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

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Radio Column March 23, 2007

Listening In

March 23, 2007

By Sandy Wells

Radio execs weigh future of talk radio at R&R convention

Hundreds of radio folks, from big stars and major league executives to wannabes looking to get connected – and everyone in between – converged at the Radio and Records Talk Radio convention in Marina Del Rey earlier this month.

There were the annual awards given by Radio and Records, the well-respected industry newspaper: KFI-AM 640 morning man Bill Handel won “News/Talk Local Personality of the Year” – and syndicated Art Bell (KFI, Sundays, 10 p.m. - 5 a.m.) came away with the “News/Talk Lifetime Industry Achievement Award. KFI tied with KGO-AM 810 in San Francisco for “News/Talk Station of the Year” while Rush Limbaugh (KFI, weekdays, 9 a.m. - noon) earned his fourth “Syndicated News/Talk Personality of the Year Award.”

KFI's Bill Handel

The Internet continued to impact the business and consequently was a recurring topic of discussion at the various panels and roundtables at the convention.

R&R Talk Radio Editor Al Peterson told me that he sees radio executives this year are adopting a more realistic attitude in their estimation of new technologies’ impact on their business and livelihoods.

“There was far more embracing of technology and less pie-in-the-sky attitudes than I’ve seen in previous conventions as far as what technology is worth spending time and resources on,” said Peterson of the increasingly sophisticated use of podcasting and web sites by radio stations.

Peterson said he attends many music radio conventions and believes that the guys spinning the hits may be encountering bigger challenges than talk radio in terms of coping with new technologies. He said as long as the “spoken word” format continues to deliver compelling, unique programs and personalities that people want to hear, the format will continue to thrive. Music radio on the other hand, faces more direct competition from iPods, MP3 players, Internet downloads and websites such as iTunes and Rhapsody.

Dennis Miller set for radio debut on KRLA

The Dennis Miller Show will launch from New York on 80 stations starting Monday. Locally, the comedian and TV host/commentator will be heard on news/talk station KRLA-AM 870 weeknights, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., followed by Michael Savage, until 11 p.m. Miller said he plans to broadcast his show from his Santa Barbara home when he’s not on the road with his standup comedy act and speaking engagements.

Miller was the keynote speaker at a Friday luncheon at the R&R Talk Radio Convention held at the Marriott. While delivering a bevy of laugh lines, the “Saturday Night Live” alum reassured the radio folks that he’s serious about his foray into radio as a syndicated host for his new Westwood One show and is not a just a “carpetbagger.”

KFI-AM 640 evening host John Ziegler was in the audience. He asked Miller the question on everyone’s mind: can the former star of “Saturday Night Live” translate his comedy and personality to the radio medium.

Miller admitted he had a lot to learn and said he looked to guys like Ziegler as “templates” for doing a good radio talk show. He said he had filled in on Jim Bohannon’s talk show – also on Westwood One – and felt confident that his show will be a success.

KABC host Mark Levin doesn’t suffer fools … or liberals

Talk radio station KABC-AM 790’s Mark Levin was at the R&R Talk Radio Convention visiting from his home base in New York where he’s heard on sister station WABC-AM 770.

WABC Program Director Phil Boyce said Levin is successful because he comes out of the gate “firing on all cylinders” at 6 p.m. on the New York station, where he has been successful in competing with Michael Savage.

“He always comes up with something new. Otherwise it’s going to be a just a re-hash of what Rush and Sean have already said and that’s not going to get us ratings. I put him on (WABC) in the summer of 2003. We always had a struggle at 6 p.m. Now he holds on to one hundred percent of the Rush and Sean lead-in.”

The former Reagan administration official says he takes his audience seriously.

