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Week brings changes for KOST listeners

Mike Sakellarides is the second longtime host to be cut by the Clear Channel station.

December 03, 2007|Steve Carney | Special to The Times

The KOST-FM that fans of the adult-contemporary radio station tune into today is decidedly different from the one they've grown used to over the last two decades.

For starters, morning host Mark Wallengren begins the week as a solo act, for the first time in almost 22 years. On-air Friday he announced that station ownership had let go his partner, Kim Amidon.

"There was no real reason to think that major changes were on the way," Wallengren said later in an interview.

The station, at 103.5 on the FM dial, will pair Wallengren with a new co-host but isn't saying whom or when.

Meanwhile, morning host Wallengren called today "a new beginning."

"We have to create the magic again. That's what I'm being asked to do, and that's what I want to do," he said.

But KOST wasn't done cutting. By Friday's end, midday host Mike Sakellarides -- who had held down that shift for 25 years, since the station's first day -- was out of a job as well.

The cuts were part of a swath of layoffs nationwide at Clear Channel Communications, the radio chain that owns KOST, mostly of workers behind the scenes, unknown to listeners. They're also part of a bevy of on-air changes to Clear Channel stations in the market, such as format tweaks at KOST's sister stations KYSR-FM (98.7) and KBIG-FM (104.3).

"If you don't ever take any risks, you're always going to stay where you are," said Greg Ashlock, L.A.-area president of Clear Channel, noting that the KOST morning show finished 10th overall in last summer's Arbitron ratings, the most recent available.

"A Top 10 radio show in Los Angeles, that's pretty good," he said. "This is not like a panic button. It was time to try something new."

He stressed that the KOST musical format would not be changing. But the loss of their favorite on-air personalities is always distressing for listeners -- especially when they've grown accustomed to them over many years.

KOST just celebrated its 25th anniversary Nov. 15 and touted the stability of its lineup. In addition to Sakellarides and the morning duo, afternoon DJ Bryan Simmons and evening host Karen Sharp each have been with the station for two decades.

Ashlock noted that, for stations, such longevity can mean "you are a victim of your own success."

"At what point do you make a change and it's OK?" he said. "Is it never?"

With Sakellarides out, Simmons will start his shift earlier, working noon to 6 p.m. instead of 3 to 7 p.m. And the morning show, which previously ended at 10 a.m., will now run until noon -- a time shift that station management believes better reflects listening habits. That thinking was prompted by the switch to a new ratings measurement system that has already begun in some markets and is supposed to come to Los Angeles next year.

Wallengren noted that when he and Amidon debuted their show, on Feb. 3, 1986, they were the first equally billed male-female morning team.

"I think we set a trend for equality in broadcasting. I think it's a fantastic legacy for Kim," Wallengren said.

Mary Beth Garber, president of the Southern California Broadcasters Assn., said Amidon "really did set the bar for women in radio in Los Angeles."

"She really was truly an equal. And the only one I can think of whose name was in the title of the show," Garber said. "She was one of the very first, certainly in a market as large as Los Angeles.

"It was a very big deal. Of course, everybody said, 'Oh, that's not going to work.' I guess it did. She is a great talent, and she'll be missed."

Amidon declined to comment, but Sakellarides said: "This is radio. It's the nature of the beast. I'm looking forward to new challenges."

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