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Airwaves: January 6, 2012

Merlin Loses a COO

I have never been a fan of radio consultant Walter Sabo. Yes, I know he has his fans -- KFI's John Kobylt is one, due in part to the fact that Sabo was involved with the New Jersey station that paired Kobylt with Ken Chiampou -- but in spite of people telling me that I would actually get along with him, I have just never bought into his hype.

Stopping me is the fact that he helped destroy a few stations I personally liked -- including our own KHJ along with KFRC/San Francisco, along with the fact that outside of small markets, Sabo has just never been very successful.

So I was very underwhelmed as the industry went abuzz with the news in June that Sabo would be working with former Clear Channel head Randy Michaels on a new venture, Merlin Media, which planned to take over the world with female-oriented FM news/talk stations. Two mistakes doesn’t make something right, as they say ... and Michaels and Sabo in radio are most definitely mistakes.

I gave the venture a year; it didn’t even make that. His profile on LINKEDIN changed over the holidays to reflect that he was the former COO of Merlin, and Radio Ink Magazine confirmed his departure in a story published January 3rd.

When Sabo arrived at Merlin in June, Michaels stated that he was a “perfect fit.” So what happened? A disastrous debut and terrible ratings at the stations they launched in Chicago and New York. The stations were slow to start, never got any better, and most of the “innovative” ideas from Sabo were slowly phased out. Both stations still run a news format for now, but much more traditional than anything else.

I consider it fortunate that the company never followed through on their threat to take over a local FM station for their format, as had been rumored.

On the Way

How do you fix a station that made so many mistakes in the past you need the internet to keep track? In the case of KABC (790 AM), you let programmer Jack Silver do his job.

Silver believes that the recent moves, including bringing Doug McIntyre back to mornings and moving Larry Elder back to afternoons is a good start as the station begins its rebuilding effort. “Doug in the morning, Larry in the afternoon and Peter (Tilden) in the evening just sounds better. It brings their respective strengths to audiences that fit them better.”

Silver was also excited about improved weekends, such as the return of Kim Komando’s computer show to Los Angeles via KABC’s Saturday morning lineup, 7 to 10 AM. Other Saturday programs he sees doing well include Larry Elder on the Law(10 AM to noon), The Medical Show with Peter Tilden and Dr. David Kipper (1 to 3 PM) and a new food program from Merrill Shindler called Feed Your Face, (4-5 PM). Sundays include the long-running Motor Man Show with Leon Kaplan(7-10 AM). Proving that some of these programs are very recent additions, the program log on had not been updated as of press time, and still listed the old infomercials!

In many ways what KABC is going through mirrors what KFI went through when they first went talk more than 20 years ago. It will be interesting to see what Silver has up his sleeves in the coming weeks.


Copyright © 2012 Richard Wagoner and Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

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