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LARADIO.COM Op-Ed by Tom August
Published Thursday, June 1, 2000 on http://www.laradio.com/
“L. A. Radio is Boring”
I’m getting tired of radio in the Los Angeles market. And if one person, myself, feels this way, think of how many other people feel the same way. To me, radio in this city is boring. Why? I believe that station managers are not broadcasters in the old sense, but merely accountants that don’t know radio. How did I come to this conclusion?
When you hear “Unbreak My Heart” ten times during an eight-hour period.
When you hear Kenny G. once each hour during the day.
When you hear the exact same music being repeated 90 minutes later.
When you hear the exact same songs being repeated twenty-four hours later, almost to the second.
When you hear the same 200 songs being repeated over and over again day in and day out.
Who’s to blame? Station managers, “program” directors, sales managers, air people, or all the above? It seems that the owners don’t care since all of the major stations are owned by two corporations. You know who they are.
Why am I on this rant? Here we are, in the entertainment capitol of the world. There is more talent here than in any other part of the world. There is more recorded music here than most anywhere. Why can’t it be exploited? I’m an “oldies” fan, and I have more [oldies] music in my library than all of the Oldies stations in all of California combined.
When I was on radio in Sacramento during the mid-sixties to early seventies, I had an average listening audience of over 325,000 people (ARB fall quarter 1965 thru spring quarter 1971). This was when the total population for the city of Sacramento was 225,000. I was outdrawing television on Friday nights. And my main program on Sunday mornings was sold out six months in advance, and the revenue paid 75% of the station’s overhead.
The GM/PD gave me the freedom to do something different. How many GM’s, PD’s, or whoever can say that today? You tell me.
In a single station market you have a captive audience; in a multi-station market you have competition; in the Los Angeles market, who cares who wins? As “broadcasters,” you should care. Don’t forget the ratings. The higher the ratings the more you can charge for advertising. I shouldn’t have to remind you of this. With more people tuning out, the lower the ratings. How do you keep listeners?
1. Quit the repetition. Put more music in rotation. A minimum number of titles should be 1200, in all formats.
2. KZLA, how many Hank Williams, senior, or Juice [Judy] Newton or David Allen Coe titles have you played in the past two years.
3. KRTH, how many Bobby Rydell or Gene Pitney or the Royal Teens titles have you played in the past ten years?
4. KCBS-FM, how many Pacific Gas and Electric or Ten Years After titles have you played in the last five years?
5. KCMG, how many non-disco titles have you played in the last twenty-four hours?
6. KOST/KBIG, how many Barry Manilow or Barbra Streisand have you played in the past five years?
7. KTWV, how many times have you played Cal Tjader, Dave Brubeck, or Charlie Byrd? That’s smooth jazz!
8. How many radio stations have more than 200 titles in their libraries?
9. How much music has been recorded in all formats during the last fifty years?
The answers to #8 & 9 are one and a lot. The answers to #2 thru #7 can be answered by the stations that I picked on, and the artists that I mentioned are just a few of the very many that aren’t being played. There’s so much good to great music out there that it’s impossible to mention in this article. The question I have is simple: Why isn’t it being played? And I’m not talking about one-hit wonders; I’m talking about all artists that aren’t being played period!
According to many artists/performers, when approaching a PD with a new recording, the artist is told that the station will have to drop an artist to add a new one.
Did you know that you can get over an hour of music on a [single] CD? Did you know that you can get five hours of music in stereo on a “zip” or mini-disc? Do you know how any CD’s or “zip” discs you can store in the same space that it takes to store 100 vinyl LP’s? Did you know that you can purchase a commercial stand-alone CD recorder for $700, and the CD’s can be played on any CD player? Stations dropping one artist/performer to add a new one is pure stupidity, yet some stations are doing it. Why? You tell me.
How do I know this when I’m not in broadcasting today? Again, the answer is simple: I pay attention. If I go to work for a broadcaster I’d be expected to follow the “rules.” I’m not a follower, I’m an innovator. That’s how I got and can get results. My programs are listened to. It’s hard to turn off the radio when you’re having fun.
