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Radio AM to FM: June 24, 2005

Standards on 1260. Again.

With the recent news that the programming of XETRA (690 AM) had been sold to a company based in Madrid, Standards fans in Los Angeles held out hope that their favorite format would show up somewhere else once the Fabulous 690 was turned off.

To their rescue is Saul Levine, owner of KSUR/XSUR, who changes formats on his stations more often than many people change their underwear. As of last Friday, KSUR was playing standards on 1260 and 540, less than a week after the station dropped oldies in favor of a format called "shuffle."

Are you confused yet? Well here's the long version:

XETRA will soon drop the Fabulous 690 format, once the programming agreement is transferred from Clear Channel to the good folks in Madrid. Levine, who has run standards on his stations at least twice before -- I lost count -- saw the chance for a format exclusive and ditched the rock and roll oldies format he had been running on 540 and 1260 since last August. Prior to taking on oldies, by the way, guess what format was on KSUR? You're right: standards.

"Shuffle" was an obvious stunt, probably meant to test the waters, with a combo format spanning roughly 50 years of music. I imagine it may be the station's future format once Levine gets tired of standards again.

Numerous format changes aside, Levine will have the format to himself once 690 goes Spanish news/talk. And since oldies never really made any dent in the ratings it is a sound move. Now if he'll just leave it for a while, clean up the signal, and broadcast in stereo again ... Los Angeles could have a first-class standards station.

None of that will happen, by the way. I give it a year.

Playing the Thing

Tomorrow at 10 PM, KPCC's The Play's the Thing will present Antigone, starring Elizabeth Marvel and Francis Guinan.

This is a new translation by Christopher Nixon of a play that was originally written by Jean Anouilh and produced in Paris during Nazi occupation. According to KPCC's Lucy Pollak, Anouilh's Antigone was seen by the French as "theater of the resistance" and by the occupying Germans as an affirmation of authority.

The story involves Antigone's faithfulness to her dead brother and his proper burial in defiance of the dictator Creon, who ordered the body to remain unburied.

Birthday Monitor

June 12th marked the 50th anniversary of the broadcast debut of NBC's popular radio show, Monitor.

According to the Monitor Beacon web site,, Monitor was "the greatest show in network radio history, the forerunner of talk radio and one of the most copied formats ever."

Not bad for a show that was launched to help save the NBC Radio Network from becoming less than insignificant.

The year was 1955. Television had already stolen most of radio's stars ... and audience. Monitor was an attempt to get some of the magic back to radio. "It had everything," according to Monitor Beacon. "News, sports, comedy, interviews, remote pickups from around the world, music -- a true magazine of the air."

It was an instant hit with listeners, advertisers and critics alike. Hosts included some of broadcasting's all-time best: Dave Garroway, Hugh Downs, David Brinkley, Art Buchwald, Red Barber, Jim Backus, David Wayne, Ed McMahon, Tony Randall, Art Flemming, Don Imus, Wolfman Jack, Robert W. Morgan and Gene Rayburn just to name a few.

Comedians included Bob and Ray, Jonathan Winters, Bob Hope, Bob Newhart, Bill Cosby and Woody Allen.

The show ran some 20 years, June 12, 1955 to January 26, 1975. At one time it was a full 40 hours of the NBC Radio schedule; the end of the run had it on for 12 live hours each week, plus nine hours of repeats. Hugh Downs was the show's last guest, and he spoke of his early days on Monitor with one of Monitor's last hosts, John Bartholomew Tucker.

National Public Radio did a special retrospective story on Monitor June 12th; many consider that a fitting tribute, as the general feeling is that NPR's Weekend Edition the closest thing to Monitor still on the air.

For more information, please visit the Monitor Beacon web site. It is a fascinating journey through a show I never knew ... but wish I did.


Copyright © 2005 Richard Wagoner and The Copley Press.

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