Second of a Five-Part Special – The State of Adult Contemporary Radio
By Mike Kinosian
Managing Editor/West Coast Bureau Chief
LOS ANGELES — It took a while, but the stereotype finally was erased: AC does not play elevator music.
Connection, of course, to that erroneous supposition was that many former beautiful music/easy-listening stations evolved to AC – but that was well over 20 years ago. Granted, some of those making the transition to a vocal-based rather than instrumental-intensive format were more tentative at first than others, but many in that original group wound up establishing themselves as exceptionally competitive adult contemporary players.
Another misconception has been that adult contemporary personalities are somehow all holdovers and devotees of the highly formalized “announcing” style of the Mantovani, Percy Faith, Henry Mancini, Peter Nero, and Living Strings beautiful music/easy-listening days.
Nothing stiff or robotic-sounding permeates today’s AC on-air personalities, who are just that – contemporary air talent who possess equally as much “personality” and enthusiasm as their counterparts in other formats.
In the second part of our adult contemporary special, insights regarding talent’s relevance in the format come from at least one representative of the major radio day-parts.
Each underscores that today’s AC air personalities are Always Communicating with their ample female listenership.
While his physical presence enables him to be head-and-shoulders above virtually any setting, amiable John Tesh towers over the competition as well with a relaxed, yet confidently authoritative style, instantly commanding attention.
Immaterial of subject matter, he is the person others reverently defer to as being the expert.
Multi-faceted only scratches the surface in describing the graciously gifted, six-time Emmy winner; Olympic announcer/composer; host of multiple music-oriented PBS specials; and two-time Grammy-nominated composer/musician.
Anything but a stranger to radio, Tesh notched his first break as a circa 1971 newsreader for “The Giant of the South,” WKIX-AM, Raleigh, where another then upstart – Rick Dees – was toiling as its morning personality.
More than 30 years later, entrepreneurial-minded Tesh distributed an eponymous weekend radio show through his TeshMedia Group; on April 28, 2003, it expanded to a five-hour, Monday-Friday vehicle.
Men comprise a portion of his audience, but Tesh’s program tends to perform better among females – especially women 25-54.
Accelerated Work Schedule
In light of how much people enjoy lists, he shares such things as the five leading ways people can live to be 100, 10 ways to divorce-proof a marriage, how to flirt, how to exercise, and how to be a better parent.
Taking to heart many items he mentions during a representative broadcast, Tesh has found himself doing such novel things as eating fennel for breakfast and mixing peanut butter with cottage cheese.
Among discoveries he has learned through the radio show are that the scent of peppermint supposedly makes a person smarter and pouring Coca-Cola in a toilet is allegedly the best way of cleaning it.
Carried by approximately 300 stations, “Intelligence For Your Life” originally cleared almost exclusively on adult contemporary outlets. “The way I came back to radio was when Casey Kasem was in another of his contract disputes,” Tesh explains. “Celebrities were filling in for him and Westwood One asked if I would be interested. I did it and it actually made me want to get back into radio again.”
A deal was signed that ignited “On the Air with John Tesh,” a weekend countdown show. “We only had about 14 stations and Westwood One canceled it,” states Tesh, who has been married to actress Connie Sellecca for more than 20 years. “I noticed sticky notes on magazines on her side of the bed. She was too busy to read the articles and I thought I could do a show for women such as her. We could call it ‘Intelligence For Your Life.’ A big part of being an entrepreneur is having a good measure of un-medicated ADD. I will phone people on my staff in the middle of the night with ideas, some of which do not work out.”
As Tesh was about to segue to radio, some warned the former 10-year (1986-1996) “Entertainment Tonight” co-host that he was about to do much more work than he was accustomed to. “They were comparing it to ‘ET,’ which was all of four hours a day,” the Associated Press award-winner for investigative journalism confesses. “I still did not know how much work it would be or how much purpose-driven this show could be.”
Some may have been skeptical of Tesh’s long-term commitment to a nightly radio show, but he flatly declares that now after nearly 10 years, “It is more fun than you can possibly imagine.”
Inspired by Dave Ramsey, Tesh comments of the syndicated financial talk show personality that, “He does his business as a nice guy and his books are tremendous. The reason we have fun is that we have some control over our lives. We interview experts every day about the meaning of life. Every expert who has studied it says you need to have some sort of control. Whenever I have made a decision based on money, it has taken away the one thing that makes me happy – which is having some control.”
Long Island native Tesh would listen to esteemed New York City music radio personalities Bruce “Cousin Brucie” Morrow and Dan Ingram. “I liked the music, but I really liked the fact that someone was there for me,” Tesh comments. “I know that sounds corny, but regardless of how tech savvy we get, the emotional parts of our lives will never go away. We are always looking for an emotional attachment. I hope that programmers will realize that someone needs to be the captain of this ship. That is certainly not happening these days.”
Numerous intangibles, including TeshMedia not functioning as a traditional network, help set Tesh and his program apart from the vast majority of others. “That is something I learned from PBS,” he acknowledges. “We want every station to feel like that is a separate business for us. We have started doing local endorsements and local spots. I hired a local sales force so we can go into each of these markets. I am willing to do voice-reads for a station’s big local advertisers. That is how it really grows the business. Stations realize that ‘this guy’ actually cares about them.”
