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Airwaves: November 11, 2011

KFI grabs the top spot

In the not so distant past, Arbitron -- the Big Kahuna of radio ratings companies, released the ratings “book” every three months. There were monthly reports, called trends, which were releases of “rolling averages” not necessarily fully processed, but those were released to stations themselves and not to the general public.

Under Arbitron’s new electronic system, ratings are processed almost instantly and released to stations and the public (through newspapers and online sites) monthly. Not quarterly, monthly. Which means if I so desired, between the local markets and the various demographics that are rated, I could write about ratings almost continually.

Of course that would be a little crazy. So I tend to stick with the quarter system even though it doesn’t really fit with modern ratings methodology. Unless something amazing happens, though, it seems to work.

This month, something amazing happened.

KFI (640 AM) was number one, for all of Los Angeles. Not the top AM station, but the top station. And an AM station grabbing the top position has not happened since the Spring Book of 2006 when KFI tied with KLVE (107.5 FM) at a 4.8 share of the audience. This time they did it alone with a whopping 5.6 share of the listening audience. Prior to that it was Spring of 1986 -- twenty years before when an AM station led the pack. At that time it was KABC (790 AM) earning an amazing 7 share.

How does KFI do it it? Solid programming. From a topnotch morning program led by Bill Handel though former Canadian-turned dedicated American Bill Carroll, the amazing afternoon duo of John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou, and one of the most entertaining evening shows in town starring Tim Conway, Jr., KFI is a juggernaut that is seemingly unstoppable. It has been described as a top-40 station that happens to play talk, and that in my opinion sums it up perfectly. Even the weekends are strong, with such stars as Jesus Christ and Leo Laporte giving advice.

Interestingly, John and Ken -- whom I branded as burnt a while back due to their one-trick-pony show that got horrendously stale with continuing attacks on the same people over and over -- teachers and government employees -- finally got out of their rut by noticing other issues were important also ... and their ratings rose. The show is actually fun again, and their rise certainly helped KFI do so well overall.

Consistency is key. Programmer Robin Bertolucci seems to have a knack for finding talent, and letting them grow. Carroll is a case in point. When he first arrived his show bordered on dull, as if it were a rehash of every other show on the station. Soon, though, he found his way. Television networks could learn a lot from Bertolucci. Likewise, some thought Conway would never fit into the AM world, yet his ratings are far above what he ever had on FM.

Can they be stopped? Not likely. The programming, the promotions, the on-air sound are so well done that it would take a competitor years to catch up. Of course some said that of KABC, and look what happened there. But I think KFI has a lot of life left, and those who think they can overtake them by talking on FM have another thing coming.

No Static at All

Speaking of FM talk, KOGO/San Diego (600 AM) is now simulcasting on an FM sister station 95.7 FM. What is curious about this move is that 95.7’s old country music format was doing OK, coming in 15th place with a 2.8 audience share according to the latest Arbitrons ... and KOGO itself was only five places higher in 10th and with a 3.9 share.

Why move to FM when your AM is doing OK, your FM is doing OK and your sister AM station to the North -- KFI -- is dominating? Does Clear Channel truly not believe in the future of AM -- at least in San Diego -- or are they just cheap? Or will KOGO’s AM frequency be sold off as they continue to try get out of staggering debt related to their expansion years ago?

Christmas in November

Just heard from legendary radio and television personality Wink Martindale. He’s been working with Gary Theroux in developing a 10-hour “100 Greatest Christmas Hits of All Time.”

Don’t know Theroux? He’s one of the writers and producers of the Bill Drake version of The History of Rock and Roll run nationwide in the 1970s. The two obviously have the credentials, and they set out not to just play the music but to tell the story, including interviews of the artists who recorded the songs.

No affiliates have been announced to carry the program yet, but I’ll let you know if a local one comes up.


Copyright © 2011 Richard Wagoner and Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

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