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Airwaves: February 3, 2006

Fabulous No More

By the time you read this, the Fabulous 690 will probably be history. Tuesday was the day it was scheduled to go down, at 7 PM. Programmer and DJ Brad Chambers had this message on his web site:

"The party's over. Tuesday, January 31, Fabulous 690 -- The Lounge fades into radio history. Thank you for your support, love and encouragement. We will be forever grateful."

Where he goes from here is uncertain. I still think Clear Channel would be making a huge mistake by not placing the standards format on FM. That they did not put it on one of their HD Radio second channels surprised me. Maybe, just maybe, an FM station is in the works, though that's probably more wishful thinking than anything else.

There are, of course, other places for the format to thrive. Know anyone who listens to KTLK? I thought not. How about KLAC -- the original home of Chamber's station?

The format change means that Mexican-licensed 690 -- an English-lauguage station for it's entire history, I believe -- will be running a Spanish format for the first time.

Other Firsts

They were among the first top-40 stations in the Western United States. They were one of the first all-news stations anywhere. They were one of the first Beautiful Music stations. And we haven't even left the sixties yet.

Yes, the history of XTRA -- actually XETRA, a five-letter call sign assigned by the Mexican government -- is a interesting walk through broadcast time.

And it wasn't just formats. The station was always intended to serve listeners in the US, with up to 100,000 watts of power directed fully North from a transmitter in Baja California, Mexico. It was a "border blaster," one of a handful of stations with higher power than allowed by the FCC just outside of the FCC's reach. And while the transmitter is in Mexico, studios have always been in or around San Diego or Los Angeles.

Through the years they set some technical firsts: first to use a variation of what later became known as the Kahn Powerside system to try to reduce interference from other stations near them on the dial. They were also among the very first radio stations to broadcast in stereo ... in the 1960s, even before many FM stations did so. The system was such that two monaural radios, one tuned slightly above 690, one tuned slightly below, could be used to hear the stereo signal.

With firsts come lasts, I suppose, and XTRA had those too. The station was among the last on the AM dial to play top-40 music when they went full-circle and (re) launched The Mighty 690 in the early 1980s. As I recall they played every record fast, but it was a great format and an ode to great top-40 AM radio.

As they drop standards and go Spanish, I realize that they were among the last AM stations anywhere to play music.

Darn Numbers

No, that wasn't a fire sale mentioned in last week's column. ABC Radio is not being sold for $3 million.

It's those darn numbers. Zeros, to be exact ... I left a few out. Let's try again ... Citadel wants to buy ABC's radio stations for $3 billion.

What's a few zeros between friends? I blame the metric system ...


Copyright © 2006 Richard Wagoner and The Copley Press.

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