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Jack FM loses its crown in the Southland radio realm

The popular DJ-free station drops to third place among the 25-to-54 crowd. Tops in the latest Arbitrons are KOST and KIIS.

July 30, 2007|Steve Carney | Special to The Times

Radio listeners are probably familiar with the horse race among stations, the drive to hit No. 1 in the L.A.-Orange County market by amassing the largest overall audience. But that's only one aspect of the competition for ratings.

With 80 or so stations battling for listeners here, very few have broad enough appeal even to hope to reach the top spot. Instead, most jockey for success within a niche, by trying to dominate a specific time slot, targeting a particular ethnic group or striving to capture a certain age demographic.

Accordingly, here's a more detailed look at how stations fared in the Arbitron ratings released last week for the period from April 5 to June 27:

25 to 54

KCBS-FM (93.1) is an example of a station that does fine in the general survey of all listeners ages 12 and older but shines in the niche it seeks -- in this case, the 25-to-54 age group coveted by many advertisers. Its novel Jack FM format debuted in March 2005, featuring an eclectic mix of songs spanning the last few decades, played without DJs, emulating an iPod on shuffle. Since then, it has generally finished in the Top 12 overall, but in its target demographic has ranked as the top-ranked English-language station in the market for seven of its first eight quarterly ratings periods.

KCBS fell to third, however, in the spring ratings.

"You're probably seeing a little bit of settling in," said KCBS General Manager Jeff Federman, who added that station officials had a goal of being in the top five when they launched Jack.

"At some point, you can't be on the top of the mountain the entire time. Now, we had a taste of it, and we loved it," he said, but "we're not doing a thing different from what we did at the beginning."

Jumping past KCBS to become the top English-language station in the 25-to-54 age group was KOST-FM (103.5), whose adult-contemporary playlist includes music by the likes of John Mayer, Stevie Wonder and Taylor Hicks. But KOST General Manager Greg Ashlock said it was more a case of the station staying consistent, rather than falling back or racing ahead during KCBS' run. KOST's 3.8% share of the adult audience in the spring was close to its average for the entire previous year.

"Jack just had a ton of momentum there for a while," Ashlock said. "People ask, 'What happened [to KOST]?' Nothing. It's just that somebody got hot. It's a little misleading."

Also jumping Jack, however, was Top 40 station KIIS-FM (102.7) -- continually popular with young listeners but now second in the 25-to-54 bracket too.

"You've got to assume the moms are coming in and listening," said Ashlock, who also oversees KIIS.

Morning

Weekday mornings are the most competitive time in radio. That's when the most listeners are tuned in, and stations hope to grab them and retain them throughout the day. Regional-Mexican-music outlet KSCA (101.9) again was the top-rated station from 6 to 10 a.m., thanks to the continuing popularity of host Eddie "Piolín" Sotelo.

Among English-language stations, talk outlet KFI-AM (640) garnered the biggest overall audience in the morning, followed by KIIS. But among listeners ages 25 to 54, Kevin Ryder and Gene "Bean" Baxter on modern rock station KROQ-FM (106.7) finished first with 4.4% of the audience, beating Ryan Seacrest on KIIS, who drew 4.1%.

A casual observer might think that KROQ, with its playlist of Linkin Park and the White Stripes, would skew younger. But the fact that people in their 40s and 50s are loyal listeners shouldn't be a surprise; the station has been spinning alternative music for almost three decades. Federman, also general manager at KROQ, said many Southern Californians have grown up listening to the station.

"That sound kind of takes them through life," he said. "KROQ is such a strong brand that it casts a really big net across the market."

Midday

Even after Piolín's shift ended, KSCA remained the top station in the market from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. But a close second was KFI, which at that time features the last two hours of talk-radio stalwart Rush Limbaugh, followed by the three-hour advice show of Laura Schlessinger.

Yet despite such seemingly grown-up content, KFI ranked only 13th in the 25-to-54 age group during that period. Its higher placement overall stems from the fact that Limbaugh and Schlessinger draw large numbers of listeners on the senior side of that demographic, said KFI program director Robin Bertolucci.

Afternoon drive

While listeners head home from work or school, Spanish-language KSCA continues to rule, claiming 5.2% of the audience from 3 to 7 p.m. KIIS was close behind, at 5%, with the hip-hop on KPWR-FM (105.9) a more distant third, at 4%.

Nighttime

KIIS pulled out front for the night shift, placing first among all listeners from 7 p.m. to midnight. And KSCA plunged to 15th place (the huge audience of "Piolín," whose show starts at 4 a.m., has to sleep sometime).

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