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Radio | AROUND THE DIAL

Let's Talk Sex!

For nearly 15 years, KROQ-FM's 'Love Line' has been L.A.'s top-rated program in 10 p.m. slot.

September 24, 1998|STEVE HOCHMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Everybody on the radio is talking about sex these days, of course. On one show, though, it has nothing to do with the White House.

Adam Corolla and Dr. Drew Pinsky, the hosts of "Love Line" on KROQ-FM (106.7), are by and large ignoring issues raised by scandal, instead going about the business of tackling questions from confused teens and young adults about their own sex (and drug) concerns.

"We're trying to stay away from the Clinton issue," says Pinsky. "Our instinct is everyone else is [talking about it], so we don't need to. And it's sort of self-evident to us what's going on [in the Clinton-Lewinsky dynamics]. People who listen to us should be able to draw their own conclusions. We have much tougher calls every night--this is an easy one."

And so it's been for nearly 15 years--the last nine years five days a week--since "Love Line" went on the air. Night after night, young people call in with questions and problems, and Pinsky and his partner--originally show founder the Poorman (Jim Trenton) and then Rikki Rachtman preceding Corolla--offer their (mostly) reasoned advice with celebrity guests chiming in. No matter what else is going on in the world, the "Love Line" team continues tackling their callers' individual issues.

Why disturb the success? "Love Line" has been, almost from the time it went on nightly, the No. 1 show in its 10-to-midnight time slot in local radio, by a pretty good margin. It is now syndicated nationally and has spun off a TV version on MTV.

The surprise is that it's still the only show remotely of its kind on any otherwise music-dominant station in the area. Something that successful almost mandates imitation. Look at the morning dial, where now nearly every music station has a talk-oriented show. It's considered essential to competing in the market. Yet no music outlet has challenged KROQ at night with talk--be it about sex and drugs or anything else.

That is hard to explain, says radio programming consultant Jeff Pollack.

"The fact is that if you're not pulling [good ratings] at night, it would make perfect sense to experiment with something like this," he says. "There definitely is a future for more nighttime talk-oriented shows that connect with the audience like that."

But Bill Fink, program director of country music station KZLA-FM (93.9), believes the reason KROQ is alone with "Love Line" when the wake-up dial is cluttered with your Howard Sterns, Mark & Brians, Kevin & Beans et al. is a matter of, well, day and night.

"First of all, there's a much larger audience that is interested in talk in the morning," he says. "The general thinking among program directors is [that] the average person has been asleep the last several hours and wants to know what's changed in the world while they were asleep, and what should they wear today--what's the weather. So give them more information for the day. In the evening, simply, there are far fewer people interested in that--more people watching TV and getting their information there."

Additionally, the "Love Line" formula just fits the KROQ audience.

"It really superserves their listeners," says Pollack.

Trip Reeb, KROQ's vice president and general manager, who gave the show its original chance, agrees. "It works because of the content of the show, and it's a highly specialized, very targeted piece of programming," he says. "I can't imagine other types of non-music programming working, particularly on [other music stations] in that time slot."

Corolla thinks that other stations just don't think it's worth their while to try to compete with the leader, especially at the expense of harming their music identity.

"Most stations will shoot their wad with the morning show," he says. "The morning show is the jewel in the crown of all radio stations. You take your funniest, most articulate, highest-paid, most-experienced broadcaster and put them in the morning. Now given that most morning shows are fairly talentless, how bad do you think the talent gets later at night? Listen, if they could get George Carlin at 10 o'clock at KLOS, he would kick our ass. But they're not going to pay the likes of that talent at that time."

Wake-Up Calls: The evenings on music stations may be fairly stable, but the mornings remain in flux, and two L.A. stations are currently looking for new morning talent to help boost their profiles.

KPWR-FM (105.9), having stuck with Big Boy as the morning host after considering replacing him recently, is now hoping to pump the show up some with the addition of a female sidekick. And rather than go through the usual channels for radio talent, the hip-hop station is holding an open contest for candidates.

"Basically we're looking for somebody with a spicy attitude," says show producer Jason Hufford.

Interested women can call the Sexy Sidekick Sweepstakes hotline at (818) 771-7975 and leave a message explaining why they should be considered. The messages will be screened and contenders will be selected to participate in a series of on-air auditions, possibly starting as soon as Monday.

Meanwhile, KZLA has initiated a national search for a new morning personality after the recent firing of Shawn Parr, who had anchored the country station's morning drive for more than six years--a move program director Fink says was purely a matter of ratings.

"There are a lot of hard-core Shawn Parr fans upset," he says. "Just not enough of them."

Fink pledges that regardless of who moves into the job, the morning programming will remain more music-intensive than at most other stations, but that something needs to be done to bring that all-important part of the day up in the ratings.

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