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. . . This Just In : Long Beach Radio Station Cuts Cord to NPR, Expands Local News Product

October 05, 1986|DAVID HALDANE | Times Staff Writer

The first hint that things had changed came when 5 a.m. rolled around and everything stayed the same.

Del Cook, who normally quits playing records over radio station KLON-FM at that hour, went right on playing them. And as the first rays of light began glancing off the sidewalks at California State University, Long Beach, where the station is located, listeners accustomed to waking up to world and national news began awakening to the soft strains of jazz.

But in the KLON newsroom Wednesday, Kirstin Lagatree, who had already been there for an hour, was frantically ripping stories off the AP news wire for an imminent broadcast. "I didn't have any trouble waking up," said Lagatree, who before this day had normally begun work at 9 a.m. "I was so tense, I woke up every hour."

It was the station's first day without National Public Radio, the Washington-based network that for the past 14 years has supplied it with at least 22 weekly daytime hours of news and features beginning at 5 a.m. Like a handful of other public radio stations around the country, KLON--at 88 on the FM dial--had decided to brave listener reaction and go it alone.

And Lagatree, in charge of the station's now completely locally produced morning news inserts, was definitely feeling the pressure.

"This is all I've been thinking about," she said, nervously scanning the chattering wire machines for stories worthy of broadcast.

The decision to leave the network, according to Rick Lewis, the station's general manager, was made after last year's financial reorganization of NPR. Part of the reorganization involved a major shift in how federal funding is divided between NPR and local stations. While in the past, Lewis said,

about 65% of the federal money channeled through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting has gone to the network, now most of it goes directly to the stations. As a result, he said, KLON now receives about $160,000 a year in federal subsidies, which it can either return to NPR in the form of dues or spend in any other way it sees fit.

The station decided to go its own way, Lewis said, because NPR programs are already offered by three other nearby stations: KPCC in Pasadena, KCRW in Santa Monica and KCSN in Northridge. Also, he said, a survey of 1,500 of KLON's estimated 110,000 listeners in Los Angeles and Orange counties indicated that, by a 3-to-1 margin, they listened to the station primarily for music rather than news.

Under the new programming, Lewis said, only 10% of the station's broadcast hours will be devoted to news, compared to 20% under the old system. Thus, instead of four hours of "Morning Edition"--NPR's award-winning national news program--listeners will hear what station personnel describe as a seamless mix of jazz, news and commentary, with the emphasis on jazz. And those listening in the afternoon, when another NPR news show, "All Things Considered," used to run for an hour, will hear jazz interrupted by five-minute newscasts every half hour and a half-hour business show.

But Lewis said the change does not represent a retreat from providing the news. In fact, he said, dropping NPR marks the first step in creating what he hopes will become a West Coast network of public radio stations with a powerful news-gathering capacity.

"Doing news is part of our mission," said Lewis, adding that he is still seeking money for the proposed network. "It's what the university wants, and it's what I want. If people aren't listening to us for news, they should be."

Hiring Two More Reporters

In an effort to beef up KLON's four-member news department--which without NPR must increase its news output by a third--Lewis said he plans to hire two new reporters. Staff reports, he said, will be supplemented by material from Associated Press, City News Service, Mutual Radio, British Broadcasting Co. and American Public Radio.

"It will require a lot more from our staff," News Director Michelle Peterson said. "We'll have to read a lot more to keep up on all the issues. Before, we did only local, state and regional news; now we'll do national and world news as well."

Indeed, the stories flowed from all over as the station kicked off its new format with news anchor Nick Roman bantering easily about everything from sports to weather with jazzman Ken Borgers, who plays the records from 6 a.m. Included in the news were reports on actions by the Orange County Board of Supervisors and a live interview with Rep. Daniel E. Lungren (R-Long Beach) on an immigration bill. Conspicuously absent, however, were any stories out of Long Beach, where KLON began under the ownership of the Long Beach Unified School District before being taken over by Cal State Long Beach in 1981.

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