The Radio Business Slayed The Beast 980

The beauty of “The Beast 980” crossed paths with the nature of the beast that is the business of radio.

It happened on Wilshire Boulevard this week, just down the street from the La Brea Tar Pits.

No one comes out smelling great when you’re stuck in this kind of muck.

CBS Radio has been trying to sell off the iconic KFWB-AM station since the end of 2011, hiring Diane Sutter as a trustee to take care of the “asset” and make it presentable.

Eighteen months ago, after the go-to all-news format was bastardized into various hybrids of news, talk and entertainment, they decided to give it a go with the all-sports route. This would finally allow Jim Rome the syndicated spot in L.A. that CBS has been promising, and it could build something around a relationship with the Clippers as their home base.

Then, a buyer showed up. CBS, which by all reports was at a point of just trying to get this beast off the books, somewhat surprisingly accepted the offer. With this proviso: The remodel may look spiffy, but it wanted a tear-down, replaced with foreign-language programs.

Those who’ve been employed at the fourth all-sports format in Southern California — one that gave off a much more home-spun, independent feel than what gets filtered with ESPN-owned KSPN-AM (710), iHeartMedia/the Dodgers’ KLAC-AM (570) and the Angels’ KLAA-AM (830) — have until mid-February to say goodbye, in the language of their choosing.

“You don’t know what will appeal to a new buyer — you try to create something with value, and what’s what we did with this sports format,” said Sutter, the president and CEO of Shooting Star Broadcasting who eventually arranged the sale to Universal Media Access, a company connected to a private equity firm that boasts of buying stations “at a distressed price” and turning them into brokered ethnic programming.

“This was a great programmed radio station,” Sutter added, “but the buyers liked the station for other reasons. That’s their right.”

Yeah, but they’re wrong.

No matter how many times those in the business of media have to endure this kind of change, it’s never a sporty process.

“When we were hired, we were told the station was for sale and the goal was to sell, but all the research out there indicated there was a need for real, localized sports talk in L.A.,” said early-morning co-host Jeanne Zelasko, there from the launch in September 2014 with experience working at San Diego-based XTRA-AM and Fox Sports Radio and TV.

“We can’t control the business aspect of all this, but I don’t think we had any game pulled on us. There are some young producers in the building who are learning a tough life lesson. You can’t commit yourself so fully to a job that just won’t love you back.

“It almost felt like we were ‘WKRP in Cincinnati,’ a small station in some ways that kept going when others were trying to swat us away. Maybe there was slow recognition at the start, but I felt we were turning a corner because of the Twitter activity and the Clippers’ exposure. We were hiring solid people (like Bill Plaschke in the morning and Chris Myers in the afternoon) and it was time to go kick some butt.

“What’s frustrating for me is I felt we were finally providing a good service to this city and we believed in it. When we first started doing mornings (with Marques Johnson), I felt we could stand on a rock on Highland and Wilshire and reach more people if we just screamed loudly. Eventually we were watching our ratings go from a 0.1 and hit a 1.2.”

Ratings will unfortunately be the bottom-line measure of semi-failure and true failure in the radio world these days. What “The Beast” generated wasn’t spectacular by any means compared to its direct competitors, even with the Clippers’ momentum.

A year ago, KSPN was cutting staffers and leading the L.A. sports-talk format with overall ratings at 1.3, well ahead of KLAC (0.6) and KFWB (0.2, last among the 41 stations monitored by Arbitron). While most ratings for these formats are broken down further into how the men 25-54 demographic fares, it looks more like a dissection of a sliver of pie that’s half eaten.

Program director Tom Lee, who came into his job just nine months ago replacing Owen Murphy, said he was “proud of our significant ratings growth and was very optimistic we were positioned well for 2016. But this is a tough business. It’s sad to see it end. The ‘buzz’ may have been there, but ratings are the real scorecard in programming.”

In assessing “The Beast” upon its arrival in 2014, and even months before that, the hope was KFWB would be taken into the 21st century in a more dignified way than predecessors that came and failed.

Survival of the fittest, ironically, won’t be legacy of the “The Beast.”

To read the full article visit the LA Daily News where it was originally published

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