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Airwaves: October 20, 2006

Country Returns

I've joked many times regarding how Saul Levine treats his AM stations on 1260 and 540. It is almost as if he changes formats more often than some people change their underwear.

Since I've been writing this column, I've heard standards, Beatles, classical, showtunes, standards, 50s oldies and standards once more. Now its time for another change: XSUR 540 has dropped the standards simulcast with KKGO 1260 and is now doing a sneak preview of "540 Country."

I've joked. But I have to admit it must be nice to program your stations with what you want to play whenever you get the itch to do it. I'll also admit it: I'm jealous. I wish I could do the same thing. And while I don't often understand the moves, the fact that Levine doesn't seem to care about profit is somewhat refreshing in today's corporate radio environment. He truly loves playing radio.

The switch to country was supposed to take place October 28th, but was moved up to last Monday to try to keep KZLA's (now KMVN, 93.9 FM) from straying too far toward iPods and satellite radio.

Can it work? Is it a good move? Probably not and probably not. I fear that poor radio designs and years of programming neglect has made AM radio almost nonexistent in the minds of younger music listeners. Further, the fact that XSUR actually broadcasts out of Tijuana, Mexico won't help it attract Los Angeles-area listeners, especially considering how weak the signal is throughout much of the area.

At the same time, I can't help loving the idea and hoping that it will work. I still love AM radio (due to a strange attachment to '70s top-40 stations XTRA, KCBQ, KGB, KHJ, KEZY and Ten-Q), and I still believe a well-programmed AM music station can attract a viable audience ... as long as the signal is good enough.

I also know that it is typical receiver design more than everything else that makes AM radio sound so awful to most people. With an old Fisher tube tuner or a more modern high quality "AMax" radio, AM radio can sound pretty darn good. Add stereo and good processing, and AM can sound almost as good as FM. Sometimes better.

The big rumor is that many of the folks from KZLA will start showing up on 540 Country: Paul Freeman, Whitney Allen and Brian Douglas, for example. Time will tell. In the meantime, I'm enjoying the music.


Air America is having money troubles again, and filed for bankruptcy protection last week while vowing to stay on the air. Both of the network's listeners were pleased that the liberal talk network would stay on.


Spanish radio rules Los Angeles, according to the Summer Arbitron ratings released this week. Contemporary spanish music station KLVE (107.5 FM) took the top spot with a 5.0 share, followed closely by regional Mexican music station KSCA (101.9 FM) at 4.9. Last quarter's co-leader (with KLVE) KFI (640 AM) was down in 8th place, dropping more than a point to 3.7.

KZLA's change from country to "movin' hits" cost it dearly, at least temporarily, dropping from 1.7 to 1.2 -- the lowest rating 93.9 has had in at least 25 years. At the same time, Inland Empire country-formatted KFRG earned a 0.5 share in its first ever appearance in the Los Angeles ratings book.

The full story:

Station: Spring-Summer

KLVE: 4.8-5.0; KSCA: 4.6-4.9; KIIS-FM: 4.6-4.8; KLAX: 3.5-3.9; KBUE/KBUA: 3.1-3.8; Power 106: 3.1-3.8; KROQ: 3.7-3.8; KFI: 4.8-3.7; KXOL: 2.6-3.7; The Wave: 4.3-3.6

KOST: 3.6-3.3; JACK-FM: 3.1-3.2; Hot 92.3: 2.7-3.0; KRCD/KRCV: 3.3-2.6; KLOS: 2.3-2.4; K-EARTH: 2.7-2.4; KABC: 2.2-2.0; KSSE: 2.1-1.9; KNX: 1.5-1.8; Star 98.7: 1.4-1.8

KBIG: 1.9-1.7; KJLH: 1.5-1.5; The Beat: 1.6-1.5; KFWB: 1.4-1.4; KHJ: 0.9-1.4; KDAY: 0.7-1.3; KLSX: 1.7-1.3; KLYY: 1.3-1.3; Movin 93.9: 1.7-1.2; K-Mozart: 1.4-1.2

KSPN: 0.8-0.9; The Fish: 0.6-0.8; KRLA: 0.9-0.8; KTNQ: 0.7-0.8; KKLA: 0.6-0.7; KTLK: 1.0-0.7; KWVE: 0.8-0.7; KKGO: 0.6-0.6; KWIZ: 0.7-0.6; KDLD/KDLE: 0.4-0.5

K-FROG: 0.0-0.5; KLTX: 0.5-0.5; KLAC: 0.6-0.4; KWKW: 0.6-0.4; KGGI: 0.0-0.3


Copyright © 2006 Richard Wagoner and The Copley Press.

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