Such a conducive environment tends to foster loyal affiliates.
As affable as Tesh is though, he is additionally a shrewd businessperson. “The station we were on in Dallas dumped us when they flipped to Spanish,” he points out. “The feeling was we were done in the market because there wasn’t another AC station to go to.”
That situation actually turned out being a seminal crossroad for the program, as Tesh asked his staff why “Intelligence For Your Life” had to remain adult contemporary-exclusive. “I suggested we could send just the voice tracks, and a station could build their own show,” he explains. “The reply was no one had ever done that before.”
After exploring the matter fully, Tesh’s team developed a system enabling the program to expand to other format genres.
Therefore, in addition to airing on mainstream adult contemporary stations, the long-form show is now on some hot AC, country, rock, smooth AC, and talk outlets as well. “People realize we can live in all those formats,” Tesh comments. “We get it if a station comes to us and says they had a bad book, but if they drop us, they must understand that I am going to go across the street and compete against them.”
One reason Tesh pushed to become a bigger part of a station’s sales team rests with his desire to grow the program in afternoon drive. “That is the day-part I want to be in because, when people are driving home or about to work the night shift, they can use the little tidbits we give a little more effectively.”
Brand New Oprah
Voracious reader Tesh is especially partial to authors Seth Godin (“Tribes” and “Permission Marketing”), Jack Trout (“Differentiate or Die”) and Al Reis (“Focus”). “I love those books and read them over and over again,” he remarks.
Common among all of those titles is the brand, the brand, and … the brand.
It is Tesh’s opinion that those who come to his concerts or listen in their cars to his radio program seek one very specific thing. “They want a guide or a curator and I think we are missing that [elsewhere in radio],” he opines. “The feeling radio programmers have is, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to play more music.’ Things might be working, but it is also possible that it is working in the short term. If you are going to differentiate yourself as a business, you really need to find out what place you own in a person’s heart and mind.”
One significant example of this, he maintains, is what Oprah Winfrey did with her television network. “She thought she could just put her stamp on it, but people love ‘The Oprah Show,’ because of Oprah,” Tesh states. “She was a curator of emotional information.”
Constantly utilizing self-deprecating humor, Tesh contends that radio wise, he is not Paul Harvey, nor is he a musical threat to Billy Joel. “People think to themselves that, with some lessons, they could do I what I do,” he jests. “Conan O’Brien said, ‘If millions of people are buying the records of the guy who used to read the celebrity birthdays on ‘Entertainment Tonight,’ we all need to get our clarinets out of the closet because anything can happen.’ My desire is that I would be the poster boy for – ‘Quit your job and follow your dreams.’ That is a compartment that people put me in, and it is a great place to be.”
Conducting a long-form NBC-TV interview with Garth Brooks several years ago, Tesh was struck by something the mega-star singer said. “The thing that really stayed with me about him was that he just never stopped talking about the fans,” Tesh recalls. “That is the way country music stars are – they act in the best interest of their fans. I think people who hear us on the radio show believe we are acting in their best interests. You make friends that way.”
Wild & Crazy Stunt
In some concerts, Tesh and his band-mates will march out the back door as they perform their last song and then continue to play in the lobby, where they purposefully shake everyone’s hand.
Conceding, “it is the goofiest thing,” and it results in an additional 90 minutes before they get back on the bus, Tesh nonetheless maintains, “That is the one thing everyone remembers. I actually learned it from Steve Martin, who played in Nashville many years ago. It was at a tiny club and he was there for 20 nights in a row. I had memorized his entire act and, at the end of his show every night, he walked everyone over to McDonald’s. I used to be like everyone else who wants to get out the door and onto the next thing.”
Online shoe and apparel shop Zappos.com gets thumbs-up from Tesh who maintains, “Management there ‘get it’ that people just want nice people who want to help them. If you can do that, you can build a great business. That is what we try to project on the radio show.”
The nightly “Intelligence For Your Life” is not something that is being done on a shoestring budget, as 25 people work on the radio show alone. “We could do it for less, but it is all about the research and vetting every single story,” Tesh points out. “By the time a story gets through to me on the air, it is something that will either move you forward in your life, or cause you to make a difference in someone else’s life. It has to meet that criteria and I think that our listeners feel that.”
No one spends more time on teases than sports-minded Tesh, who, during the Olympics, masterfully uttered such hushed, one-breath tone gems as, “Coming up, [gold medal gymnast] Svetlana Boginskaya has a 9.2. If she gets a 9.7 or better, she will be our winner. You’ll see it all next.”
Such tactics he does on radio drive Sellecca, whose three-hour, weekend “Intelligence For Your Health” airs nationally, crazy because she wants to hear things immediately, but Tesh explains that is why his show’s TSL is so incredibly long. “Something is always ‘coming up.'”
The Tribe Has Spoken
Slightly more than half of the 40-45 concerts he does each year occur in a two- or three-week period around Christmas. “There has been a radio audience, a television audience, and a music audience – which came to us through PBS,” Tesh explains. “Now they have joined together.”
On stage, the North Carolina State University alum usually receives a smattering of applause after he asks how many people have previously attended one of his shows.
