Why Local Radio Is No Longer Local

The future is in the air.

If San Diego has a voice, it may be the plummy bass of Chris Cantore. Until December 2007, the Brooklyn native was an audible fixture on 91X’s Cantore in the Morning, his 5:00–10:00 a.m. show, an anchor of alternative rock and San Diego bands for 11 years. Cantore’s timbre is startling; he’s often ID’d as “somebody famous” at a drive-through or checkout counter. It — he — sounds like a baritone sax, more Gerry Mulligan than Lisa Simpson. Its long-boarder’s cool stretches those mellifluous o’s: “I’m so-o stoked, man.” Cantore’s been compared to the snarky chafe of Adam Carolla, host of a morning show on CBS Radio in Los Angeles and former cohost of radio and TV’s Loveline and TV’s Man Show. But Cantore’s tone is lighter, lacks bitterness, steers clear of cheeky judgment. His optimism is irrepressible; it has the buoyancy of a surfer expecting that the next wave will be the one.

It’s summer and I’ve got a ringside seat with His Resonance at a café in Little Italy. Chewing a raisin muffin in between sips of a wild berry and green tea smoothie topped with whipped cream, the 38-year-old is wearing knee-length cargo shorts and flat leather slip-ons. On one calf there’s a gnarly bruise-blue tattoo. He’s parked his Beemer across the street, surfboard roped on top. He needs to keep an eye on it. “Although,” he says, “stealing a surfboard is the worst karma of all.”

Right now, Cantore is in soft-landing mode. Being dumped by 91X messed with his head; like most current radio castaways, he’s reinventing himself. Cantore went to high school in Los Angeles, but he later graduated from San Diego State, and the area’s coastal vibe and small-town feel convinced him to stay. He says he “made a commitment to myself that, because I was so in love with this town, especially 20-plus years ago, I never wanted to leave and go back to L.A.” For work, he wanted the “creative energy” of entertainment, be it screenwriting, acting, music, or the music biz. He applied at all media outlets — the Reader, the Union-Tribune, every TV and radio station. Only one music promoter called, and he was hired as a gofer: “I’d do the [Smashing] Pumpkins’ laundry, take the Beastie Boys out for camera equipment, get Henry Rollins his vegetarian food. It was awesome. I thought I’d made it when I did that stuff. I was making five bucks an hour.”

At Star 100.7, Cantore answered the a.m. phones. “I knew nothing about morning radio, ‘Jeff and Jer,’ ‘Dave, Shelley, and Chainsaw.’ Like, I was sleeping.” But on air, Cantore’s attitude was “fearless.” Having acted in local productions, he says he understood the “theater of being on the air.” The stint at Star put him on the Ear Map. He carried the local persona — good guy, but a bit trashy — to fine ratings and reviews.

In 1997, Cantore got on board 91X. Back in the day, 91X was San Diego’s music citadel, built on grunge music and anything smelling “like teen spirit.” Cantore recalls the hallowed halls of the station on Pacific Highway, where he began working. “That studio reeked of the radio station’s history: It was the most disgusting space — spit, vomit, semen — stained into the carpet and the couch, postcards, dust, ghetto mikes, dirt on the board, razorblade marks from friggin’ jocks of years past doing friggin’ lines of coke off the friggin’ board.”

Cantore had a great run. He attributes success at 91X “not to my talent — there were plenty of people who did it way better than me — but it was my passion for this town. I never put myself above the listeners.” It was also his ability for self-parody, a contemporary version of which, in a 5:57 video, is available on YouTube: “Whatever Happened to Chris Cantore?” In it he asks everyday folks (those coming in and out of a 7-Eleven) how their world has changed since Cantore in the Morning is no longer on the air. The flummoxed looks and dopey rejoinders are worthy of Leno’s “Jaywalking” on The Tonight Show.

Why is radio under duress these days? Cantore gives a perfect example. This past September, Street Scene, San Diego’s annual weekend outdoor live-music bash, returned to the street. It had been hijacked by corporate overlords and moved to what used to be Coors Amphitheater. “I hated it,” Cantore says, that Street Scene, a homegrown entity, was sold on the cultural marketplace to the highest bidder. “What was wrong is that they blew off the flippin’ core. They told the core to go to hell and just focused on the masses. Once you lose your core, you’re done. Done.”

Clear Channel Communications, which today owns some 900 radio stations across America, bought 91X in 1999; the company moved the station to Granite Ridge Road in 2005, “and it changed overnight,” Cantore says. “Suddenly there were too many cooks in the kitchen.” He says that “We” — including his good friend Hilary Chambers, another local veteran, canned this June from another Clear Channel holding — “just got lost in a sea of white walls and cubicles. And policies that were like…What? I was asked to talk about a car wash, some new sales program. You get all these programs forced on you. ‘Here’s a new policy; we’re doing this every Friday; all the stations in the entire cluster are going to do Coupon Fridays.’ ” Cantore laughs, as much at his mimicking the brass as the idiocy of their policies. “I’m, like, ‘Wow. We’re blowing off the core. We’re allowing anyone we want to swoop in on the action.’ ”

Prior to the corporate takeover, Cantore says, “We blew it up, we were killing it” — “blowing” and “killing” being, in radio jive, good things. Then came the suits. “Trust me, man,” he continues, “there were so many jocks in this market who were grabbing their ankles and telling management, “ ‘Yes, yes. I’ll do whatever you want.’ Not me, man.”

The new Powers That Be soured him because they decreed that “listeners are stupid. [But I think that] the consumer is smarter than the industry, and they have been for years. No one has recognized that. Listeners are more brilliant than the people pushing the buttons.”

Cantore fumed over “the repetition, the lack of diversity in the programming, the contrived sound, the disconnect from the core — I would hear this stuff and take it to the uppers,” who routinely dismissed his complaints. “I’d stand on desks, go to GMs, to regional VPs of programming, and tell them, ‘You’re fucking up.’ They didn’t care.” What rattled Cantore was hearing from his listeners directly. They’d say, “I listen to you, and then when the music comes on I punch out,” that is, exit 91X because the music — “it was so friggin’ obvious” — was scripted. Cantore’s core liked him because he shared their enthusiasms for the music. Why that had to change he’ll never understand.

Sucking the dregs of his smoothie, Cantore is reluctant to open up about leaving 91X — “I don’t want to come off as bitter; I hate that.” He sums it up with three words: “It was time.” A mutual parting, but “Yeah, ultimately, they cut the cord.” He was replaced by Mat & Mahoney, a local show with two guys who had DJ gigs at Las Vegas radio stations. Last June, Hilary and her midday local show at 94.1 were replaced by Ryan Seacrest of American Idol fame. (Hilary refused comment for this story.)

Hurt, reeling for months, Cantore worked on his “spiritual practice,” bungalowed with family and friends, and found “true happiness in the water,” surfing. “I thought, silly me, I could walk out of 15 years’ radio experience and pick my [next] job. It was the absolute antithesis of that.” The phone rang once or twice. Even New York called. But he turned the offer down. He didn’t want to be chained to yet another corporate environment where the “same financial tightening” was occurring. He wasn’t about to uproot his family or leave Swami’s Point.

What was San Diego’s most famous under-40 jock, with an audience in the thousands, going to do, especially in a radio world that had pigeonholed him as an alternative-rock guru at 91X? If he wouldn’t change, would the format?

DEREGULATION AND PROFIT: BRING ON THE TURMOIL

The departure of Chris Cantore and Hilary Chambers from San Diego’s airwaves may have been a long time in coming, but come it has, to them, and to other veterans. The first inklings of turmoil began in 1996 with the Telecommunications Act, which deregulated the ownership structure of public media and opened the gates to corporate takeovers of local radio stations as investments. Jacor Communications was the first media conglomerate to own a pocketful of radio stations, purchasing 9 of them in the 1990s, including 91X. Clear Channel purchased Jacor in 1999, then, using loopholes in leasing agreements to own and operate stations in Mexico, bought another 13. By 2004, Clear Channel had cornered nearly 45 percent of local radio stations, three times the market share of its nearest competitor. In 2005, the Federal Communications Commission ruled that Clear Channel had to divest its Mexican-leased properties. That meant selling 91X, Jammin’ Z90, and Magic 92.5, which Clear Channel did to Finest City Broadcasting.

A decade of wheeling and dealing has meant that a lot of deejays and program directors have quit or been laid off. Not long after Finest City bought Clear Channel’s three stations, program director Kevin Stapleford and CEO Mike Glickenhaus left. In 2007, several local deejays were fired: Stephen Kallao, Marco Collins, Trevor Trent, and Jason Riggs. Syndicated shows took over. In October 2007, at Z90, the morning deejay “Chino” was replaced by Big Boy’s Neighborhood from Los Angeles; in November 2007, at 91X, Jennifer White, cohost with Chris Cantore for 2 years, left a month before Cantore was fired to do a morning show on Sophie 103.7; in December 2007, at 91X, Al Guerra, who hosted the local-music two-hour radio show Loudspeaker, quit over differences with Finest City managers. In a February 2008 letter to the Reader, Shannon Leder Johnson, who hosted a show at KIOZ for 15 years and maintained her show as one of the top three in her slot, said that “I was number one the day they [Clear Channel] let me go. On my way out, I had to stop at HR and pick up my ratings bonus check.” Most terminations were not prompted by falling ratings but by executive-led decisions to cut costs.

