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They Also Talk on FM : AM stations still lead overall, but those ages 18 to 34 prefer Howard Stern and others on KLSX-FM.

October 22, 1998|JUDITH MICHAELSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Look at the Arbitron ratings charts each quarter and it quickly becomes evident that KFI-AM (640) and KABC-AM (790) are, in that order, the dominant local talk stations--with newcomer KLSX-FM (97.1) consistently trailing in third.

And yet it's a different ballgame when it comes to younger listeners, that audience of 18- to 34-year-olds. They are usually found listening to music stations, but when they do turn to talk radio, they more often and in substantially greater numbers listen to KLSX, the local outlet for Howard Stern, radio's Pied Piper for attracting young male listeners with his mix of raunch, comedy and sexual banter.

How great is the anomaly? In the most recent three-month survey covering last summer, Arbitron reported that, overall, KFI averaged 58,700 listeners each quarter-hour to rank seventh among all stations, compared to 48,500 for KABC (14th place) and 42,800 for KLSX (16th). Yet fully half of KLSX's listeners were in the 18-34 age group--nearly three times what KFI garnered and 10 times more than KABC.

It's no wonder KLSX, which became a talk station three years ago but has been airing Stern since 1991, fares so well among the younger crowd.

On the same day last week that the rock group KISS was talking to Stern in morning drive, Tom Leykis was doing his afternoon-drive show from Planet Hollywood in Seattle, where the National Assn. of Broadcasters was holding its radio convention. To the shrieking delight of his on-site audience, Leykis dubbed the NAB the "National Assn. of Broad Chasers." Soon several women were parading by to have him sign their bare chests.

Like KLSX overall, Leykis' audience is 65% male.

"The reason the station is strong in 18-34," says program director Jack Silver, "is, first of all, the Howard Stern lead-in. And secondarily, it's on FM. Remember, we're the only FM talk station. So certainly it's easier to get younger people to listen to us than to KFI.

"When a person is younger, they listen to music. Music is a very important part of their life. Obviously, all the music is on FM. So maybe they sample Howard or stumble onto or sample one of the other talk shows. Who cares how they get here?"

When Silver thinks of his audience core, he thinks of "a 33-year-old male from Huntington Beach. His version of talk radio is Howard Stern or Leykis or [midmorning host] Johnny B [Brandmeier]. I'm trying not to give away my secret but . . . they are personality-driven morning shows. All day. What we are talking about is relationships, entertainment, intermixed with some Monica Lewinsky but certainly not ad nauseum. So it's kind of like more of what we don't talk about than what we do. We don't talk about local politics."

Leykis, who leads the 18-to-34-year-old demographic among afternoon-drive talk shows, insists that his popularity "goes beyond sex topics. We have bumper music and production elements, very much the music of KIIS [FM (102.7)] or KROQ [FM (106.7)]. It's up tempo, it's in-your-face loud. And it's the attitude of the show, the pop culture references. 'South Park,' MTV, we're all over that stuff."

Still, he also does a lot of sex stuff, including "Leykis 101": "my adult education course, on air, to men, to help them figure out how to get more [sex]. People in that demographic are constantly going in and out of relationships."

Leykis, the polar opposite of Dr. Laura Schlessinger, boasting that he's been married four times, says he also advises women that men mean what they say. And although it wasn't his idea, when a caller several months ago suggested that women listening to his show on Fridays bare their breasts in traffic, Leykis went for it.

The one time period between 6 a.m. and midnight when KFI consistently beats KLSX among the 18-34s, and soundly, is in Schlessinger's noon-3 p.m. slot. She brings in nearly twice as many listeners as Brandmeier--23,000 per quarter-hour to 12,200. "Dr. Laura has got every woman sewed up," says Silver. "[We're] male-targeted talk."

While radio executives debate whether KLSX's youthful tilt will have long-term impact on the station rankings, of more immediate concern is the key 25-to-54-year-old audiences--the demographic sought by most advertisers and the audience that KLSX and KFI say they target. And there, KLSX beat KFI for the first time in the latest ratings.

According to figures provided by Encino-based Media Research Graphics Inc., 75.7% of KLSX's overall audience is 25-54. KFI had 46.1% while KABC was at 41.3%. (At KABC, program director Drew Hayes says his station targets 35- to 54-year-olds.)

Among those 55 and older, KABC clearly leads--58% of its audience is in that demographic while KFI counts 50.5% and KLSX a mere 4.6%.

Yet despite KLSX's lead in 25-54, both Leykis and KABC's Larry Elder garnered the same 2.8% share of the listening audience, beating KFI's John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou, with a 2.3% share. However, among the overall audience, Elder is the clear winner: a 3.3% share versus "John & Ken's" 2.3% and Leykis' 2.1%.

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