by Alex Cosper
see also American Radio History
and L.A. Media Watch
Los Angeles is the second biggest radio market in the country, behind New York City. Over 50 stations populate the radio dial. KROQ, one of the last standing alternative stations in the nation, helped pioneer the format that industry experts said could not be done. A consistent market leader in the 2000s has been contemporary hits trend-setter KIIS (102.7). The station's morning personality, Ryan Seacrest, rose to national celebrity status in 2002 when he became a co-host of the top television series American Idol. Seacrest had done afternoons at Star 98.7 (KYSR) from 1995 to 2003 and then became host of the syndicated radio countdown American Top 40. He replaced Rick Dees as KIIS morning host in Febuary 2004. Rick Dees returned to L.A. radio in the fall of 2006 on Movin 93.9, after Emmis flipped long time country station KZLA to KMVN, playing a mix of urban, disco and dance classic hits.
Many times what has started in L.A. has been followed by the nation. It was true in the sixties when KHJ became the market leader with top 40 hit music. The consulting team of Bill Drake and Gene Chenault was the key behind KHJ's success beginning in the mid-sixties. They consulted other major market stations after KHJ quickly rose to number one in the market with its fast-paced energetic approach to delivering the hits. "Boss Radio" became the seed of what top 40 radio was through the eighties.
When 93 KHJ had its final number one ratings book in 1976 the jock line-up included Charlie Van Dyke, Mark Elliott, Bobby Ocean, M.G. Kelly, Dave Sebastian Williams, Beau Weaver and John Leader (johnleader.com).
KHJ had a sister station, KHJ-FM (101.1), which had been on the air since August 1941. It was the first FM station in Los Angeles. Throughout much of the AM's heyday, the FM was a simulcast of the AM. Then in 1973 the FM started doing its own programming as an oldies station (K-Earth), in which the call letters changed to KRTH.
Radio changed dramatically in the seventies. Many listeners were moving to FM, checking out progressive rock stations like KLOS (95.5) and KMET (94.7). KLOS, which was KABC until 1970, began experimenting with underground rock in 1969. KMET, owned by Metromedia, signed on in 1968 as "The Mighty Met" under the programming of Tom Donahue, who had moved his staff in April 1968 from KPPC (106.7), which had actually been the first freeform station in the market. KPPC had been the original home of Dr. Demento, who moved to KMET in 1970. KPPC remained underground until 1971, then eventually evolved into KROQ-FM.
By the eighties FM had completely taken over as far as music stations, with KIIS (102.7) being the leader in top 40, although KPWR (Power 106) did take the lead at the end of the decade. KIIS had previously been KRHM until 1971 when it became a top 40 station as KKDJ. The station was purchased by Combined Communications, who changed the call letters to KIIS. For awhile it was an adult contemporary station but changed back to top 40 in 1981. KPWR had previously been KMGG until January 11, 1986 when it became a dance leaning hit station. In the nineties it went hip hop.
KMET evolved into an album rock format, which it dropped February 14, 1987 in favor of new age as KWTV (The Wave). A year earlier, a new classic rock station was born with KLSX (97.1). In July 1991 it began airing the Howard Stern show. In 1995 the format shifted to all talk radio as "Real Talk 97.1" featuring people like Susan Olsen (from the Brady Bunch) and Kato Kaelin. KLOS became the home of syndicated radio show Mark and Brian.
The station that stole the rock crown in Los Angeles was the one elevated by Rick Carroll, and that was KROQ. It gradually evolved from the early seventies to the late seventies as a mix of album rock and alternative music. Carroll's arrival in the late seventies triggered a more mainstream approach to cutting edge rock music. KROQ has now been the leader for many years in the Los Angeles area rock scene.
