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KIIS-FM returns to radio's top spot but KFI-AM is close behind

Talk station KFI falls to second as KIIS reclaims the lead it has held for most of the last three years.

May 16, 2012|By Steve Carney, Special to the Los Angeles Times

Now that the king of pop radio has reclaimed its throne, is KIIS-FM (102.7) beginning another long reign, or are the Los Angeles-Orange County airwaves about to see a roundtable of stations vying to rule the ratings?

KIIS, the home of Top 40 artists such as Katy Perry, Rihanna and Justin Bieber, had been the top station in the market for most of the last three years and retook first place in April, according to figures released Monday by the Arbitron ratings service.

In the survey of listeners from March 29 to April 25, KIIS garnered 5.1% of the audience age 6 and older. Talk station KFI-AM (640), which had been in first place for four of the previous six months, fell to second.

Andrew Jeffries, operations manager for Clear Channel-Los Angeles, the national chain that owns both KIIS and KFI, said he foresees the pair duking it out through the rest of 2012.

"KFI is going to be the information source as we get deeper into the election process, there's no doubt about it — what the candidates are up to and how it's panning out," he said.

Robin Bertolucci, program director at KFI, joked Tuesday that the battle with KIIS "is a grudge match to the death," then added that spring break tends to favor the music station more than the talk station.

"If we're not going to be No. 1, we'll give it to them," she said. "We're happy for KIIS. We couldn't wish it on a better radio station."

Jimmy Steal, program director at hip-hop station KPWR-FM (105.9), is someone who knows the rush of winning a ratings battle and holding onto that crown. "Power 106" was No. 1 in the market for three years straight, until the spring of 2005 — when KIIS overtook it.

Yet Steal says he still knows what it feels like to be No. 1: His station has led the 18-34 age group that KPWR's advertisers are targeting (in April, KIIS tied KPWR in that category). Steal insists that stations are more focused on winning their target demographics than the bragging rights of the overall race.

But the former could lead to the latter.

"If a station is really doing very, very well in its target demos, there's a spillover in adjacent demos," he said. For example, if his station is excelling among 18-34-year-olds, it probably has plenty of slightly younger and slightly older people listening too.

The extended run of Power 106 came when Arbitron compiled its numbers differently, and published only quarterly ratings. Now Arbitron divides the year into 13 ratings periods of four weeks each, one for each month plus a "Holiday" segment at year's end.

After a three-month run in first place, KFI slipped back to second in April. Before that, the winner was adult-contemporary station KOST-FM (103.5), which rode its annual year-end format change — from soft rock to nonstop holiday music — to the ratings lead from December through January, when it tied with KFI. KFI also led in October and November.

Jeffries said KIIS "has been under a substantial attack, and it's come out very strong on the other side."

And even though Clear Channel, the nation's largest radio chain, owns both KIIS and KFI, as well as KOST and five other stations in the market, the win for KIIS is important to the company, he said.

"It needs to be an absolute juggernaut for us," he said of KIIS. "It is a landmark radio station for the company. It's the largest billing station. It's the home of [morning host] Ryan Seacrest. It needs to be a dominant player in the marketplace for us."

In one category, KIIS has maintained a comfortable lead: It averaged more than 3.6 million listeners who tuned in for at least five minutes per week in April. The only other station to crack 3 million last month was adult-contemporary station KBIG-FM (104.3), at 3.1 million.

The race among morning shows tightened somewhat in April, though KFI held a firm grasp on its usual spot at No. 1. During morning drive-time, from 6-10 a.m., when the listening audience is at its peak as people get ready for work or school, KFI's lineup of local host Bill Handel and the first hour of Rush Limbaugh's syndicated program finished with 6.7% of the audience, down from 7% in March.

KIIS' Seacrest and Ellen K jumped back to second, with 4.8% in April, compared with 4.2% and third place in March. Kevin Ryder and Gene "Bean" Baxter of alternative rock station KROQ-FM (106.7) rose from fifth to third, while Omar Velasco and Argelia Atilano of Spanish-language pop-music station KLVE-FM (107.5) headed the other direction, slipping from second to fourth.

KFI's grip on first place in the morning is so tight, it held on even in December and the holiday time frame, when KOST ruled every other part of the day, and weekends too. In fact, only twice in the past three years has the Handel-Limbaugh tag-team not finished in first place: the holiday period in 2010, when KOST won, and March 2011, when KROQ's "Kevin & Bean" took the month.

calendar@latimes.com

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