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

Friday, September 16, 2005

Radio Column September 16, 2005

PHOTO: Star 98.7 afternoon DJ Bradley (left) with pop superstar Gavin DeGraw
Listening In

By Sandy Wells

September 16, 2005

Star 98.7 puts Bradley in afternoon drive

Afternoon entertainers Jason Pullman and Lisa Foxx found themselves out of work the day after Labor Day at adult contemporary Star 98.7 (KYSR-FM). They were replaced by evening talent Bradley Wright. The station, now under the direction of new Program Director Mike Marino, is “tightening up” the sound of the station, cutting back on the chatter in the afternoon and putting more focus on the music, plus adding more “gold” from the 80s and 90s to the playlist.

Yes, Star 98.7 is feeling pressure from the LA’s break out station, “Jack FM” (KCBS-FM 93.1) which made an impressive debut this spring by focusing heavily on an eclectic cross-genre blend that included many of the same oldies that have enhanced Star’s performance for the past decade. Star 98.7 has relied heavily on personalities such as former afternoon driver Ryan Seacrest, and many of same past hits from the 80s and 90s now heard in a more concentrated form on Jack to spice up its presentation of current music.

While Jack was not well-received in its New York version where it replaced the legendary oldies station WCBS-FM, here it’s had the benefit of guidance from Kevin Weatherly. The KROQ-FM 106.7 programmer has very skillfully managed to draw the multitudes that remember, and maybe pine for, the glory days of the old KROQ of the 80s and early 90s.

Is it time for Star might to consider a switch to “FM talk” and go head to head against KLSX-FM 97.1 which will lose the irreplaceable Howard Stern later this year? They’ve already got a good start in the talk game with Jamie, Jack and Stench.

KPFK host Samm Brown on the pop music industry’s doldrums

We’re always hearing about the decline of the once mighty recording industry and how it was creatively hollowed out by corporate consolidation, and continues to be financially hammered by Internet file sharing – or stealing as many in the industry see it.

KPFK-FM 90.7’s Samm Brown has a lot to say about the music business. He’s hosted a program about the recording industry, “For the Record,” on the public station for ten years. The show allows him to combined his love of journalism – he once worked as a TV reporter for WLS-TV in Chicago – with his love of the music business – he’s worked as a music producer, composer and talent manager since producing pop icon Michael Jackson’s early solo work in the 1970s. He now helps develop new artists and composes for TV and film.

I sat down with Brown last week and listened as he analyzed the state of the record business and pop music radio.

“There wasn’t much technology change from 1955 to 1965,” explained Brown. “In those ten years there weren’t quantum leaps in the technology. But I guarantee you don’t even recognize the technology from 1995 to 2005. Nobody in 1995 saw iPods coming; nobody saw the downloading, Kazaa and Napster. That’s only ten years ago!”

Consolidation and technology have combined to radically alter the way new pop music hits are created and the kind of music that is ultimately heard on the radio.

“In 1955 you had all these mom and pop stations. You could break a record and get one or two mom and pop stations – especially in Midwest, Northeast and Southeast. LA was never a break out market in the early days because as a record promo guy explained it to me, half the signals on the West Coast go to the fish.”

But the Midwest radio stations all overlapped each other, broadcasting in all directions, so that a few smaller stations taking a chance on a record would often cause a ripple effect that could ultimately reach the big city stations.

“So you could get on a couple of mom and pop stations back in the late 50s and 60s - when rock n’ roll was really happening - and all of a sudden kids are tuning into those stations and then they’re calling the big stations saying. ‘Why aren’t you playing such and such record?’ including all these ‘race records,’ like Little Richard. And they made the big stations that were playing Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and all the big band stuff, start to change.”

After Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 allowing unprecedented consolidation of the nation’s radio stations into the fold of giant corporations such as Clear Channel, record companies lost the relatively unimpeded path to getting airplay.

“No longer could a record company make a record on Friday and have it on the air by Monday. That kind of turnaround can’t happen anymore.”

One of biggest detriments to creativity in the music business is the take over of the major record companies by the corporate “bean counters.”

“Quarterlies drive the record companies today. It’s all about the dollars. They don’t deal with developing artists. They don’t deal with taking the time to allow an artist to find its audience. Today, you’ve got to have your own audience going in. You don’t have the time to let the audience find out what you’re doing and build word of mouth getting into something new that you’re doing.”

That’s why, says Brown, new music often lacks distinction, often having that ‘been there, done that sound.’

“You hear people saying, ‘Oh the business is over. Kids are buying Xbox and so forth. Well, the time it takes for kids to discover something new musically doesn’t exist like it did thirty years ago. Kids are forced to choose their music based on what the labels think the kids are going to like. And [the labels] assume that they’re going to like what they liked yesterday, which is why the record industry has such a high failure rate.”