Commercial radio started in 1920 in Pittsburgh, PA with the airing of the Presidential Election returns. Within the next few years licenses were granted by the U.S. Commerce Department for commercial radio operators. During the first decade of commercial radio, many stations changed owners and frequencies often. Here's what the Los Angeles radio dial looked like in 1922:
Los Angeles Radio Dial 1922
KDYR (Pasadena), owned by Pasadena Star-News Publishing Co. KDZD, owned by W.R. Mitchell KDZF, owned by Automobile Club of Southern California KDZP, owned by Newberry Electric Corporation KFI, owned by Earl C. Anthony KHJ, owned by C.R. Kierulff & Co. KJC, owned by Standard Radio Co. KJS, owned by Bible Institute of Los Angeles KLB, (Pasadena), owned by J.J. Dunn & Co. KNN, owned by Bullock's, KNR, owned by Beacon Light Co. KNV, owned by Radio Supply Co. KNX, owned by Electric Lighting Supply Co. KOG, owned by Western Radio Electric Co. KSS (Long Beach), owned by Prest and Dean Radio Research Laboratory KUS, owned by City Dye Works & Laundry Co. KWH, owned by the Los Angeles Examiner KXS, owned by Braun Corporation KYJ, owned by Leo J. Meyberg KZI, owned by Irving S. Cooper KFAC, owned by Glendale Daily PressIn the forties four big national networks dominated the radio industry. The network affiliations were KECA (790 AM, ABC), KFI (640 AM, NBC), KNX (1070 AM, CBS) and KHJ (930 AM, Mutual-Don Lee). All four stations began in the first decade of commercial radio, the 1920s. KFI and KHJ were among the earliest licensees in 1922. KHJ's call letters originally stood for "kindness, happiness and joy."
After several years of frequent changes on the dial due partly to FCC regulations, Los Angeles AM radio began to take a more consistent shape in the the early forties. Other stations besides the big network affiliates included KMTR (570), KIEV (870), KFWB (980), KFVD (1020), KPAS (1110 AM), KFSG (1230), KPPC (1240) and KFAC (1330). Long Beach stations KFOX (1280) and KGER (1390) could also be heard in the Los Angeles area.
Los Angeles was an early testing ground for FM stations in the late 1930s. Some of the early FMs included KNX, which was owned by CBS and KGFJ, owned by Ben S. McGlashan. Both stations operated at low power. In 1941 the Don Lee System was granted an a frequency at 99.7 FM, marking the birth of KHJ-FM, which was the sister station to the popular AM station. Later in the decade it moved to 101.1 FM. The FM dial in 1948 also included KUSC (91.5), KNX-FM (93.1), KECA-FM (95.5), KRKD (96.3), KKLA (97.1), KMPC (100.3), KFAC-FM (104.3), KCLI (105.1) and KFI-FM (105.9). Within the next ten years the FM dial went through a complete makeover.
In the fifties rock and roll radio was born and became a determining factor in the industry shift from block (multi-format) programming to formats based on demographics. While MOR (middle of the road) stations emerged to captivate adults with classic pop music mixed with a lot of announcer commentary, rock and roll stations attracted younger audiences. Despite the emergence of television in the fifties, radio did not die. In fact, the advent of the transistor radio made radio more affordable and popular with teens - the baby boomers.
Los Angeles FM Radio Dial 1958
88.7 FM - KXLU 89.1 FM - KSCS 91.5 FM - KUSC 92.3 FM - KFAC 93.1 FM - KNX 93.9 FM - KPOL 94.7 FM - KRHM 95.5 FM - KABC 96.3 FM - KRKD 100.3 FM - KMLA 103.5 FM - KGLA 104.3 FM - KPLA 105.1 FM - KDBX 105.9 FM - KBMS 107.5 FM - KBBI
In the early sixties the market leaders were AM top 40 stations KFWB and KRLA. KFWB, which billed itself as "number one in Los Angeles," owed some of its success to morning host Wink Martindale. But KFWB suffered a series of misfortunes including a 1961 strike resulting in the departure of programming pioneer Chuck Blore and then a payola investigation targeting the station's Music Director in 1964. In the mid-sixties KRLA had risen to dominate the ratings race. Some of the popular voices on KRLA included Casey Kasem, Bob Eubanks and Dick Biondi.
But with KHJ switching to top 40 in 1965 with a new sound called "Boss Radio," everything changed and KHJ became the market leader for years. The station featured what would become some of the biggest names ever in L.A. radio history, including the Real Don Steele, Charlie Tuna, Charlie Van Dyke and Robert W. Morgan. By 1968 KHJ had clearly become the top 40 champ in the market, forcing KFWB to flip to news. KRLA eventually went oldies while KHJ remained a challenger for market leadership for the next decade.
Ironically, the station that ended up in a tie with KHJ in the early seventies was the underdog station KDAY. The rock station lacked the funds to compete, yet ended up on top with what seemed to be an unbeatable station. KDAY was programmed by Bob Wilson, who later founded the radio industry trade publication Radio & Records. Wolfman Jack did evenings.
Later in the seventies, KDAY slipped in the ratings, but KHJ remained strong in the top three. By the end of the decade, however, KHJ had fallen to the bottom end of the ratings. In 1976 talk station KABC was the number one station in Los Angeles. A few years later KFMB (B100) became the first FM in the country to hit number one (12+) in its market.
