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Scratching their backs

Commercial radio outlets advertise sister stations owned by the same parent company; public stations are also now cross-promoting.

November 15, 2002|Steve Carney | Special to The Times

Seems like Radio 101: Once you have a listener, you don't go suggesting that he or she tune into another station.

In commercial radio, more listeners means higher ratings, which increases advertising revenue. And in public radio, more listeners means more potential financial donors.

But during news programs on KCRW-FM (89.9), you'll hear promotional spots touting the jazz on KKJZ-FM (88.1), or the classical music on KUSC-FM (91.5), while those stations push some of the news programming on KCRW.

"We're very bullish on cross-promotion," said Ruth Seymour, KCRW general manager. "The idea to do it is that people would discover the station who didn't know it before. The more you do, every little bit adds up."

In an environment of ever-increasing ownership consolidation, the tactic is more obvious for stations that are part of the same chain. For example, Clear Channel Communications, which owns eight stations in the Los Angeles market, tells listeners on its FM music channels to get headlines from its news-talk outlet KFI-AM (640). The practice evolved from Sept. 11, 2001, when the FM stations aired KFI news reports on the terrorist attacks.

"That went really well, and what we started to do after that was cross-promote all the radio stations," said Bill Lewis, director of AM marketing for Clear Channel-Los Angeles.

So now they'll promote big concerts sponsored by their corporate siblings, and suggest sampling other music styles. "Very rarely will someone be a single-station listener," he said. "We just want to make sure you listen to stations that are part of the Clear Channel cluster."

But Lewis said stations with similar offerings and audiences -- such as adult contemporaries KBIG-FM (104.3) and KOST-FM (103.5) -- won't be scratching each other's back.

Such is also the reasoning behind public-station promotions. KKJZ and KUSC don't air the National Public Radio newsmagazines "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered," and Seymour said she wants to drive listeners to those programs on KCRW.

"Those are the two big programs they do not carry, and we wanted to establish that in their listeners' minds," she said, adding that they're also promoting Warren Olney's KCRW shows "Which Way, L.A.?" and "To the Point."

"I wouldn't want to promote the same thing on another station," Seymour said, noting, for example, that KPCC-FM (89.3) isn't in the arrangement because it airs "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" about the same time as KCRW does. And though KCRW airs music, the eclectic playlist is very different from what's heard on KKJZ and KUSC.

But KKJZ and KUSC aren't promoting each other, because there's little overlap in the jazz and classical audiences, said Brenda Barnes, KUSC president and general manager.

"We see people leaving our station and looking for news. We're not going to offer news, so it makes sense to send them to KCRW," Barnes said. "My own staff had questions about it at the beginning. My basic view of it is, people do have eclectic tastes. Letting them know what else is out there isn't a bad thing."

Seymour said promotions are ingrained in the culture at KCRW, which has done them with Laemmle Theatres for 15 years. KCRW also works with public television's KCET, and others. The arrangement with KUSC has gone on about two years, Seymour said, while KKJZ has been involved about a year.

"We know we share an audience," she said. "None of us is doing it out of charity, or even love -- even though we like each other. We're doing it because it's the smart thing to do."

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David Letterman now on radio too

In his 20 years on late-night television, David Letterman has occasionally closed his program by thanking the audience for watching and adding, "If you're driving home ... for heaven's sake, turn off the television!" But now motorists can safely catch the CBS program, since "The Late Show With David Letterman" began simulcasting on radio this week. The Infinity radio network, which shares with CBS the corporate parent Viacom, began airing the program Monday on 15 stations nationwide, including KLSX-FM (97.1), where it's heard weeknights from 11:35 p.m. until 12:37 a.m.

On Monday's program, Letterman -- who got his start in radio in his Indianapolis hometown -- shot fireworks from the roof and joked about the limited potential of enjoying them via radio. On Tuesday, his list of "Top Ten Things People Said While Listening to 'The Late Show' on the Radio Last Night" included, "Something must be wrong.... I don't hear anyone laughing," "It's like watching TV with your eyes closed!" and "If Marconi were here right now, I'd hit him with my car."

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Spanish-language ratings adjustment

What Spanish-language broadcasters called an alarming discrepancy in the most recent ratings -- in which numbers for almost every station in the genre plummeted during the summer quarter -- may be addressed by a change that the Arbitron ratings service announced this week.

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