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Radio AM to FM: January 1, 1999


1. KRLA drops music for talk

2. KABC loses luster

3. AAA returns

4. Oldies War

5. Dr. Laura Exposed!

6. Art Bell leaves ... then comes back

7. Radio Losses

8. Tuna and Van Dyke come back

9. Digital Radio Gets Closer

10. American Top 40

As I looked through my notes, past columns and news reports during the past year, it quickly became evident that 1998 was quite an eventful year for local radio. There were more consolidations, format changes and strange happenings than in any single year of recent memory.

What would have to be considered one of the top stories of the year is KRLA's switch to talk after more than 39 years of playing a essentially the same music -- first when the music was new, then when it became "old." I suppose you could say that KRLA was the station that grew old with you, or something like that.

In any event, after years of bleeding the station dry by refusing to put any money into it, manager Bob Moore decided to take it talk and go on a spending spree with no end: Don Imus, Michael Jackson, Toni Grant, Ken Minyard and G. Gordon Liddy (each of whom are paid more yearly than KRLA paid personalities in total the last few years, according to closely-placed sources) will all be in place by January 4th if they are not there already.

Closely related to KRLA's new format (and bright future, actually) is the decline and fall of the station that pioneered talk in Los Angeles 30 years ago. 1998 saw KABC hit its hardest times ever, and an apparent lack of direction from the programming department certainly isn't helping. Perhaps the programming staff is keeping something (everything) from us, but with KABC trailing KFI by a mile, beating KLSX by mere inches and competitor KRLA ready to steal core listeners, the new year at KABC is going to be a tough one.

The return to Los Angeles of what is now known as Adult Album Alternative (AAA) was big news to fans of the former KSCA. Jacor brought the format back when they purchased and changed the format of KACD/KBCD to "Channel 103.1." This is big news not only because it brings back a wonderful music format, but it also marks the first time in Los Angeles that "consolidation" in the radio industry has actually led to an increase in variety and quality of programming.

Mega 100 made news in 1998 by coming close to matching oldies leader KRTH in the Arbitron ratings. This is the first time in ten years that any other oldies station has truly challenged KRTH; the last time it was KRLA in 1985 and 1986. Only 0.2 separated Mega and KRTH in the last full book.

KFI's Dr. Laura Schlessenger was in the news ... and on the net ... due to an unflattering article that ran in Vanity Fair magazine that set off a chain reaction of events including her being the topic of conversation of the Tom Leykis show (KLSX) many times, Bill Ballance stating that he was her former lover, and nude photos of her being released by Ballance and available on the internet.

The entire controversy has its roots in the idea that Dr. Laura is actually a contradiction of herself, with Vanity Fair, Leykis, Ballance and others stating that she lives/lived one life and tells listeners to live another way. Doesn't matter to her fans, though, as she still has standing-room-only crowds when she makes live appearances and her radio show is still one of the hottest around.

Art Bell made news this year by first resigning from his syndicated late-night program, then hiding from reporters, then coming back full time. The event was almost as strange as his show. In the end no one really knows what happened, but many speculate that he did it as a stunt for more money in spite of his statements that it was related to the safety of his family.

1988 marked the passing of many fine personalities in the industry, including Robert W. Morgan, Richard Beebe, Charleye Wright, Adam J. DeMarais, Bob Starr and Gene Autry, among others.

Other important stories of 1998 included Charlie Tuna's return to L.A. via KLAC, Charlie Van Dyke's return via KRTH, Casey Kasem's resurrection of American Top 40, and continued development of digital radio. In all it was an interesting year that saw more changes than any single year in the past decade.


Copyright © 1998, 1999 Richard Wagoner and The Copley Press.

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