At Star 94.1, replacing Hilary with Ryan Seacrest is a big gamble. Long a local station, niched to the 25–54 age set (moms in minivans), 94.1 is betting that listeners will take to Seacrest’s music and “celebrity sleaze” dirt-dishing on Amy Winehouse and Charlie Sheen. If Seacrest is successful here, the move may send a shockwave through such perennials as Jeff and Jer or Dave, Shelley, and Chainsaw. Already, time for local talk has dropped, especially on Clear Channel stations. Where deejays once made their personal lives part of the show, speaking for as much as 12 minutes per hour, now their “talk breaks” are timed to one minute each.

Jerry Del Colliano, a blogger at Inside Music Media, writes that Clear Channel, a publicly traded company, is unloading stations as it moves toward privatization. To sweeten the sale, Clear Channel is, Colliano warns, “pruning expensive air talent. Voice-tracking [using prerecorded announcers and personalities from outside markets] and program duplication and multitasking” will continue. “If you’re working for Clear Channel now and survive the onslaught of belt-tightening to come, you’ve likely retained a job in a more stable setting. The game plan is obvious: cut costs, improve revenue, sell the assets.”

Firing and laying off locals is indicative of big changes in the scope and identity of San Diego radio, local or corporate, music or talk. Radio is redefining itself, from terrestrial or ground-based transmission to the new satellite and online platforms. The Internet and Sirius/XM Satellite (recently merged) are expanding the way radio is delivered to listeners. In a multiplatform media world, radio stations with online sites are pushing “360” to their listeners, that is, cycling them from the airwaves to online. Listeners are turning off the long commercial interruptions on music radio in favor of iPods and podcasting. In a recession, local program directors seek to jettison local talent as too expensive. And talk and opinion, particularly conservative voices, which rule the radio roost, are remaking radio into a cult of personality, whether the blowhole spouts from Hollywood or Mission Valley.

This past year, in speaking with hosts and deejays, working and laid-off, as well as program directors and radio mavens, I’ve heard an incessant drumbeat: With the corporatizing spread of “voice-tracked” programs and a dearth of innovative execs, creativity in Radio Land is kaput. What’s more, consolidation continues to produce a climate of self-censorship, in which a lot of people are, as Cantore says, “scared to talk right now,” a sign that many are protecting what little job security they do have. “Here today, gone tomorrow” is the fear local deejays and some of their “uppers” live with daily.

AN OVERVIEW OF SAN DIEGO RADIO

According to Arbitron, radio’s audience-research company, San Diego ranks as the 17th largest radio market in America, with some 2.5 million 12-and-older listeners. (Metro New York City is the largest, with 15.3 million listeners.) As of 2007, 92 percent of those 12 and over listen to radio at least once a week for an hour. Media Audit, in a finer culling, has found that 82 percent of San Diegans listen to radio each week for 18 hours, about 2 3/4 hours a day. In the past decade, tuning in to local radio has fallen off only slightly. The number of people who listen at home or at work has dropped about 5 percent, while those who listen in their cars has risen 7 percent, the latter at least partially explained by longer traffic snarls.

Most news stories about radio these days highlight the demise of terrestrial radio. By one estimate, its audience has dropped by 22 percent since 1999. Earlier this year, Arbitron and Edison Media Research reported that 54 million Americans, almost one in four radio listeners, tune in to radio on the Internet every month. This includes Internet radio and terrestrial radio broadcast on station websites. Not surprisingly, there’s a link between these listeners and social-networking sites such as MySpace: 41 percent of weekly online listeners have personal Internet profiles.

In some markets, radio advertising is doing well: As of 2007, San Diego’s had grown 33 percent since 1999, according to the San Diego Radio Broadcasters Association. But overall, the radio industry is sluggish. The growth rate for subscriber-based satellite radio has topped out at 19 million, adding a mere 200,000 listeners, or 1 percent, this year. Despite a stagnating economy, the satellite audience is finite, with less potential than most thought. Growth has slowed because more than half of listeners who tune in to terrestrial radio once a week also access their iPods and mp3 players. According to eMarketer, half of the online audience listens to nonlocal programming or specialized Internet music sites, and half to local stations. With that many turning a deaf ear, it’s hard to see ad-based radio growing.

Our fair city has 13 AM and 27 FM stations. These are devoted to sports, talk, and music, the latter comprising several formats: adult contemporary, contemporary hits, smooth jazz, urban, country, rock, and alternative. Some stations are locally owned and operated, such as Broadcasting Companies of America. Some are owned by Clear Channel and managed locally. A few stations, their transmission towers located in Mexico, broadcast entirely canned content.

Despite radio’s corporate ownership, what is on the airwaves, say radio critics, is the problem: graying hosts, ad clutter, right-wing talk, piped-in tunes, traffic reports every five minutes — it’s all further fragmenting the audience and driving them, much like TV viewers with remotes, to drop their loyalties and roam the band. Put another way, it’s the leadenness of radio’s need to replicate its formats — for instance, conservative out-of-town hosts Sean Hannity, Dennis Miller, and Michael Medved lord it over midday talk — which is challenged by the swiftness of listeners who, bored by such copies, plug their ears in elsewhere. Once listeners understand that talk and music sources are virtually infinite, fewer of them will stay with the familiar geography of the AM and FM dials.

CANTORE REINVENTS HIS REINVENTED SELF

After months spent assessing his “market equity,” it dawned on Chris Cantore that there might be a future outside terrestrial radio. All media outlets were losing content to the Web. Maybe new online radio technologies were the way to go. (One program Cantore considered is SHOUTcast — “Free Internet Radio!” — where he might start his own station. SHOUTcast lists some 25,000 online radio stations.) “Every discussion I had with program directors or executives came down to new media — how might I reposition myself, be relevant. I heard ‘new media’ so much, I said, ‘Screw it. I’m getting involved.’ ”

Cantore heard from his listeners, too. He read their testimonials, emails, and letters, “And I’d flippin’ cry, hearing how I had touched people over the years. I wanted to stay in the community.” After door-slamming rejection from print, radio, TV, and SignOnSanDiego (“It was like I was just out of college again”), last spring he started putting podcasts online and video spots on YouTube. “Overnight, I got hit by all these new-media companies. They wanted me to podcast for them, do exclusive video content. This was a sign.”

Luis Kaloyan, the owner of Binational Broadcasting, a new-media network in National City, called Cantore to say he wanted to hire him at X1FMradio.com. The live digital broadband radio station, Kaloyan claimed in a company statement, would “transform the old concept of traditional terrestrial radio.” X1FM radio will “define the market to each individual’s profile. Each listener will get direct-marketing advertisements that will impact on their lifestyle.” What’s more, he continued, radio “needs to go back to basics to serve the community. Radio was never meant to be packaged in a corporate environment. Radio needs to live, and it needs to be artistic, it needs to be creative.” Music to Cantore’s unemployed ears.

By May, Cantore was back on the air, 8:00–noon weekdays, at X1FM. The learning curve is steep, he says. “I was real phone-heavy with terrestrial radio; now it’s all computers. It’s like people don’t even want to talk anymore.” The audience is 75 percent “the core” (former 91Xers) and 25 percent from all over the world, new and old listeners who live elsewhere and “mouse” him in via the Web. In this regard, the local-only format must also adapt to a worldwide presence.

The station’s Web traffic, Cantore says, rose 44 percent over the summer. “It’s like a big love fest.”

And yet, underscoring the volatility of local media, the love ended almost as quickly as it began. Cantore left X1FM in August. He describes what happened: “I believed in the station, saw the traction, felt the excitement and the fervor of the new medium,” online radio. But X1FM “couldn’t monetize the product, couldn’t produce the revenue streams. They were stoked with the results, but I wasn’t satisfied on my end. So it ended.”

Put simply, Cantore says, the station didn’t know “how to take money — not for greed — but as a business.” Put even more simply, he left because he wasn’t making enough to support himself.

Now Cantore is reinventing himself again with Cantore Creative. His website says that he “produces and distributes online content for your business, event, brand, and nonprofit.” Already, he’s doing blogs, podcasts, video campaigns for the Surfrider Foundation and the Del Mar Racetrack. “I still believe in this community and in new media.”

ANTICORPORATE REVOLT, MEEK AND WILD

Over at FM 94.9, bashing Clear Channel has become a cottage industry. Program director Garett Michaels tells me that he’s been keeping it local since the rock music station set sail in late 2002. FM 94.9 is one of 15 U.S. stations owned by Lincoln Financial Media Group, which includes San Diego’s Smooth Jazz 98.1 and Country KSON-FM, one of San Diego’s highest-rated stations. FM 94.9 has a lineup of local deejays, with Mike Halloran, one of our town’s longest-running talents, still on afternoons.

