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 Radio AM to FM: November 13, 1998

KRLA to stop rocking?

KRLA General Manager Bob Moore may be denying it -- and I certainly hope he's right -- but everyone else in the radio industry, including some people very close to the station, state that syndicated morning man Don Imus will indeed be moving his program to KRLA once KLAC dumps him in early December or January. Don Imus himself has apparently said as much on his program, although the most I have heard him say is that he is moving to a "legendary station" in Los Angeles. Of course, there is only one "legendary" station left in Los Angeles, and it is KRLA.

Not only that, it seems that Michael Jackson, who by the way just resigned from weekends on KABC, may follow Imus to KRLA and take up residence on the same shift that he once had at KABC before a well-publicized demotion a year ago: 9 am to 12 noon. Does this mean KRLA is dropping Rock 'n Roll after playing it in some form or another after just over 39 years? It would appear to be so. And the change may occur sooner than later; perhaps as soon as a week or two. Too bad: a 40th birthday would have been fun.

Again, Moore has been denying these and all such rumors for a long time. And again, I hope he is telling the truth. But I wouldn't count on it. Consider:

* Moore himself has been wanting a talk format on KRLA for at least ten years. The current KLSX talk studios, in fact, were custom-built for KRLA in the later 1980s when the station was set to change to the format. Programmer Mike Wagner fought the plan, however, and the two sister stations swapped studios when KLSX went talk a few years later.

* Under Moore's leadership and since Wagner left the station in 1995, KRLA has lost all credibility and stature. A revolving door for programmers, a promotional budget that is essentially nonexistent, all-too-often format "adjustments" and sports programming that no other station will touch have all combined to make KRLA a shadow of its former self.

* Making KRLA talk would allow it to combine with KLSX as a combination buy for advertisers.

Unfortunately, there are problems with this plan. Consider again:

* The format is EXPENSIVE, especially when Don Imus and Michael Jackson are involved. KRLA has survived the past few years only because it has cost essentially nothing to program and run. Under a talk format, the station would have to earn significantly higher ratings in order to attract enough advertising dollars. This will be almost impossible for a new station -- the FIFTH talk station in Los Angeles, especially when everyone except Walter Sabo knows that talk is on the way out.

* A combo buy could be arranged easily by combining KRLA with co-owned KRTH. That would also cut costs even more, as KRLA and KRTH could share studios, music, and production, as well as a sales staff selling a format that is one of the hottest in the country in terms of revenue. KRTH has been a consistent nationwide leader in advertising dollars for the past decade.

* Given some real support, current programmer Pam Amaya could really do something with the station. Unfortunately, she is always being cut off by the same short-term thinking that got KRLA into trouble in the first place.

Of course the decision to change or not change has almost certainly been made already. And while I am going against the odds, I am still holding out hope that KRLA stays with music. Not that it's the best station in Los Angeles, but it is an alternative to the repetition of overly-researched oldies found on KRTH and KCMG. And aren't alternatives what the mega-chains say they give us when they take over all the stations in a particular city? CBS/Westinghouse/Infinity ... now's your chance to prove that your words are true.

Don't count on it.


Copyright © 1998 Richard Wagoner and The Copley Press.

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