Since the eighties, KIIS has been a market leader in delivering the hits. A lot of the success was anchored by morning host Rick Dees, who had previously scored a national number one hit called "Disco Duck" in 1976. For awhile his co-host was Raechel Donahue, who had been married to freeform guru Tom Donahue and had done shows on the air at KMET. KIIS was challenged in the late eighties by the more beat-driven KPWR ("Power" 105.9 FM), which rose to number one in the market regularly by the end of the decade.
Some might even say Scott Shannon's attempt at "Pirate Radio" at KQLZ (100.3 FM) from 1989 to 1990 was a formidable challenge, but "rock 40," as the format was called fell in the ratings almost as quickly as it rose. This was partly due to a lack of enough current mass appeal rock music from major labels during that period to fuel a fast-burning high-rotation hit machine.
The concept of current rock music treated with a top 40 presentation, was nothing new, as it had been tried many times in history, usually to fail. What usually worked was the album rock approach. In the late seventies and throughout the eighties, Rick Carroll programmed KROQ and consulted other modern rock stations around the country, as well as consulting MTV. Carroll's format "rock of the eighties" was a mix of the album rock and top 40 fundamentals and primed the station to be the rock leader of Los Angeles...from then on. Here's what the Los Angeles radio dial looked like in 1989:
Los Angeles Radio Dial 1989
640 AM - KFI, talk, owned by Cox 710 AM - KMPC, nostalgia/big bands, owned by Golden West 790 AM - KABC, talk, owned by Cap Cities/ABC 980 AM - KFWB, news, owned by Group W 1020 AM - KTNQ, Spanish, owned by Heftel 1070 AM - KNX, news, owned by CBS 1190 AM - KIIS, simulcast of KIIS 102.7 FM programming of CHR/top 40, owned by Gannett 1330 AM - KWKW, Spanish, owned by Lotus 1430 AM - KALI, Spanish, owned by SBS 1580 AM - KDAY, urban contemporary, owned by Heritage Media
KROQ propelled to greater success under the programming of Kevin Weatherly in the nineties and 2000s, usually appearing in the overall Arbitron (12+) top five. The station is considered by nearly the entire alternative radio community, to be the most influential leader in alternative rock. KROQ's exceptionally acclaimed airstaff over the years has included the Kevin and Bean morning show, Jed the Fish, Rodney Bingenheimer, Freddie Snakeskin and Swedish Egil. KROQ was the birthplace of the show Love Lines with Dr. Drew and Adam Carolla.
As the nineties progressed, Spanish radio flourished, especially in Los Angeles. KLVE, known as "K-Love," was once at the bottom of the ratings but was regularly the market's number one station in the late nineties. Station owner Heftel also bought KSCA and replaced the adult album alternative format with Regional Mexican programming, vaulting the station from the bottom to the top of the ratings, even with what had been considered a weak 5,000 watt signal. Here's what the Los Angeles radio dial looked like in 1997:
Los Angeles Radio Dial 1997
640 AM - KFI, talk, owned by Cox 790 AM - KABC, talk, owned by ABC 980 AM - KFWB, news, owned by Group W 1020 AM - KTNQ, Spanish, owned by Heftel 1070 AM - KNX, news, owned by CBS 1330 AM - KWKW, Spanish, owned by Lotus 1430 AM - KALI, Spanish, owned by SBS 1580 AM - KDAY, urban contemporary, owned by Heritage MediaFollowing the Telecom Act of 1996, there was widespread corporate consolidation across the country as radio owners were allowed to grow larger with the loosening of ownership limits. Clear Channel and Infinity emerged as the two industry leaders in number of stations by the start of the new millennium.
Los Angeles Radio Dial 2005
570 AM - KLAC, sports, owned by Clear Channel 640 AM - KFI, talk, owned by Clear Channel 710 AM - KSPN, "ESPN Radio," sports, owned by ABC radio 790 AM - KABC, news/talk, owned by ABC Radio 870 AM - KRLA, talk, owned by Salem 930 AM - KHJ, Regional Mexican, owned by Liberman 980 AM - KFWB, news, owned by Infinity 1020 AM - KTNQ, Spanish news/talk, owned by Univision 1070 AM - KNX, news, owned by Infinity 1110 AM - KDIS, Radio Disney 1150 AM - KTLK, talk, owned by Clear Channel (was sports until Feb) 1300 AM - KAZN, ethnic, owned by Multicultural Broadcasting 1460 AM - KWKW, Spanish news/talk, owned by Lotus 1540 AM - KMPC, "1540 The Ticket," owned by Rose City Radio Corp.
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