Fourth of a Five-Part Special
By Mike Kinosian
Managing Editor/West Coast Bureau Chief
LOS ANGELES — History is the nuanced dual-purpose theme of the fourth chapter of our AC special.
For the first phase, the coordinates of your time machine need to be set back 20 years to the pre-consolidation year of 1993, where you will discover (or perhaps re-discover) that the radio industry had a copious amount of group owners, many of which held the licenses of literally just a handful of stations.
Back then, for example, Viacom was considered an exceptionally strong player with 13 sticks in eight major markets.
There were 10 Malrite outlets in a half-dozen large markets. Seven cities had Booth-owned stations, and Atlantic Radio Corporation was all of a four-station empire.
At that time, as in present-day, Clear Channel and CBS Radio were among the big boys; however, Clear Channel topped CBS Radio’s ownership by a stunningly modest (by today’s standards) 28 to 21.
Its largest AC facility in terms of market size in 1993 was KQXT in its home market of San Antonio.
To borrow an insurance institution’s slogan, it was an era with many, “Quiet Companies.”
Among those fitting that description was Salt Lake City-based Bonneville International Corporation, whose holdings at the time included adult contemporary facilities in New York City (WMXV); Los Angeles (KBIG); Chicago (WTMX); San Francisco (KOIT-FM); and Kansas City (KLTH).
It went on to survive consolidation and grow its portfolio to some three-dozen stations.
Properties it owned were in large markets, as well as locales such as Blackfoot, Idaho and St. George-Cedar City, Utah.
After a flurry of transactions, the adult contemporary shining star for Bonneville became, and remains, KSFI in the company’s home market.
Approximately five years ago, Bonneville president/chief executive officer Bruce Reese and chief operating officer Drew Horowitz made a budget presentation to Mark Willis, the then head of the Deseret Management Corporation.
At the conclusion of the conversation, Willis, in effect, gave Reese and Horowitz a heads-up that Bonneville’s for-profit parent company – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – would be getting out of the radio business in the next three to five years.
Those were the marching orders presented to Reese and Horowitz and they needed to be thinking about it. “Needless to say we were a little surprised, but it was reality,” Horowitz recalls. “Bruce felt he would have the opportunity to put together a group to buy the company. We investigated that option, but it never materialized. At that time, we were in the teeth of a very challenging economic environment and radio wasn’t doing very well.”
As time went on, the Hubbard Family started to have a dialogue with Bonneville officials and those talks built up steam. “One thing led to another with Hubbard making an offer, trying to buy the whole company,” Horowitz explains.
Assets then however were not cash-flow positive in Los Angeles, Seattle, and Phoenix; thus, the sale was for Bonneville’s stations in Chicago, Washington, DC, St. Louis, and Cincinnati.
Part of the deal that was struck included Reese and Horowitz staying on – as CEO and COO, respectively, just as they were with Bonneville. “Hubbard is a lovely family on the personal, human level, as well as being very astute in business,” comments Horowitz, who spent 19 years with Bonneville. “The compatibility of cultures between the two companies is very similar. April 29 will mark two years of being in the Hubbard family.”
When Perception Is Reality
When he thinks of a true AC station, Horowitz mentions that the first ones that leap to his mind are Clear Channel siblings KOST in Los Angeles and WLIT in Chicago. “They are stations of that genre, but the generic term ‘AC’ has changed so much in the last 10-15 years,” the Temple University graduate opines. “When you were referring to AC stations 10-15 years ago, you were talking about one thing, but I don’t know if a ‘true’ AC station exists any longer. There is a variance on the adult contemporary genre but the common dominator is that the stations are targeted to women and they tend to be more 25-49 and 25-54 oriented.”
That aspect of adult contemporary radio is still the same, Horowitz maintains, but the music that makes up AC is notably dissimilar from what it was 10 years ago. “The core artists used to be Bryan Adams, Michael Bolton, and Lionel Richie; that sound is totally different now,” he remarks. “Acceptance of music today on stations such as WLIT and [Cincinnati’s WRRM] ‘Warm 98’ is much broader and much more contemporary in the adult sector than it was back then. It has been an interesting phenomenon because it has created this huge footprint for adult female listening. I do not think I have ever seen anything like it before. As younger women have aged, they still want to be relevant and current in their musical tastes.”
