With such burning issues as whether
Burger King or McDonalds make the best French fries; "Seinfeld"
going off the air and the Hunter Tylo vs. Melrose Place case
dominating conversations around the nation's water coolers at
year's end, L.A.'s talk radio soup was getting a little thin.
In terms of generating front-burner issues, the politics of culture
has - at least temporarily - displaced the politics of politics.
Not that important topics aren't still out there, but the China
trade, energy deregulation and the federal budget surplus aren't
exactly jamming the phone lines at KABC or KFI. The hosts with
the biggest conservative cultural axes to grind, such as Dr. Laura
and Dennis Prager, have taken the lead in the talk sweepstakes.
Even Limbaugh is softening up a bit, which is not to say that
trivial talk shows are winning everywhere. Stations with a lifestyle
talk lite agenda, such as KLSX and the Zone, struggle, even die.
The momentum for talk radio still lies with socially conservative
Last year, under the leadership of General Manager Maureen Lesourd, Disney/ABC Radio launched "The Zone"
- rechristening the venerable KMPC - to capsize KABC's arch-rival
and nemesis, KFI. KTZN's on-air promos and billboards proclaimed that talk radio wasn't "just a
guy thing anymore" and touted the comeback of talk therapist
Dr. Toni Grant. Also aboard were the familiar voices of Yolanda Gaskins and Joe
Crummey. Tracey Miller combo'd
with radio neophyte Robin
Abcarian to make for some morning
fun. The new station wasn't given much time to make up leeway,
though. All the past failures at the 710 spot seemed to weigh
in behind it - the 1991 the sports talk debacle, the nondescript
"710 Talk" KMPC. Eight months after its launch, and
with a Talk Radio Station of the Year award to its credit , "The
Zone" was scuttled.
At the same time, the re-tooling of KABC, once the crown jewel
of ABC Radio's owned and operated talk stations began in earnest.
Most shocking was the stripping of kingpin Michael Jackson of
his full time schedule. Like KTZN, Jackson had been the recipient
of a national award before disaster struck: Talkers Magazine
National Association of Radio Talk Show Hosts named him 1997
Talk Show Host of the Year. His pivotal mid-morning weekday slot
was given to the mild-mannered Ronn Owens, a San
Francisco talk host. Owens was imported to beat Rush Limbaugh,
a feat he had already achieved from his studio at the Bay Area's
KGO. Even so, Jackson's Saturday and Sunday three hour shows
are crammed with enough experts and national celebrities to embarrass
the producers of ABC-TV's "This Week." Free-form talker
Mr. KFI came back as Mr.
KABC, entertaining in the same
The controversy surrounding Larry
Elder and his foes in the black
community deepened. Altho tight-lipped about the boycott, rumors
spread that the station was losing considerable income. To stop
the hemorrhage, they cut his time in half and brought in Florida
hot talk personality Ed
Tyll to take over the 5 p.m to
he can take his message of black empowerment and self-reliance
to other cities.
Early in his career at 790, Tyll managed to get into a dispute
with Michael Jackson about the new Getty Center. During a Sunday show
Tyll stopped by the studio to make his case that the cultural
attraction was designed for the city's elite and did not benefit
the average Angeleno. Jackson accused Tyll of "knowing nothing"
about Los Angeles. The same comment might have been directed
at Maureen Lesourd, who was criticized for her decision to demote
Jackson and for what some call the "dumbing down" of
the country's first talk station. Changes on 790 stirred resentments
among the station's core of loyal listeners, already sore about
Roger Barkley's dismissal. Before the year was over, Lesourd
threw in the towel - to borrow a "guy" phrase - and
the Mouse coaxed ex-KLOS general manager Bill Sommers out
of retirement to run its three L.A. stations.
KFI program director David
Hall must be thrilled with the
bargain he's getting out of evening personality Phil Hendrie.
As 1997 wore on, more listeners got in on the joke: Hendrie's
guests were creations of his own versatile voice, knack for goofy
characterization and inspired improvisation. His shift was expanded
to a hefty four hours - from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. While morning
shows may have four or five cast members to keep it fast and
funny, Hendrie manages with just himself. Perhaps marital bliss
has added to his stamina; last summer saw him wed to KFI weekend
Sanchez of the "Walker and Sanchez" show in a ceremony performed on the Queen
Mary. Another weekend woman, Tammy Bruce, was
elevated to full-time nights, taking her gun-toting feminism
to listeners across the entire West, thanks to KFI's flame-throwing
Oprah- John and
Ken - blasted into syndication,
taking their highly rated banter to 50 markets across the land,
including Atlanta, San Diego, Portland, Sacramento, Buffalo,
West Palm Beach and Kansas City.
KLSX-FM continued its quest for gold after the morning Howard Stern
sign-off with Jack
Silver replacing Jay Clark
as program director. Conway
and Steckler were planted in middays
to add more octane to the signal than the Regular Guys-
Larry Wachs and Eric Haessler -
had managed in the 11ish to 3 p.m. slot. Afternoon driver Riki Rachtman
was fired for punching Doug
Steckler in the face during a quarrel
at the station (talk radio with a rock 'n' roll attitude, indeed!)
