Sunday, February 22, 2009

KLSX Drops FM Talk, Goes Top 40 - Yuck

"He knows changes aren't permanent
But change is"
-Rush, "Tom Sawyer"

This past Friday at 5pm, the Los Angeles area radio market "welcomed" a new Top 40 station. CBS replaced the previous format at 97.1 KLSX, which had been "FM Talk", also known over the years as "Free FM" - to contrast it with the subscription satellite radio services right after Howard Stern left CBS radio (and affiliate KLSX) for Sirius, and "Real Radio" - to contrast it with... uh... imaginary radio? I don't know.

But essentially it was all the same - talk radio on FM, geared toward a different audience then most AM talk, and quite different from public radio. I remember being disappointed when KLSX switched from music to talk. The KLSX call letters were a play on "classics", as in "classic rock", and I liked classic rock. For years after the station added Howard Stern as he rolled out his New York-based show in more and more markets, it was "Howard Stern all morning, classic rock all day."

But they added other talkers during the week, and eventually dropped the music from the weekends.

And it was generally not good. Howard Stern called it "Radio Hindenburg". At least KLOS 95.5 FM was still around to play classic rock.

Eventually, the situation improved and stabilized with the replacement of the original lineup. Tom Leykis, who had, some years before, been on L.A. talk station KFI AM 640, landed in the afternoon drive slot. Jamie White refugees Frosty, Heidi, and Frank, out from the morning co-hosting duties at music station Star 98.7 FM (where Ryan Seacret started his quest for world domination), filled in the time between Stern and Leykis. Tim Conway Jr. and a couple of different co-hosts had the night slot.

A few years back, Howard Stern left for Sirius, and CBS struggled to fill the void. David Lee Roth handled some of the eastern stations for a a short while before being given the boot. Adam Carolla, he of "Loveline" and "The Man Show" fame, got the western radio stations. Carolla stuck, though his co-hosts changed.

From what the hosts have said, and what has been printed in the news, it sounds like the demise of KLSX as "FM Talk" is a combination of factors, including the loss of Stern, the introduction of new ratings systems (portable people meters), new media and podcasting, and the general economic downturn.

The first radio station I remember flipping was KMET 94.7 FM. My older sister and I used to listen to it – especially the Dr. Demento show on Sunday nights, but also the music the rest of the time. Coincidently, when KLSX started up, it was seen as being a slight recovery of the charm of KMET, as it had some of the personalities and other elements that had been at KMET.

Over the years, DJs and hosts come and go on various stations, and stations come and go – in recent years more often because a company decided to change formats, rather than another company buying the station. I remember 100.3 FM being KIQQ and also Pirate Radio (and also a bunch of formats that didn’t interest me in the slightest), but recently it became "The Sound" – which is okay. I remember 103.1 FM being "Mars" (which seemed like it was trying to horn in on the long-running KROQ 106.7) and more recently "Indie". But now, like so many other stations before it in the Los Angeles area, it is some genre of Spanish music.

For some reason, changes in radio seem to be a bigger deal to me and so many other people than changes on TV. Perhaps because we listen to the radio while stuck in traffic, or doing other activities we really can't do while concentrating on a TV show. Perhaps it is because of the interactive nature of shows that take calls, or that our hosts will be on the air for 3-5 hours at a time, often five days a week, while TV shows might be a half an hour a day, or as much as an hour, but are often only weekly.

I tend to listen to talk and news, in part because of my job and my commute (traffic reports). But I do check out music when the talkers take a commercial break, as they often seem to be on the same clock in terms of when they take those breaks. But I rarely find anything on Top 40 radio that I enjoy these days. So KLSX has been replaced on that preset button.

Changes are to be expected. Personalities grow, retire, or get fired, or get downsized, or die. Changes in populations and in music make format changes inevitable. But being the creatures of habit that we are, we tend to hate abrupt changes. And there have been a lot of those in recent months on Los Angeles radio.

Goodbye, KLSX.