Radio Station an Oasis for Mojave Desert Listeners

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Times Staff Writer

Many people thought that Howard Anderson had “one wheel in the sand” when he proposed launching an FM radio station to serve the Mojave Desert.

After all, there were more jack rabbits and rattlesnakes than people in that desolate sun-parched portion of San Bernardino County.

But Anderson had his sights on the 40 million motorists who each year travel the interstate highways linking the Los Angeles metropolitan area with Las Vegas and a host of Colorado River communities.


Now his experiment, begun seven years ago, has earned the former vice president of marketing for Howard Hughes’ Summa Corp. the nickname “The Big Broadcast Baron of Barstow.”

Standing beside his transmitter on top of 5,495-foot-tall Calico Peak near here, Anderson, 59, pointed across the desert toward Interstate 15 and said, “Every car on that road will spend $1,400 a day in Las Vegas on food, a room, entertainment and gambling--what a terrific market to tap.”

In the distance, motorists were starting to lose the signal of favorite radio stations beamed out of the metropolis they had left a few hours earlier.

Switching the dial amid the static, they were finding a clear substitute on 98.1 or 99.5 megahertz, Anderson’s KRXV-FM, which programs middle-of-the-road popular music, highway-condition reports and news during the four-hour drive though the desert to Las Vegas. (Anderson actually heads two separately licensed stations that broadcast the same programming. KRXV is licensed on 98.1 at the desert community of Yermo, and 99.5, KXVR-FM, is licensed in Mountain Pass.)

Anderson said his KRXV-FM 98/99 commands 81% of the listeners in that “captive audience along the narrow corridor of Interstate 15 between the Cajon Pass and Las Vegas.”

The California Department of Transportation and the California and Nevada Highway patrols even use KRXV to issue highway-condition reports in an area prone to sudden sandstorms, flash floods and traffic accidents.


“One thing that blows my mind every time I drive to Las Vegas,” said Allen Klein, a radio industry consultant in Encino, “is that Caltrans has state signs posted along the road advising motorists to turn on his radio station--what Anderson pulled out there is a coup.

“He really gambled,” Klein said of Anderson. “Now, Howard just smiles every time you ask, ‘How’s business going?’ ”

The idea came to Anderson in 1975, when he was still employed at Summa Corp. and while Hughes was heavily invested in Las Vegas casinos. “I proposed the concept (in a memo) to Howard Hughes and he loved it,” Anderson recalled. But the proposal was shelved by skeptical company officials when Hughes died a year later, he said.

Anderson said he left the company in 1978 and began rounding up enough investors to raise the $1.5 million needed to buy transmitters and a broadcasting station, and to cover legal expenses associated with obtaining a permit from the Federal Communications Commission. Their goal: to corner at least 5% of Las Vegas’ cumulative annual advertising budget of more than $20 million.

In 1980, they erected a radio transmitter on Calico Peak and another 86 miles east near the California-Nevada state line. A broadcasting station was based in a mobile home in the community of Daggett, about 10 miles east of Barstow.

“Just as we went on the air there was a gas shortage,” Anderson said. “But we couldn’t turn back. The clock was running. . . . We’d all taken out loans and I’d resigned from Summa Corp.”


The Arab oil embargo that triggered the gasoline shortage eventually ended. But ever since, Anderson has made it his business to study political affairs in the Middle East.

In 1983, the operation was moved to the Barstow Station, a pile of offices, gift shops and fast-food restaurants in downtown Barstow.

There, seven announcers recruited from the local community blend soft-rock and country music, news and information 24 hours a day, said program director Lance Todd.

Motorists who turn to KRXV during the day get music and two 3 1/2-minute news spots an hour. “From midnight to 6 a.m. we go to a country sound--the heavy-truck drivers seem to like it,” Todd said.

Since KRXV’s target audience turns over every four hours, there is no need to hire radio personalities who specialize in developing a faithful audience.

Instead, “The mood we try to convey is this: You’ve left all your problems behind and you are out to have a good time,” said station manager Jack Spring. “The guy on the radio is like a warm friend riding along in the car . . . keeping you alert, awake and interested . . . when you’ve run out of things to say to your wife or husband.”


KRXV’s advertisers are mostly Las Vegas hotels and casinos, major automobile manufacturers and fast-food restaurants. The station beams 12 minutes of advertising each hour, compared the usual 8 minutes per hour elsewhere, Anderson said.

A recent news spot was sponsored by Bun Boy Restaurant of Barstow where, the announcer cooed, it was “always a co-o-o-o-l 72 degrees inside.”

Anderson was not the first person to come up with the concept of starting a radio station to service motorists in the California desert.

“In 1965, we almost did it ourselves,” said Saul Levine, owner of KKGO-FM in Los Angeles. Levine said he even incorporated in Baker, a community of about 800 people between Barstow and Las Vegas, under the name Highway Radio.

The idea was dropped in favor of other enterprises he was nurturing at the time, Levine said. “Howard should be given credit as a man of vision,” Levine said. “He’s done an outstanding job.”

Now, Levine’s wife, Anita, has revived the idea, this time to serve the estimated 45,000 motorists who each day travel a 100-mile stretch of Interstate 5 between the San Fernando Valley and Bakersfield.


Meanwhile, Anderson said he has begun expanding his station’s news coverage to include Barstow and Victorville.

“I’m not going to sell this station,” Anderson said. “I’m having too much fun with it.”