November 19, 2004
Steffy and Lomax on KLOL

Loren Steffy is in the same boat I am, radio-wise.

I'm not a good demographic. That's not an easy thing to admit. No one likes to be unloved, even if it's only by marketers.

Clear Channel Communications' decision to pull the plug on KLOL-FM, though, drives home the point that I am an outcast, both musically and commercially.

My biggest hint came several years ago when a station in Dallas changed its format to music that I swore was pulled from my own CD collection. It was an eclectic mix with unique programming such as a weekly show featuring Texas artists. It lasted exactly a year. "Not commercially viable" was the official cause of death.

I'd like to think that KLOL died because it replaced music in the mornings with moronic prattle, but the truth is more harsh: all of us who grew up listening to KLOL and stations like it simply aren't the marketing draw we once were. We've lost the sweet spot.

What's a middle-aged white guy who doesn't want to hear Fleetwood Mac 13 times a day to do?

Fewer media owners mean fewer media choices. If you own eight stations, as Clear Channel does, in a broadcast area the size of Houston, you can create vertical markets, nice little demographic compartments tailor made for advertisers.

No matter what your business, Clear Channel has a cookie-cutter market segment for your target customer base: Latino hip-hop, "new mix" pop, Fleetwood Mac-inundated "classic rock," news/talk and gooey "easy listening" to name a few.

There's lots of real estate on the dial, with little format overlap. What's the point in dominating a market if you have to compete with yourself?

Not competing with itself has been Clear Channel's mantra for some time now.

The betrayal of the public trust didn't happen in San Antonio; it happened in Washington.

Clear Channel has an obligation to grow. That is, after all, what businesses do, and Clear Channel has simply done that better than any of its rivals, gobbling up stations like Pac Man since the broadcast industry was deregulated in 1996. It now owns 1,200 nationwide.

Deregulation has meant an end to incremental revenue. Broadcasting now is about growth, and big money is in the buying of stations, not the owning of them.

Clear Channel reported a 10 percent rise in third-quarter profit, but that increase was driven by its billboard advertising business. Radio sales actually fell in the quarter, and the company has struggled to reverse the trend. Next year, it will cut advertising spots, hoping that fewer ads will allow it to raise rates.

Clear Channel's financial performance, lackluster as it is, remains the industry's gold standard. Its next-largest competitor, Viacom's Infinity Broadcasting, which has a mere 180 stations, reported a 4 percent decline in third-quarter sales.

Here's a radical thought: maybe radio ad sales have fallen because commercial radio sucks in so many places. Maybe also a whole lot of people have figured out that when a radio station goes to commercials, it stays there for five minutes or more, and as a result they (like me) immediately switch when the music stops. Of course, you'd be amazed (or maybe you wouldn't) at how often every single preset station in my car is playing commercials at once. Some conspiracy theories are easier to swallow than others, you know?

Meanwhile, John Nova Lomax offers his eulogy to KLOL, in which he returns to the lousy-programming theme he's been hitting on lately.

Could the likes of KIKK and KLOL have done anything to ensure their survival in light of all these factors? "Yes," and "probably not," respectively. As for KIKK, their stab at a Texas country format was half-assed and ill conceived. Alongside their Waylon & Willie and Pat & Cory, they played way too much Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Tim McGraw and Shania. They should have spun more Steve Earle, Hank, Guy Clark and Johnny Bush instead. There are quite a few stations in the Hill Country that have thrived after doing just that.

Which leaves us with KLOL. These days, ailing hard rock stations are an admittedly much tougher species to save than even struggling country stations. Once young women of easy virtue abandoned hard rock -- which was along about 1991 or so, for those of you keeping track -- KLOL's days were numbered. Hell, by the time of its demise, even strippers had stopped listening to KLOL. These days, what young chickenhead wants to pole-dance to Velvet Revolver when she can get nasty to "Get Low"?

The first thing they could have done is not fire Stevens and Pruett. The second thing they could have done is widen their playlist a little. I know it's a desperate measure, but they could have thrown in some vintage hair metal to woo some of the nostalgic women, like the one featured in Bowling for Soup's "1985." They could have jumped all over Los Lonely Boys when their record came out instead of championing the stale likes of Tesla. They could have been more of a local presence -- not just played more Houston bands, but also hosted more events and been a heavy presence on the scene, the way they were back in the '70s and '80s.

