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.

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