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Music to Someone's Ears : How demographics transformed classical radio station KFAC into big-beat KKBT

October 08, 1989|CLAUDIA PUIG

"I don't think the Hispanic under 30 is going to listen because they've got Paul Rodriguez on in the morning," says Gordon Mason, president of the Southern California Broadcasters Assn. "I don't think that's a strong enough reason."

A new station may not wrest the loyalties away from KPWR and KIIS, he says, two stations that consistently place in the Top 5 among Los Angeles stations.

Rodriguez, however, is excited about the opportunity to be on the radio. "Principally I want to be an actor, but to have the opportunity to talk to millions of Hispanics and all the area of L.A. up to Orange County, it was an opportunity I didn't want to pass up," he says.

"If I do a good job here on the radio in the morning, believe me, every station will have a Hispanic," he says. "It'll be Rick Diaz and Jose Thomas," referring to top morning jocks Rick Dees (KIIS-FM) and Jay Thomas (KPWR-FM).

KKBT Is Born

The 24 hours of thumping heartbeat stopped at noon on Thursday, September 21.

The first few songs on the air were allusions to the new venture: Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side" followed by the Rolling Stones' "Start Me Up" and the Go-Go's "We Got the Beat."

Other songs to follow that day included "So Alive" by Love and Rockets, "Don't You Want Me" by the Human League, "1999" by Prince and "Fame" by Irene Cara. (That last one is off the playlist, De Castro announced a few days later. "It's a song that worked well in research but it isn't consistent with our sound.")

Several people in the radio industry acknowledge that a good deal of fine-tuning is the norm during the first few weeks of a station's life.

"We're not going to be our final radio station the day we go on," program director Kiley had said.

Comparisons to Pirate Radio, the last radio station to hit the market, are inevitable, particularly given the almost-overnight success of the hard-rocking station.

Despite his reputation for knocking competing stations, KQLZ's program director and morning deejay Scott Shannon did not criticize the new station.

"(KKBT) received a lot of attention when they signed on but most of it was focused on the demise of the classical format rather than the arrival of a new radio station," Shannon said. "And then to complicate matters even more, they were following our sign-on (on March 17, 1989), which turned out to be probably the most recorded sign-on in modern radio history. So it was very difficult for them to hit with a big splash."

Despite all this, Shannon said, he expects KKBT will gather a substantial audience.

"There's some really talented people involved in the KKBT project and the station will certainly be a competitor," Shannon said. "A new station never sounds like you want it to sound when it first goes on. We had a lot of problems when we first signed on."

KKBT is not without its early problems and need for adjustments. De Castro has said that he is unhappy with the sound of the morning show and plans to restructure it to feature Rodriguez more prominently. The comedian is currently sharing the 6-10 a.m. shift with deejays Tim Kelly and Patty Lotts.

Audience reactions are the key and so far those have been hard to read since only a fraction of listeners ever call or write radio stations, Kiley said

One staffer says she knows of only one fan letter sent to the station. But Kiley said she has received "less than 50" letters and between 1,000-2,000 calls, including those on the request lines.

Said letter-writer Robert Ray from West Hollywood, "I like it. I drive 4-6 hours a day and I'm sick of changing channels. . . ." Wrote Maurice Holloway: "The programming really connects with the Baby Boom generation. The overall sound is like old Top 40. . . . Everything you played had a danceable beat."

The Future

Radio industry officials understand the strategy behind KKBT, but they are split about how successful the station will be.

"I think it's gonna work . . . because of the ethnic makeup of the marketplace," says one official with a ratings service. "I mean, I don't think it's going to be the No. 1 station in the marketplace, but it's going to do well."

But he has heard a lot of comments that the station's playlist is "all over the place. Most people liked bits and pieces of it."

The diversity of the playlist is a common criticism.

"I would have preferred to hear the station more together from the onset," says a program director at a rival station. "But I guess they'll make some changes on the air."

Says another industry veteran: " I wouldn't put a lot of money on their big success. . . . It's just another rock station. I know what they're doing. I see the design they've chosen. . . . They'll probably get to a 2 share. The market is just reaching the saturation point. There was a stronger reason to listen to the Pirate, if you're into that bag, than there is to listen to this, now that Pirate's here.

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