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'The Zone's' Failure Shows Disney's Radio Inexperience

September 01, 1997|STEVE PARKER | Steve Parker is "The Car Dude" on KTLA-TV Channel 5's "Morning News" and "News at Ten" and is "The Car Nut" on XTRA Sports LA (1150) radio Saturday mornings. He worked as an automotive talk-show producer-host at KMPC and KTZN

This week's sudden and final demise of KTZN-AM's "The Zone" as a talk station comes as no huge surprise to anyone in the radio business, and it markedly points out how even Disney can fail when it gets into something it apparently doesn't know a lot about.

It's been more than a year since Disney purchased ABC/Cap Cities and became the owner of three stations in radio's hottest marketplace, KABC-AM (790), KLOS-FM (95.5) and what was then called KMPC-AM (710).

A quick look at what has happened to those stations in that short period of time is shocking by any standards:

* George Green, president of KABC Radio and the man who, along with Ben Hoberman, created the talk radio concept in this country, was shown the door;

* The call letters KMPC, among the most recognizable in L.A., were done away with;

* Elmer Dills, Roger Barkley and Joe Benson, three of the best-known names in L.A. radio, were also shown their way out, and Michael Jackson, "Mr. Radio" in this town for almost 30 years, was demoted to "talk radio hell," a.k.a. the weekends;

* Peter Tilden was moved from KMPC's morning show to partner with Ken Minyard at KABC's morning drive show, and the ratings for that all-important program have been on a downward trend ever since;

* Robin Abcarian, who writes a column for The Times but had no full-time radio experience, was given the job of co-hosting the crucial morning drive show at KMPC (KTZN), but the station failed to properly promote that show, making her ability to garner new listeners virtually impossible;

* KABC and KTZN gave up both the Dodgers and the Angels effective next baseball season. The Angels go to KRLA-AM (1110) and the Dodgers to XTRA Sports LA, KXTA-AM (1150).

Keep in mind, all of the above happened in the course of just one year.

Three men ran the programming department for both KABC and KTZN. They were given an impossible task: Program two major-market talk radio stations (KABC and KTZN), both of which were trying to pull listeners away from English talk leader KFI-AM (640), and at the same time, not allow those two stations to cannibalize listeners from each other.

All these conditions added up to a certain failure that everyone (except management, apparently) could see coming and only the timing of "The Zone's" demise was anyone's guess.

*

I feel badly for all the talent in front of and behind the mikes who worked hard to make the station work and develop some job security in a business fraught with uncertainty. I feel badly for some of the station management who must have been under enormous pressure from Disney to make a go of KTZN in an impossibly short time and with what appeared to have been a nearly zero promotional and advertising budget.

But I do not feel badly for Maureen Lesourd, the president of the mammoth three-station market that is Disney/ABC in Los Angeles. She gets to keep her job and save the company a lot of money firing virtually all the KTZN talent and now simply running a syndicated "infomercial" for Disney theme parks and products 24 hours every day. She's also the woman who told me she didn't think Los Angeles radio listeners are interested in a show about cars, but I suppose she's to be forgiven that, her being fresh from New York and all.

The talk on the street now is that when Disney bought ABC they only wanted the TV side of the company and would quickly sell off the radio division to a company interested in radio only. If they are trying to increase the price of their stations in Los Angeles, they are going about it in a very strange manner.

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