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RADIO | AROUND THE DIAL

Public Riches of Information

March 12, 1998|JUDITH MICHAELSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For thinking-person tastes, it's either an embarrassment of riches or a dilemma, as if TV's "Meet the Press," "Face the Nation" and "This Week With Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts" all aired at the same hour.

It's public radio at 7 p.m., when Southland listeners who previously could choose between Warren Olney's hourlong "Which Way, L.A.?" on KCRW-FM (89.9) and "Fresh Air With Terry Gross," a program about contemporary arts and issues, on KPCC-FM (89.3) now have a third possibility.

KUSC-FM (91.5) management, wanting to "offer more classical music during your afternoon commute," as a recent newsletter told its membership, has moved "Marketplace"--the award-winning half-hour business and global economics program, hosted by David Brancaccio--from its longtime 6 p.m. berth to 7 p.m.

"The goal of KUSC is to be a really strong classical music station," explains General Manager Brenda Pennell, who arrived last November. "That's part of the reason [USC chose] me--someone with three degrees in music who can't do anything else," she adds with a laugh.

"There's no way we can please everyone all the time," Pennell admits. "I wish we could . . . but people do have options."

One option is to hear "Marketplace"--produced at KUSC and distributed nationally by Public Radio International to more than 250 stations--on KCRW at 2 p.m., following Olney's live broadcast of "Which Way, L.A.?" Another is to listen to "Fresh Air" on KPCC-FM (89.3) at 1 p.m., or on KCRW at 3.

But that hardly makes the folks at "Marketplace" feel particularly sanguine.

With a decided edge to his laughter, Brancaccio says: "We are told by KUSC that, when they processed all the numbers, this will increase listenership of 'Marketplace.' . . . Do I believe it? Programming is more of an art than a science, and I can only have faith that it will work. We tend to like our program to be in what is formally drive time. That's where the listeners are.

"But the more successful KUSC is," Brancaccio adds, "the more successful all the programs are. If their strategy succeeds, wherever [we] are on that station, we'll be doing well."

After all, the "Marketplace" host points out, there was a period when KUSC departed from its classical roots and gave the business show such musical lead-ins as "Happy Trails"--and he would say to himself: "I hope that isn't the last listener clicking off."

Jim Russell, general manager of Marketplace Productions, says bluntly: "I'd rather be on at 6, but we're not in charge of the stations. KUSC, like 250 of them around the country, make their own decisions, which I can love or not like. . . ."

Russell says he, too, was assured that the move to 7 p.m. "would be good for the station and for 'Marketplace.' . . . There is a theory that 7 is closer to an executive drive time."

Nevertheless, it must remain a downer for a program that in January won the DuPont-Columbia Award, broadcasting's equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize, to lose its popular 6 p.m. slot--and at the station that is its broadcast home.

Olney, meanwhile, calls the placement of "Marketplace" "unfortunate," particularly when there are "so few good public-affairs programs on any station" in the region.

"I don't wish either of these two programs ill--I just hope [people] listen to my program," he says.

At WHYY-FM in Philadelphia, where "Fresh Air" originates, Gross said that while she'd be sorry if her ratings were adversely affected by the arrival of "Marketplace" in the 7 p.m. slot, "this offers choice and variety, and ultimately it's good for listeners and for public radio."

*

KUSC Addenda: Charles Andrews, most recently a music host and program director at WSKU in Kent State, Ohio, debuted his 11 a.m.-2 p.m. weekday show on KUSC Monday. "Midday With Charles Andrews" replaces "NPR's Performance Today With Martin Goldsmith" and Public Radio International's "Classical 24."

Andrews, 41, who was born in Santa Monica and lived in the South Bay until he was 12, said he's glad to be returning to Southern California. He met Pennell while she was president and general manager at WGUC-FM, the classical public radio station in Cincinnati.

A flutist though he never got a degree in music, Andrews says he intends to present "as great a variety as possible" of classical fare. "The music speaks for itself" but he will be giving brief introductions to the pieces, and to the "human and emotional elements" of composers' lives.

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