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

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Radio Column July 7, 2006

Listening In

July 7, 2006

By Sandy Wells

KNX veteran news anchor Dave Zorn looks back

After nearly 25 years with KNX-AM 1070, veteran reporter and news anchor Dave Zorn officially retired from the CBS affiliate. Although he has been out of the afternoon drive spotlight for more than a year, his departure marks a milestone not only for the reporter but for the station as well.

Zorn was honored at the LA Press Club earlier this month with the award for Best Radio Documentary for a series he made last year with KNX Assistant News Director Ronnie Bradford about their return to Vietnam on the 40th anniversary of their tours of duty there.

“The award also comes at a special time for me since I’m retired and moving away. It’s nice to finish strong in a business where, I’ve always believed, you’re only as good as your next review,” said Zorn. “This is a good one to go out on, personally and professionally and we’re very grateful.”

In a recent email interview, Zorn says he’s going to miss his colleages at KNX.

“The truth is that behind the scenes the people I worked with at KNX were some of the wittiest, playful and downright nutty people I’ve ever known. I think there is a dark gallows humor that people can call upon to keep stressful situations from escalating into something dangerous. The best example I can think of is M*A*S*H. You have to ask yourself, ‘when the going gets tough, do you want to be around Frank Burns or Hawkeye Pierce?’ It was ALL fun.”

Zorn was a bit ‘star struck’ arrived in Hollwood for his first day at KNX in 1981.

“I came to KNX from KTAR radio in Phoenix where I had been Director of News and Programming for three years. The reputation of KNX was well known to me and, for that matter, anyone who knew anything about radio news. The whole day was a head-spinning event: Getting a tour of the landmark Columbia Square building on Sunset Blvd where so much radio history had been made; being introduced to the staff by the man who hired me, News Director Gregg Peterson; meeting George Nickolaw, who was already a legend as Vice President and General Manager of KNX; and looking out the newsroom window and seeing the world famous Hollywood sign. I knew right away that getting the job was one thing but proving myself worthy of it was yet another. All of a sudden I was swimming with some pretty big fish in a very large pond and I had to do better than just treading water.”

Zorn described the most difficult aspect of anchoring the news in the busy afternoon drive period - one of radio’s peak listening times.

“Keeping calm, controlling the chaos that often surrounds you, cutting through the myriad newsroom distractions in order to get to what is really important in the news, and never, repeat NEVER, forgetting the listeners. They haven’t tuned in to hear me They aren’t interested in hearing about my problems...they have enough of their own. I tried to give them a friendly, authoritative voice that they could trust to keep them informed.”

Last year, a terrifying, life-changing health crisis convinced Zorn that it was time to retire.

“The decision was made for me on September 29, 2005 when I died. Sudden cardiac death is what the doctors call it. I thank God every day for the firefighters and paramedics of Ventura County Fire Station No. 36 in Oak Park who were in the right place at the right time with the right equipment and expertise to keep me alive until I could be transported to Los Robles Medical Center in Thousand Oaks. There, a similar group of dedicated professionals opened a 100 percent blocked artery, inserted a stent and stabilized me in less than a half-hour. Shortly after getting a room in the hospital’s C-C-U, I went into cardiac arrest. For about the next six hours a team of doctors and nurses worked on me, bringing me back to life several times. In all, I was defibrillated 42 times. I’ve been told that the death rate in cardiac arrest cases is 95 percent. The chances of coming back repeatedly are very slim indeed. The repeated electro shocks left burn marks on my chest for about two weeks. No complaints. I’m just glad the hospital didn’t bill me for the electricity they used on me.”

Zorn leaves a business that is going through major changes driven by technological innovation.

“All-news radio as I knew it for 35 years of my 37 year career will never be the same. But, what is the same today as it was 35 years ago? When I started in 1969, nearly every AM radio station had a news department. Granted, there may have been only one or two reporters on staff, but you were able to get news once-an-hour on your favorite radio station. All-news has always been the most expensive format because of the salaries. When you have a newsroom with anywhere from 20 to 30 people on average, you’ve got a big nut to crack every month. The benefit of all-news radio ‘way back then’ was summed up: ‘Hear it now, see it tonight and read about tomorrow morning.’ The 24/7 cable news cycle has tipped the scales the other way. Today, you can hear it AND see it now on cable and even most newspapers have their own websites featuring news updates around the clock. I have some suggestions for making all news radio viable again but I’m afraid they would be looked upon as the last gasps of some ‘old breed’ newsman who is more interested in telling stories on the radio than selling stories on the radio.”

Zorn and his wife Carolynn are moving to their new retirement home in Arizona.

“So, I’ll ride off into the sunset - or, since we’re heading east to Phoenix, into the sunRISE - spend more time with my family, especially my wonderful grandchildren (6, so far), and enjoy every additional day God gives me. Two hundred and sixty-seven and counting.”

Asian immigration, history in US focus of new series on KPCC-FM

A superb new series about Asian immigration is begins on public station KPCC this weekend. “Crossing East” focuses on the usually overlooked history of immigration to this country from the lands across the Pacific Ocean. The eight-part series is hosted by Star Trek star George Takei and Margaret Cho.

The first public radio history of Asians-American begins with a look at the first immigrants. Many were sailors on the formidable galleons of Imperial Spain or ship builders and traders who settled in the Northwest.

Other highlights in the series include the experience of Asian immigrants working on the sugar plantations of Hawaii, the racist Exclusion Act of 1882 and the refugees arriving from the devastation of wars in Indochina.

The series, produced by Peabody Award-winning Producer Dmae Roberts and MediaRites, in association with Public Radio International, airs on KPCC-FM 89.3 Sundays, 8-9 p.m., July 9 through August 27.