As a result, Tom
Leykis' syndicated show returned
to L.A. KIIS-FM's erstwhile afternoon phone jammer Nastyman
was given a new lease on life in the evening shift, and Ferrell
on the Bench sports talk was backed further into the night.
Spanish radio came on like gangbusters in 1997, bringing polished
presentation and well-planned marketing strategies to challenge
the status quo. The biggest coup was of the palace variety: KSCA's
Renan displaced KLVE's Pepe Barretto
as the top-rated morning personality
in the city. Both share the same employer, and the change was
probably anticipated when Heftel
Broadcasting hired Renan to help
launch its new ranchera music station in February. The newcomer
ramrodded KLAX-FM, the first Spanish station to be rated No.
the example of Heftel's KTNQ-AM, which became all-talk in April
in the early fall. KKHJ gave up comedy and music for Spanish
all-news in December. KRTO-FM "Ritmo 98.3" was sold
to Cox Broadcasting, which used it to extend KACE-FM's R&B
oldies programming to the east with simulcasting. Riverside's
"Variadades" flipped from a ranchera-flavored mixed
bag to become KSSE-FM, Spanish top 40 pop rocker "Super Estrella." Long Beach's KBUE-FM 105.5 added San Fernando's
country music career as KYKF-FM - a simulcast of Orange County's
"The Zone" Dies; Reborn Happiest Place on the Dial
justice to the conversion of a talk station meant to serve female
listeners to one aimed at what has been the No. 1 world-historical
charge of women: children. Certainly Dr. Laura would approve
of the reallocation of this under-performing 50,000-watt resource
away from the narcissistic banter of the Zone and turning it
into relatively wholesome entertainment for kids. (It also took
rival Dr. Toni Grant off the air). Even Howard Stern admitted
to John Stossel during his interview on ABC's "20/20"
that he would never allow his young daughter to listen to his
own show. With the calvacade of sexual innuendo and other adult
themes - especially on morning shows- KDIS is a relief for concerned
parents. "Radio Disney," a syndicated service based
at ABC Networks in Dallas, has a knack for picking songs that
kids - and some grown-ups - like to hear.
There is something thrilling about hearing Doris Day belt out
"Hooray for Hollywood" on a Los Angeles radio station.
Perhaps that's partly what inspired KGIL's owner Saul Levine
to start a show tunes format last summer. Slated to begin last
January, the "temporary" programming filler of all-Beatles
music ended up lasting almost seven months and came close to
permanently upstaging the Broadway music. The change put Gary Owens
back in the saddle during afternoon-drive. Classical announcer
Rich Capparella, actress Florence
Henderson and supermarket spokesperson
Stephanie Edwards added to the luster. Levine also became the first
Southland broadcaster to put a signal in the extended AM band,
simulcasting KGIL 1260 AM on KGTX 1650. His other Southland AM
frequency, 540 AM, gave up the Beatles to become classical "X-Bach,"
combining the signals of Mexico's XTIN and Costa Mesa's KNOB.
In March, KMEN 1290 AM, the Inland Empire's oldies station invited
its past personalities to a 35th reunion. DJs returning to celebrate
the seminal top 40 rocker colorful history included: Bruce Chandler, Mark Denis, Huckleberry,
William F. Williams, Bobby Otis and
Bill Watson. In June, program director Harley Davidson oversaw
the 1290 dial spot's transition to an adult standards format
L.A. has always seemed too laid-back to generate enough redirected
male competitive rage to levels necessary to support a local
sports station. (Perhaps the recent rise of road rage will stoke
the desire to listen to sports radio.) San Diego's XTRA 690 AM
did a decent job serving L.A. sports fanatics, but now the competition
is in earnest. The proponents of this past year's expansion say
that sports radio has never been done right in this market, as
evidenced by the failure of KMAX-FM and KMPC. 1997 saw two first-class
broadcasting companies step into the ring: Jacor with KXTA 1150
AM and One-On-One Sports' KXMG 1540 AM. Can Big Nasty Joe McDonough
beat Joe Chevalier without biting off his ear? KIIS-AM's conversion
to KXTA brings Jim
Rome to a local signal, but his
idiosyncratic banter may still be confusing to the uninitiated.
Radio: Many Prodigal Returns
Rockers Jim Ladd,
Garth Kemp, Rita Wilde and Raechel Donahue were heard again via KLOS-FM; Joe Benson
and Bob Coburn secured full-time gigs at Arrow 93; KSCA-FM's
former program director and DJ Mike Morrison resurfaced
as the host of "Weekend
Becomes Eclectic" on KCRW-FM; Ryan
Seacrest returned to KYSR-FM, joining
KSCA alum Merilee
Kelly; Tom "Flyjock" Joyner was
revived on KACE-FM and former KKHJ Spanish superstar Renan
returned at "La
KLOS-FM lightened up on its metal content under new program director
John Duncan, who succeeded Carey Curelop at
the beginning of the year. The album-oriented rock format was
revived, with the traditional mix of classic rock cuts and new
music by established artists.
