SAN DIEGO — For the last eight years, radio station KYXY-FM (96.5) was known as the odd bird in local radio.
Some local programmers likened it to a station you might hear in a small town in Iowa--a one-station town, where the goal is to please everyone, and where a little saccharine goes a long way.
At KYXY, the deejays also had to read the news, sports and weather reports; their deliveries were as sweet as Pollyanna's, and their commentaries as insightful as Michael Tuck's.
And they provided a steady dose of outlandish "public service announcements"--the strangest one that comes to memory was detailed instruction on how to hatch a bird egg that has tumbled out of a nest.
And the music mix was unpredictable. Deejays had at their disposal a library of more than 2,000 soft-rock songs--10 times that of most other adult-contemporary (A/C) stations--that dated back to the 1950s. So it was not uncommon to hear a 20-year-old Johnny Mathis hit sandwiched between the Kingston Trio's "Tom Dooley" and Whitney Houston's "The Greatest Love."
The ratings weren't bad, but they weren't good, either. They had been more or less the same for eight years.
Then, in August, Jim Price came in as general manager. The San Diego radio veteran immediately set off a full-fledged revolution.
He replaced longtime program director Ken Richards with Sacramento's Art Schroeder, the brains behind one of the hottest A/C stations in the country.
He brought in a new general sales manager, and he strengthened the sales team. He began an expansive research program that has already tightened the play list to 200 songs, mostly recent hits.
And he has finally given the station a strong sense of direction by aiming its overall sound toward a single demographic: adult women.
"That's an important segment of the San Diego radio audience," Price said, "and one that isn't being properly addressed by any other station in town.
"My goal is to make KYXY the top-rated A/C station in town. And to do that, we need to find some sort of niche that the other half-dozen A/C stations in town haven't found, and then fill it with the right type of programming."
Although it is too early to tell how successful Price will be--he estimates his overhaul won't be completed for three more months--his track record offers plenty of reason for optimism.
Price, 51, is somewhat of a radio doctor. In the course of his 21-year practice here in San Diego, he has treated more than half a dozen local radio stations. Their common ailment: anemic ratings.
He has prescribed everything from splashy promotion pills to drastic format-altering surgery. He has been assisted in the sick room by some of the top radio minds in the country as well as by such non-radio types as a guy in a chicken suit and a former mayor.
While serving as program director of KDEO-AM (910) in 1965, Price introduced the oldies format to San Diego. Within a year, the station's ratings had doubled.
His nine-year stint as general manager of album-oriented rock station KGB-FM (101.5) saw the creation of three of the most successful promotions in local radio history: the KGB Chicken, the annual Sky Show fireworks extravaganza and the "Homegrown" album, featuring songs recorded by San Diegans.
When Price took over in 1974, KGB was fighting a losing battle for rock 'n' roll listeners. By the time he left in 1983, KGB was not only the top rock station in town, but the top station--period.
He then went to KSDO-AM (1130), and his decision last January to hire former Mayor Roger Hedgecock as a talk-show host helped the news/talk station achieve its highest ratings ever.
"He's always been a good competitor," said Paul Palmer, general manager of rival A/C stations KFMB-AM/FM (760/B-100). "We've worked together in this market for the last 15 years, and every time Jim's moved to another station, it was when some changes needed to be made--the stations were hurting and something needed to be done.
"Unlike some general managers, Jim has never been afraid to make those changes. And the stations have been better off because of it."
Before he came to San Diego in 1965, Price had racked up a pair of accomplishments he's still proud of today. As the morning man on a San Francisco radio station in 1956, Price was the first rock 'n' roll deejay anywhere in the country.
Among those who followed in his footsteps at the same station were Gary Owens, of television's "Laugh-In" show, and ABC radio talk-show host Michael Jackson.
A few years later, Price moved to Fresno for his first assignment as program director. There, he hired Robert W. Morgan "fresh out of the Army"--the same Robert W. Morgan who later, at KHJ-AM in Los Angeles, became one of the biggest personalities of the Top 40 era.
Price's devotion to radio has rubbed off on his wife, Brande, who for 21 years has operated her own commercial monitoring service, which nearly every radio station in town subscribes to.
"Eventually, I'd like to work with Parker Industries, the majority owners of KYXY, and develop a series of radio stations around the country, sort of like Gene Autry's Golden West Broadcasting chain that lasted from the 1950s up through the '70s," Price said.
"But we're taking everything one step at a time--first, there's KYXY."