Michaels says that by going after Clear Channel’s monopoly, FM 94.9 lured rock listeners who were fed up with “generic, cookie-cutter formats, the Clear Channelization of rock radio. I believe competition is good for the consumer; what Clear Channel had done was to make it so virtually no one had to compete with each other.” The way Clear Channel ran its playlists, Michaels says, was to restrict the programming and “control the overlap.” Each of its rock stations would be told what to play. In effect, they engineered a kind of rigid diversity, station by station.

Michaels says his bosses are aware of the cost-cutting benefits of syndication, but the company’s philosophy is to remain local. People forget, he says, “that the reason the FCC grants you a license to broadcast is to serve your community.” Michaels notes that with its local focus, FM 94.9 has grown steadily, despite limiting commercial time to ten minutes per hour. And all this without much marketing. Costly marketing, format changes, and hiring and firing five program directors in five years, he says, is what sank 91X.

For those (few) who believe that the government has no business regulating the airwaves and who want to dump the corporate model entirely, there is pirate radio, also known as Free Radio San Diego (96.9 FM). That is, there was Free Radio. In fall 2007, the station, which uses a 43-foot antenna set up in undisclosed locations, was shut down for the second time in three years.

Lo_Key is the radio ID of a pirate radio host who had a Friday-night show featuring local bands. The station was run by committee; new talent had to audition and pledge themselves to secrecy. The big problem is that for an unlicensed broadcast station to work, someone has to place an antenna on his or her property, thus risking an FCC fine of $10,000.

The formatless station was located in Golden Hill and had some 15 deejays and operators. Lo_Key says the reason the station was so appealing to her ears is that it played music by Operation Ivy, later called Rancid, music that would not have been heard on any local station. Lo_Key says the censorship of licensed radio (one need only remember George Carlin’s, and later Howard Stern’s, run-ins with the FCC over one or all of those seven dirty words) is undemocratic. “Everything you hear through mainstream radio — someone is paying for it to be heard. Someone is making money off it. [But] no one was making money off of us. We supported the local music scene. It was all about options: you can surf the channels and hear the same songs over and over again. They’re still playing Aerosmith and shit like that, which was good for its time, but it’s 2008, and we need to move on. Radio stations play music that the majority of people want to hear, but the majority of the people have poor taste. They don’t know any better.”

Lo_Key’s main complaint is that too many people “like what they know.” And it was pirate radio’s job to shake up such dependency. Why not just get an FCC license or set up an Internet station? It’s the thrill of anonymity, Lo_Key says. “I’m not one to curse; I just want to be able to play what I want without restrictions. With a license, we have to watch what we say. And if, after so many years, we dropped the F-bomb, we’d lose the license just like that. It’s a risk no one wants to take. The station definitely has a rebellious spirit. We want to fight the system.” Part of what eggs on Lo_Key and others is that “the FCC considers us terrorists.”

Keeping the station secret was hard, says Lo_Key. “I brought on my friends. My family listened. And I probably told more people than I should have.” Whenever guests came to the broadcast site, “We had to blindfold them for two flights of stairs. That was part of the adventure.” The only thing keeping the station off the air is that the pirates have lost the 96.9 frequency to a legal local station. And, no doubt, the threat of a felony prosecution if caught.

Some of radio’s growing pains may soon ease. David Tanny, a San Diego radio blogger since 1999, says that he’s waiting for the “convergence,” when listeners can get Internet radio away from a computer — in a car or on a portable device. That will, Tanny says, “put terrestrial radio in a heap of trouble.” iRoamer, billed as the world’s first universal Internet radio platform, has been launched in Australia, according to Computerworld Australia. For a small fee, it will “give wireless Internet radio capabilities to almost any consumer electronic device, such as portable media players, hi-fi systems, set-top boxes, IPTV units, car-radio products,” as well as iPhones. “A customizable Internet media aggregation portal” — a phrase that crawled out of a Philip K. Dick novel — will allow “users to listen to live radio in real time from anywhere.”

CLIFF ALBERT AND THE DEMISE OF KLSD

At first glance, it seems that the talk side of local radio faces less of the turmoil and transition than the music side does. Talk and news radio are the success stories of the medium. Witness those evergreens Rush Limbaugh and Roger Hedgecock.

Since talk “delivers audiences to advertisers” (in Neil Postman’s immortal phrase) so well, ratings-rabid managers want more: it’s cheap to produce, its high-profile personalities are news magnets, and it’s an ideal way to create a market where one may not have existed.

I find something uniquely appealing about talk radio that goes beyond the political mind-meld of host and listener. Radio is an intimate medium, an archaic thing in our visual age. There are no graphics, no hairdo, no cleavage — voice is everything. And the voice of an agile mind is seductive, creating an internal conversation in the listener. The reason you listen may be due to how engaging the host is rather than whether you agree with him. Roger Hedgecock and Stacy Taylor, another local favorite, following a five-minute news update, often open with 25-minute monologues. “What’s going on today? Here’s what’s going on.” Talk without callers, talk without commercials, talk with strong opinion — at times maddening, at times brilliant — may lock in an audience for long spells during a three- or four-hour show.

Clear Channel, betting that an audience existed that was antithetical to its conservative talk programming, debuted KLSD in 2004. KLSD and its national programming from Air America enjoyed a good three-year run. But in November 2007, KLSD went off the air. A few listener rallies were held: one in Clear Channel’s parking lot starred councilmember Donna Frye, city attorney Michael Aguirre, and TV-news star Bree Walker, among other celebrity protesters.

The man who cut KLSD’s cord was Cliff Albert, program director for KLSD and KOGO. Albert was on San Diego radio, first with KFMB in the 1980s, during the halcyon days of Hudson and Bauer, and later and until recently, with KOGO. Many San Diegans recall Albert’s sterling silver voice, whose sound, like Cantore’s, is part of the audible fabric of our community.

Midway through its run, Albert began noticing that when the audiences of conservative KOGO (with Limbaugh, Hedgecock, and Dr. Laura) or KFMB (with Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Michael Savage) were compared to KLSD’s audience, there was no overlap. “They didn’t share an audience,” Albert says. “They’d listen to music, to sports, to whatever, before they’d go to the other station.” In essence, the audience was much smaller than he had anticipated.

One day Albert realized that “traditional radio advertisers — banks, mortgage companies, and business owners, who tend to be more conservative — didn’t want to advertise on KLSD. They’d try it for a month or two, and they’d get complaints from consumers. They were uncomfortable with advertising on a station where the host was bashing the President and corporate America, U.S. businesses. We were all disappointed that KLSD, the only liberal station in San Diego, was not delivering enough revenue.” This cinched his decision to change the station from progressive talk to sports.

Last January, local KLSD guru Stacy Taylor, whose sardonic wit branded him an intelligent and caustic liberal, landed in the coveted “drive-time” hole from 3:00–6:00 p.m. on 1700 AM, a new talk station. Albert wanted Taylor at KOGO in the “after-Roger slot,” but John Lynch, owner of 1700 AM and head of Broadcast Companies of the Americas, upped the ante and signed Taylor, whose edgy, progressive libertarianism continues to froth the airwaves.

FROM BOTH SIDES NOW

Many San Diegans know the shoeshine polish of Mark Larson’s voice. Whether zany skit or conservative talk, his style features a flip, deadpan persona reminiscent of Bob and Ray and their witty send-ups of the medium in which they worked. An on-air presence for 23 years, Larson used to produce Hudson and Bauer during the KFMB heyday. Four years ago at KOGO, Cliff Albert switched Dr. Laura from noon–3:00 to an evening show and put Larson in. But, Albert says, by 2007, when “the ratings were not as strong as they needed to be, I moved Dr. Laura back” to her slot, “to attract younger women listeners.” With that, Larson took his leave from KOGO.

Larson casts his departure with a bit more corporate complication. It was, he tells me, gobbling a late-lunch turkey sandwich, “Clear Channel’s dictate to move Dr. Laura back into that spot. Cliff does a marvelous job, and the station speaks for itself. Clear Channel is a fine company. But there’s a lot of out-of-town influence. As evidence, with my first contract there, it was simple enough to be hired by two or three people. By the time I got to my last contract last year, it looked like the Magna Carta, there were so many signatures by out-of-town managers. My last year I decided it wasn’t as much fun.” He was surprised to hear Albert say it was only a local decision — “Pressure was coming from somewhere to get Dr. Laura back in.” In the end, Larson was not let go. He opted out of his contract and said so on the air.

Did Larson feel his content was constricted by KOGO or Clear Channel?

“I didn’t until that last year. There was more going on, on the lifestyle front. We were encouraged to do some of the softer stuff, less of the politics. There was a companywide buzz” to change, he says, since Dr. Laura, with a new book, was pushing toward a focus on family problems and personal morality. Right-wing political opinion had waned following the 2006 elections; it lost some of its steam, Larson says, because “people were tired of talking about the war.”

