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

Friday, December 30, 2005

Radio Column December 23, 2005

Listening In

December 23, 2005

By Sandy Wells

Oldies K-Earth 101 names new program director

K-Earth 101 (KRTH-FM 101.1) has appointed former KOST-FM/KBIG-FM programmer Jahni Kaye to take over as program director for the oldies giant starting Jan. 3.

“K-Earth 101 is legendary not only in Los Angeles, but throughout the world as one of the finest music radio stations, said Kaye. “K-Earth 101’s uptempo, foreground presentation is very exciting and I’m really looking forward to taking the station to the next level.”

Kaye’s track record in the business is almost unrivaled. At KOST-FM (“The Coast”), he was the longest running program director of a music station in Los Angeles. Under his direction, KOST picked up two Marconi Awards, four Billboard Awards and three Gavin Awards for “Station of The Year.” Kaye also received four Billboard Awards and two Gavin Awards for “Program Director of the Year.” His resume includes stints at LA stations KUTE, KKDJ, KGBS, KROQ, and KBIG. His latest position was Director of AC Programming for Clear Channel/LA.

The naming of Kaye marks a major change in direction for the oldies giant. Since the early 90s, K-Earth has patterned itself after the glory days of legendary top 40 KHJ-AM 930. With program director Mike Phillips at the helm, and later, under his music director and protégé Jay Coffey, the station continued to echo the sound of “Boss Radio.” With The Real Don Steele in afternoon drive and Robert W. Morgan in mornings – timeslots they occupied on KHJ – K-Earth 101 enjoyed its greatest popularity during the mid 1990s.

After the deaths of Steele and Morgan and the exit of Phillips, Coffey tweaked the format with new jingles, adding some more hits from the 70s and hiring some new talent.
His pick for morning drive, Gary Bryan, was moved to afternoons and replaced by former KIIS-FM DJ Hollywood Hamilton this year, by which time, Coffey appeared to be on his way out as programmer.

I can only guess what Kaye will do with K-Earth. He inherits a talent roster that embraces a curiously inconsistent mix of DJ styles and attitudes. It will be interesting to see how he sorts all that out.

Even before his arrival, the station has added more 70s hits and is clearly advancing the oldies timeline to catch a newer wave of nostalgia consumers. The station is now referring to itself in the latest press releases as the “premiere adult hit station” playing “The greatest hits on earth.”

With some pressure from Jack FM (KCBS-FM 93.1) and satellite radio and to expand the playlist of songs, K-Earth will probably continue to broaden its mix of hits.

K-Earth 101 claims to be among the few U.S. radio stations that attract more than million-plus listeners weekly. Jack Silver, Operations Manager said of Kaye’s appointment, “We are handing over a lot of responsibility to Jhani Kaye and he is among the elite few who have the experience to grow the coveted adult audience of K-Earth 101.”

In my interviews with Phillips and Coffey, both defended the extremely tight list of oldies (3-500 songs by most estimates) as the only way to guarantee high ratings. Phillips said it just never made sense to play anything but the songs that test highest in the research. Coffey said every time the playlist was expanded in the past, the ratings would go down.

But with Jack FM’s apparent no holds barred approach to song selection, the rules have changed. It remains to be seen how Kaye, who made his reputation arranging impeccably smooth 40 minute sets of easy listening pop hits, rises to the challenge of reinventing K-Earth 101.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Radio Column December 9, 2005

Listening In

By Sandy Wells

December 9, 2005

Terrestrial broadcasters tout “free radio” as Stern heads to satellite

The inimitable Howard Stern is crossing over to the “other side” next month, launching his much anticipated reincarnation on Sirius satellite radio Jan. 9. The outrageous “shock jock” who issued a CD “Crucified by the FCC” in 1991 will have a “second coming” in January. For people weary of his depraved, lewd and juvenile antics, that day can’t come too soon. For his admirers, the groundbreaking comedic genius of FM radio will finally be free of the straightjacket of conventional radio practice, FCC fines, censorious Senators and jittery corporate legal departments.

