th anniversary of my 39th birthday April 5, former KLSX (now KAMP, 97.1 FM) DJ Suzy Who (Suzanne Ansillio) has a birthday this weekend as well. Ansillio now works in sales for Entercom.

Happy birthday, also, to the late, great “Real” Don Steele, who would have been 83 on April 1st. Steele was among the original Boss Jocks on KHJ in 1965 and was heard additionally on KTNQ (1020 AM), the original KRLA, and KRTH, and could be found in various movies and television shows including his own Real Don Steele Show on then-KHJ-TV Channel 9. One of the most popular and recognized radio personalities ever in Los Angeles, he passed away in August 1997.