An inquiry regarding the number listening to the radio show though generally yields about 85% – 90% of those present. “We do treat it as a ‘tribe,'” Tesh notes. “We love the opportunity to actually be in front of the same people who listen to the radio show. This is the ultimate remote for us.”
To commemorate her husband’s 50th birthday 10 years ago, Sellecca treated Tesh to a vacation in Italy. Part of the contemplative scene saw the two sitting on a raft when the actress asked what he hoped for the next 50 years of his life. Not wanting to give a fluff response, Tesh said the main thing he desired was that he be useful.
Instructed by the ever-lovely Sellecca not to show anyone else his Kindle, Tesh indicates it is nothing but business and self-help books. “I love reading that stuff and trying to figure out what the hell is wrong with me,” he jokes. “On the way, I can figure out what is wrong with everyone else.”
AC’s Equivalent of Howard Stern
A plane crash claimed the life of her brother; her mother died of a brain tumor; she has endured several abusive relationships; and she is the thrice-married mother of a veritable house-full of kids
All but three of her children are adopted and many of them are plagued with special needs and various health issues
One adopted child died one year ago (March 2012) of sickle-cell anemia complications.
Some of her listeners are well aware of her own touching past, and present-day, often heart-wrenching, challenges.
Many others though do not have a clue, only knowing her as the friendly, probing voice who intently asks, “What’s on your heart tonight?”
Leading the discussion on topics such as love and life; marriage and divorce; and how parents deal with raising their children is perhaps adult contemporary’s most synonymous air personality – Premiere Radio’s delightful Delilah, who can be equally at home on-air being elegantly seductive, or brutally blunt when it comes to business.
Stellar 6:00 am – 7:00 pm female numbers are fairly typical for well-programmed adult contemporary outlets, but even the most competitive ACs generally see evening numbers vanish with the sunset.
Attempted solutions to the dilemma have been plentiful, although most were only a band-aid, at best.
Other particularly noteworthy nighttime AC shows have been done on both coasts, specifically ones hosted by KOST, Los Angeles talent extraordinaire Karen Sharp and WMJX, Boston’s highly popular David Allan Boucher.
On the national level though, Delilah erupted and exploded into ratings gold with the native Oregonian and Washington State-based personality becoming to adult contemporary at night what Howard Stern was in morning drive for terrestrial radio rockers. “Talent is vitally important in AC but it has been programmed out because of fear,” she fumes
It galls her that so many people are terrified to try something new. “They are especially fearful with this insidious PPM,” Delilah rails. “Do not even get me started on the fact that .00002% of the population has a meter and the meters don’t work. That is just ludicrous. So many managers have kneejerk reactions to everything. God forbid that you should try to be creative; so, unfortunately, what you get is McDonald’s radio. You hear everyone do gossip or ‘The Impossible Question’ in the morning, rather than something wacky, funny, or stupid. Be true to yourself: If you are funny – be funny. If you are compassionate – be compassionate. No one gives a damn about ‘The Impossible Question’ that you can hear on any adult contemporary station in any town at 7:15 in the morning. This is not creative and it is not ‘talent.'”
The “fear” factor to which Delilah refers has been present in some degree for quite a while but she agonizes that, it has “become insane” in the last five to 10 years. “When I started this show, if it was pouring rain, I could play [Gordon Lightfoot’s] ‘Rainy Day People,’ back-to-back with [Brook Benton’s] ‘Rainy Night in Georgia,’ followed by [James Taylor’s] ‘Fire & Rain.’ I would talk about it. People would call about snuggling with their sweetheart and the joy of listening to rain on a tin roof. You name it. Now – holey moley – if you were to try something like that, you would have programmers calling the hotline and literally saying they would shut down the transmitter. They would yell that those are not tested songs and for God sakes, you broke the format. Really people, are you serious? Back in the day, I loved doing AC mixes – two or three songs in a row by the same artist. I would mix them as we used to do in clubs. We actually did that live on the air and it was fun.”
A description of today’s adult contemporary music evokes that very same word multiple times. “It is wicked fun,” Delilah enthusiastically declares. “For a few years there, there was a lack of really good music, but man, the last few years, we have had such great new music from artists like Train, P!nk, and [appropriately enough] fun.”
Naturally though, Delilah is still driven by listener calls and she points out that half of the songs in her show are pre-scheduled. “I do not have a say about them,” she regrets. “When I take off the headphones though and hear something I really like, it makes things a lot more fun. I could listen to Adele all night long. She could sing the encyclopedia and make it sound great. I could listen to Train all night, too. It makes things easier when the music I have to choose from is stuff that I love.”
Surreal Road Trip
One downside to Delilah’s adult contemporary popularity is that it has made nurturing the show within the format difficult.
Most growth in the past year has come from adding contemporary Christian stations as affiliates. “I probably cannot say ‘butt’ in reference to contemporary Christian, but we are ‘kicking posterior portions’ on our Los Angeles station [Salem-owned KFSH],” she proudly points out. “The night show is doing so well there that they have put me on days as well. I do a lunchtime [12:00 noon – 1:00 pm feature] and then come back for [the 7:00 pm – 12:00 midnight] show. We are doing very well in Portland [on Salem contemporary Christian KFIS] and we are on iHeartRadio. People can listen 24/7 there, which is kind of fun.”
