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Listeners Miss Don Sinclair's Folksy Persona

August 26, 1993|LEO SMITH

For some loyal K-HAY fans, country music is country music. They can take the recent changes or leave them.

But what they have a harder time accepting is the departure of longtime K-HAY figure Don Sinclair. To many, Sinclair was more than an employee of the station, he was the station.

Sinclair, now 49, arrived on the K-HAY scene in 1980, after working three years at Oxnard radio station KACY. At K-HAY he served as program director and morning drive personality from the time he began working there until June. Then Mark Hill replaced him as program director, and Ray Taylor took over as morning deejay.

Much of Sinclair's popularity was due to his folksy, down-home persona, on the air and off.

His face is recognized throughout town. So is his community involvement. Through the station and on his own, Sinclair has worked with the Lions Club, the City of Hope, the Toys for Tots program and the Zoe Christian Center homeless shelter. In 1991 he was the grand marshal of Ventura's "Welcome Home the Troops" parade.

But in the station's move toward a get-happier approach, Sinclair was shifted from mornings to afternoons late last spring. He stayed in that job for about three weeks before leaving the station. Whether he quit, got fired or was forced out is up for debate.

David Loe, president and general manager of K-HAY and sister station KVEN, 1450-AM, said K-HAY offered to let Sinclair stay on full time as an on-air personality and as the person in charge of producing commercials.

"I can tell you Don resigned his position," Loe said. "I think he'd have fit in fine. We asked him to move to the afternoon show, when people are driving home, because he is a little less upbeat than Ray Taylor (who was moved from afternoons to mornings)."

Sinclair said it wasn't the time change that bothered him. Rather, he said, for years he and station consultant Jay Albright had been "at loggerheads" over program changes. The final straw, he said, was having to read certain advertising announcements that he didn't believe were true.

Specifically, he said, he could not go on the air and say to the audience, "You told us you want 10 in a row," because, he said, the listeners didn't ask for 10 in a row.

"I can't find anybody who said anything remotely close to that," he said.

Sinclair offered to stick around only to produce commercials. "But they thought it would be detrimental for me to be in the building," he said.

Ask new program director Hill why Sinclair left and he will offer another possibility. "Basically, as I understand," he said, "he resigned because he couldn't talk as much as he used to," under the new faster format.

Now on the outside--looking for another job in country radio, and packing up his house in the event that a move is necessary--Sinclair said he disagrees with the emphasis that K-HAY is placing on new country music and a slicker style. He said Ventura County fans like the station's traditionally people-oriented approach and would prefer more of a mix of the old and new.

"People don't just listen to a station, they adopt it," he said. "The personality is gone. The (deejays) aren't allowed to say much, they just read from cards."

Hill said, yes, the deejays are talking less, but the interaction with the listeners is still there. "We are doing more from what I've seen," he said.

As for the newer music, Sinclair said the station was doing a pretty good job of playing it all along, without shortchanging the older stuff. "Prior to June," he said, "K-HAY played the new music faster than any L. A. station and more oldies than any L. A. FM station."

Though many fans have been stirred up by Sinclair's departure, Albright said his absence should not hurt the station.

"For many people who listened to the station for 10 to 20 years, Don Sinclair is K-HAY. Let's say that's 30% to 50% of the station's audience," said Albright. "Either that's a slight majority, or a big minority. A lot of people have been listening for three, four or five years, so Don Sinclair is not that big."

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