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'Dr. Laura' to KFWB as station trades all-news for talk radio format

Laura Schlessinger is leaving KFI, where Bill Handel, John Kobylt and Ken Champiou will add hours.

August 11, 2009|Steve Carney

After more than 40 years as an all-news outlet, KFWB-AM (980) said Monday that it is switching to a talk format, led by nationally syndicated advice guru Laura Schlessinger, who moves her flagship from top-rated chat station KFI-AM (640).

The change takes effect Sept. 8, when KFWB yokes its format change to Schlessinger, whose program has the third-largest national audience in talk radio -- an estimated 8.25 million listeners per week, behind only Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, according to Talkers magazine, trade journal of the talk-radio industry.

"Dr. Laura is one of the crown jewels in all of talk radio, and now she's the centerpiece of our radio station," said Ed Krampf, senior vice president and Los Angeles market manager for CBS Radio, KFWB's parent company. "You need an anchor, and there are very few of them in this industry. She's the kind of anchor that can make this station successful."

Schlessinger, who for 30 years has analyzed relationships and parenting on the radio, the last 20 on KFI, called the switch "a great adventure."

"My contract was up with KFI, and KFWB made a better offer," she said in an interview Monday. In particular, she said she's looking forward to having more input during the rest of the broadcast day, and not being limited to her three-hour show. For example, she said she'll be weighing in at other times during the day with commentary on news stories that touch on relationships, morality or other topics in her area of expertise.

Krampf stressed that KFWB won't be giving up its news roots: "We're going to continue to make live and local news and traffic a priority."

"The opportunity was too great to pass up. We'll be a compelling radio station with news, and her addition," he said.

KFWB will continue to carry Angels baseball on weekdays, and all the team's playoff games come October. In addition, weekends will also feature the infomercials the station has carried lately, though those could change, he said. Kampf added that he can't yet say whether the station faces any further layoffs, after cutting staff earlier in the year.

"We have a few weeks to assess any talent needs," he said. "We need the staff for a 24/7 news operation."

KFWB became all news in 1968, almost the same time as rival KNX-AM (1070). The two remained in competition, even since 1995, when CBS has owned both.

But earlier this year, in part succumbing to the economy and the expense of operating two parallel, competing stations, CBS Radio tweaked the pair so they would complement each other and share staff, with KNX covering the bulk of the hard news and KFWB specializing in news of Hollywood and the entertainment industry.

Krampf said that focus will continue at KFWB. "We think we were going in the right direction with that," he said.

Even so, the ratings had been slipping at KFWB. Though KFWB was averaging a 2.2% share of the Los Angeles-Orange County market as recently as November, that number dropped to 1.3% by June, the most recent ratings available, when the station finished 29th overall.

That's compared to the broadcast home Schlessinger is leaving, KFI, which ranked second in the market in June with a 4.6% audience share.

"KFI is harmed to a degree by losing her," said Talkers publisher Michael Harrison, but the station is by no means dependent on Schlessinger. "I'm sure they'd love to have her, but they have other assets, as well."

KFI announced that it will replace Schlessinger by giving more time to two of its highest-rated shows. Morning host Bill Handel will return for two afternoon hours, from noon to 2 p.m., and John Kobylt and Ken Champiou will begin their show an hour earlier, and will now run from 2 to 7 p.m.

"Dr. Laura has been a longtime staple on KFI and the decision to part ways was not an easy one," KFI program director Robin Bertolucci said in a statement. "We know she will settle for nothing short of success in whatever she does and we wish her the very best."

At KFWB, Schlessinger will remain in the noon to 3 p.m. time slot she now occupies at KFI. She'll be joined on the schedule by Phil Hulett and Penny Griego, giving local news from 6 to 9 a.m., while political commentary will fill much of the rest of the schedule: Laura Ingraham from 9 a.m. to noon, moving over from KGIL-AM (1260), and Philadelphia-based Michael Smerconish from 6 to 9 p.m. A locally based host from 3 to 6 p.m. has yet to be named, Krampf said.

Schlessinger noted she was at KFI when rival talk station KABC-AM (790) "used to beat the heck out of us" and she hopes to ride a similar turnaround at KFWB.

Though Schlessinger loses the lead-in of talk powerhouse Limbaugh, whose show precedes her on KFI, now she'll be following Ingraham, whose audience is the nation's fourth-largest, according to Talkers.

"I think she's a very strong lead-in," Schlessinger said. "Lauras rule."

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