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Airwaves: September 30, 2011

AM Believer

Sometimes I think I am the only person who believes in AM radio.

Not that I think today’s AM radio doesn’t need help. Outside of a few well programmed stations, listenership on AM is dwindling. My opinion is that bad programming pushed and continues to push listeners to FM, and looking at various format switches over time, I can easily prove my point. But I digress.

The latest attack to AM comes from the aftermath of Merlin Media -- headed by two people I consider partly responsible for making radio the trash heap it is today, Randy Michaels and Walter Sabo -- and the launch of their “FM News” format on two stations in New York and Chicago. The boards at AllAccess.Com are abuzz with what local station will pick up the format here and a continuation of a long-running rumor of “the” move of KFI to FM.

“I believe that KFI on FM is closer to becoming a reality than ever,” says one post. ”I do see a likelihood of ‘ABC Los Angeles’ on KABC and KLOS as well as Merlin launching either an ‘FM news LA 100.3’ or ‘FM News LA 93.9.’”

And waste a frequency or two. Not to mention that 93.9 is still on a longterm lease and the owner of 100.3 The Sound is not interested in selling.

Putting this into perspective, FM does not give a noticeable improvement to spoken word broadcasts. Had it done so at all, FM Talk KLSX (now Amp Radio, 97.1 FM) might have made a dent in the ratings rather than being left as roadkill by KFI (640 AM). Speaking of which, KFI proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that a well-programmed station is what attracts listeners, not being on the AM or FM band. Indeed, KFI has been in the top tier of the ratings list for Los Angeles, Orange County and the Inland Empire for as long as I can remember. They even make a decent showing in San Diego.

And KABC on FM? Are you serious?

So why all the AM haters? Remember, it wasn’t the great sound of FM that made people flock to the band beginning in the mid 1970s and peaking in the 1980s. It was the formats. On FM you’d hear Led Zeppelin, Boston and album cuts that weren’t heard elsewhere, along with DJs who spoke our language. But even then, AM still dominated until the music literally died.

KHJ (930 AM) has not since had a rating as high as it had as top-40 right before going Country in 1980. The Mighty 690 (XTRA) dropped to a fraction of its former self when it dropped top-40 for oldies and eventually sports in the 1980s. KEZY (1190 AM) never recovered after dropping a neat progressive AOR format in the early ‘80s as well. KRLA (1110 AM) was beating KRTH (101.1 FM) when Mike Wagner programmed it.

Every one of those stations was in or close to the 2 shares or higher in the Arbitron Ratings when they switched, higher than many successful FM stations today, meaning that people were indeed listening until they were forced to move. To FM.

Remember KLAC (570 AM)? They did great when they played Country. And then again when they played adult standards. It is the sports talk format that killed it, and putting it on FM wouldn’t make a difference. In the meantime, KFI dominates talk and has for, well, seemingly forever. KNX (1070 AM) is getting back to its glory days.

And in spite of the general feeling on AllAccess, I just can’t see an FM news station making any inroads in LA. Oh, Merlin may ultimately get a station. But it will just give me more material to knock Michaels and Sabo. It won’t be successful.

No Character

KNX (1070 AM) is discontinuing its Michael Josephson’s “Character Counts” commentaries after more than 14 years on the station. Effective October 17th the commentaries will be gone, with no mention of the change on the air.

Josephson is philosophical about the change, writing in, “I want to express sincere and unequivocal gratitude to CBS and KNX for providing me this platform to talk about ethics and character for 14-1/2 years.” Quoting Dr. Seuss, he wrote “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

No real word from KNX regarding the issue, but it fits with their general move -- and to be fair the move among all stations -- to remove such content from their airwaves. The last time I heard an editorial on KNX was years ago, and they were among the last stations in town to run them. I imagine that there was some research behind it before the decision was made. The new instant ratings system in place allows programmers to see what causes tune-outs among listeners, if indeed that was the case.


Copyright © 2011 Richard Wagoner and Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

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