[../../../_private/magazine_tmp.htm]Whooo Are the Night Owls?

By Jason Borge
   Life without late-night radio is something Oceanside resident Issac Davis would rather not think about. As a gas station attendant working the graveyard shift, Davis, sustain him until daybreak. He calls the request lines of these stations on a regular basis. And on the rare occasion when he forgets to bring his boombox to work, the monotony is almost too much to bear. "Seems like I'm here forever without my radio," he said. "They always play my songs."
 Other county residents, like Escondido security guard Bill Bookas, would rather listen to talk or sports all night. "I'm a big sports man," Bookas said. "If they had football at 2 a.m., I'd listen." Davis and Bookas are two representatives of a large pool of late-night radio junkies - "night owls." From nurses and security guards to restless college students, night owls are lately taking an active role on the San Diego airwaves. Some, like Davis, are bored and alone. Others are simply lonely. But most listeners appear to be benefiting from stations' increasingly interactive styles.
   And deejays don't seem to mind sharing their time- or their microphone. Gnarley Charlie (Brian Beaumark) a former disc jockey for urban contemporary station Z-90, estimated he takes up to 200 dedications a night. "Everyone that calls gets on the air," Beaumark said, adding that he always answers his own phone. Although he said the ages of his listeners range from 13 to about 45, the majority of Gnarlie's calls come from third-shift working women, often nurses in their 20s, requesting "down-tempo new school" pop ballads for loved ones.
   The most memorable exception was a call from a teen-age girl contemplating suicide several months ago. Beaumark stayed on the line (off the air) comforting and counseling her during his entire shift. The following morning a local crisis hotline representative called to tell Beaumark that the girl was out of danger and to thank him for his help. Most listeners' problems are less severe, however. Insomnia keeps 23-year-old college student, Kurt Benjamin, tuned to 91X . "There's nothing on TV," Benjamin said. "I can't go to sleep, and I'm used to being wired."
   Honest John (Peterson), a late-night DJ for country station KSON - San Diego's top-rated station - separates his audience into four categories. Like Gnarley Charlie, Peterson includes those listeners who are working all-night shifts. He noted, however, that for KSON, the graveyard shift is probably the smallest group. Far more prevalent are college and high school students, general "partyers." But Peterson described the largest group as the "folks tired of the tube who have put in a tough day at work." His callers range from men or women from Camp Pendleton whose spouses are headed overseas to regular callers who just "want a chance to be there." He knows several of them on a first-name basis. "There is a gal who calls nine times a month," Peterson said. "All she has to do is say 'Hi,' and I say, 'Hi, Jennifer. Song for Bobby?'"
   KSON program director Mike Shepard said Arbitron ratings figures have shown an increase in the number of listeners from midnight to 6 a.m., but advertisers remain hesitant to purchase overnight air-time. "It's unfortunate, because it's a real loyal audience." he said.
As for call-ins, Shepard said the station doesn't keep statistics on volume. "Only 3 to 4 percent of the actual audience ever calls, so we don't put that much significance on it," he said.
   Figures on late-night calls are hard to come by. Radio & Records, a national industry monthly publication, doesn't keep any records on numbers of listener calls.
Nevertheless, to many DJs and their listeners, interaction is of paramount importance. John Van Zante, program director and talk radio host for KCEO, which specializes in business and financial news, views his station's format as public service to its listeners.
But KSON's Peterson perceives the night-owl connection between deejays and listeners as something more visceral than mere public service. He sees his show as a chance to "be what folks need."
"To touch as many people as you can," he said of his intentions. "People who have 3.2 kids, mortgage and a car - people like me."

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