Morning deejays like Robert W. Morgan are often as addictive as caffeine: They may make you nervous and irritable, but trying to give them up can give you a headache.
Of late, a cadre of “Good Morgan L.A.” loyalists has been despairing of ever again hearing the graybearded grouch on Los Angeles radio. For nearly three decades a mainstay of local airwaves, Morgan disappeared from the morning slot at KMGG-FM (105.9) during a recent format and call-letter shuffle.
“MAGIC 106" is now “POWER 106,” and without Morgan, but he remains under contract and on full salary with the station’s owners, Emmis Broadcasting of Indiana. He is not officially off the payroll until the last week of June.
“You don’t often get five months’ paid vacation in life,” Morgan said the other day. These days, he spends much of the morning drivetime fishing for bass near Stockton. While his fans suffer to work back on the freeways, Morgan is pulling in seven-pounders.
“We’re talking fresh water here,” he said.
Still, he is spending time looking for a new radio home in Los Angeles before his KMGG checks stop coming.
A few weeks ago, he sat in on a panel discussion on the rise of Top 40 radio personalities at a Museum of Broadcasting seminar at County Museum of Art. The seminar, “Radio After Radio,” traced the history of “Boss Radio” to today’s superstations and super-promotions. It was a discussion that in many ways paralleled Morgan’s own history and development from his days with KHJ’s “Boss Radio.”
In putting his career in perspective at the seminar, Morgan mentioned that “what I like to do most of all is make people laugh. And if I had a job, that’s what I would be doing tomorrow morning.”
He went on to touch on the hottest topic in radio these days--payola--telling how he had recently been approached by a local television station to appear disguised, on camera, to talk about that issue.
“In any other business but ours--ours being radio--I can take you to Mazatlan, wine you and dine you for the weekend, provide you with drugs, provide you with women, have a new car waiting for you when you get back . . . all in an effort to get on your TV show,” he said.
“And not only is it legal, but the government will reimburse me for that.”
Morgan also was exceptionally candid about his former employer, stating that the music is programmed from the main corporate offices in Indiana.
“Here was this national program director programming a Los Angeles radio station from Indianapolis. He tested Randy Newman’s ‘I Love L.A.’ back there and he said it didn’t work in L.A. True story.”
Being able to speak frankly at the seminar, he said, was one of the advantages of being out of a job.
“I’m just saying what you guys who have jobs can’t afford to say,” he said.
Morgan, who has worked at various radio stations since he came here from Ohio in 1958, said he has been “really pleased and amazed” at the audience concern about what’s happened to him since he went off the air. “I didn’t think there was anyone who cared where I was, besides the IRS and my mother,” he said.
“I was at KMPC for nine years and I’ve gotten 10 times the reaction from leaving ‘Magic,’ where I was on for only a year and a half.”
Morgan noted that many stations in Los Angeles have flip-flopped formats in the last few months--something that happens after Arbitron audience ratings are released. Arbitron ranks stations with ratings points, and industry veterans estimate each rating point equals about $3 million in annual revenue for a station in the L.A. market.
To put the rating system in perspective, KIIS-FM (102.7) has been the highest-rated station in Los Angeles during the last three years and generally has about 8 rating points.
“Everybody is scurrying for their 2 (rating points) . . . , " Morgan said, “but Los Angeles is the most competitive radio market, so it’s tough to carve out your niche.”
He’s still looking for his own niche. “I don’t know where I will be yet, but I’m open to any acceptable offer,” he said.
Then where should Good-Morgan listeners expect to tune in to find his cynical personality and greeting? “I’m looking for a station that plays Ethiopian folk songs to raise money for starving artists in Africa,” he said.