True confessions time: I largely stopped tuning into KLOL after they got rid of Stevens and Pruett - actually, I still think replacing Stevens with Greggo was the beginning of the end. Even beyond that, I thought their playlist had gotten boring - too much metal, not enough everything else. The times when I still checked in, there were very few new songs that I wanted to hear more of.

Addressing the "youth" market that Clear Channel is pursuing with its format switch on KLOL:

One of the radio conglomerates could get these kids back, but only if it were bold enough to spin rock and hip-hop side-by-side. Okay, this is the third time I've said this in the last nine months, but recent events have made me nothing if not more certain that this format will work. Why is their no station here -- or anywhere else, for that matter -- that spins the likes of the Killers, the Faint, Franz Ferdinand, the Strokes, Radiohead, U2 and Bright Eyes alongside Eminem, 50 Cent, OutKast, the Roots and Kanye West? One that also played classics like Public Enemy, the Violent Femmes, Eric B. and Rakim, and the Cars? What's so difficult about that? Almost nobody born since the mid-'70s would mind a little straight-up hip-hop (other than the three tracks off Licensed to Ill the Buzz spins) mixed in with their rock, because that's the way they've been jamming their whole lives. It's a demographic now. It's reality. It's who the youth of America is today.

But no, when it comes to Anglos at least, Clear Channel can see only in black and white. When the company shut down a KLOL-like station in San Jose, California, and flipped it to a Latin format earlier this year, Clear Channel Communications regional vice president Ed Krampf had this to say in the San Jose Mercury News: "The fastest part of the market is Latin. And rock is having trouble. Young white kids are listening to hip-hop, and the other young segment is Hispanic…Sometimes you just have to move on.''

Yes, young whites are listening to hip-hop, but that's not all they listen to. Some of those same whites also listen to lots of indie rock, or country, or hard rock. At least in terms of what they listen to, they are neither white nor black but brown.

Which brings us back to the target audience of Mega 101. I've listened to the station for a few hours, and even though my Spanish is barely conversational and by no means up to the task of deciphering the slangy and rapid-fire lyrics of the music, I've enjoyed the station. You'll hear a Ricky Martin remix alongside one with Latin rappers rhyming in Spanish over a Lil Jon track alongside another edgier group rapping over the tracks to "This Is Radio Clash" and "Bust a Move." Molotov mingles with the Kumbia Kings; Paulina Rubio segues into Juanes.

Hell, it's as if you were hearing a Spanish version of the unborn Anglo station I've been harping on about all year. It's a sad comment on either us or them that they don't think the Anglos can take a station like that. To them I say, try us.

Amen. Some of us older guys wouldn't mind that at all, either.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 19, 2004 to Music | TrackBack

When the company shut down a KLOL-like station in San Jose, California, and flipped it to a Latin format earlier this year, Clear Channel Communications regional vice president Ed Krampf had this to say in the San Jose Mercury News: "The fastest part of the market is Latin. And rock is having trouble. Young white kids are listening to hip-hop, and the other young segment is Hispanic…Sometimes you just have to move on.''

Ah, yes -- the demise of KSJO.

In my teens and early 20s, KSJO was just about all I listened to. By the early 1990s, as most of the stuff they played was "death metal" (where, for example, Metallica was on the tame side), I showed my age and switched mostly to the classic rock station.

KSJO's crash and burn was pretty similar to KLOL's -- the morning show was taken over by depraved personalities (folks like Perry Stone, and later Lamont and Tonelli, all of whom made Walton and Johnson look like Miss Manners), there was far less music played and you might get two songs for every ten minutes of talk (crude jokes, sexist and racist innuendo, and of course, prank calls) and 5-10 minutes of commercial.

Commercial radio does suck more and more, and Clear Channel, Infinity et al are a part of the problem but not all of it. There's just too much talk on music stations, and commercial breaks have become far too long.

Posted by: Tim on November 19, 2004 10:48 AM

CC killed KLOL a very long time ago. It was a stale, stagnant shell of its former self. I think those bastards did it on purpose.
Clear Channel is evil.

Posted by: Sandra P. on November 19, 2004 11:22 AM

THe guy that works next to me has been bemoaning and bewailing the loss of KLOL for weeks. He also happens to be a right-wing nut-job AM radio aficionado. After he complained about Clear Channel being the Evil Empire, I sent him a link to a USAToday story about CC being in bed and under the covers with the RNC. Sometimes I like to poke the bear.

Posted by: Ryan on November 19, 2004 1:33 PM