Radio Waves: June 11, 2021

Audio Attraction

Do you enjoy radio?

It’s a simple question … most likely since you are reading this column, the easy answer is “yes.” Here’s where it gets harder: why? Depending on your level of “enjoyment,” the answer to “why” could be akin to explaining what is love … and that is more than just a Haddaway song.

Sorry … couldn’t resist.

In my case, it truly is love. My love of radio began at a very early age, when (as I’ve written many times before) my Aunt Ina gave me a Realtone 10-transistor radio sometime when I was about eight years old. I spend my time listening to “KHJ,” though I was tuned to the wrong station and was actually listening to KGBS. Go figure. Eventually I was tuning up and down the AM dial, using the Realtone and an old tube radio, finding new adventures and new stations.

I didn’t understand the issue at the time, but I was fascinated with the stations that appeared at night and then went away during daylight … the long distance stations that “skipped” through the atmosphere to reach my radio from cities far away. The annoyance of interference whenever my Dad turned on the fluorescent light in the den.

I finally found the realm KHJ and was hooked, but I also tuned in to San Diego powerhouse KCBQ … and later KGB, which at the time called itself “The KGB,” perhaps making light of the cold war.

I loved the personalities. I loved the excitement. I loved being part of something that was bigger than life itself.  The contests that I never won  (though I do have a friend who won cash from Ten-Q twice … My friend Jeff is thus one of my brushes with greatness). The requests that were never really played, the song just always came up in regular rotation on the station’s playlist.

The jocks who were truly stars. The Real Don Steele. Robert W. Morgan. Shotgun Tom. Bobby Ocean. Jim Ladd. Dr. Demento. These guys were all my friends. And many of my radio friends I was fortunate enough to eventually meet.

And the drama … who can forget the CBS Radio Mystery Theater on KNX, a program I found by tuning around at night. It was me getting my parents hooked on the program, not the other way around. I listened almost every night … and always in the car on family vacations.

I’d tune into stations whenever I’d go to another city, which is how I found the late-great KFRC/San Francisco. After graduating college I took a trip to Hawaii and found KSSK … and used my radio to see if I could pick up stations from the mainland. My memory is that I was able to hear KEX out of Portland, among others.

None of this explains the “why,” however. And I am not sure I really can. I loved the personalities, and that is a primary reason behind the bond. Radio was one of my friends. It entertained me in a way that no music stream could ever do. The personalities and the music lifted me when I was down, and kept me going when I needed the encouragement. 

To show just how much of a radio geek I am, I still remember working in the back warehouse of the old Sears Surplus Store in San Pedro when the all-new K-West played a “jock logo” for the first time. That’s a jingle in which the DJ’s name is sung, followed by the station call-letters. “Bobby Ocean …. K-West 106!” I was in heaven and was almost giddy, especially as the format was essentially KHJ resurrected … but on FM.

Now, I know I am unusual, but I do believe that the same things that attracted me to radio are the same things that attracted others, even if they didn’t really know who/what/why or how. And that is part of the reason I believe radio suffers today, in the sense that the audience is aging and young people tend to shy away from radio totally. Not just AM, but FM as well.

Can my type of radio still succeed? Quite a few say I am totally off-base. And yet here we have SiriusXM soon launching TikTok Radio that is basically taking my longstanding plan to save AM radio and putting it on satellite: super-serve a younger audience with “influencers” who will entertain with new music, and fun programming designed to attract people to a medium that so many have written off. Sad that it’s satellite, but the plan is solid. A dying AM station would do well to get a jump on the idea so they can make a go of it.

Or even one on FM.

But enough about me. Am I totally off-base, or do you have similar thoughts on what attracted you to radio, no matter the format? The great stations over the years were not only those I tuned in. And some were not necessarily popular but had a fiercely loyal audience limited perhaps by signal or a marketing budget. 

Whatever your favorite – KHJ, Ten-Q, KRLA, KFWB, KMPC, KBLA, KWKW, KGFJ, KDAY, KCBQ, KEZY, KBLA, KLAC, WCFL, KFRC … the list is endless…  what made it your favorite? 

In other words: Do you enjoy radio? Why?