Radio Column for February 27, 1998

I was cleaning out my filing cabinet today and ran across some old letters dating back about a year. My filing cabinet is kind of like a black hole, mind you -- papers and letters tend to go there never to see the light of day again ... until I am forced to clean it out since nothing new will fit.

Today was one of those clean-out days, and the letters are dated November through December, 1996. The topic of the letters is KSCA (101.9 FM) and its (then) pending sale from Golden West Broadcasters to Heftel Communications, and the subsequent format change.

The letters got me thinking. About KSCA, about Los Angeles radio. Now I could easily go on a rant and rave about the loss of KSCA and what is arguably one of the best rock formats that Los Angeles has ever seen. But I won't. Because the problems of Los Angeles radio -- and radio in general -- go much deeper.

There was a time when you could tune into a station and be entertained without being insulted. When you could find a format -- somewhere on the dial -- that you really liked. When the music stations actually won more news awards than the all-news stations. When personalities actually were considered an integral part of the format and news departments were proud to be the first to run an important story. When the word "quality" was part of a programmer's vocabulary.

Today, quality is a rare commodity. Few stations now have their own news departments, relying instead on services that may not even be based in Southern California. The music stations that do run news do so only in the mornings, and to call their broadcasts "news" is a radio private joke. Personalities are easily exchanged; some don't even have last names. Music is bland and repetitive.

And owners wonder why there are so few loyal listeners.

This all started when the FCC allowed group owners to buy as many stations as they wanted in a market, leading to a situation where the twenty most popular stations in a market are owned by just one, two, or perhaps three companies, essentially giving the owners no incentive to create and great incentive to cut costs. For when your competition is yourself, why would you care if the competition is beating you?

CBS? Jacor? Chancellor? Are you listening? You've created this situation. You've bought up enough stations to launch a mini-network in Los Angeles, and you're taking we the listeners for fools. Fortunately, we may end up getting the last laugh ... when the next broadcast technology comes along and renders your stations that you paid billions of dollars acquiring, essentially worthless. Is radio dead? Not yet. But the long term viability and importance has become diminished under the mega-group model.

The Good Side

Not that all stations are bad; they're just hard to find. One that hopes to become a good one is KGIL (1260 and 1650 AM), which is now set to carry Chuck Southcott's Music of Your Life.

Southcott will be on the air twice a day: morning drive and late afternoons (5 - 7 pm). Joining him on the stations will be Gary Owens, Wink Martindale, and Scott O'Neal, who will all be playing what is now known as "adult standards." You may remember that Southcott programmed KGIL a few years ago as "K-JOY," the last time the station earned anything close to real ratings. This time it's via satellite, but hey -- it's something.

Showtunes will continue to be an integral part of the format, with weekends being devoted to them. The new format begins March 2nd.