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Airwaves: August 25, 2006

Emmis gets Movin

Seems like every time I go on a vacation, something big happens in radio. This time is no exception, as KZLA (93.9 FM) drops country while I am with the family in a condo in Mammoth.

In case you missed it -- and judging by the huge volume of email I've received, you didn't -- KZLA switched formats from country music to "urban adult contemporary" last Thursday morning. As reported in the Daily Breeze on Friday, even the program director was taken by surprise. The move leaves Los Angeles without a country station for the first time in, well, ever.

Funny thing. When KZLA went country in 1980, the format was sweeping the nation. KLAC (570 AM) was already playing it, KHJ (930 AM) announced they were going to play it, and KZLA AM and FM went with it in order to steal some of KHJ's thunder. At the end of 1980, that made for four country stations in Los Angeles alone, not counting those in other cities that could be heard here.

Now, unfortunately, an entire format isn't being played locally. For the radio industry, that's bad. Expect more XM and Sirius subscribers in the coming months, and a continued decline in the number of people even turning on a regular radio. One of the few well-produced and listenable stations on FM is gone.

Sure, there are those who say this is a great move on the part of owner Emmis. In fact, every story I've read, including last week's Breeze, speaks of the changing demographics in Los Angeles, and the synergy in selling ads for the new Movin 93.9 and sister hip-hop station Power 106.

I disagree.

First, Emmis had a format exclusive with country, followed by an audience that is fiercely loyal, relatively young, and with lots of spending money. With over 25 years in the format, it was now a heritage station ... one with nationwide influence that could truly sell itself.

Movin, on the other hand, plays the same music that can be found on numerous other stations in town including KIIS-FM (102.7), KBIG (104.3 FM), KJLH (102.3 FM), The Beat (100.3 FM), Hot 92.3 FM, and to a lesser extent, Jack (93.1 FM) and Power 106 itself. Hardly a musical mix that people can't already get.

Rick Dees for mornings is probably a good choice, but one must remember that Dees himself most certainly did not make KIIS-FM the powerhouse it was in the 1980s. Rather, it was the entire package: Dees in the morning with some of the best top-40 jocks in the country (Big Ron O'Brian, Bruce Vidal, Paul Freeman, et. al.) the rest of the day, and contests, promotions and presentation that were first-rate. It also helped that KIIS-FM had the top-40 format essentially to itself, at least on FM.

Finally, Emmis is not known for brilliance. Instead, they are known for overly researching every thing they do, and having consultant Guy Zapoleon on board at Movin proves that they still do. Zapoleon is also a research before you use the bathroom kind of guy, as are all consultants. As an example of Emmis research, when 105.9 FM was called Magic 106, they were late adding Randy Newman's I Love L.A. because it didn't test well in ... Indianapolis.

The amazing success of Power 106 was an accident -- Emmis wasn't sure it wanted to even try it at first -- as are most of the company's big formats. That's not really a bad thing, just a fact. But from what I've heard so far on Movin, including burnt has-been hits from Ricky Martin, Lou Bega, and Will Smith along with burnt hits already overplayed on the stations previously listed and ... it will take a miracle for this station to attract an audience.

Unless it changes drastically, I give it a year. Two tops.


Copyright © 2006 Richard Wagoner and The Copley Press.

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