Let me illustrate my point further. I helped a friend program a radio station on Long Island in New York State. Since we didn’t have a FCC license, we put the station on cable. [WPTS 95.5] The only way you could hear us was you had to hook your FM receiver to the cable, then tune us in. In a ten over-the-air station market, we were number 3 in the ratings the first time out. How did we do it? We listened to all the stations in the market to see what they were doing, then did something [everything] different. If you pay attention to what’s happening in your market, forget syndication (that’s for the stations that are in the middle of nowhere and can’t afford talent), do something different. Increase your music libraries, hire talent that knows music and can’t fake it, the audience can usually tell; and be creative. This will increase listeners.
KBIG and KOST are supposed to be different, yet they sound similar. It shouldn’t surprise anyone because they are owned by the same corporation. KRTH, KOLA and KZLA need a lot of help to keep them on the map. KTWV needs lessons as to the difference between smooth jazz and blues. KCMG needs to come down from the pedestal they think they’re on. These are just a few of the stations I’ve listened to over the past fifteen years, and I’ve listened to almost everybody in the L. A. market. I’m not Latino, yet I’ve listened to stations programmed for that market, and a couple sound like they’re broadcasting from a toilet (way too much echo). I’m not sure if they’re in the L. A. market, but they put in a strong signal here.
If you don’t believe me, listen to your station for more than fifteen minutes, then listen to the competition to see if you’re copying them or if they’re copying you.
Why am I not in broadcasting today? Because I would have to follow “rules.” I wouldn’t be able to add music to the library. I wouldn’t be able to do something different. I wouldn’t be able to make the station number one in the ratings. In the past, a radio station was used as a tax write-off for a corporation of wealthy investors. When the station became profitable, it was sold and the process started over. I have personally seen this in more than one case.
With these mega-mergers, where’s the competition? If there’s one or two owners in a multi-station market, who needs to compete? All the bucks are going into one or two pockets. If one station fails, the other stations will support it. This happens in the retail business every day. Without competition there’s stagnation, which we’re hearing today. It should be evident with the amount of repetition that’s taking place.
Back a few years ago, there were specialized stations. KHJ, KFWB and KRLA were Top 40; KMPC and KABE were variety (as I remember); KDAY featured “Urban” (in today’s terms); KPOL was classical and serious popular (elevator); and so on down the dial. The key word you don’t hear today is “variety” from a single station. Can it be done? Will it be profitable? Can each air personality bring in their kind (or type) of music and have a good-sized audience. It was done in the past. Will it be done in the future? Only you know the answers.
Here’s another stupid idea: Have a telemarketing company make random calls to the average listener, play a few seconds of a song, then ask the listener if he was offended by it. The song that offended the most people never made it on the air. How many L. A. radio stations are doing that today? A lot! [In fact, almost all.]
How about community involvement? There’s a small station out on the east end of Long Island, New York, that’s heavily involved with their community. That’s the station we couldn’t beat with our cable radio station mentioned The station is WLNG AM & FM in Sag Harbor. They’re constantly doing remotes from this festival to that store opening (or sale). WLNG is there with their brightly painted bus. You can’t miss them. If I was to go back into radio today, I’d do it similar to Paul Sidney’s WLNG. It’s a toughie to beat. [ed. note: In the years since this Op-Ed was published, Paul sold off the AM (days only) to a bible thumper. His FM operation is still going strong.]
What kills radio today? Is it like stupid management decisions? [Like the “hold your pee for a Wii” stunt in which a woman died.] Is it making too much money because it becomes unprofitable due to taxes? As I see it, most management lacks the foresight to turn a talent loose. [Phil Hendrie is an exception.] Well, how can you manage a L. A. radio station when your office is in New York? A good manager has to get down in the trenches with the help to direct the workers [talent]. You can’t do it by remote control! Take some advice from some top-level managers in the retail field. You have to sell the product (programs). If the consumer (listener) doesn’t buy your product, they’ll go elsewhere. Why are there so many department stores? Is it price, quality, service, courtesy, all the above or none of the above?
