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RADIO : Something to Talk About : Gregg Hunter has built a reputation not on confrontation, but on casual show biz chats.

August 11, 1995|ADRIENNE WIGDORTZ ANDERSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

GLENDALE — If you're tired of combative, in-your-face talk radio and want to relax before nodding off to dreamland, set your dial to KIEV-870 AM to hear the radio host billed as "the friendliest voice on the airways--Gregg Hunter."

For almost 26 years, Hunter has provided a pleasant and informative few hours of chatter, sharing his extensive knowledge of restaurants, music, television and film, with an emphasis on classic movies.

Hunter's "Weekend World of Entertainment" show on Friday and Saturday nights is devoted entirely to "the industry." His "Niteside L.A.," on Monday through Thursday nights, covers a variety of subjects with a mix of guest interviews, reviews, nostalgia and topical commentary. Both shows are usually aired between 9 p.m. and midnight.

On KIEV, one of the few independently owned stations in the Los Angeles area, 40% of the programming time is sold to anyone who wishes to merchandise a product or a service or to present a point of view.

Consequently, Hunter's shows don't have a consistent time slot and are sometimes preempted by the paid programs.

Hunter says his style is not confrontational. "I don't make heavy political statements. At that time of night, I try to keep it light. It gives the listener a chance to unwind from the tension of the day."

Marrgo Rosato, an executive assistant for an accounting firm and a listener for 12 years, describes Hunter as her radio companion when she drives home to Glendale from late-night meetings. She says she is grateful for the downtime.

"I don't want controversy after a hard day of work," she says. Rosato and her husband own three restaurants, and they especially enjoy Hunter's restaurant reviews.

But movies seem to be the audience's favorite topic. A typical caller couldn't remember who starred in "3 Women."

"I know you can tell me," she confided, and Hunter did. Because he owns a vast collection of record albums and books on show business, he brings his own reference materials to the studio in case he's stumped. He rarely needs to crack them.

"His instant recall and theatrical background make the show work," says Fred Beaton, who owns KIEV with his brother Ron. "Anyone who comes to Hollywood should listen to Gregg to get a real feel for it."

The film community agrees. Hunter recently received honors from the Film Advisory Board and the California Motion Picture Council for his quality reporting on cinema.

Hunter's early years were a warm-up for his current radio duties. He credits his father, who managed movie theaters in the Midwest, for teaching him about show business. When he was a young boy, Hunter debuted as an entertainer between the movies at his father's theaters. Hunter's radio career began in his hometown, Springfield, Mo., when he was only 13, hosting a music show that included a report about Hollywood.

At 15, he became the youngest student at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City, simultaneously writing and recording more than 100 original songs. After graduating, Hunter appeared in plays and musicals and then signed a contract with 20th Century Fox studio. Even now, he himself sings his radio theme song.

Unfortunately, typed as a song-and-dance man, he arrived in Hollywood when the movie musical was on the wane, and the studio was changing management. "They brought me out here and forgot why," he says.

Making the best of it, Hunter became a journalist, covering the entertainment beat for the Glendale News-Press and acted as a radio host. The Beatons invited him to review restaurants, plays and movies on their station. KIEV switched to a talk format in 1975, so Hunter's program evolved into "celebrity talk," and he interviewed Hollywood legends from a booth at the Brown Derby.

When other famous eateries disappeared, Hunter knew it was time to shift to a studio call-in program. "There were many nervous nights when I wondered if anyone would call," he remembers.

Now he looks forward to the show, enjoying the diversity and experience of his audience. "Many worked in the entertainment industry and know more than I do. They contribute a lot of behind-the-scenes information," he says. One night he couldn't remember who played the female lead in the 1941 release of "The Invisible Woman." Almost immediately a call came in, and a woman said, "Hello, Gregg? This is Virginia Bruce. I did!"

Although most of the listeners are older, teen-agers and twentysomethings who enjoy nostalgia also tune in. KIEV doesn't screen callers, so there is a core group of people who phone in nightly.

Hunter is philosophical about his show's having no fixed time. "Once when I was touring with a play, I asked a veteran actress in the cast why she was diligently checking out the theater. She replied, 'Honey, you have to use what they give you.' I've followed that advice all my life."

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