“People underestimate the radio audience all the time. I do not. I talk about history. I talk about the constitution and the Declaration of Independence. I’ll talk about the law. You just have to do it in an entertaining way and connect it to events. The public is very, very smart. They know a guy who’s full of crap. They know a guy’s who’s faking it. We’re in a very tough time slot anywhere from 6 to 11 o’clock. And we do very well and the reason we do well is we have a conversation – well, unless it’s a liberal lunatic. But otherwise I have a conversation with the audience and I bring something different to the table.”

As for why he is so intolerant of liberal callers – often shouting “get off the phone you big dope!” – Levin explains that those people have nothing of interest to offer his audience.

“I’ve never suffered fools well and I consider the whole liberal philosophy to be a philosophy of fools. So unless people want to call and have a real conversation, I don’t spend a lot of time talking to them. If they want to call with their same damn talking points as before I don’t want to hear it and I know nobody else wants to hear it.”

Although he doesn’t model his show on any particular host Levin says he was inspired by Bob Grant, Jean Sheppard, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and he’s been a talk radio listener since he was 12 or 13.

In Los Angeles, Levin’s show will expand to two hours starting next week on KABC, from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Boston tribute with Uncle Joe Benson on KLOS-FM

This Sunday at 9 p.m., KLOS-FM 95.5’s Uncle Joe Benson will air a special tribute edition of “Off the Record” to the music of the legendary rock band Boston. The program will feature archival audio from Benson’s extensive conversations with the band’s late singer, Brad Delp.

Go Country adds new talent

The new KKGO-FM 105.1 “Go Country” has added another local DJ to its daytime lineup. Todd Baker, an 18-year radio vet has worked at many stations from coast-to-coast, including stints at LA’s KBIG-FM 104.3 and KLSX-FM 97.1. Before joining “Go Country” as the afternoon host, Baker was president of programming/network general manager and on-air host at National Lampoon Radio heard on XM satellite radio channel 154.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Radio Column March 9, 2007

Listening In

March 9, 2007

By Sandy Wells

Marc "Mr. K" Germain on K-Talk

KABC’s former late evening host has landed in a new time slot this week hosting afternoon drive with rival talk station KTLK-AM 1150 “K-Talk.”

The ex-night time talk radio czar is adjusting to the new hours, by dropping the “no guests, no topics, no screeners” approach of his previous show.

“It is event-driven radio with more focus on interviews and news-oriented talk,” said Marc Germain, the real name behind his previous two aliases, Mr. KFI and Mr. KABC. “I have a producer and call screener, Lisa Goitch, who will also come on the air with me.”

Germain said he was approached by several stations after he left KABC. KTLK, which had just lost Al Franken to a run for a senate seat, was in the midst of revamping its lineup of shows.

“We have been looking for the right opportunity that would allow us to go live and local in afternoon drive for some time now,” said KTLK Station General Manager John Quinlan. “When Marc became available, we knew right away our search was over. Marc brings years of talk radio credibility and a passion for the format. We know those are the two keys to being highly successful.”

Germain, who is retaining his nickname ‘Mr. K,’ becomes the centerpiece of that revised lineup along with morning drive host Stephanie Miller. The already tape-delayed Ed Schultz is moved to 7 p.m. – 10 p.m.

He says he is not joining the Bush-bashing that is sometimes associated with K-Talk.

“Fire-brand, Bush-bashing – that’s not the show. The idea is to broaden the appeal of the station,” he said, adding he will maintain his independent take on politics and culture. “No one has ever told me what I can and cannot say.”

Phones ring off the hook at new “Go Country” 105.1 FM

It’s been a thrill ride since classical KMZT-FM 105.1 became KKGO-FM the new “Go Country,” with the switch of the country music format from AM 1260 and 540. (“K-Mozart” has moved to AM 1260, where it might well be renamed “K-Salieri”).

“It’s the best case scenario for me,” said morning DJ Sean Parr. “It’s like a dream come true. Clay Walker does a song called ‘Dreamin’ with My Eyes Wide Open’ - if I could have wished for a perfect scenario, I could hone my skills and get chance to practice for a month on the AM side and then bring it over to the FM side ready to roll and that’s exactly the way it happened.”

