Radio Column for January 2, 1998

The Top-5 Stories of 1997

The passing of some legends
A major retirement
Sports on the rise
Disney on the move
The power of Spanish broadcasting

Unlike last year, 1997 was quite an eventful year for Southern California radio. The Dodgers moved home stations for the first time in eons, a few stations made major format changes, and unfortunately, a few legends were lost to deaths or a health-related retirement. Here are the top radio stories for the year:

Passings. It wasn't a good year for legends, as Bob Arthur, Bob Hudson, Don Steele and now (just before the holidays) Roger Barkley all passed away. Certainly these losses mean the entire radio industry lost a lot of its personality, but we can take comfort in the fact that these legends will all live on in recordings and in our memories.

Retirement. In May, KRTH morning personality Robert W. Morgan announced that he was taking time off in order to fight lung cancer that had developed apparently due to a 35-year smoking habit that was finally kicked a year before.

"K-EARTH has asked me to take time off to devote full time to beating this thing and that's what I intend to do," he said in an on-air statement adding, "One more thing -- don't smoke, OK?"

That was in May. In December, KRTH announced that Morgan would be retiring from radio early this month, after a week of tributes that begins Monday. This is then KRTH's second loss in the same year due to smoking-caused lung cancer, as it was lung cancer that took the life of afternoon personality Steele.

Sports. The complete lack of success with previous attempts at all-sports stations in Los Angeles didn't stop Jacor from bidding the Dodgers away from longtime home KABC and changing KIIS (AM) to all-sports earlier this year. And if that weren't enough, One on One Sports came in later to change KXED to a second all-sports outlet -- the first time in my memory that a Los Angeles Spanish station switched to English programming.

Interestingly, while I still wouldn't bet the farm on their success I would state that they have a better chance than previous attempts at the former KMPC and the old KMAX. Why? Simple: the new stations actually have some decent programming. It's amazing what that can do for your chances of survival.

Mickey Mouse. First Disney hires Maureen Lesourd to do some hacking over at KABC/KMPC/KLOS. Then they push her out after she does what they want and, I might add, takes the heat of critics very admirably.

So what did Disney and Lesourd do along the way? They fired Roger Barkley, demoted Michael Jackson, gave up KMPC's legendary call letters, tried a new women-centered talk format only to have it taken away by a corporate decision to run "Radio Disney" and have tried to turn KABC into KMPC/KTZN with, apparently, similar success (or lack thereof). Does it appear to you that Disney may just be a bit out of place in the radio business?

Spanish Programming. The loss of KXED not withstanding, Spanish broadcasters continued to flex their power in Los Angeles last year. Low-rated KSCA became one of L.A.'s most popular stations within months of adapting their new Spanish format, while KLVE continued to dominate the ratings race.

Even Arbitron realizes the power that Spanish broadcasting holds, and is in the process of designating stations by the type of programming, bringing in new labels such as "Spanish Contemporary" to differentiate the various formats.