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1997's Talk Soup
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 hosts.
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 personality Maria 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 Grows
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 KIKF-FM.
710 AM "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.
Hooray For Showtunes
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.
KMEN Retires Call Letters
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 as KMRZ.
Sports Radio Comeback?
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.
Music 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 Nueva," KSCA-FM.
AOR Comeback
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.
Power 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.
David vs. Goliath
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.
London Beats Stern
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 foreign domination.
Chancellor Flexes Muscles
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.
Oldies: 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.
Newsradio Headliners
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.
Stars 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.
Public 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 Bensky.
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.
Sad Milestones
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 Hunter.

BY SANDY WELLS


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