Both The Clothing And Ratings Fall At Kmgg

May 07, 1985|JOHN HORN

Radio works best when it leaves much to the imagination, yet that hasn't stopped Playboy magazine from helping fill in the blanks with "Women of the Airwaves," a nude pictorial of female broadcasters.

The layout, tentatively scheduled for publication this fall, includes L.A.'s Joni Caryl, heard during drive-time alongside Robert W. Morgan on KMGG-FM (105.9).

Whether Caryl's Playboy exposure will boost KMGG's ratings in the long run isn't clear. But while Caryl's clothes were falling for a Playboy cameraman earlier this year--with the latest photographic developments being reported on KMGG--so was the number of the station's listeners.

In the latest radio ratings, KMGG crashed, plummeting to 20th among Los Angeles stations.

The lowly ratings came just when it seemed KMGG was hitting its stride. In the 1984 summer radio ratings, as reported by Arbitron, KMGG tied for 14th among Los Angeles stations. In the fall ratings period, it moved into a tie for 13th.

Then, in the winter ratings, the magic disappeared.

All this despite the infusion of Robert W.--one of the city's most familiar voices--and the promotion of a ubiquitous bumper-sticker, cash-giveaway campaign.

Don Nelson, KMGG general manager, said that the weak ratings came as a surprise and he could not explain them, but added that "the station is very healthy."

Emmis Broadcasting, the Indianapolis-based company that purchased KMGG in March, 1984, is not as quick to boast.

Jeff Smulyan, president of Emmis, acknowledged that the station has not yet done as well as he had hoped. "But we feel confident it will work," he said. "You don't get instant results in Los Angeles. It does take some time. The key word is patience. "

Although KMGG isn't counting on patience to solve its problems, its gimmicks don't seem to be working either. Magic Johnson's 1984 TV spots were ineffective, Caryl's posing has yet to show any dividends and the cash giveaways--as the winter ratings proved--aren't drawing any new listeners. In fact, listeners are leaving.

To combat the problem, KMGG will launch an expensive fall marketing blitz that will try to solve what Nelson perceives as the station's identity crisis. The format of KMGG, somewhere between Top-40 KIIS-FM (102.7) and easy-rock KOST-FM (103.5), does not lend itself to description. What's more, the station's dial position is nowhere near any of the top-rated stations, occupying a lonely spot "to the right of the glove box," as Nelson is fond of saying.

The station is also now imitating rival KIIS with a series of bus advertisements and billboards. Such a drive will place KMGG's promotion budget at more than $1 million a year, according to Nelson.

And, on top of all that, KMGG will continue its gimmicks. Morgan will broadcast live from various Denny's restaurants starting later this month, and the station has begun giving away weekend cruises to Ensenada.

Even if the various campaigns eventually draw listeners, what type of listeners will they be? Some have speculated that the bumper-sticker campaign--where license plates of stickered cars are read on the air for cash prizes--appeals to younger listeners, while the station's play list is admittedly aimed at older listeners.

Still, KMGG--and Emmis--are hopeful. By the spring of 1986, Nelson predicts KMGG's ratings will have more than doubled. Nelson said that he's pleased with the station's sound and its staff. He said he plans no changes. Morale, he added, is high.

"We know what we're doing, we know where we're going, and we know how to get there," Nelson said.

WHAT'S BRUIN: The signal of UCLA's KLA-AM (530) is so weak that you can't even pick up the station in its campus-based studio.

Such is life for the student-run station where you'll find:

--A closet-size, cluttered engineering studio crammed with antiquated equipment, most of which doesn't work.

--A collection of albums that's so small there's barely a need for shelves.

--Live broadcasts of both men's and women's volleyball, the undiscovered radio sport.

--A play list that mixes the Meat Puppets with Joan Armatrading.

Yet, in its own quirky way, KLA succeeds as a combat-zone training ground for broadcasting, giving UCLA students something no student receives at USC's KUSC-FM (91.5): hands-on radio experience.

Unlike KUSC, which employs professional announcers, engineers and managers, KLA takes its entire crew straight from the classrooms.

"Some people come here for the social aspect," said KLA general manager Vince Landay, a senior majoring in political science, "and some disc jockeys refuse to play any music they don't like, but most really want to get on the air."

Consequently, KLA's staff of 200 now broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The station hasn't suffered a programming lapse since an unattended tape snapped in the middle of the night during a recent school break. "I remember turning on the station at 7 in the morning," recalled Landay, "and hearing a nice hum."

He was fortunate in one respect: He could, at least, hear the station. As KLA holds no broadcast license and transmits on a "carrier current," it must ricochet its signal off the campus dorms, hoping it will careen toward some student's radio. KLA is also piped into the school's cafeteria, student union and video arcade and has recently been added to Group W's FM cable, at 89.9.

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