Owing to the special needs of her children, it is difficult for Delilah to take the nightly program on the road as often as she once did.
Whenever travel is required, two or three visits are packaged together and Delilah states, “It is fun to see the multi-generations come out to see me. It is a new thing to see people in my age group and then their kids. They say that I have been tucking them in bed for over 20 years. It is weird not being the new kid on the block. I used to be the new show or the new girl at night – but I have been doing this in Seattle for 28 years.”
One recent road trip proved to be the height of unforgettable, as Delilah performed in Iraq on a field where Saddam Hussein once executed his entire soccer team. “It was totally surreal for me while I was there,” she recounts. “I was wearing a fatigue-looking, miniskirt and some cute boots. A senior official said that, if I had stepped one mile off the base, I could have been incarcerated, or even executed for what I wore. That was kind of mind-boggling.”
On stage for a roughly 35-minute Thanksgiving night performance, Delilah suddenly heard fireworks going off overhead. “I thought it was so wonderful that they were celebrating Thanksgiving with us,” she nonchalantly recounts. “I just cranked it up a notch to be heard.”
As soon as Delilah exited the stage, the officer who was traveling with her asked if she was okay or rattled. “I wondered why he was concerned and then he told me that those were missiles exploding,” she manages to recount with a chuckle. “Silly me, I honestly thought they were Thanksgiving fireworks to celebrate that we were there entertaining.”
Radio’s most-listened-to-woman is also an accomplished author (“Love Someone Today,” “Love Matters,” “Arms Full of Love”), yet the winner of a 2012 Gracie Award is the least pretentious celebrity imaginable. “I do not owe anything on credit – all my bills are paid,” explains Delilah, who drives a nine-year-old car with 160,000 miles on it. “It gets my kids and me from Point A to Point B. I am not going to waste money leasing a new car when I could be using that money to do God’s work.”
Not only is Kitchin founder/president of Sound Mind, he is co-president of Delilah-owned Big Shoes Productions. “If Kraig came to me and said something was a career-ender and I should not do it, I will listen to him,” remarks Delilah, who previously did similar local versions of her syndicated show in Philadelphia, Boston, and Seattle. “If he were to say that I upset some people because of something I said and now he has to do damage control, I would tell him I was sorry. I really do hate that he has to do that kind of extra work but I would probably go into another room, snicker, and do what I want. He is not only God’s gift to radio, but to his family and he is that way 24/7. I have been with him long enough to know he is a straight-shooter and a kind-hearted person.”
Complaints are rarely routed directly to Delilah, who frankly states, “Dumping my ass from a station is the ultimate insult. The pathetic thing is there are a couple of people who were on a power trip. They tried to make me do what I did not want to do and they dropped the show. Listeners were the ones who were screwed because they truly loved connecting with us; the station was screwed as well. In 100% of the cases – not 10% – not 90% – but within one year, 100% of the stations that have dropped me have nighttime ratings far lower than they ever were when I was on. Out of stubbornness, ego, and pride, these stations want to try something else. Well, keep trying. When your ratings continue to suck, let me know.”
Some 15 years ago, Delilah hoped that when she turned 50, she would retire and travel the world. The day after Valentine’s Day (2-15-2013) though, the vastly well liked one-name radio star observed her 53rd birthday and she is still going strong with the nightly radio program. “With six kids at home, I have a lot of college to pay for,” she reasons. “In my wildest dreams, I honestly could not imagine not being on the air every night. It is impossible that I would not be able to go down to the studio, talk to folks, take calls, and touch hearts.”
For an incalculable number of reasons, Los Angeles remains one of the world’s most desired landing places for any entertainment professional.
Stakes are high and accordingly, competition in such enterprises as radio is remarkably fierce in America’s media Mecca and second-largest city.
Some get to enjoy a brief taste.
Only a select, precious few however are able to ply their on-air craft in the City of Angels for an extended length of time.
Justifiably represented in that vaunted company is Karen Sharp, one of the most sincerely dedicated, conscientious, and genuinely personable communicators to be found anywhere in this business. “The role of talent is a companion, someone you trust as a friend on the radio,” the host of KOST, Los Angeles’ platinum standard nightly 7:00 pm – 12:00 midnight “Love Songs” program states. “It is more important now than ever before, [especially since] there are so many choices today. I know that in my own situation, I make decisions based on who is on the air. I want to listen to a friend and someone who makes me ‘feel,’ laugh, or think.”
Among her many strengths is the ability to sound interested in every “Love Songs” scenario. “I guess that I am just a curious person by nature,” modesty downplays Sharp, who this past December noted her silver anniversary with KOST – more than 21 of those years as a fulltime “Love Songs” host. “I love talking to people, hearing their stories, and – when I can – giving them a positive perspective. I like helping people and cheering them on. I love it even more when they call back with a progress report, or to share the latest triumph in their lives.”
It would be completely logical if there were nights when Sharp’s heart simply was not into it, but she insists that she loves hosting the show. “It is everything I have ever dreamed of doing, and it gives me great joy,” she proclaims. “If I am having a tough day, talking and sharing with my listeners always makes me feel better; it reminds me of how blessed I am. I always have the philosophy that we want everyone to listen to the show, no matter what a person’s age. I have callers from six to 96 and I love them all. Our demos have stayed the same over the years.”
