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San Diego Spotlight

MEDIA : Mexican Owners Oust GM, Change XHRM-FM Format

November 13, 1989|KEVIN BRASS

San Diego's only radio station managed by blacks and specifically targeting the black community, XHRM-FM (92.5), has new management and a new music format, the result of a long-running dispute between the station operators and its Mexican owners.

At the end of October, Willie Morrow, general manager of XHRM for the past nine years, was told to cease operating the station by executives of Radio Moderna Mexicana , owners of the station. Under Morrow, the station featured soul, gospel and rap music.

With Morrow out, the station has switched to a "power" format, featuring dance and light rock music.

Morrow paid a monthly fee to the Mexican company for the right to broadcast over its Tijuana-based signal, much like the American-based Noble Broadcasting has an agreement to operate the Mexican-based XTRA.

However, by the end of October, Morrow had not paid his monthly $55,000 user fee for two months.

Best known as the force behind the successful California Curl cosmetics company and the San Diego Monitor weekly newspaper, Morrow says he refused to pay rent to protest the owner's lack of responsiveness to the station's financial problems.

The disagreements started in January, 1988, Morrow said, when the station's Tijuana transmitter was blown down in a storm. Although a temporary antenna was put up a few days later, a permanent tower was not built for another nine months, Morrow said. The station's signal was severely weakened with the temporary antenna, he said.

By the time the antenna was back, Morrow said, the station's ratings had plummeted.

"At that point I lost all my national accounts," Morrow said.

Continued problems with the studio equipment, which Morrow said he spent thousands of dollars to repair, further exacerbated the station's problems. Morrow wanted the owners to help absorb the costs of the repairs, and the income lost from the transmitter problems.

Morrow hoped his refusal to pay rent would force the owners to help the station through rough times. Instead, they ousted Morrow and took control of the station.

Representatives of Moderna Mexicana could not be reached for comment.

Morrow said he is seeking legal advice.

"I think this is very unfair," Morrow said. "When a natural disaster (knocks down the transmitter) I think the owners should share (in the costs)."

Which came first, the controversy or the news coverage?

Tuesday night's episode of "thirtysomething" included a scene depicting two homosexual men in bed together.

As soon as the show was over, the KGTV (Channel 10) news team was touting reports about the "controversial" scene. During the 11 p.m. newscast, three people representing different viewpoints were on hand to analyze the episode, much like color commentators at a sports events.

Obviously, Channel 10 decided there was going to be a controversy long before the show went on the air. ABC had warned its affiliates about the scene before Tuesday, giving stations ample time to develop news coverage.

As it turned out, Channel 10 received "three or four" phone calls about the scene Tuesday night, an unusual amount of complaints for that time of night, according to Channel 10 news director Paul Sands.

"I personally thought it was interesting," said Sands, who believes the homosexual love scene may have been a first for network television.

By the next day, ABC affiliates around the country were receiving calls about the scene, perhaps fueled by the news coverage. Without the prompt news coverage, there might not have been such a public stink, which leaves ABC open to charges that the scene was included simply as a cheap publicity stunt.

Jeff Apregan is out as general manager of KCBQ. The new station owners, Adams Communications, which will take over the station later this month, have hired Dan Carelli, general sales manager for the Edens Broadcasting station in Tampa, WRBQ, to be the new general manager. WRBQ features the same Top 40 dance music format used by its San Diego sister station, KKLQ (Q106).

Eagle 105 fans also will notice that new billboards going up today throughout the county do not include the Eagle 105 moniker. The new station owners simply want to emphasize the traditional KCBQ call letters, according to a station spokeswoman.

However, the entrance of new owners, Carelli's hiring and the new billboards sans Eagle 105 all fuel speculation that a format change may be in the station's future. Not so, say station staffers, pointing to the recent Arbitron rating trends report, which show Eagle making strong gains, particularly among listeners 25-54.

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