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VALLEY BUSINESS | ON THE AIR: VYING FOR LISTENERS

Power 106 Is Making a Big Impact on L.A. Radio Scene

Entertainment: Hip-hop philosophy, billboard blitz and a 400-pound disc jockey are lifting the self-proclaimed party station to a new level.

May 30, 2000|KATHLEEN O'STEEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In the world of hip-hop, Power 106 is about as big as, well, the 400-pound man who is driving the morning show.

With annual revenue of about $40 million and one of the largest outdoor advertising campaigns among Los Angeles-area radio stations, KPWR-FM (105.9) is being powered to even greater heights by the growing popularity of morning drive-time disc jockey Big Boy.

"Big Boy has truly become a big personality in the marketplace," says Don Barrett, publisher of LARadio.com, an online radio resource. "He has just busted through the radio."

For those who haven't seen the billboards, Power 106's current ad blitz features Big Boy (he won't reveal his real name) in a number of spoof-styled poses--dressed as Austin Powers, flying like Superman, wrapped in a white towel and shower cap with a yellow plastic ducky, doing the splits (he actually can).

"Big Boy is a big friendly person," notes Dianna Obermeyer, director of marketing and promotions for Power 106. "We wanted to get that across in this campaign. We think you don't have to be a specific age or race to like him or discover him."

Obermeyer, an East Coast transplant who describes herself as a big woman, says she decided to celebrate Big Boy's "bigness" because everyone else in L.A. is "so thin."

It apparently is working. The billboard blitz, which is costing the station well into seven figures, can be seen gracing the city's freeways, high-density areas and places where people go to have fun, including Old Town Pasadena and Hollywood Boulevard.

And Big Boy, 30, is now finding himself to be the celebrity of the moment, often doing guest stints on such shows as KTLA-TV's morning news show. "His image is definitely out there," says Michael Suman, research director for the UCLA Center for Communication Policy.

The station also keeps its brand out there through sponsoring concert events--Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dog will appear June 16 and 18 at Anaheim Pond--and through its nonprofit fund that raises money toward the education and employment of Latinos. One recipient of such money has been Homeboy Industries, which hires former gang members.

For 106 executives, keeping the station's image of fun is key. Program Director and Vice President Jimmy Steal describes Power 106 as a youth-targeted party station.

"There's no in-office listening for us," he says with a smile, referring to stations that urge people to listen to them at work. "We're out to entertain people, to make them happy. We're saying it's OK to enjoy yourself."

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Owned by Emmis Communications, an Indianapolis-based company that has other radio and TV stations and recently bought Los Angeles magazine, Power 106's programming philosophy is simple. Keep the music in the urban, hip-hop genre (heavy on the rap) and target young Latinos, ages 18 to 34.

"Latinos aren't really a niche anymore," says Val Maki, the station's vice president and general manager. "They are the general market here. Probably the census will show about 50% Latinos. The position in our marketing is that Latinos are Southern California's new mainstream."

The philosophy has kept 106 in the top five among L.A.-area stations, moving it way beyond the early 1980s, when it was known as Magic 106 FM and featured such morning deejays as the late Robert W. Morgan.

In a recent report from Arbitron, which rates radio stations, Power 106 was listed as third among L.A.-area English-language stations, charting listeners ages 12 and older.

But in its target demographic of 18- to 34-year-olds, Power 106 rated No. 2. About 1.5 million people tune in every week.

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"To our audience, we have every bit of the kind of mass appeal of a station like KIIS-FM," Steal contends, "and even though people may not be aware of it, the influence of hip-hop sells an incredible amount of music, movies, apparel. We are what's happening in pop culture."

As the program director, it's Steal's job to keep the music on the edge.

In addition to a staff of music directors, he works with eight to nine mixers--many of whom are stars in their own right in the world of rap and hip-hop. "The mixers themselves are a draw," Maki says.

Big Boy began working as a disc jockey because he was friends with the then-morning disc jockeys. "At one time, I was the audience. I've always been a guy who had his hands in at the street level," he says. "I used to hang with these guys and they suggested that I should give radio a try."

After two overnights of guesting stints, he was hired to do the night show. In 1997, he was moved to the station's most-sought-after spot, working 6 to 10 a.m.

Most radio listening occurs during the morning drive, Maki says. "But for a station like ours, afternoon drive is also very, very huge." The station's afternoon deejays are Tha' Good Fellas, better known as DeJai and Romeo (3 to 7 p.m.).

And while Power 106 is hitting strides with its targeted demographics, Maki says it continues to attract more and more blue-chip advertisers.

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