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Airwaves: November 14, 2008

Local Fame Inductees

If it seems I’ve been talking about Charlie Tuna a lot lately, I am. But believe me, he deserves it.

Tuna was among friends -- over 400 of them -- last Saturday night in Chicago in order to be honored as an inductee into the National Radio Hall of Fame for 2008.

Just 23 years old when he arrived at KHJ (930 AM) here in Los Angeles, he began his career seven years earlier in his hometown of Kearney, Nebraska. Now heard weekends and fill-ins on KRTH (101.1 FM), Tuna has in some ways come full-circle ... KRTH was once the sister station of KHJ and is considered by some as the descendent of the famed top-40 powerhouse.

Other inductees for 2008 include Art Bell, Bob Collins. Jess Cain, Howard Carr, Mickey Luckhoff, and Focus on the Family. But the other big name you probably know from local radio is the legendary Dick Wittinghill.

Wittinghill toured with Tommy Dorsey and his band as a singer in the 1930s, later joining a vocal group the Pied Pipers. He began his radio career in Montana at KPFA/Helena, moved to Denver, and finally in KIEV (now KRLA, 870 AM). In 1950 he moved to the original KMPC (now KSPN, 710 AM) where he woke Southern Californians for almost 30 years. During many of those years he rules his time slot, with a quick wit, extensive knowledge of music and an amazing talent for double entrendes that made his show sound quite clean when it often really wasn’t.

Wittinghill passed away in 2001, so his award was accepted on his behalf by his daughters Willy and Nora.

To the Bone

CBS Radio wants to kill off KFWB (890 AM).

That is the only conclusion I can draw if the rumor is true that the station will be selling off blocks of weekend time beginning as soon as December.

Imagine, the longtime all-news station peddling miracle cures or other wonder products all day Saturday and Sunday. Last time these rumors came out -- almost exactly one year ago -- former programmer Andy Ludlum shot down the rumor. This year things are a little different: Ludlum is gone, David Hall is the programmer, and master of new revenue Roy Laughlin is overseeing the station. Considering the dire situation KFWB owner CBS is in, and I believe the rumor this year to be true.

If so, it is a sad day indeed. This may well spell the end of KFWB as we know it, and considering the shape CBS Radio is in and the way they are responding to their own internal financial crisis, it may be just a matter of time before CBS Radio is itself but a memory.

Tough Times

Yes, radio is going through tough times. The fact that layoffs and salary cuts have already happened or are expected at every major company proves that fact.

What this also proves, and what the industry still will not admit, is that this also proves the total failure of consolidation within the industry. Remember, consolidation was supposed to be the savior of the industry, with economies of scale, more formats, yada yada. What it turned out to be was a stifling of creativity and bland formats that pushed people towards iPods, satellite radio, and the internet. Unlike past generations who found radio to be a personal friend, many young people don’t even own a radio.

In other words, radio did this to itself.

Now is the time for radio to do great things. Unfortunately, it won’t come from the big guns such as CBS, Clear Channel and the like. It will come from the independents and the smaller groups. Perhaps Emmis and the independents might seize the day and bring out a compelling format that is fun, connects with the local community and provides a reason to tune in. Bonneville is doing it with The Sound (100.3 FM); Saul Levine is doing it with Go Country (105.1 FM). But neither attracts young people, the future lifeblood of the medium.

So I reissue this challenge to every programmer and owner in the country: give us a reason to tune in. Make radio fun again. If you build it, they will listen, and the ad revenue will come. Otherwise get out of the way and let someone else do it.


Copyright © 2008 Richard Wagoner and Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

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