Far from moldy oldies, the classic hits on K-Earth 101 blared from more radios during the most recent ratings period than any other local station, according to figures released Wednesday by Arbitron.
KRTH-FM (101.1) snagged the top spot in Los Angeles-Orange County radio during the Oct. 15 to Nov. 11 ratings period. KRTH garnered 4.9% of the listening audience age 6 and older, just edging pop purveyor KIIS-FM (102.7), which slipped to 4.8% from 5.2% the period before. KIIS had held the top spot for most of the last two years, on the strength of its Top 40 playlist.
But K-Earth isn't so different from its younger-skewing rival, in terms of tempo, contests and high-energy DJs, argued KRTH program director Jhani Kaye.
"K-Earth is a Top-40 radio station that simply doesn't play current music," he said. Instead, it can draw from the charts over many decades.
For 37 years, KRTH has been an outlet for the genre formerly known as oldies, now called "classic hits" in the industry.
And Kaye noted that the greatest hits of Motown, the Beatles and Beach Boys are staples on "American Idol" and elsewhere in pop culture.
"I know that the music is beloved. We are the soundtrack of Southern California," Kaye said.
The station was a solid, if unspectacular, performer for many years. It made news when it cracked the Top Five in 1993, powered by legendary DJs Robert W. Morgan and "The Real" Don Steele.
But when Kaye arrived four years ago, he expanded the playlist in hopes of expanding the audience -- so now, in addition to the chestnuts of the '60s and early '70s, listeners can hear "Don't Stop" by Fleetwood Mac, "Borderline" by Madonna or Billy Joel's "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me." After all, each of those is about three decades old. Also, KRTH is currently scattering holiday tunes that fit the station, such as the Ronettes wrapping a wall of sound around "Frosty the Snowman."
KRTH had been lurking in third or fourth for much of the year but made it to second place in October, when talk station KFI-AM (640) dropped from first to third.
KFI, the home of Rush Limbaugh and Bill Handel, slipped again in November as it recorded a 4% share of audience, down from 4.3% in October. It held on to third place, however.
Adult-contemporary station KOST-FM (103.5) and pop station KAMP-FM (97.1) finished tied for fourth, at 3.7%, followed by Spanish-language pop station KLVE-FM (107.5), which rose from 11th to sixth, with 3.6%.
All-news station KNX-AM (1070) leaped into the Top 10, rising from 2.8% and a 15th place tie to ninth and 3.3%.
Meanwhile, KNX's sister station, KFWB-AM (980), which had also been an all-news outlet owned by CBS Radio until it switched to talk in September, remained in a 38th-place tie, with 0.7%. A year ago it had been 22nd, at 2.2%.
KRTH also moved up in the ranking of morning shows, with the station's Gary Bryan taking 4.6% of the 6-10 a.m. audience, good for a second-place tie with KNX. KRTH had been in third. KFI, which features Handel and the first hour of Limbaugh's program during that time slot, remained the clear front-runner, though its audience share dipped from 6.2% to 5.6%.
Now Christmas is coming, and KOST traditionally rules the airwaves this time of year when it plays wall-to-wall holiday music. Kaye, who helped start that tradition during his tenure as program director at KOST, laughed when asked if KRTH will be able to fend off the fa-la-las.
"That will be a tough one," he said. "We made that pretty bulletproof."
Ed Krampf, who oversees KRTH and the other six stations owned by CBS Radio in Los Angeles, said, "Whether K-Earth is No. 1 next month is not really the point. The point is, we're in the game, and we're going to be in the game for quite some time."
When you crack the top spot, Krampf said, "people will start looking at you differently. It's not an oldies station. It's a station that plays some of the greatest music ever created."