Radio Waves: January 14, 2022

Billy Pearl passes

Former personality Billy Pearl — most popularly heard playing the hits on KHJ (930 AM), and KIQQ (now KKLQ (100.3 FM); later talking law on KABC (790 AM), passed away January 4th after a two-year battle with esophageal cancer, cancer of the long, hollow tube that runs from the throat to the stomach. He was 71.

His radio career began at UCLA, as part of the campus student-run station. After graduating with a degree in history in 1972, he started his career in radio … a far cry from the teaching career (American history) he had been planning. “When I walked into UCLA’s radio station, KLA, my whole life changed,” he once told LARadio.Com’s Don Barrett.

He never worked outside of the Los Angeles area; his first stations after college were KKDJ (now KIIS-FM, 102.7) and K-100 (KIQQ, now KKLQ, 100.3 FM). He arrived at KHJ — at the time the top-rated music station in the country —  in 1974 with great fanfare, “part of KHJ’s on-air urban renewal” as was written in a story the Los Angeles Times. In that same story, Pearl told of practicing the KHJ call letters in the shower, long before he was hired, demonstrating how much he wanted to work there. His charm , high-energy, and on-air positive persona impressed both listeners and insiders alike. 

Longtime KHJ (and numerous other stations) Production Director Douglas Brown had this to say about Pearl: “Bill was very energetic and focused; he had a great sense of timing on air and was really excited to be at KHJ. He used to sit in the studio getting familiar with the tempo and timing of new song intros and fades as show prep.” 

Unfortunately, his tenure at KHJ lasted only about a year; the revolving door of KHJ programmers was the culprit. Pearl was hired by Charlie Van Dyke; when Michael Spears was brought in from KFRC/San Francisco and took the station in a more “bubble-gum” direction, the hipness of Pearl was not desired. He went on to help consult KRLA (now KRDC, 1110 AM) in 1976 and program KIQQ when he returned in 1977, but neither lasted long. While at KRLA, though, he helped launch “the Hitman” promotion where the station would give prizes to people who had home-made KRLA signs in the yards or on their cars.

“We beat the assumed-unbeatable KHJ with a small budget semi-automated outlet.” Pearl told LARadio.Com’s Barrett, who added that Pearl celebrated the feat by doing a live show from KRLA’s old Pasadena studios as “Jack Cheese.”

In 1977, Pearl — a magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa graduate of UCLA — decided to enter the UCLA School of Law and became an attorney. His love of radio never left, though, so he went back on the air first in 1981 at KMPC (now KSPN, 710 AM) and a year later at KABC (790 AM) – talking law rather than playing music. You may remember him paired with liberal Bill Press as one of the Dualing Bills on KABC.

He left radio in 1991 to begin a writing career, first with op-eds in newspapers across the country and later as publisher of one of the internet’s first internet-based newspapers, LBReport.Com, which he launched in 2000 in part to keep politicians accountable. His family promises to keep the news website going as a tribute to Pearl.

Readers Write

This is an interesting one:

“I read with interest your ongoing coverage of WION/Ionia.

“I recently came across another extremely unusual online entity that’s unique, even for the Internet. It’s called WIWS, a re-creation of a long gone AM radio station that used to be in Buckley, West Virginia.

Here’s what makes it unlike anything else on the net: the creators have taken great pains to not only have a very electric Top 40 playlist, with songs unheard in decades, but they’ve gone to extraordinary efforts to make it sound like an old AM radio from the 60s, complete with static in the feed, scratchy records on occasion, and that audio that used to come out of those old, cheap transistor radio speakers.

“It also boasts vintage jingles, old news updates and ancient 60s era commercials (including one I heard for Kent cigarettes, now taboo on real radio stations). In fact , the site adds a warning that some spots they air may no longer be politically correct and could offend some listeners. But they were on the air back then, so WIWS airs them now in the interests of authenticity.

“It’s certainly an experience, a definite real blast from the past and worth a listen. Here’s the site, which contains all the info about what it is, who’s behind it and how to hear it:” — Aaron Fleming

Actually, the fidelity isn’t that bad — remember, AM radios were often much better back then compared with so many today — but you’re right … the playlist is huge. The focus is on the early 1960s, so it’s a little before my time, but it is absolutely a blast to hear.