And another thing, if you listen to yourselves you’ll notice one glaring mistake, you’re buying listeners. You’re giving away money, trips, cars, or anything that says, “Listen to me, I’ll make you rich.” You’re not giving your audience the entertainment that they deserve. The only reason you’re playing music is to separate the commercials.
A lot of the information for this piece came from the pages of http://www.laradio.com/, and I do not believe for a moment that anything was taken out of context. Only the names have been deleted to protect the innocent (if there were any innocent).
The following was published by Don Barrett’s “Email Saturday” page on Saturday, June 3, 2000.
“As for being psychic, Tom August’s rant, excuse me, commentary, was right on as far as KBIG/KLAC’s changes and the one-note one-theme running through KBIG and KOST, as well as the lack of “Classics” aired on KZLA (other than Mac Davis’ program). A fine example of how to program a successful country station is right down the road at KFRG in the Inland Empire, which features 2-3 classics an hour, as well as heavy community involvement and an on-going “Hometown Handshake” that is currently being ripped off by other local stations. Unfortunately, KFRG is an anomaly as far as being in touch with their listeners, for unless the Southern California market is prepared to hear nothing but Top 15 and Talk in the future, programmers are going to have to start listening to the people they supposedly service, otherwise a lot of dials are going to go dark. Thanks again, Don, for keeping us aware and informed about the radio we love.”
Julie, Temple City
And here are a few emails I personally received following the Op-Ed piece.
Friday, June 2, 2000
I have spent 25 years in the radio business, and you are a man after my own heart. You hit the nail right on the head. I have been saying the very same thing for years.
The ONLY bad part about it is that it will fall on deaf ears. EVERY programmer that is now involved in radio is merely a “yes” man. All they care about is keeping their jobs and will do ANYTHING to accomplish that. This is the exact reason why NO ONE in the radio business will take a chance anymore. The type of radio you talk about is what I grew up listening to. (I was born and raised in Los Angeles.) I was there the day KHJ became Boss Radio (and have the air checks to prove it). I was there for “Color Radio KFWB,” and the wonderful years of KRLA with Hudson, Kasem, Hull, Eubanks, etc., etc. Unfortunately, WE will never hear this kind of radio again because the only sound that radio station honchos care to hear anymore is the sound of of cash jingling in their pockets. Two of the biggest culprits are Mike Phillips at K-EARTH and Jahni (don’t call me Johnny) Kaye at KBIG, KOST, etc. They are nothing but puppets that will bend over just to stay in radio. My philosophy has been that radio stations should make you feel like you’re missing something by NOT listening. As I write this, I am listening to an Unscoped hour of Humble Harve on KHJ from November of 1969. And yes, our memories do serve us correctly…radio WAS wonderful in those days. What radio needs are more people like you that are innovative and care enough to ENTERTAIN their audience. I just don’t think any of these corporations that own EVERY station in town care to have people like us around. We are a threat to their main concern in life…the almighty dollar. Thanks,
Friday, June 2, 2000
I concur with the observation of “boring” radio. It’s more systemic than we know.
With the vast array of music available, past, present, current, call them whatever, there seems to be a lack of information about the music & the artist.
But then I was turned on to AOR via KZAP [Sacramento] during the early 70s and got into radio via KDVS (Davis) then worked at Earth Radio 102 (KSFM) . Moved to LA & dabbed in big time radio in ’76 via KNAC & KEZY but saw the writing on the wall. Tighter control over music so played at KXLU.
Who plays Frank Zappa, Dan Hicks,…..endless of missing on air.
Who even remembers real musical segues?
Why did we have to loose our connection to the air personality and their music? You knew who was on the air by the music “they” selected.
I miss musical variety.
I moved to Detroit market in ’97. Boring here too, hmmm.
Glad there are those, like yourself, who can better express thoughts I carry.
Now I wish I’d airchecked all of my shows just for the musical value. I kept my playlist though!
So I wrote K H back about KSFM and the guys, as I used to know most of them.
“Yep, that was Donald [Don Wright] and Michael Sheehy that started Earth Radio 102. It was in Woodland at the converted “cow barn.” Don hired me in ’74 (their first female DJ) at a damn good wage ($10 an hour) then $800 per month. There was a playlist, rather play categories (which I was known to stray from more than often).
