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One day a week, it's music of the Beatles

How can the Fab Four sustain five radio shows every Sunday? Programmers cite younger fans and recent CD and box set releases.

May 02, 2003|Jon Matsumoto | Special to The Times

In 1985, Deirdre O'Donoghue began playing host of a Sunday-morning radio show in Los Angeles that was devoted to the music of the Beatles. During the next 15 years, "Breakfast With the Beatles" and the soothing, erudite voice of O'Donoghue became synonymous.

So when the veteran disc jockey passed away in January 2000 from complications connected to multiple sclerosis, it was hard to imagine another personality piloting the show.

Three years later, not only is "Breakfast With the Beatles" still a ratings winner at KLSX-FM (97.1), but two other local radio stations also program Sunday shows surrounding the timeless tunes of the Fab Four.

Acting on a rumor it had heard that KLSX might discontinue "Breakfast With the Beatles" following O'Donoghue's death, public radio station KCSN-FM (88.5) at Cal State Northridge created its own show, called "Meet the Beatles" (10 a.m.-1 p.m.), in February 2001.

Then, about a year ago, oldies station KRTH-FM (101.1) launched three Sunday programs: "Back to the Beatles" (8-9 a.m.) with Jim Carson; "The Beatle Years" with Bob Malik (9-10 a.m.); and "Beatles by Request" with Bo Woods (9-11 p.m.).

Meanwhile, KLSX has expanded, rather than contracted, its Beatles programming on Sundays. O'Donoghue was host of a two-hour show. New host Chris Carter oversees "Beatlewood" (8-9 a.m.), which features acoustic music by the band, then segues into four hours of "Breakfast With the Beatles" (9 a.m.-1 p.m.).

At least locally, it seems the Beatles have rarely been more popular since the English group disbanded way back in 1970.

"As much as I love the Rolling Stones and David Bowie, there will never be another Beatles," Carter says. "The thing that shocks me is that people who were born in the '80s love the band the same way as people who grew up with them. Most of the time you have to kind of live through something to have that strong connection. But with the Beatles, I get 11-year-olds who tell me they love the Beatles' 'Rubber Soul' album. It's a true statement about the [enduring quality] of the Beatles' music."

Recent interest in the Beatles has been generated by other factors as well. In 2000, Capitol Records launched a major marketing campaign for the release of a CD compiling the band's No. 1 singles. Titled "Beatles 1," the disc has sold nearly 9 million copies in the United States alone.

"It's the perfect Beatles primer. So it appeals to people of all ages," says Rick Camino, senior director for marketing at Capitol Records.

On April 1, Capitol released a five-DVD box set, "The Beatles Anthology." The project was first aired on television in 1995. The set includes one disc with rare and previously unseen footage.

The death of former Beatle George Harrison in November 2001 and Paul McCartney's highly profitable American tour last year have also created new or heightened interest in the group.

But "Breakfast With the Beatles" continues to find an audience partly because Carter has changed the tone of the program to fit his personality.

The reclusive O'Donoghue insisted on broadcasting her show -- which began at the now defunct KMET-FM before finding its way to KLSX -- entirely from the radio station.

Conversely, the gregarious Carter often does remote broadcasts. "Breakfast With the Beatles" airs from B.B. King's Blues Club at Universal CityWalk the first Sunday of every month. During commercial breaks, Carter coordinates trivia contests and Beatles merchandise giveaways at the club.

The former bass player for the rock band Dramarama, Carter previously worked as a fill-in DJ for Rodney Bingenheimer at KROQ-FM (106.7) and had his own show at the now-defunct Y107 in Los Angeles between 1997 and 1999.

With "Breakfast With the Beatles," he plays a wide range of Beatle-oriented material. He presents hits, album cuts, solo material and, occasionally, unreleased bootleg tracks from his personal record collection. Between 11 a.m. and noon, he takes requests from listeners.

Carter also tries to play songs that work as part of themes.

"I might create a set around what the band was doing in 1966," he explains. "Not long ago, I presented a set of songs for your parents. So I played 'Your Mother Should Know,' 'Martha My Dear,' 'When I'm Sixty Four.' ... We also do something called set starters where we have listeners call up and start the first song. I finish it off with other songs that relate to it somehow."

Although he does provide historical information for some songs, Carter tries to keep the tone fairly light and fun. Occasionally, he's been able to spice up the show with phone conversations with McCartney, who called when he was in town last year to perform at the Staples Center, and Beatle drummer Ringo Starr.

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