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

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Radio Column November 25, 2005

Listening In

By Sandy Wells

November 25, 2005

Fabulous 690 gets ready for final close up

The Fabulous 690 (XETRA-AM 690) is getting ready for its final close up. The exact date is yet to be announced and there seems to be some uncertainty among station personnel as to when the switch will be pulled on the standards served up by Brad Chambers, Jim Duncan, Daisy Torme, Gary Owens, Lou Simon, et al. On the station web site, listeners are invited to vote for the format’s final song.

One thing is sure. It has to happen. All the kicking and screaming by those who love the great songs performed by Frank Sinatra Sr. and Jr., Ella Fitzgerald, Rod Stewart, Tony Bennett and so many others, will be of no avail, since the change has been mandated by our own government.

In a recent decision, the Federal Communications Commission determined that stations operated by an American owner south of the border count as one owned inside the U.S. if it reaches a U.S. radio market. In this case, it means that XETRA-AM, booming across the border with 77,000 watts from south of San Diego, counts not only as a San Diego station, but also a Los Angeles one.

As a result, Clear Channel is over the eight-station limit by one in Los Angeles and must sell off its stake in XETRA. In San Diego, it must let go of several stations.

Since its launch on Frank Sinatra’s birthday (Dec. 12) in 2002, the Fabulous 570 - later the Fabulous 690 following 570s flip to sports/guy talk – has attempted to redefine the standards format in terms of presentation and target audience. Not satisfied to be just a nostalgia format for folks old enough to remember when the classic popular songs first landed on the hit parade or were show stoppers on Broadway, Program Director Brad Chambers and Clear Channel Regional Vice President and Station Manager Greg Ashlock strived to attract not only baby boomers burned out on rock ’n roll, but younger people as well.

“We had to find a way to attract a young, hip audience while maintaining the dignity and class of the music,” said Chambers. “There’s a whole generation of baby boomers are rediscovering the music as something that fits their changing lifestyle. These are people who might go see a Rolling Stones concert once a year, but would rather not hassle with the huge crowds. The rest of the year they might be going out to a place like the Catalina Bar and Grill and hearing some jazz or standards. We believe firmly that this not about an age group, but about a lifestyle. A whole generation will continue to party, but at a different beat.”

Chambers says the decision to go with the standards was considered risky back in 2002. As a format designer for Clear Channel, he’d been commissioned to create a 70s format for KLAC-AM 570.

“The 'Seventies at 570' sounded like an old top 40 station. It was good, but it didn’t have an emotional hook. Greg Ashlock said, ‘Why don’t we do the standards again?’ ”

Chambers says the decision was cinched after former Clear Channel executive Roy Laughlin showed up a meeting and mentioned that his friend Rod Stewart had just released an album of standards. The timing seemed perfect. More and more pop recording artists, Hollywood trendsetters and hip literati had been professing their appreciation for the great songs and tunes that happened to coincide with Hollywood’s Golden Age. And Rod Stewart agreed to perform at the launch party of the station.

From its inception, The Fabulous 570 had a hip edge to it. While at times seeming a little self-conscious, almost ironic in its presentation, with Steve Tyrell’s gravelly, Vegas Rat Pack-style voice imaging, the station neverthless earned its place in the competitive LA radio scene.

“We have had good numbers and attracted a broad audience. At station events, we see people of all ages come out to enjoy this music.”

And Chambers maintains that The Fabulous 690 continues to be a successful business proposition, generating enough revenue to satisfy Clear Channel’s corporate needs.

The concept of “contemporary standards” translates into growing acceptance on the part of youth-obsessed advertisers. A steady stream of new renderings of the standards by new artists as well as pop/rock superstars has kept the sound fresh and up-to-date. Unlike rock n’ roll; it’s not so much about the recording as it is about the song.

“The songs of the 30s and 40s were written to get others to sing or perform. It’s not odd for a Rod Stewart, Barry Manilow or Bette Midler or Alanis Morissette to record them.”