Honoring the Hits
Phone interaction and “Love Thoughts” are major components of Sharp’s nightly “Love Songs” get together, but it is fundamentally important how she weaves in, and ties together the music. “We are playing more upbeat and alternative songs now,” she points out. “Our audience is more accepting of a variety of styles and artists. Adult contemporary radio has always been about the song. The songs have changed through the years, but they reflect our times and our lives – AC has changed with it.”
Artists such as Adele, Josh Groban, Taylor Swift, Maroon 5, and Jason Mraz are those Sharp maintains are today’s adult contemporary staples, but she notes, “We still play Journey, the Bee Gees and Michael Jackson – as well as Gotye.”
Several years ago, her list of adult contemporary core performers would have included Elton John, Rod Stewart, Celine Dion, Michael Buble, Kelly Clarkson, Daughtry, Phil Collins, and Colbie Caillat.
All of them, of course, continue to be heard on Clear Channel-owned KOST; however, as Sharp comments, “The great thing about adult contemporary is that we continue to add new music, and honor the hits that got us here. More so than any other format, adult contemporary offers the greatest variety of music.”
For on-air personalities such as Sharp, who host programs geared to those in love, just out of love, or hoping to find a relationship, February 14 is their version of the Super Bowl. In the most highly unfortunate bit of ghastly timing though, the ubiquitous flu bug struck her several days before Valentine’s Day, yet it did not impede Sharp from providing her trademark, one-to-one, on-air companionship. “I really felt good about how it went – the phones were nonstop, and it went smoothly,” she recounts. “It was just as busy the next few nights as many celebrated over the weekend. Even though I was feeling sick, talking with my listeners gives me so much energy.”
Care and passion that Sharp possesses about her listeners and the “Love Songs” show are palpable. “I still love opening up the phones and wondering what stories will be revealed that particular night,” remarks KOST’s longest-tenured “Love Songs” host of a group that includes Jan Marie, former music director Liz Kiley, Laurie Sanders, and present-day colleague Ted Ziegenbusch. “I love the music we play and I would be a KOST listener, even if I never worked here. In fact, I was a fan of the show before I got the job. I still pinch myself that I am lucky enough to work at my dream station.”
Morning Drive’s Go-To Guy
In a business where back-stabbing and bad-mouthing can truly get ugly, the effervescent Rich is a rare breed who holds court wherever he appears and is the object of only a barrage of bon mots for his lengthy resume of programming prowess, on-air excellence, bubbling personality, and above all, flawless character.
Anyone who labors under the misconception that an adult contemporary sunup show is intrinsically boring has undoubtedly never sampled the one hosted by KMXZ (“Mix-FM”), Tucson’s wakeup artist, who endorses the notion that AC can be competitive in morning drive. “Of course, I am ‘old-school’ enough to still believe in the importance of the morning show,” Rich states. “In the case of some PPM markets [though], they have decided that mornings are not so important anymore.”
That is certainly something he does not support in any way, and in this instance, Rich is especially glad that Tucson is not one of Arbitron’s 48 markets relying on electronic ratings measurement. “As a result, I do not have to worry about those PPM people,” he remarks.
Big morning shows garner considerable notoriety as well as serving a critical station function. “Part of our job is to promote the rest of the day to get the big tune-in that will translate into mid-day and afternoon listening,” Rich explains. “I am blessed to have a company [Journal Broadcast Group] that supports that theory and supports me.”
In fact, on the just-observed occasion of Rich’s 20th anniversary at the mainstream adult contemporary property, Journal signed him to a contract extension and he proudly beams, “They seem to like the way it is going.”
Music remains a strong component for “The Bobby Rich Morning Mix,” as the onetime WXLO, New York City programmer – Erica Farber was general manager during his term there – usually manages to squeeze in eight or nine songs an hour. “I like that because it always gives me something to go to,” he explains. “I never have to worry about talking for the sake of talking.”
Included in his full-service approach to the day-part, where Greg Curtis and Mrs. Grant aid him in his “Good Clean Fun” mission, is a newscast every half hour, as well as six hourly traffic reports. “There are a couple of ‘real’ weather forecasts with a television meteorologist,” notes Rich, whose past on-air identities have included “Buddy” Rich, as in the esteemed jazz drummer, and “Jim” Rich at Lansing, Michigan’s WJIM. “Sadly though, many operators now believe in less content. Properly, they will say that it is not how much content, but the quality of it. That has always been the case.”
Drake Legacy Respected
Reflecting on the mid-1960s Bill Drake format at renowned Los Angeles “Boss Radio” KHJ, Rich remembers that all of his on-air personality friends around the country said Drake (parenthetically, radio’s greatest programmer) was “ruining radio” because the only thing the talent was doing was reading liner cards. “At the time, I bought into that, but then I realized that what he wanted from his air talent was them to be compelling, entertaining, funny, warm, and friendly,” Rich explains. “It was just that he wanted it to be done in generally no more than 15 seconds. By golly, there were people such as ‘The Real’ Don Steele and Robert W. Morgan, among others, who could do that. In some ways, if we had that kind of talent around today, radio – as a personal medium – would be in much better shape.”
