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Brokers of Air Access : Hosts buy a little fame by securing sponsors to cover costs and paying stations for air time and use of facilities.

August 14, 1992|R. DANIEL FOSTER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; R. Daniel Foster writes regularly for Valley Life

With 16 years experience as a professional bass fisherman, Don Iovino wanted to take advantage of his national championship standings. He already peddled his own line of fishing lures, rods and videos. A "Don Iovino" TV talk show seemed a far reach.

But a radio show for fishermen seemed practical--even profitable if he plugged a few plastic worms and crippled herring spoon lures.

"I'm no Walter Cronkite," said Burbank resident Iovino, who captured the U.S. Bass World Championship in 1984. "At first I felt shaky being a radio host--I was trying to be too professional. Then I hired a co-host and changed the format to just two guys sitting around talking about fishing. Now we're really flying."

Iovino, co-host of KWNK-AM Radio's "Talk Fishing With Don Iovino," hooked into a popular method of accessing airwaves through paid programming. Hosts, who secure sponsors to cover costs, pay stations for air time and use of facilities--a practice the radio industry calls "brokerage shows."

Some hosts become full-fledged radio personalities, setting aside other careers in favor of their now lucrative radio gigs.

From retirees with garden shows to preachers, financial advisers, psychics, chefs, politicians and veterinarians--those who buy brokerage shows can grab their weekly 15 minutes of fame on their own terms. Some even receive fan mail.

"We view brokerage shows as access time we can offer to a wide range of voices in the community, just like cable TV," said West Hills-based KWNK general sales manager Bill Cabranes, whose station's programming consists of 30% brokerage shows totaling 40 programs and 30 hours a week. "The old days of radio were a lot like this. People would lay down their checks and then grab a microphone."

Cost of shows varies widely between the four San Fernando Valley radio stations that air paid programming--from $100 for five minutes after dusk to about $1,500 for one hour of air time during the day at KIEV. Expenses are readily recouped through either pitching one's own products or securing enough sponsors. Stations provide technical help at no extra charge.

"Many radio stations consider it easier to sell a $1,000 hour of programming to an individual, rather than hunt down 10 sponsors to get the same $1,000," said Debbi Farr, KGIL's director of programming. "But we don't actively pursue brokerage shows, because most of our programming is network-oriented--like ABC's 'Tom Snyder Show' and 'Larry King.' "

Among the area stations that feature brokerage time, Glendale-based KIEV-AM Radio offers the largest selection--about 100 shows per week, or a full 80% of its 168 hours of weekly programming.

The motivation for many buyers of brokerage shows is pure profit.

"Look at it this way: You can buy a one-minute commercial during a prime-time program like George Putnam for $180, or buy five minutes of brokerage time for $240," said KIEV radio account executive R.J. Beaton. "It's a good way to make money. Doctors and psychologists can pick up clients while they talk about hernia operations and dysfunctional childhoods."

Such programs, especially those that are one to 15 minutes long, could arguably be called "infomercials"--programs that inform with a heavy dose of product pushing. Cabranes said most listeners are oblivious to whether a show is purchased or is a part of a station's regular programming. FCC regulations, however, require brokerage shows to label themselves as such, with statements such as, "The preceding was a paid program."

Some shows are produced with pure sentiment.

"Last year, one gentleman hosted a show that was a tribute to his wife who had just died," said KIEV's Beaton, adding that the show aired for 15 minutes each Sunday morning for six months. "They were married for 50 years and had sung together professionally. He played their records, read from the Bible and talked about her. Sometimes he sang a cappella to her. It really choked everybody up."

Mary Anne Bradley also centers her half-hour show around marriage, but for those who are entering the commitment. "Getting Married in Southern California" airs for 30 minutes at 9:30 Saturday mornings on KIEV, with repeat broadcasts at 9 p.m. Sundays and Wednesdays.

"I tell girls what's in, what's out and what bridal scams to watch out for," said Bradley, who opens her show with the line, "From A to Z for the bride to be." "I have guests from the wedding industry on the show and I also take calls from listeners."

Bradley secured 11 sponsors for her year-old show--among them the Los Angeles Music Center and Universal Studios, which push their locations for weddings, and the Disneyland Hotel and Beau Rivage restaurant in Malibu.

Bradley also plugs her bridal consultant business and often discusses the three bridal shows she holds each year in Southern California. She charges $99 for a 30-second commercial, with discount if the spot runs six weeks or more.

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