SCANNING up and down the radio dial on weekends is a game of chance. Will you land on a real estate infomercial? Or an uninterrupted performance of Mozart's Symphony No. 41?
Such diversity reflects the unpredictable nature of the audience. Unlike weekday listeners trapped in commuter traffic, weekend radio listeners either have almost no time -- or all the time in the world -- to tune in. Stations imagine their weekend audience is either frantically running errands, planting a new bed of flowers or lounging half-asleep in a hammock. The resulting programming that seeks to cater to these varied attention spans is, not surprisingly, all over the dial. Find a niche and weekend radio can still fill it.
But weekend radio has changed, and many would say not for the better. Once a training ground for budding talent, the consolidation of radio stations over the last decade has squeezed out some of the richness of local programming in favor of more infomercials and syndicated programs.
"Weekend radio used to be much more vibrant and lively," said Don Barrett, publisher of LARadio.com, a website that tracks local radio. "But companies had to find ways to control costs, especially on the weekends."
Still, there are plenty of gems. Amid the vast, polyglot Southern California market, we spotlight 10 locally recorded English-language programs that typify the eclectic spirit of weekend radio. Given that there are well more than 200 programs on any given weekend, it's just a starting point. But the selected shows span a spectrum of topics -- religion, sports, food, the law and computers, to name a few -- that together form an audio snapshot of the sprawling city from which they originate.
Station: KCRW-FM (89.9)
Time: 11 a.m. to noon Saturdays
Your Host: Evan Kleiman
The Concept: All things about food
ALTHOUGH it features discussion staples such as recipes and restaurants, the show is actually a thoughtful examination of what food reveals about who we are. "There is so much about food that illuminates funny things, tragic things, hip things and sardonic things," said Evan Kleiman, 53, the owner and executive chef of Angeli Caffe on Melrose Avenue. "Basically everything there is in life can be expressed in food." That philosophy animates the six to eight segments in each program that have recently encompassed pieces on healthy fats, the history of utensils, growing food on Mars and the controversy surrounding a royal English composer who found a dead swan last year and decided to cook it.
Few know as well as Kleiman that food excites the passions, even political ones. She has long since adopted the Swiss diplomatic approach to highly charged food topics, which is to say she remains defiantly neutral. Whether it's the heavily processed American diet or animal rights activists outraged about meat products, she refuses to judge.
"I have no interest in curating topics so it reflects a certain agenda," said Kleiman, who inherited the show about eight years ago. "I'm really interested in people."
"The Jesus Christ Show"
Station: KFI-AM (640)
Time: 6 to 9 a.m. Sundays
Your Host: Neil Saavedra as Jesus Christ
The Concept: What would Jesus say to callers?
IT takes a lot chutzpah to speak for Jesus, but Sunday mornings KFI's director of marketing, Neil Saavedra, does just that. It sounds like blasphemy, but even Saavedra's most ardent religious critics, after tuning in, are usually won over by his Scripture-bound take on Jesus.
The show started almost as a joke roughly eight years ago on the weekday morning show of his KFI colleague Bill Handel. Saavedra, who had earned a reputation around the station as the staff theologian, was asked to appear as Jesus to discuss the Easter holiday. At first, Saavedra rejected the idea as sacrilegious. Then, after consulting with clergy, he decided to do it. "As long as the answers are theologically strong, it's no different than a Passion play or movie," Saavedra said.
The switchboard lighted up, and a show was born. Today, each show typically begins with an opening monologue that lasts anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes and usually deals with a moral question, be it global warming or whether grocery store carts should be returned.
It's the interaction with listeners that provides the real drama. Callers sometimes want to play "gotcha" or be smart alecks. "One guy wanted to know if I knew who was going to win the Super Bowl, to which I said yes and hung up," Saavedra said.
But most are looking for guidance and an understanding of why evil exists.
"I'm made of the same clay as the callers, and I'm going through the same crap as they are," said Saavedra, a former punk rocker who found religion at 17. "But if it has his name on the show, I have a responsibility to provide truthful, biblically based answers."
"The Joe McDonnell
Station: XTRA Sports (570)
Time: 2 to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays
Your Host: Joe McDonnell
The Concept: Bark and yell, mostly about sports, with your ol' pal Joe