Off the air, Larson, a Republican and a Christian, played with the notion of running for the congressional seat of Duncan Hunter, who, after a failed presidential bid, is retiring from the 52nd District. Conferring with Hunter and Duncan Hunter Jr., Larson discovered that wasn’t an option. (Junior went on to win the primary and the general election.) John Lynch at 1700 AM signed Larson to do the 5:00–9:00 morning show and to be the station’s program director.

Lynch then tapped Stacy Taylor for the afternoons, so that, in Larson’s words, 1700 AM would “be the only station in San Diego with both sides.” Offering both liberal and conservative views is either an anomaly or a brilliant bit of programming. Larson is hoping the word spreads “where I am, where Stacy is, and that a different kind of format is evolving.”

Larson’s strength as a talk-show host, he says, is that he can’t be “pigeonholed. People can like me — and disagree with me. These kinds of emails make my day: ‘I disagree with almost everything you say, but you make me think.’ ” Larson’s ideal is to disagree with listeners in ways that keep them tuned in. On this point, he dresses down Limbaugh, who during the presidential election never found a candidate to his liking. It makes no sense, Larson says, that Limbaugh would “demonize McCain while beating up on Obama. What’s the point? Everybody ends up bruised. If you demagogue it a certain way, there’s a point where I ask, ‘Is this all about you? Or is it about caring about your community?’ ”

THE CONUNDRUM OF KPBS RADIO

One man who’s been dealing with untidiness on the programming side is John Decker, program director of KPBS radio since 1998. In his San Diego State office, Decker tells me that he’d prefer steering clear of controversy, but it has, with regard to city attorney (now “ex”) Mike Aguirre, found him, his general manager Doug Myrland, and his station nonetheless.

In 2007, KPBS canceled two local programs, A Way with Words on radio and Full Focus on TV. A Way with Words was cut, Decker tells me, because its yearly budget was $250,000, a tag Myrland deemed too pricey. The wordsmiths, though, created a local production company and kept the show going in San Diego and in syndication. With the cancellation of Full Focus, 12 employees were laid off, including news director Michael Marcotte. The program, at $1 million annually, had good content, Myrland told the Union-Tribune, “but few people watched.”

In response to the show’s termination, Aguirre, a frequent guest on Full Focus, initiated an investigation into why the show was canned: he charged that “KPBS abrogated its duty to maintain objectivity and balance in its local public-affairs television programming.” He requested the station hand over paperwork about the show’s demise. He expanded his inquiry to include Editors Roundtable, a one-hour Friday-morning radio talk show featuring three local newspaper editors, Tim McClain, editor of San Diego Metropolitan Magazine; John Warren, editor and publisher of San Diego Voice and Viewpoint; and Robert Kittle, editorial page editor of the Union-Tribune.

Aguirre wrote that Editors Roundtable “limited” its guest commentators by alternating these three men every week with another bevy of local editors. He stated that the discussions by McClain, Warren, and Kittle were sometimes televised, but not those of other editors. Aguirre thought this unfair and wanted to know why the TV format favored the Big Three. He cited an email from Kittle to the station, objecting that producers had invited Dave Rolland, editor of San Diego City Beat, to be on a televised episode with Kittle. For Aguirre, the station’s ostensible kowtowing to Kittle’s demand violated “objectivity” and the “balance [of] federal law” in which the “Corporation for Public Broadcasting is statutorily directed to support those objectives.”

Decker says that though he is not the producer of Editors Roundtable, he understood the issues involved. When the Big Three were on every week, did the public pressure the station to expand its stock of commentators? “No,” he says, “we changed it. We wanted as many voices at the table as possible.” In his words, KPBS thought McClain, Warren, and Kittle “represented a significant number of readers in this town. The show does well. It really does. I’m really surprised. I’m very pleased. Even if you have these guys on every other week, people respond positively to them, and that’s a public service.”

Behind Aguirre’s charge was the presumption that someone other than KPBS may have been directing the show’s, and by extension, the station’s editorial content. Not a chance, Decker says. Neither David Copley nor Bob Kittle nor the Copley Foundation (which put up millions to build KPBS’s studios in 1995) nor anyone in the community has directly influenced the decisions he and Doug Myrland have made over the format of their news programs.

Decker remains indignant over Aguirre’s request for internal documents from KPBS, a public institution, which, by law, must make such documents available to the public and, even more so, the city attorney’s office. In the end, the investigation — and the dustup — was a waste of the station’s time, Decker says. According to the Union-Tribune, Aguirre in late 2007 “withdrew the request…on the advice of a First Amendment expert.”

Decker cites, as evidence of the station’s ongoing commitment to local programming, the hour-long documentaries Envision San Diego, produced about ten times a year; a bit more than two hours a day of local news during Morning Edition and All Things Considered in the afternoon; and the four-day-a-week, two-hour program These Days. This amounts to 20–25 hours a week of local shows.

If Editors Roundtable is so popular, and the station believes in the “local mission,” why not produce more such shows? To expand the local focus is a “conundrum,” Decker says. What the station is broadcasting right now is all it can afford. “We haven’t debuted a new show in a long time. We haven’t done a Lounge lately” — the local arts and culture show, sacked four years ago, whose “OK ratings” did not equal the expense.

He notes that one hour of These Days costs ten times what a syndicated news show like The World costs. Funds for new programming don’t exist, he says, since KPBS allocates only 25 percent of the station’s total budget to the radio side. The costliest part is TV: Public Television programs are far more expensive than National Public Radio shows. Even though TV gets more funding, there are fewer employees on that side: 6 on TV versus 20 on radio. This spring, 6 employees were laid off in the latest belt-tightening, not to mention the resignation of Myrland, whose $218,000 salaried position will no doubt be filled quickly. In short, the lion’s share of KPBS’s $20 million yearly budget (which has fallen three percent since 2005) goes to television.

I ask Decker if he has any mad money with which to experiment. After all, isn’t taking a chance on shows like A Way with Words or These Days the way things get started?

It’s “another conundrum,” he says. “If you innovate, will you lose your audience? Innovation takes time, energy, experimentation, devotion, and commitment to do something differently. Our move has been to increase audience — to pick shows that reach as many people [as possible] in any given quarter-hour.”

Decker says KPBS “probably has the only growing audience on radio. Music radio is losing audience, while public radio has gained audience. And our ability to remain relevant is going to depend on our ability to do more local programming.” Which he can’t do, he says, acknowledging the irony. Even though the radio audience is growing, even though “all the other local radio stations have given up on doing news,” neither of these opportunities has translated into KPBS doing much more than downsizing.

OPINION IS NEWS

Talk radio targets a very particular audience. Cliff Albert at KOGO says he aims for people in their 40s, who are “professionals or career-oriented, employed, have families, close relationships with people, above-average income, own cars, and generally lean moderate to conservative, as opposed to moderate to liberal.” Albert estimates the audience at roughly 300,000 during a typical week (up from 200,000 five years ago), listening 60/40 between car and home or office. Albert sees the station’s sizable advance as an aging and longer-living population interested in hearing about “politics, government, psychology.” They listen to the radio hosts “to be affirmed in what they believe. We ask them, ‘Why do you listen?’ ‘He says what I’m thinking.’ And that’s music to our ears because we know we have a listener who will tune in every day. They want to go to the office that day and know how to argue their point.”

San Diego is blessed with a keen contrarian mind in Mark Ramsey, the president of Mercury Research, who takes issue with much of the prevailing wisdom about radio. At Mercury, Ramsey has consulted for CBS Radio, Clear Channel, and Broadcast Companies of the Americas. His blog is Hear 2.0, where he writes about new media and the need, especially now, for “research and development.” So much opportunity exists in radio these days — “margins are slipping, alternatives are burgeoning” — that stations need to “reposition.”

Ramsey disputes Albert’s notion that San Diego’s radio audience is moderate to conservative. He says you can’t label San Diego by its largely conservative talk-radio personae. He calls it a “weird notion that because so much of talk radio is conservative-leaning there is no room for talk radio that is liberal-leaning — to which I say, ‘Where’s the evidence of that?’ ” Jeff and Jer and Dave, Shelly, and Chainsaw, the station KPRI, KPBS, Stacy Taylor, and a lot of the youth-oriented or lifestyle-oriented deejays are anything but conservative.

I ask Ramsey if he’s worried about the news getting lost in the putative world of opinion or entertainment radio.

First, he says, contrary to conventional wisdom, there’s a reason why there’s a scarcity of news-radio stations. Research has demonstrated that “there’s only one hour a day when there’s a demand for news. Maybe 7:00–8:00 in the morning.” Here the ratings are huge. The rest of the day, at news stations like KNX in Los Angeles, the ratings collapse.

Second, “The history of news in America is opinion” as the means of dissemination. “If you go back to Benjamin Franklin, that’s true. If you go back to Thomas Paine, that’s true. This was advocacy journalism — long before Edward R. Murrow. These were people with sharp points of view. The reason why conservative talk radio is so successful is that the point of view” has become the voice of AM radio, which has always sought to reach moderate Americans. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to hear information through your own filter.”