Citing Philadelphia adult contemporary ratings juggernaut WBEB (“B101”), Horowitz observes that the Jerry Lee Radio-owned outlet is “unbelievably” successful. “I would think that station is loved by the ad agencies; WLIT and ‘Warm 98,’ not so much,” he theorizes. “They have been repositioned in their marketplaces by hot AC/adult CHR, which are more contemporary in their music, talent, promotion, presentation, and total ambiance. It is only my opinion, but while stations such as ‘Lite’ and ‘Warm’ have moved their product cycle to be more contemporary, those stations are still seen in perceptual studies as the ‘soft music’ stations.”
Such a magnificent job was done of building those brands in the late-1980s and early-1990s that Horowitz maintains, “It almost does not matter what they play musically, they still retain that perceptual image. The big difference is that, when we were in a diary world, it really did matter.”
How a station was viewed in a diary keeper’s mind is how it was transcribed in their usage pattern in Arbitron. “Those were highly-entrenched brands that people knew,” Horowitz emphasizes. “PPM reflects ‘real’ – not ‘perceived’ – listening. Those listeners still possess enough of that DNA to fulfill that need/expectation versus going to a hot AC.”
Some women in an adult contemporary’s target demo may hear the same music that a hot AC or a CHR would play on an AC station, but Horowitz insists that is not why they are there. “A station’s ratings performance is more product-focused, rather than brand/perceptual-focused,” he explains.
While acknowledging that Arbitron’s Portable People Meter is more accurate than diary methodology, Horowitz stresses it is “not perfect” in terms of real versus perceived usage, yet he concedes that, “Globally, PPM has been good for the industry.”
Nonetheless, he is not fully certain “whether Arbitron has actually delivered on all the promises it made while it was selling us why PPM” needed to come into existence. “In a world that is technology-centric and looking for more immediate metrics on results, PPM is probably more reflective of how people live and how they use media,” he states. “It always bothered me in diary methodology that big-brand stations with market longevity continued to do well, even though the on-air product had deteriorated. People might not have remembered if they listened, but those call letters came to mind and they wrote them down.”
With no barrier to entry, internet brands are continuously appearing online. “Anyone can sit in their basement and build an internet music-delivery system,” Horowitz remarks. “Radio’s competitive advantages are that it is local and there can be a connection to good/relatable talent. Music is certainly an important ingredient but it is not the singular ingredient. The ability for that connectivity or companion piece is very important to the health and future of radio.”
A constant programmer-voiced complaint is that corporate has drastically slashed – if not completely eliminated – marketing, research, and/or promotional budgets. “We have seen many of those additives go away with the big consolidators and only used when strategically necessary,” Horowitz candidly points out. “I live in the Hubbard world of radio and I can say that we do perceptual research every year for all of our radio stations. We still spend money on music testing, multiple times a year. Broadcasters who are not under the heavy weight of huge debt load and public market issues are still conducting radio in the way radio needs to be to stay relevant, compelling, and competitive.”
Those grappling with other issues, however, do not tend to have those luxuries readily available. “They will do perceptual studies when they need to but, based on my conversations with people who work for those companies, it is no longer part of the operating routine on a consistent basis,” Horowitz remarks. “If you are a negative two to plus two business, there is not a lot of excess cash lying around. Hubbard is a small-footprint company, but we are dominators in our markets.”
Revenue for radio has improved, Horowitz states, but he adds it is still challenged. “In my almost 37 years of doing radio, this business has always been a great barometer of the economic environment,” he comments. “Historically, radio is usually one of the last industries to go down and one of the first to get up. Radio is a very good reflector of what is going on in the world. In terms of billing, CHR, adult CHR, and country are doing very well, as is news. Things right now are not as bad as they were; it is slowly improving; but we still have a long way to go.”
