When Wolfman Jack voiced his last show on “The Soul Express” (XEPRS-AM 1090) on a Saturday night in April 1972, the legendary R&B disc jockey was allowed to give a proper on-air goodbye to his fans throughout the western United States.
But Scott Kaplan, the dean of San Diego sports radio, was not given the same opportunity for a proper sign-off when he left the same station 47 years later, almost to the day.
Kaplan has been a high-profile sports talk show host on The Mighty 1090, San Diego’s leading sports station since it debuted on XEPRS in 2003. But Andreas Bicharra, the Mexican owner of 1090’s transmitter and tower some five miles south of Tijuana, notified San Diego-based Broadcast Company of the Americas that the Mighty 1090’s sports programming would no longer have access to his 50,000-watt “border blaster” transmitter starting at noon on Wednesday, April 10.
Kaplan found out he would not be on the air when he showed up to the Sorrento Valley studios.
Numerous media reports in the first 24 hours suggested it was a temporary, technical glitch that knocked Mighty 1090 off the airwaves and that the problems would soon be corrected.
“Yeah, you could say it was a technical problem,” says one wag connected with Mighty 1090. “Technically, we lost the use of our transmitter, but you don’t have to be a genius to figure out what’s really going on.”
As was first spelled out in a December Reader article, that Broadcast Company of the Americas has not been able to keep up with monthly lease commitments to two separate owners of the Mexican towers and transmitters that carried their stations Max 105.7 FM and Mighty 1090. Company chief Mike Glickenhaus said in December that his company would work out issues between his classic hits station Max 105.7 FM and Jaime Bonilla who owned its Tecate-area broadcast towers. After two months of streaming online, Max FM completely disappeared in February.
That article said the monthly leasing cost for Max FM 105.7 was $125,000 based on one source. The monthly expense to lease the Mighty 1090 is considered to be between $75,000 and $100,000. Neither 105.7's Bonilla or 1090's Bicharra would comment.
Now most of the sports talk shows on the Mighty 1090 are continuing to air online and Glickenhaus says he is optimistic that his sports station will return to the airwaves. The morning show with Ben Higgins and Steve Woods, the mid-day show hosted by Darrin Smith and the afternoon Scott and BR show anchored by Kaplan were all available via internet and are originating from the company’s Sorrento Valley studios the day after the Mighty 1090 went off the air.
Meanwhile the 1090 airwaves are simulcasting “Ultra 104.9,” a Spanglish dance/Top 40 music station from the Rio Grande Valley near McAllen, Texas. It is owned by the family of Andreas Bicharra.
On Wednesday, a few hours after Kaplan found out he would not be on the air, he taped a video from his office at the station offices suggesting he was part of a group that is looking into resurrecting The Mighty 1090 on the airwaves. He said legal agreements kept him from going into details. John Lynch, who has been general manager of Mighty 1090, XTRA Sports 690 and 91X, has been spotted at the offices over the last few weeks.
On their first day on the internet, the Ben and Woods team sounded undaunted, though they just lost their access to one of the most powerful “blowtorch” radio signals in the west.
“We have decided to stick together,” Woods proclaimed on the air. He said the recent uptick in the ratings has made all the Mighty 1090 air personalities want to keep the station alive on the internet for now.
Recent Nielsen ratings have showed that The Mighty 1090 has almost double the ratings of the two local sports radio competitors (“The Fan 97.3” and “XTRA Sports 1360”) combined.
Insiders at the Mighty 1090 have said they do in fact hope that a “white knight” will emerge and get Mighty 1090 back up and running. But should that not happen, many said a talent raid by The Fan 97.3 may be on deck. The Fan morning host Dan Sileo has been promoting his recent nighttime work on Boston’s WEEI, an Entercom-owned sister station of The Fan, prompting some to suggest he could very easily segue to that East Coast station. WEEI is famous for a talent lineup populated by gruff, Trump-loving sports hacks like Sileo.
And might Kaplan walk across town to replace an underperforming afternoon sports show hosted by the understated Chris Ello and Tony Gwynn Jr. whose best attributes is that he sounds like his late father?
One insider with connections to both Mighty 1090 and The Fan but who declined to be named had this to say about 1090’s talent pool availability: “I’m sure those guys [at The Fan 97.3] are walking around thumping themselves on the chests, popping champagne. But they should be shitting themselves. I am sure underneath all the talent at The Fan is very nervous right now.”
The fact that 105.7 has been operating without commercials for four months and apparently is being programmed by the random shuffle of an iPod or automatic CD changer suggests that Bonilla has not been able to find anyone to lease his station. One insider says Bonilla rejected an offer of $25,000 a month to lease his station but would accept $50,000, a great decrease from the reported $125,000 per month he used to get.
That suggests that the lucrative lease payments that have flowed to Mexican radio facility owners from American broadcasters for four decades seem to be drying up.
Wolfman Jack (Robert Smith) has been dead since 1995. But Jim LaMarca remembers his when “The Wolf” worked for him at oldies station “69 XTRA Gold.” Like 1090, it was another 50,000-watt Tijuana-area radio powerhouse at 690 AM. Fourteen years after he left Soul Express/1090, he moved to XTRA Gold/690.
“We worked together from 1986 to 1987,” recalls LaMarca. “When he was on 690 they used phone lines. When he joined us it made it so we had to figure out how we could originate his show from Beverly Hills so it could be carried down in Mexico. It was tricky with the Mexican government, because that wasn’t legal. All the other 690 jocks had to drive down to Rosarito. But he got the ball rolling so that eventually all the jocks at 690 and 91X didn’t have to drive across the border every day.”
LaMarca predicts it will tough for The Mighty 1090 to get back up and running, but not just because it’s in Mexico. “My friends in the business tell me that AM radio simply will not work in electric cars going forward. AM radio will now be unlistenable.”
“The landscape has changed so much in radio,” says LaMarca. “The fact that they can’t even pay for their sticks [transmitter towers] speaks volumes about how over-the-air conventional broadcasting has changed.
But 30 years ago Mexican radio was the wild frontier. “It all depended who you paid off in the Mexican government. For instance, we [690 AM] were licensed for 50,000 watts but I found out later we were actually well over 100,000 watts most of the time. It was all about greasing the right palms.”