BY SANDY WELLS
In January 1968 three announcements in three consecutive days foretold the future of news radio in the Southland. First General Manager George Nicholaw announced that KNX would adopt a news format beginning April 15. The following day, Westinghouse Broadcasting, which had recently purchased top 40 KFWB, said it would start its own all-news operation March 11. On the third day, radio programming pioneer Gordon McLendon, who had been operating an all-news format on XTRA, a Mexican station with studios in San Diego, declared he would drop back-to-back news in favor of pop music.
"At the time, people said, 'Why don't you move up your start to March 1?' " recalled Nicholaw, who still oversees the CBS-owned station.
"I said, 'Look, there's room for both of us in this city.' I said that then, and it's still true today."
Before KFWB went on the air, the engineers, announcers and reporters went through a week-long dry run, "broadcasting" into the station's offices and a hotel room to get off to a smooth start. At the helm was KFWB's first news director, Herb Humphries.
"KFWB was an instant success in the L.A. market," wrote Humphries in the second edition of Don Barrett's book, "Los Angeles Radio People." "On the day it went on the air, there was only one client advertising on the station. That just happened to be Westinghouse Electric. KFWB was out of the red in three months."
In 1967, Nicholaw, enjoying a successful career with CBS Television, heard that network chief William S. Paley planned to convert all CBS-owned AM stations to solid news.
"At the time, people said I was crazy to go from TV into radio," Nicholaw said. "When I was working at WBBM-TV in Chicago, I was tuning around the dial, and I heard WNUS, which was McLendon's all-news station there. I went over to see it and find out how they do it. There were two guys separated by glass: one was the anchor and one was the field reporter."
Although a modest operation by today's standards, the set-up intrigued Nicholaw. When Paley announced his plan, the former Monterey, Calif. DJ knew he wanted to be part of this hot development in radio.
KNX's first news director, Jim Zallian, demanded high standards from his writers and reporters. He insisted on grammatically correct field reports.
Today, although both L.A. news stations are CBS-owned, the rivalry between KFWB and KNX continues.
"They want us to be hugging and kissing each other, and at the same time, fierce competitors," Nicholaw said.