Splitting the Pie
Adult contemporary’s most proficient group owners 20 years ago (1993) were Bonneville and Cox – each represented in seven top 35 markets.
CBS Radio and Viacom had six instances of adult contemporary outlets in the top 35 markets.
In addition to illustrating which groups controlled AC stations in the top 35 markets 20 years ago, the following depicts how each property performed 12+, 18-49, 25-54, and 35-64.
Data is from Arbitron’s Spring 1993 sweep – stations finishing in the top 20 (12+) in each respective market are noted.
Stations from the markets shown above still in the AC format 20 years later are:
WLTW, New York
KOST, Los Angeles
KOIT-FM, San Francisco
WBEB, Philadelphia (formerly WEAZ)
WASH, Washington, DC
WALK, Long Island
KYXY, San Diego
KEZK, St. Louis
KBAY, San Jose
KQXT, San Antonio
Those that transitioned to – and have remained – hot AC under the same call letters are:
KBIG, Los Angeles
KIOI, San Francisco
WRQX, Washington, DC
KYKY, St. Louis
A number of others evolved from AC to hot AC, but have since adopted other formats
When specifically compared to what transpired 20 years ago, genuine head-to-head format battles involving non-siblings in the top 35 markets nowadays are relatively rare.
Facilities later becoming “hot AC” are generally indicated in nearly every market below, while some “soft ACs” are shown from the opposite end of the texture spectrum
Nonetheless, notice the heavy congestion of format traffic in virtually each of the top 35 markets.
Four ACs in a market was not uncommon in 1993 and two markets had five varying degrees of adult contemporary-flavored outlets. Curiously enough, Boston was one of those markets with five shades of AC and WMJX there (“Magic”) managed to emerge #1 among 25-54s.
Please note that market sizes are indicative of 1993 population figures. It is interesting to see the shifts that have occurred since then; Anaheim is no longer an Arbitron market.
Respect Is Fully Warranted
Step One: Turn on the radio.
Step Two: Tune it to your favorite contemporary music station.
Step Three: Keep it there, or scan to similarly-programmed signals.
Step Four: Listen for approximately 60 minutes.
In that brief amount of time – and from multiple music formats – you most likely would have heard a song written by the phenomenal Diane Warren.
“Thousands” is neither a typo nor hyperbole.
Enumerating her triumphs would be an exercise in futility as the list of accomplishments would be embarrassingly lengthy, and certainly bound to contain several glaring omissions.
Similarly, it would be pointless to query Warren about her favorite songs, since songwriters and artists generally view their material as most parents see their children: They cannot fathom picking one over the other – at least not on the record.
Still though, it would be disrespectful not to cite at least some of her accomplishments.
On five occasions, Warren has been ASCAP’s Pop Songwriter of the Year (1990, 1991, 1993, 1998, and 1999) and she has scored that honor once (2000) in country, as well.
Guitar Solos Can’t Be Stopped
Adult contemporary listeners first learned of a then 27-year-old Warren in the early-1980s when “Solitaire” was a smash hit for Laura Branigan. “Adult contemporary has always been so very good to me throughout my career,” comments Warren, who in 2001, received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. “It is not one particular song, but I have always appreciated the support with all these songs. More than anything – and it really is something I appreciate – the songs never go away because once you are on adult contemporary radio, you are there forever. That helps make a song a copyright. I appreciate any airplay, but on adult contemporary, I hear songs of mine from 30 years ago.”
Once boasting a fairly healthy number of format-exclusive artists, adult contemporary has seen the number dwindle.
Thankfully though, some still are present and Warren places Gloria Estefan, Michael Buble, and Josh Groban in that category. “That is where they live and that is their home,” the owner of publishing company Realsongs remarks. “You are probably not going to hear Josh Groban on [Los Angeles CHR KIIS] ‘Kiss-FM,’ for example.”