Chambers says two farewell parties for the station have already sold out. As to the future of the standards in Los Angeles, aside from their presence on KKGO-AM 1260/540, Chambers says he’s in talks with a number of LA station owners.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Radio Column November 11, 2005

Listening In

By Sandy Wells

November 11, 2005

Bilingual “Latino 96.3” KXOL-FM soars in latest ratings

Latino 96.3 FM’s midday entertainer Donaji and morning man Nico Jones (KXOL photos)

The latest ratings from Arbitron proved that LA radio was ready for something mucho grande! Pues, the new bilingual “Latino 96.3” KXOL-FM 96.3 exploded on the radio scene this summer, zooming from a tie at No. 18 to a tie at No. 2 in a matter of weeks.

I guess this success story helps prove that the idea of the “melting pot” is still valid in America and especially here in Southern California. On Latino 96.3, both English and Spanish are woven into a seamless sound texture that reflects the linguistic reality in many Southland communities.

The practice is not new to radio. There have been numerous instances of bilingual patter by personalities before - the long running Chicano-oriented “Sancho Show” on KPFK-FM 90.7 is one example - but as a fulltime commercial radio venture, it is new to Southern California.

“We’re absolutely thrilled!” said KXOL Vice President and General Manager David Haymore about what may well be counted as the fastest ratings ascent of a new format in LA radio history. “It hit a vibe, a nerve. We knew right a way from the calls we received. The listeners responded, adopting it passionately.”

Latino 96.3 prominently features Reggaeton, a genre of Caribbean music that originated almost twenty years ago in Panama and Puerto Rico.

“This station incorporates a mix of Hip Hop in English and Spanish with Reggaeton,” says Haymore. “We saw Reggaeton concerts that immediately sold out, so we saw there was this demand for the music.”

“We launched this station back in May with the strong belief that LA was ready for a bilingual station with emphasis on the youth. The dominant ethnicity of LA youth is Hispanic – 59 percent of 12 to 24 year old males and 56 percent of females 12 to 24 are Hispanic who are (nevertheless) predominantly functioning in the English language world.”

There were none of the common marketing gimmicks often involved with the launch of this new station, such as playing no commercials for the first month.

“Its popularity was driven by word of mouth, with text messaging, email, phone calls, all with an excitement we’ve never seen before,” said Haymore.

As with the launch of “Jack FM” (KCBS-FM 93.1) this year, this move showed some guts on the part of corporate radio station owners. Their examples could lead to more exciting new formats for us in the next year.

In other ratings news, the top stations among listeners 12+ were No. 1 KIIS-FM 102.7, KXOL tied at No. 2 with Spanish adult contemporary “K-Love” KLVE-FM 107.5. News/talk KFI-AM 640 tied with hip hop KPWR-FM 105.9 “Power 106” at No. 4, followed by alternative/modern rock KROQ-FM 106.7 at No. 6. Regional Mexican stations KLAX-FM 97.9 and KSCA-FM 101.9 scored at No. 7 and 8 respectively with “Jack FM” KCBS-FM 93.1 at No. 9 and soft rock KOST-FM 103.5 rounding out the top 10.

In morning drive, Renan "El Cucuy" Almendarez Coello on KLAX moved up to No, 1, swapping rank with Eddie “PiolĂ­n” Sotelo on KSCA, then talk radio kingpin Bill Handel on KFI again in third place. KROQ’s Kevin and Bean moved from No. 6 to No. 4 and KIIS’ Ryan Seacrest slipped from fourth to fifth place.

In the morning talk radio sweepstakes, KABC-AM 790’s Doug McIntyre gained eight tenths of a point to move into 10th place from 16th with a very respectable 3.0 share of listeners. KRLA-AM 870s Laura Ingraham moved up from 29th place to a tie for 25th and liberal talker Stephanie Miller gained some traction by moving from 47th to 29th place with a gain of eight tenths of a point on KTLK-AM 1150. KLSX’s Howard Stern, still a potent force on the eve of his departure to satellite radio, is in at 7th place while KLOS-FM 95.5 funnymen Mark and Brian inched up to No. 11.

Meanwhile, Jamie White on KYSR-FM 98.7 fared poorly without Danny Bonaduce, dropping half a point from a tie at No. 16 to a tie at No. 23.