Parr says diehard country fans emailed constantly saying we’re listening on the AM (1260 and 540) even with all the static. Since the switch to the 18,000-watt FM signal, Parr says the phones haven’t stopped ringing with calls from grateful country music fans.

“A lot of people felt like they had lost a piece of their family and are so glad to have a familiar voice come back in the morning. People are crying to us on the phone. You could not believe the reaction. The passion - I’ve never seen it – in twenty years of radio. The phones just never stop. Every call is the same. ‘Thank you! Thank you!’ ”

And the country mix is a lot broader than it was on KZLA-FM 93.9 (now rhythmic adult contemprary hits KMVN-FM ‘Movin’ 93.9 with Rick Dees.)

“KZLA was pretty corporate run and the music was pretty tightly run I played what I was told to play” explained Parr. “We were playing around five hundred songs. This is the first time I’ve ever worked for a station where I was asked what I thought about the music. They've allowed me to bring in music from my library of hits from the past 25 years in Southern California. (Go Country Program Director) Mike Johnson is fantastic. We just see eye to eye. We both are about the same age and his philosophy is ‘just play the hits.”

Parr says one reason Mt Wilson FM Broadcasting President Saul Levine was able to re-launch the country music format in L.A. before the big corporations did was because he wasn’t asking for the moon and the stars. He says the giant broadcasting corporations typically demand concessions such as free stations concerts by the big Nashville stars in exchange for on air exposure.

Parr added that Levine is very positive about the potential of country music here. At KZLA, management didn’t believe the format had much appeal in ethnically diverse Los Angeles.

“My boss used to say to me KZLA is a 'two-share' radio station. I disagree with that. We sell more concert seats than anyone. If you do it right you can be much bigger. I really think that we got a great mix we’re doing it right and we really have an opportunity to make this happen.”

Star 98.7 adds New York DJ to lineup

Star 98.7 (KYSR-FM 98.7) has hired New York DJ Yvonne Velazquez to take over the weekday 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. “All Request Workday” slot vacated when Lisa Foxx joined the morning show as co-host with Sean Valentine.

Most recently, Velazquez was the night DJ on WNEW in New York. Before that she was the voice of MTV Satellite Radio.

“Joining STAR 98.7 is an unbelievable opportunity for me to reunite with my former morning show partner and mentor (Star 98.7 Program Director) Charese Fruge and to work for a station where I am truly passionate about the music. I am forever thankful to (KYSR General Manager) Craig Rossi, Charese and everyone at Star for saying – ‘Welcome to Hollywood’ – I’m going to enjoy every minute.”

KFWB’s Andy Ludlum named program director

KFWB-AM 980 News Director Andy Ludlam has been named program director, taking over from David G. Hall who will now focus exclusively on programming sister station, news/talk KNX-AM 1070.

“We have a great team of anchors, reporters, writers, editors and producers, totally dedicated to providing the best news product and services in Los Angeles,” Ludlum said. “I’m excited about the opportunity to show off what this radio station does on a daily basis.”

KFWB Assistant News Director Paul Gomez replaces Ludlam as news director for the (almost) all-news outlet. KFWB broadcasts Monday Night Football and Dodgers baseball.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Radio Column February 24, 2007

Listening In

February 23, 2007

Marc Germain a.k.a. Mr. KABC will join KTLK-AM 1150

By Sandy Wells

Mr. KABC winds up 10 years of your questions, his answers

I recently asked Mr. KABC for an interview about completing ten years at KABC-AM 790. No mean achievement in this competitive market. I wanted to ask him how he felt about being on for a decade, about changes in how he approached the show and the callers, plus any general observations about changes and trends in talk radio. He said he’d get back to me.

A week later he told me he had decided to end his career at KABC.

