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FOR THE KIDS : Easy Listening : It's all fun, all the time, as 24-hour Radio AAHS broadcasts music, news and stories for the grade-school audience.

March 04, 1993|JANE HULSE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Flip your radio dial to 850 AM and get ready for anything from that hot track by the Chipmunks, "Achy Breaky Heart," to a hip message about brushing teeth.

Welcome to Radio AAHS. It's new. It's slick. And it's for kids--24 hours a day.

It joined the Los Angeles-area airwaves Feb. 11 after Los Angeles station KPLS dropped its Spanish all-talk format and became an affiliate of the Children's Satellite Network. The kids' programming is simulcast on KCTQ-AM in Thousand Oaks, reaching kids throughout Ventura County as well.

Radio AAHS originated in Minneapolis in 1990. The network was launched last October, and since then, stations in 11 cities across the country, among them Los Angeles and Thousand Oaks, have picked up the signal.

Radio AAHS (It sounds like "Oz," but actually it's shortened from "oohs and aahs") is aimed at kids ages 4 to 12. The deejays are adults, but to draw more kid appeal, the show has an 11-year-old "vice president of fun," Jimmy Freeman. He co-hosts the afternoon segment, along with two teen-age girls who serve as news and entertainment editors.

The programming is 60% to 70% music, according to network officials, with the rest a mix of educational tidbits, self-esteem messages, recycling reminders, story hours, contests, news, local weather and even jokes. (Why couldn't the two elephants go swimming? They only had one pair of trunks.)

Brace yourself for an earful of tunes for young children, like "On My Pond" by Kermit the Frog; or cuts from Disney soundtracks such as "Beauty and the Beast" and "Aladdin." Sprinkled in are some songs like James Taylor's "You've Got a Friend" and Bette Midler's "From a Distance" to make it palatable for adults.

In the afternoon, when older kids are home from school, some light rap or hits by Paula Abdul or Michael Jackson slip into the format. The playlist includes kid entertainers like Parachute Express, the Chenille Sisters, Bill Harley, Raffi and Linda Arnold.

Amazingly, the network has a toll-free number (800-552-2470) with 18 lines so that kids all over the country can phone in to chat or request a favorite song. On the weekend, Radio AAHS airs a Top 10 countdown. The Chipmunks' "Achy Breaky Heart" was holding the No. 4 slot last week, with Cheech Marin's "I'm the School Bus Driver" in the top spot.

The day after Radio AAHS began broadcasting in Los Angeles and Thousand Oaks, the 800 line was jammed with calls from this area, said Bill Barnett, president of Children's Satellite Network.

"Kids are eating this thing up," he said. Market studies show that the average listener is 7.8 years old and that half the listening is done in the car, Barnett said.

Radio AAHS so far isn't loaded with the type of commercials aired on Saturday morning television. In fact, there are few commercials at all.

"We're trying to stay away from exploitative advertising," Barnett said. "We're not opposed to advertising products, but we want to do it on a limited basis."

The network is encouraging advertisers to sponsor spots such as story hour. And McDonald's ads highlight good deeds by children rather than hamburgers and fries.

Along those lines, Radio AAHS deejays mix educational messages in with the entertainment format. Kids learn about everything from volcanoes to time zones.

But the most popular nugget of knowledge is the hourly spot called the Brain Game. Deejays ask a question (What does a Fathometer measure?) and kids call the 800 number with the answer. Winners get such prizes as cassettes, posters and pencils.

During the morning segment, deejay Robin Blair cozies up to the preschoolers with a warm and fuzzy approach. Each day, she asks them how they feel about something. What would they do, for instance, if they could do anything for a day? She encourages them to call in and talk to her on the air--and they do. Four- and 5-year-olds phone in from all over to say they would hand out money to the poor or visit grandma.

Kids co-host the afternoon show, chatting with deejays about anything--the Academy Awards or the car radio of the future. Kids read the news, bringing even the national budget deficit down to earth.

No other station in the Southland has 24-hour kids' programming, but some area stations have kid shows. On Sundays, KNJO (92.7 FM) out of Westlake Village offers "One of a Kind" for kids from 8 to 9 a.m.

Jim Villanueva, co-owner of the L.A. and Thousand Oaks stations airing Radio AAHS, said he hopes to offer some local programming, in addition to weather reports.

Radio AAHS bills itself on the air as "Radio AAHS--great music for great kids." But Villanueva insists it's really family radio.

"Kids listen with their parents in the car," he said. "Adults leave the station on after they drop off the kids."

* FYI

Radio AAHS can be heard 24 hours on Thousand Oaks station KCTQ-AM (850) or on Los Angeles station KPLS-AM (830). The toll-free number for Radio AAHS is (800) 552-2470.

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