Columns appear in print in the U Entertainment Section of the Pasadena Star-News, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Whittier Daily News

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Radio Column August 21, 2005

Listening In

By Sandy Wells

August 21, 2005

KNX departs from historic Hollywood studios

(PHOTO: KNX news studio in 1960s)

Last weekend, KNX-AM 1070 moved from 'Sunset and analog' to 'Wilshire and digital,' trading its historic but antiquated Hollywood studios for new ones on LA's “Miracle Mile.” Now, it is physically united, on two floors, with fellow Infinity-owned stations KTWV-FM, KRTH-FM, KLSX-FM and KFWB-AM.

Built at a cost of $2 million in 1938, the year the famous “panic broadcast” of H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds” with Orson Welles testified to the awesome power of the medium, the structure at Columbia Square has since stood as an impressive physical reminder of radio’s Golden Age. It was the costliest radio facility to date. CBS chief William Paley, then just 36, spared no expense to guarantee his new broadcasting palace would win the respect of Hollywood’s sheiks.

And it did. The stars came, and following them were the crowds, who lined up at all hours to watch the exciting live broadcasts. Entertainment critic and historian Leonard Maltin says Columbia Square quickly became “the heartbeat of West Coast radio.”

“The Jack Benny Show,” “Blondie,” The Adventures of Sam Spade Detective,” “Ozzie and Harriet,” ‘The Whistler,” “Burns and Allen” and “The Red Skelton Show” were among the hit radio shows broadcast from Columbia Square.

In the 1950s, as TV became dominant, KNX became the home of many noted radio personalities like Steve Allen, Bill Balance (“Balance of the Night”), Jim Hawthorne, famed morning man Bob Crane (who went on to star in the hit TVs series “Hogan’s Heroes”). KNX was the first LA station for talk radio star Michael Jackson. In 1968, KNX adopted its current role as a news station.

It’s unlikely the current owner of the building will save the historic spot for future generations. VP and Market Manager for Infinity News Radio stations in LA Pat Duffy says after the TV stations move out in late 2006, the building will probably be torn down to make way for new commercial development as part of Hollywood’s ongoing revitalization.

Is radio going into hiding? In Burbank, Clear Channel’s most popular stations are also tucked away, invisibly wedged inconspicuously in a large office tower.

Duffy says that wasn’t the intent and that were it not for the rush to move KFWB out of its old facility on Yucca, both news stations might have enjoyed a very high profile location in downtown LA. There was a plan, he says, to house the stations opposite the Staples Center in the AEG Building with street level picture windows that would have allowed passers by to view the broadcast operations.

While acknowledging the nostalgia for the old facility will be strongly felt among many long-time employees, Duffy said the move makes it possible for KNX to upgrade all the technical facilities, junk obsolete cart machines and reel to reel tape decks, and adopt all new digital equipment, bringing both KNX and KFWB into the world of HD radio, web cams and podcasting.

And all those hundreds of Golden Mikes trophies garnered by both KNX and KFWB over the years? Well, as pleasantly spacious as the new facilities are on Wilshire Boulevard, there’s no space for those. Duffy says the stations are offering them to those whose names are inscribed on the trophies and giving the rest away.

The Museum of TV and Radio in Beverly Hills should seriously consider adopting the studios on Sunset Boulevard. It would be a great location for attracting big crowds, being so close to the heart of Hollywood’s tourist district.

XTRA Sports 570 builds team…

Two ex-FM morning show sports reporters have moved over to "XTRA Sports Radio AM" KLAC-AM 570. Last week Joe Grande joined the team after five years of morning radio at KPWR-FM 105.9 “Power 106.”

“The last five years at Power 106 have been amazing for me,” said Grande. “I am going to miss ‘Big Boy’s Neighborhood’ and the entire Power 106 family. I am very excited about this opportunity and look forward to hitting it out of the park with XTRA Sports AM 570.”

General Manager Don Martin of XTRA Sports AM 570 said, “Joe brings energy, excitement and fun to every show he does and is loved in the community. I am very excited to have him in house on a fulltime basis.”

Also joining the XTRA team is Matt “Money” Smith to the Lakers Broadcast team. Money begins his "dream job" with the Lakers Radio Network as the 2005-2006 season begins.

Money was most recently the sports voice for the KROQ morning show featuring Kevin and Bean.

“I've been associated with KROQ for eleven years,” said Money. “I started when I was in college answering phones, and as sad as it is to leave a group of people I consider family, it's equally exciting to work with a franchise like the Lakers and the dominant Sports radio station in Los Angeles – XTRA Sports AM 570.”

Friday, August 05, 2005

Radio Column August 5, 2005

August 5, 2005

Listening In

By Sandy Wells

Music radio under Jack attack

The latest Arbitron audience survey spelled vindication for the Infinity radio execs who risked their careers to put “Jack FM” on at the expense of “Arrow 93.” The mighty Clear Channel’s adult oriented pop on Star 98.7 and KBIG are scrambling for cover. However, CC had one conspicuous bright spot with KIIS-FM 102.7, which raced past long-time front runner Power 106 KPWR-FM 105.9 to win the ratings sweepstakes.

