Radio AM to FM: February 13, 2004
Story's Broadcast Story
Fifty-five years ago tomorrow, a young man took a temporary job as a fill-in announcer, and ended up being one of the most popular radio and television personalities in Los Angeles.
It was February 14, 1949 when KNX (1070 AM) launched their new morning show, Heart of the Morning. There was only one problem: they didn't have a host. So Ralph Story was flown in from New York as a temp, with the expectation that he would return to WOR/New York once a permanent host was found. Story was part of The John Gambling Show in the Big Apple.
"I don't think the ads even mentioned my name," Story told me. "I was just there on a temporary basis while they tried to decide on a permanent host."
Yet that may have been the reason for his success. "I was loose as a goose and having a wonderful time," he said, explaining that he really didn't have a script or a plan. "But that was just what they needed, and they asked me to stay."
The rest, as they say, is history. Some of that history:
He was a fighter pilot in World War II.
His career plan was to teach speech and English.
His first on-air job was as a staff announcer for a radio station in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
His first television appearance was in 1954 as host of a Summer game show, "What do you have in Common."
In 1960 he became a regular contributor to The Big News on KNXT Channel 2.
He was the narrator for the pilot episode of ABC Television's Alias Smith and Jones.
He was Mr. Local Los Angeles, with such popular television shows and specials as Ralph Story's Los Angeles, Ralph Story's AM, and Things That Aren't Here Anymore.
He's smart enough to use a Mac.
Happy anniversary, Ralph!
The end of an era occurred on Tuesday when KIIS-FM's (102.7) morning man Rick Dees announced he was stepping down from the microphone he used to wake up Southern California for the past 22 years.
Well, perhaps stepping down isn't the correct term. "It has been decided that I will no longer be doing the daily morning radio show at KIIS-FM," Dees told his listeners Tuesday morning. In an interview with allaccess.com, he was more blunt: "It all came as a big surprise to me and it's not my choice."
Dees came to Los Angeles in 1979 to help rejuvenate KHJ (930 AM). Unfortunately KHJ went Country in late 1980, and he eventually found himself out of a job. He arrived at KIIS-FM in 1982, at a time when top-40 radio was considered dead, and -- as part of a phenomenal air staff that included Paul Freeman, Big Ron O'Brien, Bruce Vidal and Brother Bill -- helped propel the station to FM ratings highs that have yet to be matched.
In recent years, KIIS-FM has fallen on hard times. Instead of the ratings powerhouse and music trendsetter it was in the 1980s, it has since become an embarrassing has-been with ratings that seem to get lower and lower each month. Is this Dees' fault? No, the fault lies wholly with management for letting the station live on its past glory ... although one could argue that he wasn't at his prime any more. It must have been hard to do a great morning show day after day on a station that, due to bad music selection, bad promotions, bad production, and overall bad presentation has been in decline for over a decade ... especially when he was there when the station was great.
Yet he continued to attract a sizable audience of all ages, and he managed to stay at the station, and earn huge profits for it as well, for over twenty years -- a feat almost unheard of in the business. For that, he should be proud. And perhaps more impressively, he did it without being crude, shocking or rude, and without putting anyone down. Through it all, Dees was an on-air class act, fun and positive, even at the end when he told his listeners how much he loved them.
So what's in his future? He will continue for now, at least, with the syndicated countdown show, Rick Dees' Weekly Top-40. And he may end up on another station, especially if a competing company wanted to take on a very vulnerable KIIS-FM directly. In the meantime, Ryan Seacrest, who recently left Star 98.7 will be the new morning man at KIIS. This may be an interesting year ...
Copyright © 2004 Richard Wagoner and The Copley Press.
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