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Radio ratings: How KIIS-FM (102.7) stays on top

It isn't just playing what's hot, says Clear Channel's Greg Ashlock, it's finding what's going to be hot next.

September 07, 2011|By Steve Carney, Special to the Los Angeles Times

In August, for the eighth month in a row, Top 40 outlet KIIS-FM (102.7) led the Los Angeles-Orange County radio ratings, according to figures released Tuesday by Arbitron.

The result might seem like a no-brainer, or even unfair, for a station whose playlist includes the most popular songs in the country. But the recipe for success is not so easy, said Greg Ashlock, who oversees KIIS and seven other stations in Los Angeles for Clear Channel, the nation's largest radio chain.

A station in a smaller market can simply mimic the pop charts, or follow what everyone else is doing, he said. "If you're KIIS, it's your job to set the tone for everybody else. When you're at the top, you're finding what is the next big artist.

"That's a heavy burden," Ashlock said, "but it's exciting."

As an example, he mentioned a concert three summers ago that KIIS hosted at Raging Waters, the San Dimas water park, starring rap artist Shwayze. The opening act was Lady Gaga, before the release of her debut album.

"It sounds very simple — the secret sauce is just being on top of the music, along with having people that just connect," Ashlock said. "You've got to have hosts that leave people wanting more."

The station's lineup leads off with Ryan Seacrest, whose program finished third in the key morning race during the August ratings period, with 4.5% of the audience, according to the survey of listeners from July 21 to Aug. 17. That was about the same showing he had in June, but a slight decline from July, when he was second with 4.9% of the a.m. audience age 6 and older.

Placing first among morning shows in August, during the prime 6-10 a.m. slot when stations hope to snare listeners for the rest of the day, talk station KFI-AM (640) once again came up the winner. During the morning drive it airs longtime local host Bill Handel and the first hour of Rush Limbaugh's syndicated program.

The morning show at Spanish-language pop station KLVE-FM (107.5) continued its roller-coaster ride, leaping to second place, at 5%. The station's team of Omar Velasco and Argelia Atilano finished seventh in May, third in June and sixth in July.

Except for trailing KFI and KLVE in the morning, KIIS once again led every programming block — midday, afternoon drive, nighttime and weekends. More than 3.8 million people tuned in to the station for at least five minutes each week, with only KOST-FM (103.5) and rival KAMP-FM (97.1) also cracking the 3-million listener mark.

KAMP was formerly a talk station, the onetime local home of Howard Stern, until its corporate parent CBS Radio decided a format change to Top 40 would pay off. And did it ever — after the switch in February 2009, the station leapt from 20th place to fifth by that June.

KAMP remains strong, and a dangerous rival to KIIS; it had a good August, jumping to third place overall, from a fourth-place tie in July.

"It's a mass-appeal format," Ashlock said of Top 40, or contemporary hits radio, as it's called in the industry. "CHR does very well across the country. It appeals to teenagers and their moms."

KIIS has been at or near the top of the ratings for more than three years. Lately, its only competition for No. 1 comes at the end of every year, when sister station KOST switches its adult-contemporary playlist to all-holiday music from Thanksgiving through Christmas, predictably luring a horde of listeners. So KIIS could see another two months at the head of the ratings pack.

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