History buffs might recall that Rich – who programmed Los Angeles’ KHTZ (“K-Hits 97″) – arrived at KHJ two weeks after Steele – perhaps the greatest pure contemporary hit radio personality ever – departed from there and a month before the immensely entertaining Morgan exited.
As Drake-Chenault’s director of programming consultation, Rich – in late 1980 – conducted a national talent search of radio personalities, which resulted in the release of a two-disc album, vinyl – of course. A genuine collector’s item, it features a classic Howard Stern from his WWWW, Detroit days; the inimitable Jonathon Brandmeier when he was on Milwaukee’s WOKY; Willy B of WBSB, Baltimore; WAPE, Jacksonville’s “The Greaseman”; and Jonathon Doll – then on WIZD, Fort Pierce, Florida.
When monitoring other radio stations, Rich can generally ascertain what is scripted, but he states the great personalities will do it in such a way that it does not sound as if it is written. “Little things that are added to it, and the way it is presented make it feel like personality radio,” he remarks. “I feel that somebody is talking to me.”
Among Rich’s favorites at doing that is KRTH, Los Angeles (“K-Earth 101″) afternoon drive talent “Shotgun Tom” Kelly.
Listeners First Mentality
As stellar of a programmer and highly energetic on-air personality as Rich is, he is becoming nearly as adroit with social media. “I really have worked at it and used my own instincts to develop what I think is a good way of pursuing it without it eating up all of my time,” he declares. “When I started on Facebook, I had – and have stuck with – the intention of filling out my ‘Friends’ list with a good percentage of strictly potential or current listeners.”
Industry people and actual friends rounded out the rest of the space on that platform. “When I host something on Facebook, I am talking to a combination of listeners, and potential listeners in the Tucson vicinity, as well as to radio friends I have known over the [several decades] I’ve been in this business,” he explains.
Consequently, the onetime assistant program director of Los Angeles’ KFI, in its music days, strives to do what he has consistently done as a programmer and air talent, which is talk to his audience. “I really think about those things whenever I post something,” Rich states. “I try to come up with stuff that is not so ‘inside’ that a regular listener would not get anything out of it. At the same time, I try to come up with material that my radio friends will get a kick out of, or appreciate in one way or another.”
Once he arrived at the arbitrary cutoff number of 5,000 Facebook ‘Friends,’ he was faced with the challenge of pruning some names, in order that he may accept new “friend” requests. “Unfortunately, it has been my industry friends who have suffered the weeding out process; my listeners are more important to me,” candidly acknowledges Rich, whose first PD assignment was at Davenport, Iowa’s KSTT. “Until the rise of social media, the effort of reaching out directly on a personal level to that many people has never been known to us in our lifetime. I used to write letters back to listeners who would comment about the station or the morning show.”
Correspondence such as that still takes place, but it is usually while Rich is on the air. “I can post and promote things on Facebook – but I do not over-promote,” he stresses. “Social media has made a huge difference for today’s on-air talents.”
Responsible for San Diego’s famed “B100″ (KFMB-FM) – one of America’s first true adult CHRs or hot ACs – although that specific industry moniker was not in existence at the time – Rich devotes much of his free time these days to “Playing All The Hits That Fits” on BobbysB-100.com.
There will come a time someday, he maintains, when internet stations will get a shot at a piece of the pie, but the former KMGI, Seattle general manager/morning talent emphasizes, “They must have something to offer. Something like 50,000 internet stations are out there already. If you can get a handful of people listening to you regularly – and if they love you because they cannot hear that same thing anywhere else – you potentially have a success. Somewhere down the line, I think that can be monetized. It would not be by running commercials but by unique ways where monetization can occur in today’s marketing age.”
Nearly seven years after his first four-year stint at “B100,” Rich returned to the same facility in America’s Finest City, re-formatting what had become a “Lite Rock/Less Talk” property and unveiled “The Rich Brothers,” his interpretation of a morning “Zoo.” The hilarious four-person offering featuring the late Scott Kenyon, Frank Anthony, Pat Gaffey and Rich took off, becoming demo dominant for four years.
None of the nearly two-dozen personalities on BobbysB-100.com is doing their shows “live,” and while some of the internet radio station is scripted, Rich points out, “My 21 original ‘B100′ air talents who have contributed voice tracks have done so, in their own brilliant, wonderful, natural way. My original philosophy at ‘B100′ was, ‘Here are the rules – now break them – but do so wisely.’ They do the basic liners I send, but I tell them to shoot me back any fun ideas they have. What do I have to lose? It is an internet station with like 10 listeners.”
Minor disagreements regarding the definition of hard-and-fast radio day-parts and/or the best applicability for a particular market is certainly nothing that is bulletin-worthy.
Instead of morning drive’s traditional 6:00 am – 10:00 am duration, for example, some programmers have adjusted it to 5:30 am, and then in certain cases, end times have been modified to 9:00 am.
Whatever the alterations, it is usually in top-of-the-hour and bottom-of-the-hour measurements, but a rather unusual situation exists in New York City, where WLTW (“Lite-FM”) mid-day talent Helen Little commences her daily air-shift at 9:20am.
It is something she has not questioned in her five years at the Clear Channel adult contemporary outlet.