The way conservative radio racks up the ratings (no different from cable TV news) is, Ramsey says, by air-mongering primal issues. These days, these include child abuse, terrorism, drugs, teachers having sex with their students. Such “issues” have no opposing side, he says; no one is for child abuse. They are exploited because it’s far easier to get people to care about such stomach-turning tales than it is to get people to, for instance, care about President Mugabe’s terrorist government in Zimbabwe.

On a similar note, Ramsey says the notion that radio is being hurt by the trend toward corporatizing and syndication is another misnomer. “Is it necessarily wrong that Sean Hannity is on the air” locally while “he broadcasts out of New York? No, not if Sean Hannity is better than whoever else might be on in Sean Hannity’s slot.” As a cultural comparison, it’s why the New York Philharmonic is on Great Performances and not the Tijuana Symphony (no offense). “No matter what field you’re in, talent is the scarcest of commodities.”

Ramsey says that though San Diegans tell researchers they’d like local programming, they are often just giving “the right answer.” It’s the sort of question that supposes local should be preferred to regional or national. People also confide to survey-takers that they want “some connection to their community” on radio. “TV does this with local news,” Ramsey says. “But beyond that, people need to have something worth listening to. And there is nothing inherently interesting about being inherently local. Nothing. If you put local before good, you’re making a big mistake. If you put good before local — and you’re also local — so much the better. But good is better than local. This has been proven when Howard Stern raked in the ratings that he did.”

And yet, despite his talent and his stellar success, once Stern changed his format, he tanked. All those habituated listeners went elsewhere.

Talk About Turmoil

A year of turmoil in local radio has culminated in a slew of December changes.

Longtime general manager, Bob Bolinger, Clear Channel Radio San Diego, is out, replaced by Debbie Wagner from Tucson, Arizona. After almost ten years, Tom Fudge no longer hosts KPBS’s These Days. He’s been reassigned as an “investigative healthcare reporter.” (These Days is expanding its four-day-a-week morning show from two to three hours, with KPBS reporter Maureen Cavanaugh taking the helm.) Jimmy Valentine, producer of The Roger Hedgecock Show at KOGO, has been let go as part of Hedgecock and his show’s national syndication beginning in January.

Stacy Taylor, the afternoon talk-show host at 1700 AM, is gone. He writes on his website that “Yes, I have been ‘eliminated’ by 1700.... This comes a few days after a couple prime-time sports hosts were fired by B.C.A. Later in the day, on the way in to do my show, Jorge Espinoza, my producer called to say I’d been fired. So, sure enough, when I arrived at the studio, the general manager, Gregg Wolfson was waiting for me at the door with the official news. He explained that the station had lost $1 million in the previous year and that changes had to be made. When I suggested to him that I was the only host who actually had good ratings at the station, he replied that he was well aware of that.... What ultimately becomes of 1700 is a mystery. Deep recessions tend to put a damper on radio advertising revenue. Admittedly, this is a set-back for so-called ‘progressive radio’ in the market, although rumors continuously swirl about plans for a new outlet in San Diego. My understanding is that those plans are vague and, in the immortal words of the N.S.A., ‘more aspirational than operational.’ As for me, I’ll weigh my limited options and chill for a few days before moving forward. Thanks for the support.”

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Radio is hereby dead. When I discovered podcasts, my faith in independent music was again reaffirmed.

If I listen to radio, it's AM, and it's talk. The "McMusic" they cram down your throat on terrestrial FM stations is maddening. Besides, 75% of what you hear on TR is older than 20 years. The labels did it to themselves, trying to produce the next Britney or Christina or Coldplay or Nickelback or Creed....THere's a formula that exists in their minds and they have painted themselves into a corner threefold- outmoded business model, cookie cutter artists, and outright corporate greed.

"Big Music" needs to step aside. They are deprecated as a whole; independent artists now have the ability to circumvent the system that labels once dominated- Distribution. If you can sell direct to your fans, why bother with getting a "record deal"?

A "Deal" is about as exciting as a home loan. You have to pay it back within a certain time frame, you see very little return on the aggregate price of a CD, and even when you pay it off the labels STILL own an interest in your music via publishing rights. Essentially you are indentured to the label as a servant and your hard work and creativity sends the labels' children to college or buys them a new condo in NYC.

I'd rather give my music away for free than support these cretins. At least you'd have a better chance of something happening, and an 8 year old won't get sued by the RIAA.

Radio is dead. People listened to radios because they couldn't carry a turntable around with them. Then came the Walkman, the Discman and now the iPod.

People will listen to their own music or internet on their personal device. They'll justify the cost because most people will disconnect land lines and even fixed high speed connections and just use iPhone era devices. That's where people will get all of their mail, news, music, and other entertainment.

In the opening section, I wrote that Chris Cantore was replaced at 91X by Adam Carolla. This was wrong. He was actually replaced by two DJs, Mat and Mahoney. The Web version of the story has been corrected. Tom Larson

We need music directors to discover good new songs to play on the radio instead of the corporate-chosen crap that's a staple on contemporary hit radio. Too much of the new songs being selected are unmemorable and boring.

Funny music artists are producing parodies of today's crap so that their "covers" would sound half as crappy as the original, but it's their fault that they're listening to uninspiring contemporary hit radio for parody ideas that don't appeal to most people in my age demographic. I'm way outside of the demographic of Channel, Star, 91X, Sophie, and Z90 so I never tune them in.

Clear Channel has done one thing right though. It launched a I Heart Music website for ordinary joes like myself to upload songs. I even got one of my songs uploaded and noticed by several podcasters, so I won't bash Clear Channel here, though I got no word if any local hosts played my song from this past Christmas season.

I listen to downloads, Internet radio, satellite radio, cable radio, FM 94/9, and podcasts for music. I'm all for outsourcing syndicated talent (not the vertically-aligned shows) if the shows are interesting enough to attract listeners and advertisers. I could offer one of my podcast shows on a terrestrial stick and radio can pay me a fee for the service, while selling the advertising slots so they make money. Independent podcasters and netcasters can find music the suits never dreamed of putting on the airwaves. Offer multiple streams of stations and podcasts from their websites so portable music devices like iPhones can tune them in easily. Radio needs to seek out independent average joes for ideas and pay them to try out new ideas. That's what radio needs to survive.

Excellent article. However, you are mistaken about the political views of the "Dave, Shelly, and Chainsaw" show. While Shelly is a bona-fide liberal, Dave Rickards is conservative on nearly every subject, much to the chagrin of many listeners.

One cannot fully fathom how and why talk radio was ruined until they read the Ctr for American Progress study which indicates that 91% of talk radio content in the US is "conservative." Has nothing to do with "fair and balanced" or what the public appetite is about.

It's about crusty, old $$ buying up the airwaves and cramming their failed format, agenda, policies into the ears of listeners...who now have tired of the tripe and moved on. Young listeners tuned out to talk a long time ago. They don't want yelling and screaming...they are desperate for solutions, answers, find common ground and vision. You're not going to get that from Limbaugh, Savage, O'Reilly, etc.

And yet, how do u explain the recent NYT article reporting that all the main rightwingers are getting their contracts re-upped. More of the same, it appears.

So we'll see what plays out in the coming months....when I see "radio is dead" ...I think that mostly applies to music radio b/c everything is going to "consumer on demand" formats anyway.

Some other notes of interest re: KLSD....revenue-wise, it was certainly doing better financially than it's predecessor format of adult oldies music.

How do u explain 59 other cities getting their progressive talk formats axed by Clear Channel and other rightwing corporate monolithic owners? Were they ALL losing money? I think not.

Also, Stacy Taylor at AM1700, was the lone progressive talker among a sea of conservative talkers ... and I understand his was the higheset-rated show in their lineup. Coincidence, or does this say something about a signficant market being underserved in San Diego?

However, I also think there is a public appetite for timely, current, smart and entertaining radio with important information. "Informative and entertaining media" ain't going away any time soon...cf. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

The interesting question raised by this article is that programming for a nationwide audience can make money and survive, and media that is targeted/molded to individual taste can make money and survive, but local community programming cannot. However, since vast majority of people we interact with on a daily basis, our coworkers, classmates, the guy or girl standing in line next to us, in a local community, how or where do we come together across differences in taste, music, culture, religion, etc in the places where we live. Maybe media actually has never worked this way, but to have a strong local media be a commons where the community can gather in times good and bad seems to be a good use of the public airwaves.

Anyways, I had been looking for a local talk radio host to listen to (I am relatively new to San Diego) and, after reading this article (which I first read in the paper edition), I eagerly went to the 1700AM website. That led me to Mark Larson's blog, which said this:

BROADCAST CHANGES Due to circumstances beyond my control, my daily radio show is no longer heard on 1700AM in Southern California. Please check back with this Blog often... I'll post updates on "what's next" for yours truly as I'm able to do so. Thanks very much for your continued support. And yes, I'm glad God is still the one in charge of the things that matter most. Happy New Year! http://www.larsonblog.com/

@JV- keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. That being said, I'm a big fan of these guys: http://johnandkenshow.com KFI 640 AM baby!

