Radio Waves: June 3, 2022

Advice for the “new” programmer

Monday, June 6th is the big day – the day Kevin Weatherly returns to program KROQ (106.7 FM). Weatherkly had programmed the station for many years and oversaw some of its highest ratings ever.

But he also oversaw the beginning of the decline. As previously mentioned, it was not necessarily his fault, but he was there. And the foundation for success that began crumbling years before he left the first time has never been repaired. Owner Audacy still believes cost-cutting is far more important than developing talent; indeed they have a well-deserved reputation as being cheap. Not in a good way, just cheap.

Add to that the fact that there is a need to protect sister station Jack (KCBS-FM, 93.1) — limiting the “gold” that KROQ can play, and you reduce Weatherly’s power even more.

He’s got his work cut out for him. But that’s not the focus of this column. Indeed, I want KROQ to excel. To return to glory. To do this, it helps to understand what put KROQ on the map in the first place.

Rick Carroll had programmed a few stations before be arrived at KROQ, most notably KKDJ (now KIIS-FM, 102.7) and KEZY (now KGBN, 1190 AM). When he arrived at KROQ in 1978, his idea was for more of an irreverent top-40 station — or perhaps a top-40/AOR hybrid — than an album-rock station. His basic plan was to go against the likes of his former stations by playing music long before they became hits, but indeed they would become hits. Listening to Carroll’s KROQ was like being part of a musical time machine, where Prince or Michael Jackson  or any number of new bands would be heard on KROQ … followed months later on all the rest.

A description on Wikipedia says it best: “Carroll’s approach was to play music from the emerging new wave, punk and related genres while retaining a Top 40 presentation style and Top 40 rotations. Noted for his ability to pick breakout hits, Carroll guided songs to prominence via the “Hot Clock,” a pie chart prescribing the music to be played during each portion of a disc jockey’s air shift. His system also included a “Jock’s Choice” at the end of each hour of programming, during which a DJ could play any song of his or her own choosing. The Jock’s Choice became a vehicle for new artists such as Depeche Mode and Juluka to break into KROQ-FM’s regular rotation.” (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rick_Carroll)

It worked far better than anyone expected, and became the prototype of new-wave music stations everywhere. Carrroll himself consulted or helped launch numerous KROQ clones in such cities as San Diego, Sacramento, San Francisco, Seattle, and Pittsburgh. Here in Los Angeles it was KROQ more than direct competitor KLOS (95.5 FM) that put the final knife in KMET (now KTWV, 94.7 FM), as KMET had been the place to find new music … but KROQ got the jump on them and stole the new music thunder.

There are many who believe that you can’t play new music on the radio any more. That it will push away listeners. My take is that not playing new music on the radio is why the average listener is aging older and older. Radio offers nothing to young people, who shun radio for Facebook, Apple Music, Pandora, Sound Cloud and more. Certainly KROQ’s current ratings prove they have nothing to lose. I believe Weatherly needs to recommit KROQ to the original intent: get local jocks who love music, let them be part of choosing that new music, give them the freedom to have some fun on the air while keeping it fast paced and entertaining, and most of all, expose new music.

It doesn’t mean playing new music for new music’s sake. But as the online streaming services and SiriusXM’s The Pulse Hits One prove, there is a lot of great new music around, and much of it never makes it to traditional radio airwaves.

Get into the areas where high school and college-aged kids and young adults hear music and find out what they like. Make it your purpose in life to break the next big act. Get them in concert for listeners. Become the must-be place on the dial for new music. Don’t limit yourself to one style – think top-40 … included everything. Young music fans are far more open to new styles than are m out adults, and adults already have their own stations.

Keep the commercials down in number and make the ads relevant and entertaining to listeners … yes, advertisements don’t have to be a tune-out. You know you have to run ads, unlike the streamers, so make them good. Most of all, treat listeners with respect. Earn their trust; earn their loyalty. You’ll have them locked in to 106.7 forever.

You may notice these are the same ideas I have for my future AM station … I’ll loan them for now to Weatherly, at least until I buy or am given my own station.

That’s my plan … what’s yours? What would you do with KROQ? It seems to me the slate is clean … am I off-base? Let me know your thoughts. 

///