“KABC’s decision based on network pressure to carry the second hour of Mark Levin would have pushed my show an hour later,” he wrote. “Since I didn’t think that was good for my family, advertisers or listeners, I made the decision to leave the station.”

It was odd that the station appeared ready to move the Ask Mr. KABC Show when things were going so well.
”With the ratings and revenue success, in the fall ’06 Arbitron, my show was No. 1 midnight to 1 a.m. and No. 2 10 p.m. to midnight, I plan to find another good home for the show quickly and listeners will be informed if they leave their email addresses for me at I had ten great years at KABC because of my loyal listeners.”

He went through a similar situation ten years ago when KFI-AM 640 announced it was going to make room for the Phil Hendrie Show by moving Ask Mr. KFI (his former name) from his 9 a.m. to midnight position to midnight to 3 a.m. Mr. K walked rather than take the overnight shift.

On the conservative-leaning KABC, the liberal host went through ups and downs. He was placed in the morning show and paired with voice artist Brian Whitman (now on talk station KLSX-FM 97.1 weeknights from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. with Tim Conway, Jr) and later endured the absurd “Concentrated Mr. KABC” where he was reduced to an hour sandwiched between the Stephanie Miller Show and Art Bell.

For now, Mr. K appears to remain, as always, “better than most, not as good as some.”

Al Franken runs for Senate

Another liberal talk show host has taken leave from the ionosphere, as it were. Air America star host and Saturday Night Live alum Al Franken exited the recently sold left-leaning talk radio network to make a run for a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Heard on KTLK-AM 1150, where the comic icon has publicly butted heads with Fox News Channel and Westwood One syndicated host Bill O’Reilly (heard locally on KABC-AM 790), Franken often strained to translate his hilarious onstage persona to radio.

KTLK in the mean time is making an impact with veteran radio hosts Randi Rhodes, Ed Schultz and Franken’s replacement, Thom Hartmann, who now is heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon.

KTLK's Thom Hartmann

XM to wed Sirius?

When the two giant satellite radio companies XM and Sirius were formed, the FCC stipulated that the two were not to merge. That would be anti-competitive. Well after years of bleeding red ink - more than a combined billion and a half dollars, according to industry publication Inside Radio - the two appear ready to come together in a $13 billion merger deal. They are asking the FCC to change its stance and allow the union, hoping that the pro-business Bush administration will be lenient. Terrestrial broadcasters are furious.

“Given the government’s history of opposing monopolies in all forms, NAB would be shocked if federal regulators permitted a merger of XM and Sirius. It bears mentioning that regulators summarily rejected a similar monopoly merger of the nation’s only two satellite television companies - DirecTV and DISH Network - just a few years back,” fumed National Association of Broadcasters’ Executive Vice President Dennis Wharton. “When the FCC authorized satellite radio, it specifically found that the public would be served best by two competitive nationwide systems. Now, with their stock prices at rock bottom and their business model in disarray because of profligate spending practices, they seek a government bail-out to avoid competing in the marketplace. In coming weeks, policymakers will have to weigh whether an industry that makes Howard Stern its poster child should be rewarded with a monopoly platform for offensive programming. We’re hopeful that this anti-consumer proposal will be rejected.”

Satellite radio execs argue that iPods, Internet radio and other increasingly available audio content sources will insure plenty of options for consumers.

Ex Arrow Program Director rebounds in Chicago

The architect of the “Arrow 93” format on KCBS-FM 93.1 (now “Jack FM”) has rebounded with a dream announcing gig in his home town. Tommy Edwards was named the PA Address Announcer for the Chicago Bulls for the 2006-2007season, a job he held for 14 years in before coming to LA. He credited with being the first sports PA Announcer to use the recording of “Rock ’n’ Roll Pt. 2” by Gary Glitter to rally the fans.

Edwards was the creative force behind the “All Rock ‘n Roll Oldies” format that enjoyed great success for more than a decade here in Southern California.