Radio Waves: September 29, 2023

K-Earth’s continued success is impressive 

KRTH (101.1 FM) celebrated a birthday last month: the oldies station turned 82 in early August.

It was in May of 1940 that the Federal Communications Commission issued the first construction permits for the brand-new FM band. KRTH was first assigned to the frequency of 44.5 MHz, as part of the original FM band that covered 42-50 MHz, with the call letters K45LA.

With a transmitter on top of Mount Lee overlooking Los Angeles, K45LA signed on the air on August 11, 1941 — the first FM station in Los Angeles. And while it was relatively easy to listen — all you need was an FM radio, after all — it didn’t come cheap. A newspaper ad from Barker Brothers in Hollywood hypes the event “Barker Brothers gives you the receiver! K45LA brings you the first broadcast!” featuring an FM radio starting at $89.95. For a mere $37.50 you could buy an FM adapter for your AM radio.

That’s the equivalent of almost $1700 in 2023 dollars for the full radio; just over $700 for the adapter … made even more expensive four years later in 1946 when the FCC moved all FM stations to the current band it occupies today at 88 to 108 MHz and every old FM radio was suddenly obsolete.

The call letters were changed to KHJ-FM on November 1, 1943, matching the calls of then-sister station KHJ (930 AM); when the station moved to the new band it was originally assigned to 99.7 FM. It was not until 1947 that it moved to 101.1 FM, where it still resides today. I always thought it should have taken on the 93.1 FM frequency, but I digress. It was also around 1947 that the transmitter site changed to its current location on Mount Wilson, giving it one of the best signals in all of Los Angeles.

For most of its early history, KHJ-FM simulcast KHJ’s AM programming, including the first few years of the Boss Radio top-40 format that launched in 1965. Early promotional announcements on KHJ occasionally mentioned “the much more music station, AM and FM, 93/KHJ”

In 1968, due to new rules limiting simulcasts, KHJ-FM started airing Drake/Chenault’s automated Hit Parade format, generally top hits of the era with no real promotion. 1971 brought in Drake Chenault’s Sold Gold Rock and Roll, changed little from Hit Parade.

It was in 1972 that things truly changed. I’ve heard stories that the original plan was to launch a folk rock format tied with Earth Day — that day supposedly the reason for the choice in the call letters spelling out K-Earth — but October 16, 1972 was the big switch to oldies, then defined as rock and roll hits from 1955-1963 –  essentially the first decade of rock and roll.

Over the years, the music has changed. First the oldies expanded with the years as time went on. But the late 1970s, under the direction of Program Director Bob Hamilton, current music was added. This era was by far my favorite for KRTH – much of the same hit music as was played on KHJ, with really great special weekend programming – “Souvenir of the Seventies” the one I remember best. There are some who feel that this is what KHJ would have sounded like, had it been on FM. Indeed, many KHJ jocks were heard, sometimes using different names, on KRTH.

The station returned to all oldies once more in 1985, this time focussing more on the 1960s and ‘70s. Oldies purists have always been bothered by the “oldies creep,” especially when the station started adding songs from the 1980s ands ‘90s. Today the station even plays music from the 2000s, if you can believe that. Before you shout “sacrilege!” let’s remember … when KRTH launched, the oldest song it played was 17 years old. Today, that would translate to 2006! And that was for the oldest song.

By continually redefining what is meant by the word “oldie,” KRTH has managed to maintain viability and relevance. Current programmer Chris Ebbott is credited with not only taking the station into the future by adding songs from the more recent past, he has also modernized the presentation outside of the music with more contemporary jingles, and even last week launched a new logo using a license plate as the basis for the call-letters.

The results have been nothing short of amazing: KRTH has been the number one station overall for the past six ratings periods, and is number one in almost every demographic … including listeners aged 18 to 34, an age group you would not necessarily associate with oldies. 

Gary Bryan has hosted morning since 2002, a testament to his family-friendly humor and on-air chemistry with Lisa Stanley. The rest of the air-staff, including Lara Scott, Greg Simms, Larry Morgan, and relative youngster Kevin Schatz are, like the morning show, professional and fun. The spirit of KHJ definitely lives on in KRTH … in spite of being owned by Audacy. That, in and of itself, is impressive.

KRTH is proof that good programming presented well will definitely attract an audience. Here’s to the oldest continually broadcasting FM station in town… congratulations!