The spring ratings drilled a hole in any hopes that LA’s news/talk stations would make a comeback after the post-election doldrums. Especially noticeable was KNX-AM 1070’s abrupt fall from its apparently anomalous big audience gain in the winter book. The only talk station that showed improvement was Clear Channel’s liberal-leaning KTLK-AM 1150 “K-Talk” with comedian Al Franken, Florida-based talk host Randi Rhodes and the liberal Limbaugh sound alike, Ed Schultz.

In the overall ratings for the spring, Spanish music stations KLAX-FM 97.9, KLVE-FM 107.5 and KSCA-FM 101.9 tied for third place. News/talk KFI-AM 640 slid seven tenths of a point into 6th place, followed by smooth jazz KTWV-FM 94.7 “The Wave.” Soft rock KOST-FM 103.5 and alternative rock KROQ-FM 106.7 tied for 8th, followed by urban KKBT-FM 100.3 “The Beat” in 10th place.

KCBS-FM, which was languishing in 24th place until flipping to the new “Jack” format in March, shot up to No. 11. The variety rock/pop format playing hits and notable album cuts mostly from the 80s and 90s appeared to punch a hole in traditional oldies station KRTH-FM 101.1 “K-Earth 101,” which saw its overall ratings deflate half a point and out of the top ten. It’s possible that KROQ also suffered from Jack’s presence as it also dropped half a point. Perhaps it is lucky for all three that they are all owned by Infinity.

On the news/talk front, the news was mostly dismal. KFI, the market leader in this category, dropped from No. 2 to No. 6 while KABC-AM 790 saw its audience share slip two tenths of a point. KNX-AM 1070, after showing progress in the winter book, lost heavily, falling from 16th to 26th place in the ratings, behind its less powerful sister news station KFWB-AM 980. KRLA-AM 870 was also down as was FM talker KLSX-FM 97.1.

The exception was the left-leaning, Bush-bashing, Air America affiliate, KTLK-AM 1150 “K-Talk”, which rose from a tie a No. 47 to No. 31 by more the doubling its audience share.

Among the morning wake-up shows, KSCA’s Piolín was No. 1, followed by Renán Almendárez Coello on KLAX, Bill Handel on KFI, Ryan Seacrest on KIIS, Big Boy’ Neighborhood on Power 106, Kevin and Bean with KROQ, Howard Stern on KLSX, Omar y Argelia on KLVE, John Salley on KKBT and Dave Coz on KTWV.

Were they reacting to Jack’s auspicious out of the box performance adult when contemporary outlet “K-Big” (KBIG-FM 104.3) changed to just the simple call letters, “K-B-I-G”? Or, when KYSR-FM 98.7 “Star 98.7” dropped Danny Bonaduce and renamed the show, Jamie White, Jack and Stench? Or can we entertain any doubt as to why Thousand Oaks KMLT-FM switched from “Lite 92.7” to “92.7 Jill-FM”?

New payola scandal unraveled in New York

The record and radio biz is reeling from the $10 million settlement reached between New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and Sony/BMG to halt “pay for play” practices in the music industry.

“Our investigation shows that, contrary to listener expectations that songs are selected for airplay based on artistic merit and popularity, air time is often determined by undisclosed payoffs to radio stations and their employees,” Spitzer said. “This agreement is a model for breaking the pervasive influence of bribes in the industry.”

The New York Post published a story this week that Spitzer was originally tipped off by a female employee who was “hit on” by a Sony record promoter at a bar in Miami. The guy apparently tried to impress by regaling his intended conquest with tales of his payola shenanigans.

Documents released show music promoters and their companies routinely offered laptop computers, cameras and other goodies to get airplay for their artists, in violation of state and federal law, which forbids the practice of “payola.”

One email released was from an Epic employee who was trying to promote the group Audioslave to a Clear Channel programmer. He asked one radio programmer:

"WHAT DO I HAVE TO DO TO GET AUDIOSLAVE ON WKSS THIS WEEK?!!? Whatever you can dream up, I can make it happen."

The attorney general’s release also quoted Don Henley, a member of the Eagles and founding member of the Recording Artists’ Coalition: “Attorney General Eliot Spitzer should be commended for successfully addressing the pay-for-play problem. There is no question that payola hurts recording artists.”

Well, if you ever wondered how some of those truly awful songs ever do get on the air, you now know it’s less to do with programmers’ lack of taste than their expensive tastes.

Kudos to Spitzer and his staff for winning this important battle against radio broadcast “air pollution.”

AM 1260 welcomes back Nic Gerard

KKGO-AM 1260/540 welcomed back former morning man Nic Gerard. It’s nice to hear his smooth voice in the morning serving up the “unforgettable” standards with class. He is followed by Mark Morris, John Regan and Mike Johnson.