Friday, June 2, 2000
I related to much of what you said and I’d love to hear more. By the way, as a morning show broadcaster, I’ve been known to play David Allen Coe’s “You Never Even Called Me By My Name.” [one of my Country favorites]
I’m currently out of work but moving to LA and keeping my fingers crossed as I press the flesh. Is that a death wish or what? Actually, my wife took a killer job. She’s in radio sales management.
Thursday, June 1, 2000
Read your piece with great interest. Couldn’t help respond to your quote “Should I be on radio today?” What’s your secret?
Mark & Kim
KOST-FM Los Angeles
Well, Mark & Kim, if you read the piece, you’d know the secret.
Let’s cool it with the boring radio.
Thursday, June 1, 2000
Tom – you’re right on target, they’re all a bunch of sheep and don’t know how to be creative. You’re not “nuts.” The people running LA radio stations are “NUTS.” I was on the air at KMPC for 22 years, retired younger than most broadcasters. Our front yard is the Pacific Ocean and life has been very good to us.
I used to listen to Roger on KMPC, and the guy is a class act. His radio programs were really worth listening to. I wish he was still on the air; but retirement can be fun too.
Thursday, June 1, 2000
Hi Tom – They buy stations with big bucks, and then are so afraid of losing their investment that they won’t take chances. It certainly is difficult to listen, though it may not be as bad in my area (California central coast) as it is in LA. I do get a kick out of “Radio A Go Go” on KRLA, but there’s just too little of it. I had some fun in Fresno in the mid-80s at KYNO-AM. We had a big playlist and brought back the old Drake jingles – it was fun, though an FM eventually killed us off- KYNO is now Spanish Catholic Family Radio! I’m glad Don Barrett carried your commentary. Will anyone with any power do anything sensible because of it? Don’t hold your breath…sorry. I also have a large CD collection, because I know that if I’m in the mood to hear something, I damn well better own it!
If I owned a radio station, I’d want Rich to work for me. We’d make a helluva team.
Thursday, June 1, 2000
What a piece of work, and I say that with a smile. You have said what I have been thinking for so long. Radio today is boring, and management/owners have become arrogant in their programming skills. They’re positioning themselves with the attitude, “give the audience what we think they need.” I usually listen to tapes or CDs in my car…when tuning in KRTH, they’re playing Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” or Wilson Pickett’s “In The Midnight Hour.”
Recently, while visiting Las Vegas, my wife and I were in the El Cortez Casino and the music service that they use is an oldies format, but with a difference…..not just the same 200 songs we hear over and over, but numerous gems and artists we have not heard played anywhere in years! It was exciting to listen, because you knew something different was coming up next.
Like you, I have been an avid collector of music since the age of nine in 1956 with my first single “My Blue Heaven.” [By Fats Domino] After being exposed to Color Radio-KFWB, became fascinated with it and eventually ended up working in the business…mostly in sales and management, but my heart was in programming, music and the talent.
Since my wife and I grew up in Los Angeles, we have gravitated towards listening to Oldies, but we like Country, light Jazz, and even more contemporary music played on KOST and KBIG…but these stations are like KRTH, just play the same music and ignore the great artists of yesterday.
I teach radio and television broadcasting at several Orange County colleges, and through my collection of music, airchecks and jingles, I am able to share with them how it all came together for Rock ‘n’ Roll. It is interesting to see and hear the reactions of students as they listen to Gary Owens from ’62, or Bill Balance in ’59, or “Transfusion” by Nervous Norvous!
Prior to the tightening of the format at KRTH, Brian Berne was allowed a Saturday Night Special every so often to play those “forgotten favorites.” Even Huggy Boy has had to tighten up his playlist and return to the same routine…..”My Girl”…..
It seems evident that with the current smug attitude of stations, this situation will only hasten the exodus of listeners who will find that “ten in a row” of the same redundant music can be corrected by putting in a tape or listening to CD’s.
We were lucky to have grown up with radio that was not so specialized in format. We grew to appreciate hearing the various types of artists and songs on one station whether the music was rock, country, jazz, instrumentals, or even novelty records. This is a point I stress in my classes…students are urged to listen to all types of formats to prepare themselves for working at any station.
