Is a religious radio station likely to feature Scripture-quoting preachers belaboring an obscure point, the strains of a heavenly yet somnolent choir, and maybe some soft-rock Christian music with the word "Lord" laced throughout the lyrics?
KKLA-FM, with offices in North Hollywood, decided on a talk-radio format when it acquired its license in late 1985.
Within three years, it had garnered the largest Christian audience of any religious station in Southern California, regardless of format, and was honored in 1989 as the "broadcast facility of the year" by the National Religious Broadcasters. Nationwide, KKLA runs neck-and-neck with WMCA in New York City for the largest Christian talk-radio audience. KKLA's audience, an estimated 200,000, is also near the top nationally among all 1,150 full-time Christian stations, according to Dennis Worden, KKLA's general manager.
As a result of its success, the station will relocate in mid-June to larger quarters in Glendale.
"We're doubling our space and will have six studios instead of three, largely because we've generated so many live talk shows," Worden said.
KKLA in February hired away Rich Buhler, KBRT-AM's No. 1 talk-show host. Buhler now broadcasts for both KKLA on the FM dial and for KGER, a sister station that airs from Long Beach on 1390 AM. The nationwide parent company, Salem Communications of Camarillo, also owns Christian stations KAVC-FM in the Antelope Valley and KDAR-FM in Ventura County.
In March, John Stewart, who had hosted KKLA's popular late-afternoon talk show for four years, was released over "some personal differences that came up," Worden said. Stewart, who did not wish to comment publicly on their differences, signed on with his first employer in radio, KBRT, which transmits from Catalina Island. His "John Stewart Live" show now runs roughly in the same time period as KKLA's "Live from L.A." talk show.
"I wrote to Worden to tell him that I intend to be a fierce competitor," Stewart said. "It's not out of bitterness but because there is a demand for excellence in Christian-oriented broadcasting."
Besides competing with Christian-format stations for listeners and advertisers, KKLA shares an audience of primarily 35- to 45-year-olds with talk-radio KABC, all-news KFWB and music-format KOST, Worden claimed.
It carries commercials from banks, supermarkets and other secular advertisers as well as from religious organizations. Worden said that his station rejects commercials by businesses that want to advertise themselves as Christian, implying that they are somehow superior professionals.
"A Christian dentist is no better than a non-Christian dentist," Worden said.
One broadcasting consultant who works for a church-owned station said--with some admiration--that he viewed KKLA "as a commercial radio station that happens to be Christian rather than a Christian station that happens to make commercial time available."
KKLA came into being when the Federal Communications Commission decided not to renew the license held by KHOF. That occurred after the Rev. Gene Scott's Faith Center in Glendale refused to provide documents and broadcast tapes for an FCC investigation into alleged misuse of donations.
At 99.5--in the middle of the FM band--KKLA has certain advantages over other religious stations in the region. Not only does it have a 30,000-watt signal transmitting from the core of a densely populated area--from Flint Peak above Glendale--KKLA has another way to catch the ears of dial-turners.
"We are basically the only talk station on FM in Los Angeles," Worden said.
The North Hollywood station does not subscribe to Arbitron rating services but is told by another source, Soma Communications in Dallas, that it has an estimated 200,000 listeners.
"The other primary way we get a pulse on our audience is from the national ministries whose programs we broadcast," Worden said.
One of the most popular programs on KKLA is psychologist James Dobson's syndicated "Focus on the Family," which airs at 7:30 a.m. daily. Dobson, whose multimedia ministry recently moved from Pomona to Colorado Springs, Colo., is also heard on four other radio stations in Los Angeles.
"'Focus on the Family' tells us that they get more letters and donations from our listeners than from any other station in the country," Worden said.
Worden, who attends Grace Baptist Church in Newhall, said that the Bible is the foundation for the station's philosophy.
The conservative theological perspective is unmistakably evident on the air.
But Worden said that other opinions get voiced on occasion.
"We take a certain amount of risk on our talk shows," he said, pointing out that when the subject is pornography or homosexuality, for instance, the in-studio guests include not only a Christian opponent but also someone defending viewpoints criticized by evangelicals.
"Members of a church will usually accept how a pastor explains certain positions, but listeners to radio need to hear a debate, maybe participate, reason for themselves and come to a decision," he said.