Increased emphasis might be getting placed on-air talent these days for the primary reason that, “Human interaction is much more at the forefront of a person’s thinking,” observes Little, who cracked a radio microphone for the very first time 30 years ago – February 11, 1983 – in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. “With so much technology and the world moving toward automation, people are not as much a part of the forefront of many industries. We are beginning to see the importance of human interaction. We are noticing it in ads for banks and credit cards. They are advertising that customers will get to talk to a real person. It is important to the consumer/listener.”
A major radio enthusiast when she was attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Psychology major Little originally planned to research sleep and dreams. “I saw an ad for an announcer at WCHL, which was an adult contemporary station at the time,” she recounts. “It said, ‘No experience necessary.’ I put together what was a horrible presentation on a 10-inch, reel-to-reel, tape. The program director laughed at it, but I got the job because I was the only person who offered a tape.”
Humbly soft-selling that she was not a natural as an on-air personality and she had a great deal to learn, Little comments, “I am now much more comfortable communicating with my audience.”
One of the greatest tips she received was to pick one person you talk with all the time and focus on him or her when you are on the air. “I was able to develop a much more conversational style,” Little comments. “The first job was more of a situation where I was just reading liners.”
Delivering Critical Information
Given that Little is on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Google Plus, it is clear she assesses social media to be extremely vital for today’s on-air talents. “The most important thing is to know where your audience is,” she advises.
Shortly after Thanksgiving, she created a holiday Pinterest page and invited listeners to participate by “pinning” their pictures or to receive ideas she was sharing. “It was a way to build community for people who were excited about Christmas,” Little points out. “I use Twitter to pass along information about events I’m doing and I post pictures of station events on Facebook and Instagram.”
While she does not recall doing any client appearances all of last year, Little recently did two in one week. “It seems clients want that this year,” she remarks. “Again – it is a shift as we move back to that. Our audience grew up on the idea that the air talent is the person at the other end of the speakers who tells you the names of the songs and gives out important information.”
Some of that “information” is downright critical, as evidenced by the emergency weather-related situations resulting from Sandy and Nemo. “A younger listener will first go to a social network or the internet, but the older ones are used to getting important information from the radio,” Little opines. “We treated Nemo as a first priority and provided some type of information in just about every single break.”
Super-storm Sandy had a great deal to do with that, as people in the northeast were still nervous after experiencing such an ordeal. “The area was going to get hit and people could lose electricity,” Little recounts. “So many people remember sitting in the dark for days at a time during Sandy. We provided all kinds of information around the clock. Yes – there was music, but there was also a lot of information.”
Over and above her weekday 9:20 am – 3:00 pm WLTW on-air duties, Little is part of Clear Channel’s Premium Choice network, where she is heard on approximately 20 mainstream AC stations, 6:00 pm – 12:00 midnight Saturdays and Sundays. “The challenge is you can’t talk about the weather because you’re on in various parts of the country,” she explains. “I have to find things that are the common denominator for all different areas. San Antonio, for example, is not the same as Grand Rapids. I spend a lot of time preparing because, whether it is done live or voice-tracked, I want it to be good. My name is on it and I might devote more time on it than most other people do.”
PM Driver Takes The Cake
Typical adult contemporary listeners can hear their favorite Kelly Clarkson, Maroon 5, and Katy Perry songs in an assortment of different places, however KVIL, Dallas afternoon drive talent Leigh Ann Adam stresses, “What is in between the records really puts the icing on the cake.”
For today’s AC personalities, she suggests that it is not strictly a case of limiting what they say, rather than a matter of being more focused.
Prior to relocating to Dallas eight years ago, Adam did wakeup duty for five years in Los Angeles at hot AC KBIG. “Leigh Ann and Charlie in the Morning” afforded her the opportunity to work with legendary Southern California personality Charlie Tuna. “I obviously do a little bit less [working 3:00 pm – 7:00 pm at CBS Radio-owned KVIL] than what I did on a morning show,” she remarks. “I have a traffic girl who is also a sidekick, so we sort of do a morning show in the afternoon. It is very personality-driven.”
There are occasions when Adam misses morning drive radio, but the former KSKG, Salina, Kansas program director points out, “When the alarm clock would go off at 3:30 am, I would ask myself what in the world was I thinking. Once you get into the studio though and the magic happens, you do enjoy it.”
This actually marks a return to Dallas for Adam, who previously was heard on cross-town KHKS (“Kiss-FM”) and KEGL.
“Amazing” is the way she categorizes the adult contemporary music cycle on KVIL and she attributes upgrades to CBS Radio’s adult contemporary format captain Jim Ryan. “He got involved with the station during the time we were in between program directors,” she recounts. “He reevaluated the music and I think he understands the fact that today’s woman is much different from women who were in their 30s and 40s 10-20 years ago. Just because a woman is [30-49 years old], it doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to hear Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, or P!nk.”
As much of a cliché as it, some Neanderthals unfortunately still believe that females do not want to listen to other females on the air. “That is the craziest thing I have ever heard,” Adam categorically states. “Women have basically taken over television. There is ‘The View,’ ‘The Talk,’ Kathy Lee & Hoda [Adam was among the finalists to guest-host on the former ‘Regis & Kelly’ program], and Chelsea Handler at night. When Tina Fey and Amy Poehler hosted the Golden Globes, the show got a huge ratings spike. I definitely think I have the advantage as a woman because I can relate to other women. They might not like to hear other women who put on a front, try to be sexy-sounding, or who are not real. I talk about going out with my girlfriends and the goofy things that my husband does that drive me nuts. I ‘get’ women.
