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Airwaves: October 22, 2010

The Story of 1500 AM

Don Barrett’s LARadio.Com is a daily stopping place for me on the web. Besides helping me stay abreast of all the current happenings in radio, he always includes something of special interest.

Earlier this week, he had a “rewind” in which he told the story of KWIK, which broadcast out of Burbank. In 1951 the station changed call letters to KBLA, later to become known as “Super 15” with a top-40 format that attempted to go against KHJ (930 AM).

Country was tried for a while, followed by a return to top-40 using the call letters KROQ, for K-Rock. They had an all-star cast of jocks, including Charlie Tuna, Sam Riddle, Shadoe Stevens, Lee “Baby” Simms, Jimmy Rabbit and more, but alas, signal -- along with ratings and and financial -- problems caused the station to go off the air in 1974.

It returned in 1976, went off the air again in the 1980s, and now the 1500 AM frequency sits waiting for someone to put it on the air again ... the only open frequency that I know of in Los Angeles. Problem is, the frequency is not a great one -- it takes a lot of power to get clean reception that high up on the AM dial, and land required for a transmitter site is so expensive it isn’t cost-effective to many who might otherwise launch a new station. Being on AM certainly doesn’t help either.

But the seeds of the early AM version of KROQ eventually sprouted into the fertile ground of FM, giving us KROQ-FM (106.7), one of the most famous alternative rock radio stations in the world.

Are you a radio fanatic? Check out LARadio.Com. It requires a subscription, but in my opinion it is well worth it. Barrett is the man of record when it comes to Los Angeles radio.

Counting 'Em Down

My wife says I live too much in the past. She’s right, but I don’t care. I think God invented Tivo just so I can watch the original Hawaii Five-O on Channel 56 every day.

So I’m listening to the 1970s replays of American Top-40 the other day, marveling at not only how genuinely good those programs are, but how well they hold up. Host Casey Kasem was really ahead of his time.

But then it hit me ... Ron Jacobs lost the famous top-40 battle of Fresno in the early 1960s when he went up against Bill Drake and Gene Chanault. Later in Los Angeles, Drake and Chanault hired Jacobs to program KHJ.

Jacobs, in turn, went up against KRLA (now KDIS, 1110 AM), this time winning big. One of the jocks he beat on KRLA was Casey Kasem, who among other things did a countdown show on the Pasadena station.

Fast forward a few years, and Jacobs and Kasem pair up to create American Top-40, one of the most famous and loved countdown shows ever produced, heard three times a week on Sirius/XM Channel 7 as well as Sunday mornings from 6 - 9 AM on KOLA (99.9 FM).

Is this an example of paying it forward, or just the amazing respect that competitors have with each other in radio? And while I am dating myself by saying this, why can’t radio be this fun any more?


Copyright © 2010 Richard Wagoner and Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

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