Radio AM to FM: October 1, 2004
Former top-40 personality-turned-talk host Bill Ballance passed away on September 23rd at the age of 85. His health had not been good the last two years; he had undergone a quadruple bypass surgery and suffered a stroke in June, 2002.
His list of LA stations includes KNX, where he made his local debut in 1952, KFWB, KGIL, KABC and KWIZ. But it was at a little daytime-only station where Ballance made his name.
He arrived at KGBS (now KTNQ) in 1968, at first playing the hits of the day as did everyone else at the station. Eventually, though, he began to add calls from listeners between the songs. When I say listeners, of course, I mean women: during an era when most women still worked at home, Ballance quickly realized that this was an audience looking for a program to all their own.
It was the Feminine Forum, the first program of its kind. Designed to appeal to women, topics ranged from relationships to sex, although Ballance was always the gentleman -- as well as very literate with a huge vocabulary -- and kept the direct sex talk to a minimum. In an interesting twist, he always took the side of the ladies, and had a way of bringing out their inner feelings. Ballance rocketed to the top of the ratings, and had numerous imitators: "500 across the country," he told me in an interview ten years ago.
One of his early recurring guests was Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who later found success herself doing a show that is similar, but not quite. Perhaps "evolved" is the correct word. Schlessinger is currently one of the most popular talk hosts in the country with a show focussing on relationships; it airs locally 9 AM to 12 Noon on KFI ... and takes calls from both men and women.
It was an affair with Schlessinger that seemed to trouble Ballance when I spoke with him. He seemed to be bothered by a feeling that she never gave him credit for her show's launch, nor admitted that they had a relationship. Perhaps that's why in the late 1990s he released nude photos of her taken during that relationship, photos that made their way on to the internet.
Ballance also helped launch the radio career of psychologist Dr. Toni Grant, as she was also a recurring guest on the Forum. But I digress.
Ballance's show was so popular that he entered into a syndication deal with KGBS as the flagship station in 1971. Unfortunately, KGBS owner Storer Broadcasting began to get a bit nervous over the program's content, or more accurately the content of his many imitators who were not as tasteful or classy. Fear of possible FCC sanctions led to the station's decision to drop the show in 1973. Ballance then moved on to KABC and KWIZ before making the move South in 1978 to KFMB/San Diego, where the Forum became a huge hit once again.
He made it back to Los Angeles right about that time, at least on tape, as Steve Ray put together a last-ditch effort to save Big Band-formatted KGRB and included "best of" Ballance shows as part of the revised format. Alas, that effort failed within a few weeks.
He is survived by sons Jim and Kurt, and granddaughters Jaimie and Jennifer. A service will be held October 9 in Peoria, Illinois, his birthplace.
Hear recordings of Ballance on reelradio.com.
Copyright © 2004 Richard Wagoner and The Copley Press.
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