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Unicef Show--a Delayed Response

October 31, 1985|DENNIS McDOUGAL | Times Staff Writer

As late as Monday, Los Angeles had the dubious distinction of being the only radio market in the country that had no stations willing to carry UNICEF's fourth annual charity Halloween broadcast. Proceeds this year are earmarked to feed the children of Africa.

The program, being broadcast live from the Sheraton Premiere Hotel in Universal City, will feature dramatizations of stories by macabre masters Stephen King and Richard Matheson. Actors contributing their time and talents for the dramatizations include June Lockhart, Lynn Redgrave, Gary Owens, Casey Kasem and Tom Wopat.

On Tuesday, Owens helped bring Los Angeles radio a delayed broadcast of the taped version of the UNICEF program. Owens, who is morning deejay at all-jazz KKGO-FM (105.1), convinced operators of his own station to air the UNICEF program from midnight to 1:30 a.m. That late-night airing will be a full 4 1/2 hours after the UNICEF show will be carried live on 222 other U.S. stations.

(San Diego's XTRA-AM (690), which can be heard in many parts of the Los Angeles basin, will be among those stations carrying the broadcast live.)

"We probably should have sent our station clearance letters out earlier," said H. Candler Miller, executive director of UNICEF's Los Angeles office.

Still, she noted, the letters did go out in early September and stations in the Los Angeles area were the only ones that could not clear 90 minutes out of their Halloween schedule for the benefit.

KNX-AM (1070), one of those stations that strongly considered carrying the program, opted against it out of apprehension that regular listeners might object to too much radio drama.

"It's part of the times we live in," said Bob Sims, news director for the all-news station. "We live in a time of specialization and if you depart from your format, you lose your audience."

Sims said he ultimately decided against the program because KNX carries an hour of radio drama now from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily and the live UNICEF broadcast would have turned over 2 1/2 hours of his station's specialty--news--to radio drama.

He said he was shocked that no other Los Angeles station would pick up the broadcast though.

"I honestly thought somebody would," he said. "It's such a well-done show. I'm shocked."

The program helps the United States Committee for UNICEF in two ways: first, through sales of $40 tickets to a dinner-dance at the Sheraton Premiere following the broadcast and, second, through call-in pledges via 800 number (1-800-453-1600) that will be repeated to listeners throughout the broadcast. Miller said the dinner-dance tickets originally were being sold for $100 apiece, but the response from 2,400 invitations that were sent out two months ago was so disappointing that the ante was dropped to $40. She said the Los Angeles office of UNICEF still hopes to clear $25,000 that can be forwarded directly toward African relief.

Compassion fatigue-- a phrase coined by the media to describe the waning enthusiasm Americans feel for giving to charity events in the wake of Live Aid and Farm Aid--may be at the bottom of UNICEF's fund-raising troubles, some suggest.

"I think it is possible it has something to do with that," Miller said. "People get invited to so many benefits in October and November anyway. With the cutbacks that the Reagan Administration has made in social services, more and more organizations are depending on their fall fund-raising events to pay the bills. We're just one of many who are holding Halloween benefits."

In addition to the troubled search for a Los Angeles station, UNICEF also ran into major problems last month when a San Francisco-based corporate sponsor pulled out the project's major underwriting.

At the last minute, the company (which UNICEF officials refused to name) reneged on its promise to contribute $60,000. Ideally, the bulk of that contribution was to have gone directly to African relief, but about $18,000 was to have covered production and satellite transmission costs that the program will incur. Miller said that those costs are now being subsidized through last-minute grants made by Apple Computers and Beatrice Foods.

"You know, there are nine minutes of commercial air time available during the broadcast," Miller said. "It's a good opportunity for a sponsor to get its message across and identify with a good cause."

She said she had no simple explanation for the failure of stations and sponsors in Los Angeles to respond to that opportunity.

KABC-AM (790) decided to go with the late Orson Welles instead of UNICEF.

On Halloween night 47 years ago, Welles' piece de resistance , "War of the Worlds," aired for the first time. Tonight at 8, KABC and KPCC-FM (89.3) will both reprise that historic hourlong broadcast, beginning at 8 p.m.

Other Halloween treats include:

From noon to 1 p.m., KRLA-AM (1110) deejay Johnny Hayes will play "The Haunted Hits of Halloween." Beginning at 6 p.m. on KRLA, Wolfman Jack will do a live Halloween show, replete with hair-curdling sound effects and blood-raising music. Wolfman howls until midnight.

And, if that isn't frightening enough, KUSC-FM (91.5) starts two weeks of live broadcasts of the John Cage-inspired New Music America Festival 1985.

"New Music," which attempts to blend classic orchestral music with performance art and an oftentimes atonal cacophony, can be as wrenching as Bobby (Boris) Picket and the Crypt Kicker Five to the uninitiated. Trick-or-treaters who want to jump right in with both ears can hear the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra performing three New Music pieces, beginning with Robert Erickson's "Auroras" at 8 p.m.

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