Teflon DJ Morales kept his grip on middays, but the Baka Boyz swapped
shifts with afternoon heavyweight Big Boy. Evenings
saw the replacement of the Krazy
Kids with Cherry Martinez.
B 100.3's (KIBB-FM) abandonment of its rhythmic adult contemporary
format - essentially disco and dance hits of the '80s and '90s
- was a triumph for the little Santa Monica/Newport Beach independent
dance FM. Ironically, Groove
summer after "Groove Radio" originator Swedish Eagle
was ousted, and the station temporarily turned its signals into
a near copy of its more powerful rival. The listeners spoke with
one unmerciful howl of protest, and the format was restored -
with some changes. Perhaps localism came into play in giving
a record store in Long Beach.
It took Howard Stern about a year to push Mark and Brian out
of the No. 1 spot among English-speaking morning competitors,
but 1997 saw the tables turned on the New York mega-mouth. KKBT-FM's
John London and the House Party temporarily bested Stern in
the winter Arbitron audience estimates, giving L.A. a break from
Chancellor Media is a no-nonsense radio company. The result of
the merger/acquisitions of Evergreen - owners of the hugely successful
KKBT-FM ("the Beat") with Viacom and Chancellor, this
new mega-company appropriately chose the name "Mega 100.3"
for its newly acqiured KIBB-FM. With a format modeled after KRLA's
Latino/R&B-flavored oldies mix., 100.3 still seems to have
"pirate radio" in its blood. Last year, under Viacom's
suzerainty, KIBB-FM seemed determined to crush KACD/KBCD-FM with
a dance format launched four months after Groove Radio's debut.
Now, with an even bigger company behind it, it has turned its
sights on little KRLA. Not to feel too bad, however: KRLA is
owned by the country's largest radio group, CBS, Inc. Chancellor
Media also swapped its country station KZLA-FM with Bonneville's
adult contemporary KBIG-FM. Chancellor relocated KBIG to Glendale,
alongside KLAC; and longtime "Big Mix" personalities
Mark Taylor and Sylvia
Aimerito were given pink slips.
The End of History?
The untimely death of the Real
Don Steele and the illness of Robert W. Morgan were shocks to the vibrant KRTH-FM family of super
talents. Both icons of West Coast top 40 radio kept the oldies
sounding as fresh as if the shiny vinyl singles had been slipped
out of their paper sleeves for the first time. With so many stations
playing "oldies" - whether rock classics, mega hits,
R&B dusties or old-school jams - one wonders if oldies are
really all about memories anymore. So much for history; oldies
seem to be part of now radio forever.
and KFWB's evening anchor Vince
Campagna. Both joined their respective
stations when newsradio was in its infancy in the 1960s. Sadly,
Campagna died just days after hanging up his headphones; Rohde
is retired in Florida. Tammy
Trujillo joined the News 98 team
as a full- time anchor, and Bob
McCormick stepped into Rohde's
slot at KNX. KFWB veteran Carol
Ramos joined the KABC morning team
as news anchor with Minyard
and Tilden. Other KABC news additions
included Rob Marenko,
Beverly Gagliano and Janine Kabrich. Tracey Miller found her post-Zone home back on the news beat
for Conway and Steckler on KLSX-FM.
and Reel Fame
KLOS-FM morning maniacs Mark
and Brian were honored with a star
on Hollywood's illustrious Walk of Fame, joined by buds Billy Bob Thornton and John
Travolta. Howard Stern hit the
silver screen with his autobiographical "Private Parts."
Although it was the tale of a New York jock, his story resonated
with DJs everywhere and was a box-office success.
Radio Reexamines Itself
Pacifica Radio's KPFK-FM, under General Manager Mark Shubb,
worked to reverse the decline of the anti-establishment powerhouse
in conservative times. He deleted some idiosyncratic local programming
- Fred Hyatt's 26-year run with "Sunday Opera" and
the audiophile show "Infidelity" - and new ones were
added, such as the left-leaning political talk show "Living
Room" with Larry
The free weekly New Times published a story challenging the reputation
of KCRW-FM as a source of alternative programming, free of undue
commercial influence. "Morning
Becomes Eclectic" DJ and Music
Director Chris Douridas' consulting job with the major record label Dreamworks
was held up as an example of the station's conflicting interests
affecting its influential music shows. In turn, KCRW's longstanding
relationship with New Times arch-rival L.A. Weekly may have heightened
New Times' accusatory tone.
Gone forever in 1997 were the wit, wisdom and talents of Roger Barkley,
The Real Don Steele, Emperor
Bob Hudson, Al Lohman, Bob Arthur, Tom Hall, Fred Anderson,
Vince Campagna, Al "Jazzbeaux" Collins and Mikel
BY SANDY WELLS