Examining the adult contemporary charts as she dutifully does, Warren is of the opinion that the format is not the same as it was 20 years ago. “Hot AC seems to be top 40, without the rap,” she assesses. “It was very ‘adult’ at that time, but if I tune into KOST here in Los Angeles, I will hear [artists such as] Bruno Mars. It is not quite as background-sounding as it was years ago. I remember when my friend Liz Kiley was at KOST [as the AC outlet’s music director under program director Jhani Kaye, who now programs cross-town CBS Radio siblings KRTH and KTWV], she insisted she was not going to play ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’ because there was a guitar solo in it. Those days of trying to edit out guitar solos are long gone.”
Mention of Starship’s 1987 massive hit “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” is a perfect prompt to point out that particular song from the film “Mannequin” gained Warren her first Oscar nomination, as well as her initial Grammy nomination.
All six of her Academy Award nominations, in fact, were up for Grammys as well.
Other instances where she received nominations for both awards were for:
- “Because You Loved Me” (Celine Dion in “Up Close & Personal”)
- “How Do I Live” (LeAnn Rimes and Trisha Yearwood both did versions of it)
- “I Don’t Want To Miss a Thing” (Aerosmith in “Armageddon”)
- “Music of My Heart” (Gloria Estefan in “Music of the Heart”)
- “There You’ll Be” (Faith Hill in “Pearl Harbor”)
Numerous artists have won Grammys for songs she has written but the completely down-to-earth Warren breaks into a genuine chuckle in stating, “It really is kind of funny because many people think I have won a ton of Grammys but I have only won one [for ‘Because You Loved Me’]. I won a Golden Globe two years ago for a song I did for Cher, ‘You Haven’t Seen The Last of Me’ from ‘Burlesque,’ so that was pretty terrific. I am happy to say that ‘Because You Loved Me’ and ‘You Haven’t Seen The Last of Me’ [a Grammy nominee, in addition to a Golden Globe winner] do happen to be two of my favorite songs.”
Several years ago, Warren – whose 1985 hit for DeBarge, “Rhythm of the Night,” earned her a Golden Globe nomination – wrote something she thought would be ideal for Lenny Kravitz. “Other than a cover of ‘American Woman,’ he usually does not do songs written by other people,” she comments. “I sent him the song but never heard back from him.”
Some time passed and one day Kravitz asked Warren to come to the studio. “He had recorded the song and wanted me to listen to it – that was pretty cool,” she recounts. “I wrote what I thought would be different and a game-changing song for Akon. He is a very good, under-rated singer – a stylist. I thought I would give him something totally from left field to see if he liked it – he loved it. It is the kind of song that will get adult contemporary – as well as pop – airplay. I just try to write a great song and give it to the best artist who will get it heard by the most people. That is the goal – I want the song to be heard. I will be in the middle of writing something and think it would be great for somebody I might be working with at the time, or someone I would like to be working with.”
The indefatigable Warren never takes a break. Right now, she is working on everything from Akon; The Saturdays; The Wanted; John Legend; Celine Dion, Jennifer Hudson; and pop-opera trio ll Volo.
Another project of hers involves Emeli Sandé. “She is the biggest artist in the UK and is going to blow up here – she will be huge,” Warren promises. “I am kind of all over the place with stuff right now. I was at a party the other day and ‘Snoop’ came up to me. He said he was a fan – I am going to give him a song too. Who else do you know goes from ‘Snoop Dogg’ to ll Volo?”
Somewhat miraculously, the accolade, fame, winning of hardware, and adulation she receives from a myriad of artists has yet to go to Warren’s head. “I show up – I go to work – and I want people to hear my songs,” she simply states. “It is no different now from when I started out [at the age of 14]. It is the same thing and it is definitely fun.”
Learn From the Best
Perhaps the most dramatic, effective manner to display Diane Warren’s astonishing songwriting acumen is by noting the following titles.
Over and above being highly-memorable, sensational songs, each listing represents a Warren-penned work that reached the top ten. There are several occasions where two different artists had a hit with the same song.