Hand in hand with that problem says Brown, is the lack of focus on creating memorable, well-crafted songs.

Samm Brown’s program “For the Record” airs every Sunday afternoon from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Old radio drama on KKGO-AM 1260

If you still miss the KNX Drama Hour then you’ll be glad to know that KKGO-AM 1260 has brought back “When Radio Was” weeknights at 9 p.m. The hour-long program features classic radio comedy, drama and news programs from radio’s “Golden Age” such as “The Shadow,” “Our Miss Brooks,” “The Red Skelton Show,” and “The Whistler.” The program repeats at 2 a.m.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Radio Column September 2, 2005

Listening In

By Sandy Wells

September 2, 2005

Senate fails to raise broadcasting indecency fines

(Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson perform at the Super Bowl - PHOTO by AP)

The U.S. Senate is fiddling while the ears of Americans burn with indecent, profane and obscene radio broadcasts.

With the worst outbreak of broadcast indecency complaints behind them, the Senate now appears hesitant to pass legislation that would raise the FCC fines from $32,500 to the whopping $500,000 per incident penalty approved by the House of Representatives last year in the wake of the Janet Jackson Super Bowl mini-strip tease.

The issue remains a bit of a conundrum for the Republican-controlled Federal government, which on the one hand seems eager to appease socially conservative activist groups such as Concerned Women for America and at the same time feels obliged to hew to the long-standing Republican practice championed by industry groups such as the National Association of Broadcasting which is to keep hands off business as much as possible.

As it stands, fines are down this year compared to 2004’s obscenity penalty-palooza in which the FCC issued $7.9 million in the heaviest bout of wrist slapping for public naughtiness to date.

Senator Jay Rockefeller (D) West Virginia introduced legislation in March that would not only bring the Senate up to the House’s level of half a million per incident, but also extend indecency fines into the heretofore untamed realms of satellite and cable radio (and TV) programming.

Indecency complaints filed at the FCC have surged in recent years according to FCC statistics, from a piddling 111 in 2000 to 2,240,350 in 2003. A Media Week story found that Parents Television Council greatly amplified the volume of complaints by using automated complaint letters.

The FCC has three levels of offensive material that it will respond to: 1) obscenity (never allowed) 2) indecent (allowable only between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.) and 3) profane (also only allowed between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.).

The FCC also regards context as key to evaluating a complaint from the public. For instance, Larry Elder (KABC-AM 790, weekdays 3-6 p.m.) used the “n” word when he quoted from an article in order to explain a political issue. Anyone listening with a modicum of attentiveness could tell he was not using it as a racial epithet to stir up resentment or outrage, or just to be a provocateur.

To complain to the FCC

You can write to:
Enforcement Bureau, Investigations and Hearings Division445 12th Street, SWWashington, D.C. 20554

Call: 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322)

Or send an email:

Radio host Michael Graham, fired for making ‘cracker’ comments, is hired by KFI

A talk show host on Washington, D.C.’s WMAL-AM 630 who was recently fired after he refused demands to apologize for repeatedly saying on the air that Islam is a terrorist religion was hired by talk station KFI-AM 640 for a fill-in shift last Friday night.

“If there's one thing KFI stands for, it's free speech,” said KFI Program Director Robin Bertolucci in explaining why she was hiring Michael Graham to fill-in for 7-10 p.m. host John Ziegler. “I heard the context of his comments. He said most Muslims are good and decent people but they have an obligation to disassociate themselves from the bad elements. He sounds like a smart guy.”

Graham was suspended by The Walt Disney Company’s WMAL for his remarks made after the terrorist attacks in London. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) demanded that Graham apologize for his statements. Graham refused to back off what he maintains is the “truth” about Islam. The station issued a statement saying that the conservative host had “crossed the line.”

CAIR hailed the decision to fire Graham as a victory against anti-Islamic hate speech. Others have come to his support on web sites, printing pro-Graham T-shirts and demanding that he be rehired. Graham claims that WMAL received 15,000 emails and phone calls protesting his removal from the airwaves.

Graham is the author of “Redneck Nation: How the South Really Won the War.”

Hear podcasts on your cell phone

There are fresh developments on the way to making your cell phone the equivalent of the ubiquitous little palm-sized transistor radio of the ’60s and ’70s.

A small Seattle company is releasing new software this month that should make it relatively easy to download podcasts into an Internet-ready phone.

Melodeo, Inc. says that it is the first company to make podcasts available to cell phone users through its free Mobilcast software.

The company points out that to access the nearly 400,000 Podcasts available today, you need to connect your PC to the Internet, and then hook up your portable device to your PC. Its Mobilcast software offers users a way to shortcut the process of finding and listening to Podcasts by allowing you to directly download Podcasts to your cell phone, over the air.

Find out more at