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Anger simmers over firings

Fans' response to the layoffs of longtime staffers at radio station KOST has been 'overwhelming,' the program director says.

December 10, 2007|Steve Carney | Special to The Times

Looking for recourse, and finding little, disgruntled fans of KOST-FM (103.5) are still reeling a week after some of their favorite voices disappeared from the airwaves.

The long-running adult-contemporary station cut loose Kim Amidon, who with Mark Wallengren co-hosted the morning show for nearly 22 years. It also axed Mike Sakellarides, who held down the midday time slot for 25 years, from the day KOST debuted as a purveyor of light-rock hits.

"It's supposed to be a family radio station, and then they go and knock off the family? It just doesn't make sense," said Charlene Wire, 56, of Rancho Cucamonga, who said she listened to the "Mark & Kim Morning Show" from the first day it was on. "Why mess with something that's been working wonderfully?"

Clear Channel Communications, the radio chain that owns KOST, seven others in the L.A. market, and about 900 nationwide, has been cutting staff and extending work shifts at stations around the country. At WLTW-FM in New York -- like KOST, a ratings-leading adult-contemporary station with a two-decade history -- the company cut a long-running morning host and has lengthened the shifts of other DJs. It has also made changes at its L.A. stations, such as revamped formats at KYSR-FM (98.7) and KBIG-FM (104.3) and the ousters of traffic reporter Mike Nolan and midday host Sean Andre at KHHT-FM (92.3). But the moves at KOST have come as more of a surprise and hit some listeners that much harder because of the stability the station had until now.

Long-timers rare in radio

Last month KOST celebrated the 25th anniversary of its current incarnation and touted the longevity of its air staff. Karen Sharp marks her 20th anniversary hosting the nighttime "Lovesongs on the KOST" later this month, and afternoon jock Bryan Simmons was the first DJ ushering in KOST in 1982. In addition to those two, the tenure of Sakellarides and the morning duo was almost unheard of in L.A. or any other market.

"It's really cracking open the golden egg," Amidon said. "It's all about the bottom line right now. I know it's in every business. I know it's a sign of the economy.

"I know Clear Channel is doing this nationwide, but I just think they should be a little more careful with their long-term relationships with their listeners."

Cynthis Conteas-Wood, 55, listened to the "Mark & Kim Morning Show" every day with her husband during their commute from Granada Hills to Pasadena.

"It was always a great way to start our day. They seemed very sincere, and they connected very well with the audience," she said. "They acted like a married couple. We liked the banter back and forth."

Amidon said Wallengren has received about 1,600 e-mails from unhappy listeners, and KOST program director Stella Schwartz called the response "overwhelming." But Greg Ashlock, president of Clear Channel's Los Angeles station cluster, said the company knew full well listeners would be unhappy with the shake-up but still felt a need to make a change.

"I don't think, after 22 years, I would have expected for anybody not to be upset and uncomfortable," Ashlock said.

"I don't think there's anything I can say that's going to make them happy right now," he said, but "for the future they can expect the same kind of family-friendly safe haven, with the same kind of levity and the same kind of music."

For most of the year, that means artists such as Phil Collins, Beyonce Knowles and Kelly Clarkson, plus wall-to-wall holiday music during the run-up to Christmas.

"It seemed so ironic, they're the holiday Christmas station. Well, happy holiday," Conteas-Wood said icily. "I just can't get behind it knowing they just laid somebody off."

New staff to come onboard

Sakellarides said it's a strange feeling being a free agent again after 25 years, and he is looking forward to another radio job or voice-over work. Nevertheless, he said if someone at KOST told him it was all a bad dream, "I'd love to come in and do the show tomorrow."

But his former shift is gone, because KOST lengthened the morning show and moved up Simmons' start time from 3 p.m. to noon. The station will hire a new co-host for Wallengren sometime after the new year, Ashlock said. And in spite of accusations leveled by Amidon and listeners alike, he asserts it won't be simply a younger, less-expensive version of Amidon.

"What we're going to be looking for is chemistry," he said. "It's going to have to be somebody Mark is comfortable with. There's not a pay scale or [demographic] or anything this person is going to have to fit."

He said it will have to be someone who connects with KOST's audience, made up mostly of young or middle-aged adults, many with kids -- soccer moms, if you will.

Amidon said she's been humbled by the support, saying, "People did feel like we were family. They invited us to their weddings and their bar mitzvahs."

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