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KBIG is better as 'MyFM'

The station's move from dance-oriented music to adult hits pays Arbitron ratings dividends. All-news radio also shows a gain.

January 11, 2008|Steve Carney | Special to The Times

For years, KBIG-FM (104.3) was a soft-rock fixture on the local radio dial -- more dance-oriented than its sister adult-contemporary station KOST-FM (103.5), but that distinction might have been lost on casual listeners.

But KBIG had a makeover in the fall, one that saw immediate dividends, according to the fall Arbitron ratings released this week, which surveyed listeners in Los Angeles and Orange counties from Sept. 20 to Dec. 12.

KBIG, which became "MyFM" on Sept. 17, rose from 20th place in the market to 18th among area listeners 12 and older. The station went from an average 1.7% share of the audience in the summer to 2% in the fall -- a rise that might seem insignificant to a lay person, but which translates to an extra 50,000 listeners per week in the competitive L.A. radio world.

With the change, the station has moved from more dance-oriented music of Madonna and Maroon 5 toward adult hits from artists such as Kelly Clarkson, John Mayer and Sarah McLachlan.

One victim of the change was L.A. radio veteran Charlie Tuna, who was replaced in his morning show by Sean Valentine -- brought over from the morning slot at KYSR-FM (98.7), both of which are owned by the nation's largest radio chain, Clear Channel Communications.

Valentine also showed an immediate increase, as KBIG's morning show jumped from a 1.4% audience share and a 24th place tie in the summer, to 1.7% and 19th in the fall.

A year ago, Valentine left pop station KIIS-FM (102.7) after a decade to co-host mornings at KYSR with Lisa Foxx -- both stations are also owned by Clear Channel. KYSR is going through changes itself, shifting toward a harder edge and more male-oriented alternative music than it had been playing.

"His show didn't really fit what we were doing on [KYSR]," said Greg Ashlock, Clear Channel's L.A.-area president. "But it completely fit our plans with what we were doing on 'My.' "

Much of KBIG's playlist features "recurrents" -- songs that are no longer brand-new, but are recent hits that still rate airplay. Not oldies, per se, these songs include hits such as "You're Beautiful" by James Blunt. Ashlock noted that many of the songs Valentine was playing on KIIS when they were new are recurrents he's now playing on KBIG.

Just as KBIG had a good ratings book, spoken-word stations up and down the dial also fared well in the fall. All-news station KNX-AM (1070) finished with its best showing in almost two years, increasing from 1.7% to 2% of the audience, and finishing with an 18th-place tie -- the first time KNX had hit 2% since the winter of 2005. All-news KFWB-AM (980) also rose, from 1.3% to 1.4%, going from 25th to 21st. And though talk station KABC-AM (790) remained in 17th place, it gained .1% of the local audience from its 2% in the summer.

Fires, rain and the heating up of the political season all benefited the news stations, said Jeff Federman, senior vice president and market manager for CBS Radio-Los Angeles, parent company of KNX and KFWB. "People turn to the news stations, especially when they're being evacuated."

He said the stations have been helped by a focusing of their once-blurred identities -- KFWB being more locally flavored, and KNX held up as the CBS News outlet and "station of record," he said.

Sports stations KSPN-AM (710) and KLAC-AM (570) also saw increases overall, with the ESPN-affiliate KSPN rising from 0.7% to 0.9% of the audience to land in a three-way tie for 30th place, while KLAC gained 0.1% and one place in the standings to finish at 0.6% and tied for 36th.

Christian talk stations KKLA-FM (99.5) and KWVE-FM (107.9) both inched up 0.1% and tied at 38, up from 40th place in the summer.

Two exceptions were KFI-AM (640), the area's dominant talk station, and KLSX-FM (97.1), the former home of shock jock Howard Stern, which lost 0.1% and 0.2% of their audience shares from the summer, respectively. But Stern's replacement, Adam Carolla, was a bright spot for KLSX in the mornings -- he increased his audience for the third straight quarter, and finished with a 1.8% average, good for 18th place.

While this is still far from the rarefied air Stern occupied when he left KLSX and his other affiliates for satellite radio, escaping the language and taste constraints of the Federal Communications Commission, Carolla has doubled his share of the local audience since the summer of 2006, when he had 0.9%, and was tied for 29th place among morning shows.

And even though KFI lost a fraction of its audience share, dropping from 4.5% to 4.4%, it remained comfortably in third place in the market overall, and is far ahead of any of its rivals in the talk genre. It still had a higher share than in four of the previous five quarters. And the ratings period before that, spring 2006, it was tied for the No. 1 station in the market.

In addition, KFI jumped to first place in middays, when Rush Limbaugh and Laura Schlessinger command its airwaves. A year ago, the station was in sixth place during the 10 a.m.-to-3 p.m. slot.

KFI program director Robin Bertolucci noted that critics have continually, and incorrectly, predicted "the death of the 'Dr. Laura' show. But she consistently does well."

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