Also, right wing talk radio is all they (the right) have. The lefties have the intertubes, and that trumps talk radio one thousandfold. Look at the result of the last election- McCain and crew couldn't find their collective starfishies with a funnel, and Obama had the fundraising machine in full tilt swing. Do the math! :D

@DavidTanny Careful uploading content to those kinds of sites- read the fine print. When you upload content to those kinds of places they immediately reserve the right to your creativity and if they make a billion dollars in the process, you get nil.

Dear BillRayDrums:

I take issue with your "internet trumping radio" sole explanation for Nov 4. The rightwing has DrudgeReport and their web-based echo chamber, too. They just haven't figured out a way to prevent networking yet; but that doesn't mean they haven't tried or will continue to try. What do u think this whole "net neutrality" debate was/is about?

Obama won because he and Biden were superior candidates and McCain and Palin were not ... plus it was a repudiation of th last 8 years. The market dropped 5,000 pts and people lost $7 trillion in wealth. Paying $4 a gallon at the pump was the great equalizer. No matter what political party u supported, that sucked. We know the unemployment and inflation numbers were worse than they were telling us. Obama won, in spite of the right-wing media machine, which tells you how lousy people feel.

In spite of all that, I think Obama/Biden should have won by more. Here's another eye-opener... if we just counted the white votes alone ... McCain would have won 55-43 ... a huge trouncing despite the foreign and domestic abysmal failures ... http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1039/post-election-perspectives

With the coming challenges, we'd better figure out how to unite efforts and cease with the constant haranguing about personal choices.

There is absolutely no support from the local radio stations for local, independent hip hop..what-so-ever. PERIOD. The Music Industry is crumbling...and if you can't expect support in your own city, where else can you look????

John and Ken are a horrible show. They bring up great topics, but they spend way too much time on them, and aren't great at moving on.

This story had a few mistakes: Shanon Leder (whom I worked with), is another name is attached to her, it's Jensen (not Johnson...as her husband is Kimo Jensen of KSON).

Also, it would've been more interesting to read other aspects of how radio isn't "local". There are many that weren't covered. At least 5 stations I can think of, have syndicated shows/DJs.

I do understand that people seem to gravitate more towards "talk radio" on subjects like this, though.

I also thought it was funny that a quote in the story (I forgot who it was from)...mentioned the playing of Aerosmith, and how the majority have "bad taste." Think how ridiculous that statement is.

A better scenario, would be something I read in the radio trade magazines years ago. It's not that the masses have "bad taste," but they'll do these surveys (in the 70s they were done by bringing a bunch of guys in a room with free pizza and Coke), and playing songs, asking which they loved, hated, etc. A song by Aerosmith comes on, everyone puts "loves," so the "classic rock" station doesn't drop it from the format. But, if you would've dug deeper in that same survey, you'd find the same person that says they "love" that song, admits to changing the station, because they've heard "Walk This Way" about a thousand times, and thus, don't need to hear it yet again.

Some points

1) Cantore is considered somewhat of a "lightweight" in the business, not a bad talent-not anyone who is going to light up the ratings or revenue though.

2) The damage was done to the business when the 1996 Telecom act passed congress and was signed by President Clinton. This act enabled the bottom-feeders such as Clear Channel to xerox formats coast to coast, and own their former competition. Anti-trust violations? You betcha.

3)KPOP's Progressive Talk format failed due to lack of revenue. If it was successful, Clear Channel would have never pulled the plug.

4)KFMB used to be considered the tiffany of local stations. The general manager for years sought great talent--everyone from Charlie & Harrigan to Bobby Rich, Hudson & Bauer, Bill Ballance and others were part of a very localized radio station. It made a ton of money too. That is no longer the case, they import most of their programming on KFMB from satellite networks, while KFMB-FM is (outside of morning drive) a simple jukebox.

5) Radio is not all about music. Sorry. Playing the right mix of music is crucial,but it's more than that. Localization, community involvement,local-live personalities, and relevance are all required to create truly memorable radio stations. This has been true since Happy Hare woke up San Diego listeners on KCBQ in the 50's & 60's, to when the original 91X hit the air. KGB, KDEO, Q106 all subscribed to this philosophy.

6) Spoken Word Radio is here to stay. News-Sports-News-Talk-Hot Talk. It's one style that can't be replicated by I-Pods, in the near future less stations will play music. It's not unique anymore.

7) Being a DJ or even talk show host is not a life long career. It should lead to something else, otherwise it's a little sad to see 60 year old DJ's getting fired at local stations. Hey, a 35 year old can rebound, but what about someone who has done radio since they were 14 and are now 60.?

Oh, this is for Josh B's comment. I am wondering if you are the same Josh who crashes parties, if so and a writer for the Reader why in the hell are you posting under reader comments? That's weak.

John and Ken is not horrible, maybe you don't like the show, I'm not a a big fan either. The point is they are rating leaders in the Los Angeles market. They generate huge ratings & millions of dollars a year for KFI. Understand how the business works, it's not just about your random opinion.

Updates: Like Stacy Taylor, Mark Larson is no longer at 1700 AM. And Hilary, who was at FM 94.1, now has a show on FM 94.9. TL

Dear PhilL... re: your #2. Do you know how much KPOP was earning at its peak? Do you know how much KLSD was earning at its peak? and what the new KLSD sports format is earning? (also provide the net revenue since the payroll went up when they flipped to sports) ...

Then, analyze all 50 progressive talk stations that were systematically dumped across the US after Nov 2006. Then, tell me why the conservative behemoths just added conservative news talk for the next 4 years ... there will be a toal of 2,064 stations providing Rush, Sean, Beck, Ingraham, Savage ...

if radio is dead, why do they persist in beating a dead dog? b/c they are an 800 pd gorilla..b/c they are willing to lose money as long as they control the airwaves....b/c u have a lot of crusty old billionaires who don't care what the public would like to hear (talk-wise)...

it's a myth that the public owns the airwaves....there were 80 media companies when Reagan took office...now there are 5 ... re: radio, there are only a handful of major players...maybe about 15 total radio entities.... when the Telecom Act was passed, that wiped out dozens of companies ... sad

I used to listen to radio because it was a free way of getting music. Now I get any music I want on my schedule for free online.

So why would I listen to music radio?

This is really just another story about disintermediation, the process of technology disrupting old businesses. Just like the buggy-whip manufacturers of old, the deejay is really no longer necessary. Any twelve year old with an I-Pod and some speakers can perform the work of selecting and playing tracks, and the inane chatter between the songs has never been the reason I tuned-in.

I met Chris at the Reader party some months back, and I suppose he's a nice guy. But his situation is no different from the thousands of other professionals, from travel agents to typists, who have found their skills usurped and must move on to other fields. The fact that he's high-profile as an entertainer makes him visible, but not unique.

Personally, I have fond memories of the late-80's 91X. But thankfully, I no longer have to rely on them finding music on my behalf since I now can easily find it myself.

On the other hand, when it comes to news and public affairs, radio fills a niche. It's time-sensitive, so a live show makes sense. Music, by it's nature, is NOT time-sensitive (at least the good stuff).

Unfortunately, while radio is very immediate, it does not lend itself to depth or complexity. Listening to Limbaugh or Hedgecock results in large IQ drops because the format itself requires the delivery of simplistic but satisfying non-truths or emotional bombast just to retain interest.

Bombastic simplification is the foundation of conservatism, hence radio talk is dominated by neo-con knuckle-draggers. The other side is just too decent and thoughtful to succeed on air.

But look at the other non-broadcast mediums and the liberals to moderates are dominant. Text, which requires a higher level of intelligence to process, is the artillery of progressive politics, while talk radio shouting is all the conservatives have left in their arsenal.

That leaves me with no reason to listen to radio unless there is absolutely nothing else available...then I'll tune into KPBS because although it's sometimes dull, at least it doesn't insult my intelligence too often, or irritate me with DJ chatter and repetitive advertising for products I'll never buy.

Regarding KLSD, there are quite a few cities where progressive talk not only works, but gets good ratings. And some progressive talkers are even turning a profit-- for example, Ed Schultz, whose syndicated show was on KLSD, is about to celebrate his 5th anniversary;his show has been profitable for the past 3 years, and is heard on about 100 stations nationwide. Stephanie Miller, Thom Hartmann, and Rachel Maddow are also successful and profitable.

Yet Cliff Albert continues to offer right wing talking points about how progressive talk stations are failures because all they do is bash president Bush and bash corporations (not true, but never mind.) That's puzzling: rightie talkers constantly bash liberals, bash Democrats, and bash the supposedly liberal media... but I guess that sort of bashing is okay. Cliff sounds like his mind was already made up about KLSD, and now he needs to justify what was absolutely the wrong decision.

And one other subject-- I also don't understand why owners haven't figured out that a station needs personality. The detached, automated sound just drives people away. I consulted for 25 years, and we always took a chance on new music, reached out to our listeners, and created stations that were entertaining and informative. These days, the corporations and owners seem puzzled that listenership is down. Well why would I want to listen to something that isn't live, isn't local, and isn't unique in some way?

