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Airwaves: December 26, 2008

KABC’s New Clothes

More changes are coming at KABC (790 AM), as David G. Hall replaces Eric Braverman as Director of Operations effective January 5th, ending a five year association with KNX (1070 AM) and KFWB (980 AM).

This puts Hall into familiar territory, as he spent over 15 years programming KFI (640 AM), a station that -- under his watch -- became one of the most popular stations in Los Angeles and one of the most popular talk stations in the country.

KABC General Manager John Davison told Radio and Records that “Hall is the right person to help us with our plan to shift KABC into more of a news/talk format because he has successfully programmed talk at KFI and news at KNX and KFWB.”

Davison has it half right.

It was just over five years ago, in September, 2003, that Hall left an executive position at Clear Channel’s Premiere Radio Network to become VP of Programming for CBS’s Los Angeles AM stations, a position created just for him. His charge was to “fix” KNX and KFWB, two all-news stations that were in danger of becoming irrelevant in the minds of many Southern Californians.

Hall’s credentials were impeccable. Just one year earlier he had left the programming position of KFI, and he was credited with KFI’s rise to the top of the talk ratings ... and the overall ratings as well.

CBS’s hope was that he could work that same magic for their two all-news stations. Unfortunately, Hall quickly found himself in territory in which he was unfamiliar or unable to comprehend.

His first actions essentially destroyed any credibility still held by KNX at the time. He removed the popular Drama Hour -- one of the most popular programs in the city during the 9 PM hour -- from the schedule, stating that he was going to have the station focus on news.

Right after that he added numerous non-news features during prime late-morning and early-afternoon weekdays, and most of the day on weekends. Cooking, computers, and consumer call-in shows replaced news. Editorials, once an important and integral part of the KNX schedule, were axed.

Ratings plummeted. By January, KNX was at its lowest ratings point since it was rated. Concentrating on KNX, KFWB was essentially left alone, and it showed. By Summer 2005, KFWB was beating KNX in the Arbitron Ratings. In early 2007, Hall would be removed from any programming duties at KFWB.

Finally, in August of last year, Hall saw the light. Never admitting his mistakes, Hall sent a memo to staffers stating that KNX would go “back to basics” as an all-news station, dropping almost all of the extra programming. As if running all-news was his idea. In the meantime, under programer Andy Ludlum, KFWB became an even better station than before.

Ludlum would be rewarded two months ago by being replaced; new CBS manager Roy Laughlin decided that Hall should be placed in charge of both stations again. His reasoning? Hall made so many mistakes in the past, he should be OK now.

Interestingly, I think all of Hall’s mistakes stemmed from his lack of all-news knowledge. Had he followed through with rumored plans to turn either all-news station into a KGO/San Francisco-type of news/talk/features station, he would have done fine. And it is along these lines that I believe Hall really may be a good choice for KABC.

Hall does know talk. He knows how important news is for a talk station. In fact, one of the problems held by both KNX and KFWB was KFI, as KFI became a news powerhouse itself under Hall. Now back in familiar territory, Hall may be able to finally do what he wants to do. It will be interesting to watch not only the evolution of KABC under their new whiz kid, but also to watch what KNX and/or KFWB do in anticipation and reaction.


Copyright © 2008 Richard Wagoner and Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

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