Notwithstanding that it is still universally referred to as “the miracle of birth,” a woman having a baby is generally not a headline-grabbing situation.
In April 2000 though, Adam was one of the rare exceptions to that statement when she delivered her son, Caden Chase, live during the KBIG morning show.
Broadcast from the hospital, the delivery could be seen on something that was still relatively novel at the time – a radio station website; KBIG’s site reportedly received 6.4 million hits that day. “I do hear about that every now and then,” Adam points out. “When he has born, I got so many cards, letters, and flowers; believe it or not, he is about to turn 13. He does not really talk about it so much now, but a few years ago, he saw his name come up on a Google search and he thought that was the coolest thing.”
KOST, Los Angeles at a Glance
Identity: “Coast 103.5″
Owner: Clear Channel
Recent 8:00 pm “Love Songs” Music Hour
“Hard To Say I’m Sorry” (Chicago)
“Fallin’ For You” (Colbie Caillat)
“Keep On Loving You” (REO Speedwagon)
“I’ll Be There” (Mariah Carey)
“This Love” (Maroon 5)
“Live To Tell” (Madonna)
“Sexual Healing” (Marvin Gaye)
“I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” (Aerosmith)
“Hungry Eyes” (Eric Carmen)
“You’ll Be In My Heart” (Phil Collins)
“Just A Fool” (Christina Aguilera & Blake Shelton)
“Hold Me Now” (Thompson Twins)
“I Won’t Give Up” (Jason Mraz)
Weekday On-Air Lineup
Morning Drive: Mark Wallengren & Kristin Cruz
Mid-days Kari Steele
Afternoon Drive: Bruce Scott
“Love Songs”: Karen Sharp
Six-Month Ratings Trend (6+, PPM)
Sep Oct Nov Dec Hol Jan
4.6 4.3 4.3 7.1 10.2 5.3
#4 #4 #4 #1 #1 #3
Identity: “Mix FM – Tucson’s Soft Rock”
Owner: Journal Broadcast Group
Recent 7:00 am Music Hour
“You Might Think” (Cars)
“Catch My Breath” (Kelly Clarkson)
“Last Dance” (Donna Summer)
“Fame” (Irene Cara)
“Don’t Stop Believin'” (Journey)
“That’s What I Like” (Jive Bunny & The Mastermixers)
“All Summer Long” (Kid Rock)
“Everything” (Michael Buble)
“Jessie’s Girl” (Rick Springfield)
Weekday On-Air Lineup
Morning Drive: “The Bobby Rich Morning Mix” featuring Greg Curtis and Mrs. Grant
Mid-days: Marty Bishop
Afternoon Drive: Adrienne Walker
Overnights: John Tesh
Five-Book Ratings Trend (12+, Arbitron diary methodology)
Fall 2011 Winter 2012 Spring 2012 Summer 2012 Fall 2012
8.3 8.4 6.6 8.5 8.2
#2 #2 #3 #2 #2
WLTW, New York City
Owner: Clear Channel
Recent 11:00 am Music Hour
“Tainted Love” (Soft Cell)
“Because of You” (Kelly Clarkson)
“I Want To Know What Love Is” (Foreigner)
“Oh Sherrie” (Steve Perry)
“I’ll Be There” (Mariah Carey)
“Locked Out Of Heaven” (Bruno Mars)
“Every Breath You Take” (Police)
“Un-break My Heart” (Toni Braxton)
“Payphone” (Maroon 5 featuring Wiz Khalifah)
“We Got the Beat” (Go-Go’s)
“White Flag” (Dido)
“Something Happened On The Way To Heaven” (Phil Collins)
Weekday On-Air Lineup
Morning Drive: Bronson & Christine
Mid-days: Helen Little
Afternoon Drive/Evenings: Rich Kaminski
Overnights: Victor Sosa
Six-Month Ratings Trend (6+, PPM)
Sep Oct Nov Dec Hol Jan
7.2 7.2 6.5 8.4 11.3 7.2
#1 #1 #1 #1 #1 #1
Owner: CBS Radio
Recent 4:00 pm Music Hour
“Teenage Dream” (Katy Perry)
“Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” (Journey)
“I Won’t Give Up” (Jason Mraz)
“How To Save A Life” (Fray)
“Payphone” (Maroon 5 featuring Wiz Khalifah)
“Paparazzi” (Lady Gaga)
“Kiss Me” (Sixpence None the Richer)
“Rumour Has It” (Adele)
“Smile” (Uncle Kracker)
“Everybody Wants To Rule the World” (Tears For Fears)
“Miss Independent” (Kelly Clarkson)
Weekday On-Air Lineup
Morning Drive: Tony Zazza
Afternoon Drive: Leigh Ann Adam
Six-Month Ratings Trend (6+, PPM)
Sep Oct Nov Dec Hol Jan
2.4 3.8 3.6 6.1 8.5 3.8
#18 #8 #9 #2 #1 #9
Tomorrow: Part-three, the Consultants.
Mike Kinosian – Kinosian@RadioInfo.com (818) 985-0244.