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Unusual Programming Succeeds at KFOX Radio : Gab, Guitars and Gay Issues on the Air

August 25, 1985|KATHEE YAMAMOTO | Community Correspondent

REDONDO BEACH — From radio station KFOX's second-floor office at Seaport Village, one can hear the surf pounding and watch a film crew shoot an episode of NBC's "Riptide." An unlikely location for a broadcasting operation, perhaps, but no more unlikely than the programming, an unusual mix of special-interest shows, some broadcast in one of five foreign languages.

The 3,000-watt FM station, at 93.5 on the dial, features programs on everything from sports and horse-race handicapping to psychic phenomena and homosexual issues; from real estate financing to holistic health; from country music to handwriting analysis; from trivia games to voice improvement. Some programs are broadcast in Russian, Persian, Armenian, German or Spanish.

"To a certain extent, there is a loose connection between all the programs," said program director Jim Dolce. "Everything we have on the air can help people--whether it's winning at the race track or buying a home."

KFOX offers what is known as block programming. It sells time on the station for $250 to $300 an hour to programmers who handle their own content and advertising.

Format Changed

The block format is "one of the only avenues available for ethnic and special-interest programming," said Harry Spitzer, vice president of the Southern California Broadcasters Assn. In the Los Angeles area, he said, only KIEV in Glendale and KMAX in San Gabriel use similar systems. KFOX was an adult contemporary music station until April, 1984, when it changed formats. "Frankly, we could not do the $10,000-a-week giveaways and a lot of other things that it takes for radio stations to thrive during ratings periods," said Dolce, 35, who has been the station's program director for two years.

Most of the current programs are live call-in shows, he said. "We can tell by the number of callers that our listenership has increased since we first started as a talk-radio format.

"A year ago," he said, "we would go all day and get only three or four calls." The station does not subscribe to a ratings service.

The program that has generated the most interest recently, he said, is "Leigh Spear--the Straight Talk of L.A.," which Spear describes as "the only commercial gay radio program in the country." The weekly program, which airs on Sunday afternoon, includes gay entertainment news, celebrity interviews, in-studio guests from the gay community and listener-participation discussions of gay social issues.

Unique Program

"I was flabbergasted" by the attention the show got from the media, Dolce said. "We do have a large gay community that needs to be addressed," he said, noting that the station's signal reaches beyond the South Bay to West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Hollywood, the San Fernando Valley, Malibu and parts of north Orange County. "It seems strange to me that this little radio station in Redondo Beach is the only one that's doing this."

The gay program began in the spring when Spear--the son of Jackie Gleason's former orchestra leader Sammy Spear--shifted the focus of his former program, "The Leigh Spear Show," which had been an entertainment-oriented show.

"The response has been very positive," he said. "We expected some hostile reactions, but instead all we got were congratulations." Judging from phone calls and letters he has received, Spear speculates that his audience includes a significant number of gays in the Los Angeles area. He said he has more than a dozen sponsors and hopes to expand to a second hour of air time each week.

"As far as subject matter is concerned," Dolce said, "I tend to favor things that fit into the New Age category." As examples, he cited weekday programs such as "The Elizabeth Show" with psychic Elizabeth Nachman, "Crystal Healing" with Joan Sotkin, "The Astrology Hour" with Farley Malorrus and "Octave Beyond" with metaphysician Betty Finmark.

Alternative Programming

"I like programs that can impact people's lives," Dolce said, "and if I had a choice, I'd rather call up and win chocolate chip cookies on our trivia game show than listen to the latest Madonna song for the fourth time that day. So I guess the criterion is putting on shows that give people an alternative to what they've already got. They're all playing the same records out there."

The station's slogan proclaims KFOX to be "your talk alternative."

Besides acting as program director, Dolce, a former disc jockey, said he produces commercials, does much of the engineering, works as a "kind of sidekick to several of the on-air people" and is host for the "Great American Trivia Giveaway Show," which airs weekday afternoons and is sponsored by merchants who provide contest prizes.

He said the program, initiated last year, was the only daily radio trivia game show in Southern California until the recent premiere of a similar show on a San Fernando Valley AM station.

Other 'Firsts'

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