Many of us still love radio. And I believe radio is still capable of being a companion, a friend, and so much more. Perhaps it's not too late for things to change. That's my hope for the new year.

Right on, DevorahLeah ... well said! As for the ultimate decision to shut down KLSD, one has to keep in mind that the Clear Channel corporate headquarters are based in San Antonio TX with well-established ties to the Bush family. Clear Channel operated 19 'progressive stations' (59 overall) were dumped. It appears that the tipping point prompting that decision were the midterm elections of Nov 2006, when House and Senate majorities went back to the Democrats.

We kept hearing in San Diego that the decision to shut down KLSD was due to "revenue, not ratings." If you start googling around, you'll discover that this was the same corporate "rationale" that was offered in many other cities.

KLSD (with a lousy signal, bad engineering and almost no marketing) had risen to #17 in the ratings. If you have attended any listeners events, you would have seen hundreds of rabid and grateful fans. Hundreds of listeners staged at least two rallies at the Clear Channel offices to protest the plan to shut it down. A group called Save KLSD emerged which has now morphed into CPR-San Diego (or the Campaign for Progressive Radio). How can they dump it in Boston where the voter registration is about 70% Democratic?

If you want to see what's wrong with radio (and mainstream media, in general), look at the ownership structure. Read David Brock's THE REPUBLICAN NOISE MACHINE: Rightwing media and how it corrupts democracy. See the documentary films "ORWELL ROLLS IN HIS GRAVE" and "OUTFOXED: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism."

What has happened to our media and the news? One has to conclude that most mainstream media has been used as a weapon of mass "distraction", and in some cases, mass deception.

We have to look at the ownership caps that were de-regulated by the Telecom Act of 1996. For 62 years, it was fine that no entity could own more than 40 stations. The conservative mega-wealthy who really own and operate most of the country decided to get rid of the old rules and allow unfettered ownership. Clear Channel went from owning 40 stations to 1400 almost overnight.

We can now see the political and economic dangers of too much concentrated wealth and control. Look how the term "liberal" has been demonized by the rightwing radio attack. See wikipedia.org and read up on "liberalism". Many of the discoveries and developments that have made our country great have emanated from this school of thought. Haven't we always been about expanding rights of the individual and more social justice? To think that women and minorities did not have equal voting rights in our last century is amazing.

I still have faith that out of all this discord, that some daring entrepreneurs will dare to step up and serve some of the huge voids that the rightwing monolith has created.

JV333: You still don't get it. I will also challenge to some degree Devorah's comments. True-shows like Stephanie Miller & Ed Schultz (delivered by Jones Networks) tend to do somewhat better than the Air-America shows.

But simply having "clears", isn't enough. Show me the markets specifically where stations with these shows win or dominate their competition? The highest rated Air America type station is located in Portland Oregon. In Los Angeles and San Francisco for example the AA stations barely register a blip on the ratings, both coming in at a .9.

There is no conspiracy against "liberal talk", it flat out doesn't get the numbers necessary to be self-sustaining in most cases. Show me the markets where a Stephanie Miller, Ed Schultz or Air America show beats Rush, Michael Savage, Hannity, or the local afternoon drive show?

In fact NPR may be the real enemy of these stations, they have a strong audience base of liberal and left wingers, which apparently is not attracted to the personalities or style of Air America radio. The reason Al Franken left radio to run for the senate, is he was an abject failure in talk radio.

Oh Phil, your comments wound me deeply! First, I must remind you that unless you are in the industry, you only see the published numbers, which are the 12+ ratings. Progressive talk gets the 25-54 year olds, and I offer as an illustration of that the success of both Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann on MSNBC-- their total ratings look only average, but their 24-54 year old numbers are not only competitive with Fox but even beat them some nights. Ditto for the 25-54 numbers of Ed Schultz and Stephanie Miller-- very solid, ratings book after ratings book.

Also, it's a myth (and thanks for expressing another rightie talking point) that NPR is mainly lefties and liberals. According to numbers I have seen (I am a free-lance writer, and wrote an article about this last year) more than 35% of the listeners to shows like "All Things Considered" identify as conservatives and Republicans.

But we do agree on one thing-- Al Franken was a better comedian than a talk host. An abject failure? Not true at all. In some cities, his show did quite well. But he never should have been doing it, no offence to Al, whom I happen to know (although we are not best pals). Air America's fatal error was choosing comedians and people with no experience doing talk radio. Jones, on the other hand, chose people with experience in talk radio. That is why I believe their syndicated talkers, who know how to make a show interesting, have proven more durable and more profitable. Markets where Ed or Stephanie beat Hannity or Limbaugh? Yes, believe it or don't, there are some. But the point is that Ed and Stephanie are radio professionals and not just polemicists. That's why they ought to be back on the air in San Diego.

Letting both sides of the issue be heard is good for democracy. Let the best talkers, on both sides of the political divide, be heard. That's the way it used to be done-- on LA Radio in the 60s, Joe Pyne, the Michael Savage of his day, was followed by Michael Jackson (not the pop singer-- the erudite liberal talk host). Both sides got heard and ratings were huge.

Devorah you keep touting how viable shows like Ed Schultz are yet you have provided no substance to your argument. While 12+ shares are for show, not for sales, I think it's fair to say that both KTLK -Los Angeles and KKGN are simply not competitive in the 25-54 demographic.

Name the markets besides Portland (which I offered) where Franken or any of your lineup has been so successful. Please...I'm waiting...........

The real problem is politics are guiding your argument. I have no horse in this race, I am all about building audience, if I could program Hawaiian Reggae and win, I would. Because I love the music. But I know the format is limited.

I wonder if you're actually associated with Jones Radio Networks? That would be my guess. I stand by my statements on NPR, I've had the opportunity to view their in-house research.

I'm awaiting all those solid 25-54 numbers you keep touting. I don't have access to the numbers here at home, but I can quickly find out next week.

PhilL... With all of our lofty analysis, the bottom line is ...the bottom line. I again ask you to produce the historical net revenue figures AM1360...for KPOP, KLSD and its successor sports format. We can all agree that KLSO earned substantially more dollars than KPOP. That KLSD produced a spectacular rise in the ratings.

That flipping it to provide our listening public a third sports talk format turned out to be a bust. The ratings plunged almost immediately and were described by one radio consultant that it was "as if they turned the station off."

And if we want to believe that FCC laws that the "public owns the airwaves"...that with the 9 stations that Clear Channel owns, isn't there a legitimate public interest argument to provide some diversity of opinion, even if the station was breaking even? Stacy Taylor is an intelligent and respected radio voice in this town who has been on the air since the 80s here.

No one can convince me that progressive radio was losing revenue and ratings in 59 markets.

PhilL, u want to know where progressive talk dominated the competition? It happened right here in this market. Ed Schultz was beating Hannity. Randi Rhodes was doing great in her PM drive slot.

Read up on David Brock, the former GOP operative and what he has to say in THE REPUBLICAN NOISE MACHINE. Read up on former GOP strategist, Kevin Phillips and what he has to say in AMERICAN DYNASTY: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush. I think, then, you will see the bigger picture.

The big surprise of this story is that it doesn't mention the ONLY live, local talk show host broadcasting after 12 noon in San Diego - Rick Amato on KCBQ-AM, weeknights 9 - 11 p.m.

Rick's show is growing an audience and getting attention. It's mostly local topics, or national topics with a local angle. San Diego's business and political players are starting to sit up and take notice. People smart enough to sponsor are getting good results. Simply put, people are finally finding the show through word of mouth and it's being HEARD despite the competition from primetime TV.

Full disclosure: I've been working with Rick and I often host the show myself on Thursday nights. I'm Roger Hedgecock's former producer (the "original" producer, 1986-94, before Jimmy Valentine) and I've been in and/or observing the talk radio biz in San Diego for many years.

Rick is one of our few rays of radio hope out there! If you believe in local radio, LISTEN, support him and his sponsors - and call in. Rick's website is www.amatotalk.com and you can listen live there, as well as over the air on 1170AM. Phone is 888-344-1170. I'd love to hear from you too!

Gayle Falkenthal, KCBQ

Dear Phil, regarding your response to my response to ... I too have no dog in this fight. No, I do not work for Jones (although I have, but not recently), and I do not work for Air America. As a radio consultant, I've trained both righties and lefties, so this is NOT about my ideology-- and I don't think you know me, so I doubt you know what my politics are. What I am about is good radio. I love to listen to stations that inform and entertain. Ed Schultz and Stephanie Miller do good, entertaining radio. Rush Limbaugh used to do good radio. I used to listen to him in fact. There are many rightie talkers who are very entertaining, whether I agree with them or not (and no, I don't agree with all the lefties all the time either).