“A Smile As Beautiful As Yours” (Natalie Cole)
“All I Want Is Forever” (James “JT” Taylor & Regina Belle)
“Any Other Fool” (Sadao Watanabe featuring Patti Austin)
“Because You Loved Me” (Celine Dion)
“Blame It On The Rain” (Milli Vanilli)
“Blue Eyes Blue” (Eric Clapton)
“By The Time This Night Is Over” (Kenny G featuring Peabo Bryson)
“Call Me Gone” (Patti LaBelle)
“Can’t Fight The Moonlight” (LeAnn Rimes)
“Can’t Take That Away” (Mariah Carey)
“Completely” (Michael Bolton)
“Could I Have This Kiss Forever” (Whitney Houston & Enrique Iglesias)
“Don’t Take Away My Heaven” (Aaron Neville)
“Don’t Turn Around” (Ace Of Base)
“Faith Of The Heart” (Rod Stewart)
“For You I Will” (Monica)
“Give Me You” (Mary J. Blige)
“Have You Ever” (Brandy)
“How Can We Be Lovers If We Can’t Be Friends” (Michael Bolton)
“How Do I Live” (LeAnn Rimes)
“How Do I Live” (Trisha Yearwood)
“How Many Times – How Many Lies” (Pussycat Dolls)
“I Could Not Ask For More” (Edwin McCain)
“I Don’t Want To Live Without Your Love” (Chicago)
“I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” (Aerosmith)
“I Get Weak” (Belinda Carlisle)
“I Learned From The Best” (Whitney Houston)
“I Turn To You” (Christina Aguilera)
“I Want You To Need Me” (Celine Dion)
“I Will Be Here For You” (Michael W. Smith)
“I Will Get There” (Boyz II Men)
“I’d Lie For You (And That’s The Truth)” (Meat Loaf)
“I’ll Be Your Shelter” (Taylor Dayne)
“I’ll Never Get Over You Getting Over Me” (Expose)
“If I Could Turn Back Time” (Cher)
“If You Asked Me To” (Celine Dion)
“If You Asked Me To” (Patti LaBelle)
“Just Like Jesse James” (Cher)
“Just To Hear You Say That You Love Me” (Faith Hill & Tim McGraw)
“Live For Loving You” (Gloria Estefan)
“Look Away” (Chicago)
“Love And Understanding” (Cher)
“Love Can Move Mountains” (Celine Dion)
“Love Will Lead You Back” (Taylor Dayne)
“Missing You Now” (Michael Bolton)
“Music Of My Heart” (Gloria Estefan & *NSYNC)
“My First Night With You” (Mya)
“Nothing Broken But My Heart” (Celine Dion)
“Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” (Starship)
“Nothing Hurts Like Love” (Daniel Bedingfield)
“Painted On My Heart” (The Cult)
“Reach” (Gloria Estefan)
“Refugio De Amor” (Vanessa Williams & Chayanne)
“Rhythm Of The Night” (DeBarge)
“Set The Night To Music” (Roberta Flack & Maxi Priest)
“Set The Night To Music” (Starship)
“Solitaire” (Laura Branigan)
“Spanish Guitar” (Toni Braxton)
“Swear To Your Heart” (Russell Hitchcock)
“Taste The Tears” (Amber)
“Take It To Heart” (Michael McDonald)
“The Arms Of The One Who Loves You” (Xscape)
“The One I Gave My Heart To” (Aaliyah)
“There You’ll Be” (Faith Hill)
“Through The Storm” (Aretha Franklin & Elton John)
“Time, Love, & Tenderness” (Michael Bolton)
“Un-Break My Heart” (Toni Braxton)
“We’re Not Making Love Anymore” (Barbra Streisand
“What Are You Doing With A Fool Like Me” (Joe Cocker)
“When I Die” (No Mercy)
“When I See You Smile” (Bad English)
“When I’m Back On My Feet Again” (Michael Bolton)
“When The Night Comes” (Joe Cocker)
“Who Will You Run To” (Heart)
“Your Baby Never Looked Good In Blue” (Expose)
Tomorrow: This AC special feature concludes with a ratings overview; the first three chapters are archived at RadioInfo.com.
Mike Kinosian – Kinosian@RadioInfo.com (818) 985-0244.