Next Friday will be his last show on KLSX-FM 97.1 and all the other stations coast to coast that carry his morning program.

Adam Corolla of KROQ-FM 106.7 “Loveline” fame starts on Jan. 3 as the replacement for Stern on KLSX “Free FM.” Corolla will also be on at in least four other markets in the Western U.S. Late night talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel will serve as creative consultant for the radio show. He will assist in the development of new talent and show ideas for the Company, and make guest appearances on the program.

In New York, flagship Stern station WXRK-FM will carry former Van Halen front man, David Lee Roth as the morning show host. Roth is scheduled to launch on seven stations in the eastern U.S. Air personalities “Rover,” ‘The Junkies,” “Star and Buc” and “Drew and Mel” will fill Stern’s shoes in other markets.

Three stations that carried Stern are “Jack FM” music stations and will air music instead of Stern-style comedy/talk.

In an obvious response to the challenge posed by satellite radio (Sirius and XM) Infinity Broadcasting rolled out its Free FM moniker for several stations, leaving “FM Talk” behind. This coincides with the National Association of Broadcaster’s stepped up campaign to convince people that radio should be free. The NAB has created spots that end with the tag line, “Radio, you shouldn’t have to pay for it.”

“The new spots remind listeners of the 24-7 news coverage, compelling personalities, weather and traffic bulletins, local regional and national talk, local sports, and other programming, all of which is available for free on local radio,” said NAB Radio Board Chairman and President and CEO of Entercom Communications David Field.

Sirius, the service that will carry the Howard Stern show, currently charges $12.95 per month, $142.45 annually or $499 for a lifetime subscription.

Stern will offer two channels: “Howard 100 News” (already available) a very slick news and interview service that promotes the stars of the Howard Stern “universe,” and the “Howard II” channel, set to launch Jan. 9.

The NAB says that broadcasters are rallying to air the spots this month, effectively donating at least $40 million worth of airtime to dissuade listeners from defecting to satellite radio. They might as well build another Berlin Wall.

Stern quipped on the air last week that if those broadcasters had handed him the “50 million” they’re spending to fight him, he would have “walked away” from his satellite venture.

So what is the future of free terrestrial radio once Stern exits? Does FM talk have a big future? I believe the answer is yes, but a big shake out is coming. Stern’s departure will be like a shopping mall after the big “anchor” department store moves out. In radio’s case, there aren’t likely to be the same size crowds coming in the morning to carry the whole day anymore. Obviously, a lot depends on how well Corolla, Roth and others can hang on to Stern’s audience.

Regardless of how well FM talk adapts, the door is wide open now for music radio formats to enjoy a kind of renaissance that may end up helping the ailing record industry. For the past 20 years, morning shows have been dominated, starting with the rise of “Morning Zoos” in the early 80s, by talk and comedy and very little or no music. With Stern out of the picture, contemporary music-focused, local personality shows may have a chance to take back a huge slice of the morning mass appeal audience pie.

A word about Stern: He was an unremarkable DJ when he started out. His “genius” was to take the goofy, irreverent side of the generic DJ, add elements of his personal life and basically flip the perspective for the audience. So, instead of getting the conventional polished presentation, listeners heard an exaggerated version of what might normally be the off-air, “behind the scenes” banter with station personnel and listener phone calls. To accentuate the “shock” value of this 180 degree change, Stern routinely belched on the air, insulted celebrity guests, cued tapes live instead of getting them ready beforehand and appeared to talk off the top of his head with no preparation. (His wannabe imitators learned the hard way how far from the truth that is.)

Before Stern, none of that would ever have happened on the radio. Call it “reality radio.” Call him the Godfather of reality TV.

Another key to the success of the Stern format was getting rid of the music. Stern was determined to live or die on his own personality and not allow himself be defined by music he didn’t choose and would needlessly alienate listeners otherwise attracted to his program.

On satellite, Stern will finally be free to speak as he pleases without censorship or the threat of FCC indecency fines. However, if he doesn’t ultimately attract enough subscribers to make the show self-sustaining, expect advertising to quickly become part of the mix.