Regarding your insistence that I provide 25-54 numbers, you know I cannot do that. Arbitron is very strict about not permitting list-servs or public forums (fora?) to quote the official ratings numbers beyond the 12+. So, you can think I am being cowardly, but in fact I am being legal. I have seen the 25-54s in about five markets other than Portand where Big Eddie wins his daypart over the rightie competitor. I imagine there are others. Last year, Talkers magazine, which leans very much to the right, named Ed the 5th most influential talker in the United States. I doubt they'd have done that if he didn't deserve it-- it's based on ratings and revenue figures.

I wonder what figures you saw for NPR. There was a published report (I wrote an article about is last year) that showed the demographic breakouts as well as the political breakouts. I agree the majority of its listeners identify as Democrats or independents, but NPR has a surprisingly large percentage of Republicans who listen. I think NPR is giving the public thorough and interesting news and talk programs, and that's why their audience continues to grow.

And I still say that stations who want to attract an audience need to be live and local whenever possible and reach out to the audience, whether the format is music, talk, or Lithuanian folk songs.

In all deference to Ms Falkenthal, if Rick Amato is anything like the rest of the KCBQ lineup (Bill Bennett? Dennis Prager? Michael Medved?) ... I doubt there is an eager audience out there for more of the same.

I believe the public has tired of pontificating, moralizing, opining and whining by talk radio hosts. They have tired of hate speech and shouting down opposing points of view. Exeunt Bill O'Reilly.

Potential listeners are ready for solutions and civil discourse .... which probably might explain how many on the left and right have retreated to KPBS.

The rightwing haranguing have drive off the listeners. They will look to other sources of information...mainly online and digital. Really is a shame what has happened to talk radio.

Corrections. KPBS' John Decker writes to say that he is the executive producer of Editors' Roundtable and that Michael Marcotte was not fired as news director but retired in November 2007. Also, Jason Riggs notes that he was not fired from 91X but quit on the air. TLarson

Dang it! It didn't occur to me to even check and follow up and see if anyone posted here. Interesting comments.

To the person that thought it was lame that I posted here, well...okay, it's for "readers" comments. But, in this case, since I didn't WRITE the story, I merely READ the story, we're in the same boat, and I can comment on it here.

And, having had 5 years radio experience....and another year recently, I think it makes me more qualified than most to comment on the subject matter.

And...john and jeff still suck!

The problem is...so did all those shows on Air America! I'm a Democrat, and I have to say, the only one that ever did a show worth listening to was Stacy Taylor. Everyone else is horrible. I can't stand Dennis Millers politics, but he runs a good show. And, you can't just say it's because he's a good comedian...because he flopped on Monday Night Football. And, Al Franklin was a flop. And, Franklin even flopped on SNL when he created characters. His best strength was behind the scenes, and even than, just barely. He was never one of their stronger writers.

All these opinions on "talk radio" formats make valid points. For music oriented stations to survive, I agree they can't go with the Jukebox/ipod/ types of formats. The whole reason people went that direction, was "consultants" and "surveys" found that more people were listening to their ipods. And, when they checked those ipods, it wasn't just "classic rock" someone had. Or, it wasn't just "hip hop"...but most people had a mix of stuff. The problem is, not everyone likes the same stuff.

So, the best bet is to have DJs with personality. Make sure things are local. And you'll get your listeners.

Dear joshb ... I have to take issue with your negative brush-off all the left-leaning programs. By what standard are you judging all the political talkers?

Did the show teach you something new? Did you get enlightened about an issue? Did a guest or host pique your curiosity and cause you to dig and research a subject? Did the show bring some news/information/local residents to light in an engaging and compelling way?

Stacy Taylor and his team (Scooter, Craig Elston, etc) did a fine job. I thought Thom Hartmann and Ed Schultz were both great and had unique styles.

Thom is the well-read, professorial type who was very knowlegable on American history, constitutional law, and many social issues.

Ed Schultz was the regular guy who loved as many listeners call in as possible (whom he never screened, by the way).
Randi Rhodes was also street-wise and spoke truth to power.

OK, Mike Malloy brought a sardonic edge that was probably an acquired taste...probably as close to a "Michael Savage on the left" as there was.

The fact was, AM1360 was the only station in town offering a format that would appeal to over 500K Democrats and a good deal of 350K independents. (with almost no marketing, no promotion, a sub-standard signal that didn't even reach all of the county, and audio quality that sometimes featured another signal bleeding in and even the always dreaded 'dead air'.) And they generated admirable ratings in spite of themselves. If the KOGO advertisers couldn't or wouldn't see the wisdom in putting a percentange of the ad dollars into KLSD to complement their marketing, then that was just plain stupid.

My hunch? I think we have to examine the very top layers of the ownership based in San Antonio for the lack of concern for the public and for the management decisions made.

Now if you are a programmer, you can see that our market is over-saturated with rightwing talk...KFI, KOGO, KFMB, KCBQ and what's left of AM 1700. The public has abandoned them as the war dragged on, as they paid $70 and more to fill up at the pumps and as their 401Ks and holdings have dropped by 40%.

My guess is that the rightwing talk radio ratings are in the tank which coincides with the dearth of cash and credit...and ad sales have plummeted.

With all of the e-media competing for consumers, will they ever return as listeners to AM talk radio in significant numbers? There are a few consultants that are saying 'no' ... at least not talk radio, per se to the exclusion of complementary digital networking etc. Time will tell ...

Your statement that Kallao, Marco and Trevor Trent were replaced with syndicated shows on 91X after being fired is completely not true. With the exception of Loveline at night (nationally syndicated and a mainstay on 91X for years), all jocks on 91X are live and local.

Hi jv. Well...I have to confess, that the shows on the left, I really haven't heard many of them. I would hear bits and pieces, and they never impressed me. But, I'd be willing to bet I never heard more than 20 minutes of any one show, so you're right. I'm not a good judge of which of the Democrats did a good show. Now that I think about it, I heard Randi Rhodes for an hour, and she wasn't half bad.

Regarding your questions, to me, "learning about an issue" is something that you really can't take with much more than a grain of salt when listening to those shows. I read something interesting in Al Frankens book (he writes funny books...just doesn't do funny/interesting shows). He talked about a stat Rush Limbaugh threw out there, that it took Al about 10 minutes, and a few phone calls, to figure out was completely wrong (something about minimum wage jobs). So, to me, if people think they are learning from those shows, they're crazy.

I met this 400 pound Italian guy, that would quote Michael Savage and Michael Corleon all the time. Those were his two heroes. When I finally got around to hearing Savages show...sometimes I agreed with him. But boy, that's a hard show to listen to.

For some reason, a person like Dennis Miller, I agree with absolutely none of his opinions. Yet his radio show is highly entertaining, especially when he has an actor or comedian on.

And, I agree with Bill O'Reily only about 25% of the time, but his radio show is pretty good.

Yet, for some reason, the liberals that I'd hear on the radio or even being interviewed on the radio (margaret cho, garafolo)...they sound idiotic.

Take, for example, that little fight on The View the other day. I hate, hate, hate Ann Coultier. Yet, she made more sense than all 4 of the liberal ladies on The View.

dear joshb .... try listening to thom hartmann and ed schultz for a bit...i think you'll enjoy their approach and their content ...

i wasn't suggesting that you take them at their word verbatim....i was urging u to take a statement or position and then do some digging or research on your own...

All of the radio hosts should give u food for thought .... it's up to u to determine how much might be bravado and how much might be sincere....

if u review all of the reader comments, i hope u get the picture as to US radio ownership stucture....u have a problem with a radio host....look to who is providing his or her paycheck....the radio talent generally reflects the attitude and bias of the owner....that's just the way it is....

for now...until the public gets united and vociferous re: what is available to us via radio

I think Josh and I should have a radio show.

We'd get into it and have a lot of fun. But I think we'd probably have to watch our swearing...maybe it's better to do on the internet.

Ready, Josh?

I would never swear on the radio. I would be like Dr. Johnny Fever, on WKRP. He got fired from a radio station for saying "bugger" on the air. And years later, when FCC laws were more slack, he finally said it before jumping into some Stones track.

Fred & Josh are HORRIBLE radio names, though. Not that Man Cow, Jeff & Jerr, Chainsaw, Goat Boy, or Greaseman were any better!

Well, if the "Fred and Josh Show" doesn't appeal, we could come up with other names...

How about:

Gnasher and Crasher Joshing with Fred San Diego Screaming The B.S. Boys Radiological

See, the moniker is less important than the content. Josh starts out the hour with a diatribe derived from his blog. Fred jumps in, says Josh is full of it, and hilarity ensues. Callers join in, taking sides, and then we trade places and start all over.

We can have live broadcasts from parties crashed, and perform amusing man on the street interviews asking people who represents them on the city council.

Importantly, we'll do public service campaigns. My pet issue is fighting against dihydrogen-monoxide pollution in our water...but we can also do the occassional blood drive (if the crips don't mind).

Josh, we're on the way to radio stardom. Fame, riches, fast-cars and a rollicking good time are guaranteed.

Have your agents talk to my agents, and we'll get the lawyers to draft up a deal.

Best,

Fred "Voice of God's Vagina" Williams

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