Because of this, I believe over-the-air stations are an endangered species. We will have numerous other forms of communications to deliver music into our homes…and existing wireless stations will not be needed since they do not provide something special in their programming.
I could go on, but we already agree…no one wants to take a chance on being different.
John, I want to use your crystal ball to see if I hit the lottery. You wrote that letter eight years ago, and look at what we have today. A completely wireless telephone that can access the Internet, take photographs, and upload them to a website. The same telephone can receive almost any radio or TV station in the country, and present it in color on a 2-inch screen. One day, I’ll audit one of John’s classes.
Thursday, June 1, 2000
Tom – I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m stuck in a truck all day and some days I turn the radio off it’s so bad. I am an Oldies fan as well. I can’t stand KRTH. Their big problem is they think Motown is the only thing out of the 60s worth playing. Thanks for your letter. Maybe they’ll listen to you as a radio man. God knows I’ve written to them and they don’t care about me, I’m only a listener. – Jim [in Lancaster, CA]
Jim, I’m only a listener too, as I’m not in broadcasting any longer. Besides, they won’t listen to me either, because their minds are made up. I’d just confuse them with the facts.
Thursday, June 1, 2000
Tom – Thank you for having the “stones” to call it like it is, especially the bribery aspect of keeping listeners, well numbers would be more accurate. Miss the 50s sound of KFWB, where real DJ’s pulled their own music, and sank or swam on their talent. I would have called KMPC MOR, before the days of playlists. And who could forget the great sounds of KRHM/KBCA days of real jazz. You’ve got my ear, please tell me more. And for what it’s worth I loved every day I was in front of a microphone, but most especially pulling and airing a show. – John
John, I remember the KMPC talent. Dick Wittinghill, Gary Owens and Roger Carroll especially. I couldn’t wait for Gary’s “Story Lady.” Those were some of the funniest bits on radio. I understand that they are/were syndicated.
Thursday, June 1, 2000
Tom – Okay I read your rant on LA Radio and I agree that the radio situation in Los Angeles can be described as a vast wasteland. You are correct, many collections on a single CD seem to have more programming than some stations. My present solution is to buy a megachanger and put in a whole bunch of my favorite CD’s (I like Beautiful Music, Classical and New Age the most plus some big band, etc.) set it on random play and I have my own station that plays great music and does not go through pointless format changes. (Sometimes the new format is indistinguishable from the old one.) Ever wonder why hardly anybody makes good radio receivers any more?
Tony – I have the solution. Download “T-Player” from the Internet. It’s freeware; however, it features a dual deck. It automatically does cross fades, and can be programmed for random play. Rip your CD’s to your computer, tell “T-Player” where to look, push the “GO” button and listen away. By the way, it works 100% better than most radio station automation systems. As an aside, I loaded 2,000 tracks into “T-Player,” set it on random play, and it played for two weeks before I heard a repeat.
Thursday, June 1, 2000
I agree 100% with your comments in LA radio people. Have you ever heard of my show “Rhapsody In Black?” 8 to 10 Wednesday nights on KFPK 90.7 FM.
Yes, Bill, I used to listen, but not as frequently as I would have wanted to. You’re another guy that I would want to work for me; that is, if I had a radio station.
Thursday, June 1, 2000
Read your article today – as a layman who enjoys/likes music, what you said makes a lot of sense. Go to work for a station and I will listen.
Hey, now I have two listeners: my wife and Jack.
Saturday, June 3, 2000
WOW – I couldn’t agree more, Tom. Really good piece.
Bill at Lake Tahoe
Bill, if my non-existent radio station reached Lake Tahoe, I’d have three listeners, and three employees.
All in all, I didn’t receive any negative comments about my piece; however, I did receive over 100 hundred favorable comments, and a lot of them came from real radio people.
As a matter of fact, I received a email wanting me to go to work for a small radio station. I checked them out, and it seems that I would be stuck with their playlist, and no funny stuff (ala: Gary Owens or Don MacKinnon). For the money they offered, I’d have been better off flipping burgers at Mickey D’s. And I wouldn’t have to relocate.