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‘Wink and Bill Show’ Driving for a New Audience

KABC radio, the ruling giant of Los Angeles’ AM airwaves, will make a major change in its afternoon “drive-time” broadcasting bloc when the “Wink and Bill Show” show begins airing from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday starting Tuesday.

The new “magazine format” show features a blend of features, news, talk and sports, hosted by broadcasting veterans Wink Martindale and Bill Smith and supplemented by a regular cast of 11 reporters and commentators.

The big question: Why is this relatively drastic schedule change being implemented in a time slot where the 3-hour-long “Sportstalk” has reigned supreme for the last 14 years?

That call-in sports program will be trimmed from three hours to one, airing 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Fred Wallin will be the sole host, with former co-host Stu Nahan contributing “Stu’s Views” to the “Wink and Bill Show.” Additionally, Dr. Dean Edell’s hourlong program is moving from weekdays at 3 p.m. to Saturday from 3 to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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Some radio insiders have speculated that KABC’s (790) switch was prompted at least partially by KFI-AM’s (640) changeover to a mostly talk format in July 1988.

With only a 1.3 share--or 22,800 listeners age 12 and older, according to Arbitron--of the L.A. radio market during the key 3-to-7 p.m. drive time, KFI is hardly giving the 3.9-share, 69,500-listener KABC a run for its money--yet. Still, though radio ratings for the post-July period won’t be available until later this week, some observers speculate that KFI’s controversial talk-show host Tom Leykis is making inroads in KABC’s afternoon audience.

“Sportstalk has been around for years. You don’t just junk that,” said another observer, who declined to be named. “KABC also switched its morning schedule around recently (extending “The Ken and Bob Company,” and moving Michael Jackson’s talk show back one hour to 10 a.m.). I’m tempted to say these changes came because of KFI, and not just out of the blue. It seems like reaction, rather than planned action.”

But KABC General Manager George Green insisted that the “Wink and Bill Show” is not a countermove to any specific format changes at competing stations. “We are not responding to a 1.3 station--someone who is hardly making the ratings books,” Green said about KFI. “They’re just beginning in a talk-radio format.”

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Though, he conceded, “competition makes you reflect on what you do. You have a 50,000-watt radio station out there--KFI. (KABC has only 5,000 watts.) And they’re trying to get better, I would think. It’s not a race at this point, though it may be down the road. But their presence certainly made me more aware of the fact that we have got to make ourselves better, because if you look behind you, somebody wants your position.

“In terms of advertising revenue, KABC is the No. 1 station in Los Angeles and will probably be No. 1 in the country (when figures are totaled for 1988). We have the funds to pour into a product. So where other AM stations are pulling back and cutting out and duplicating and simulcasting, we’re moving ahead and offering L.A. something fresh,” Green said.

KFI general manager Howard Neal was also hesitant to tout Leykis’ afternoon show, which started in July, as the catalyst that spurred changes at KABC. “It’s too early to tell how Leykis’ show is doing, though it’s had some bright spots,” he said. “He isn’t the kind of host people are going to love overnight.

“I don’t necessarily think KABC is trying to counter Leykis, but rather take what has been successful with their (“The Ken and Bob Company”) morning show and extend it into their afternoon slot,” Neal said.

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KABC’s Green hopes the station’s new show will increase listenership by retaining “Sportstalk” fans while drawing more female listeners with features such as entertainment news by Nancy Nelson and life-style reports by Ciji Ware. According to Arbitron spokeswoman Nan Meyers, KFI “did a pinch better” than KABC in the last measured quarterly ratings period for the 3 to 7 p.m. slot among female radio listeners aged 25 to 54 (a primary talk-radio target audience).

“You try to have a rather substantial number of women listeners--especially from about 25 to age 55 or 60--because they’re the one who do quite a bit of shopping,” Chuck Yeager, KFWB-AM (980) program director, noted.

KFWB’s own research has shown that family and child-rearing topics--one targeted focus of the “Wink and Bill” show--are a particularly strong draw, especially for female listeners, Yeager added. “Family well-being and ways to improve family life is the issue.”

Chuck Southcott, KMPC-AM (710) program director, said his station’s recent beefing up of its afternoon sports schedule might have caused some concern at KABC, but because the station just expanded its sports-talk show 2 1/2 months ago, it’s too soon to tell. “Or, they could have decided that sports wasn’t a dominant factor during that time of day and that two stations doing it wasn’t necessary,” he said. KMPC airs “adult standards” music from 1 to 5 p.m., followed by “Sportsline” from 5 to 7 p.m., with Jim Healy’s popular half-hour commentary sandwiched in the middle of the sports show.

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“I think running ‘Sportstalk’ from 6 to 7 p.m., when they’re going to miss a large portion of the drive-time audience, is going to hurt KABC,” said Allen Gantman, vice president of Eastman Radio, a company that sells advertising for radio stations across the country, including local stations KLAC-AM and KZLA-FM.

“From what I understand, this is a move to get more female listeners, plus sprinkle some sports in as well, to try to get the best of both worlds,” Gantman said. “But I’m dubious. I don’t think women are going to flock to KABC. There are plenty of alternative stations in this town.”

While none of KABC’s main AM competitors questioned by The Times appeared indifferent to the programming move, none voiced undue concern about the station’s afternoon programming switch. “It’s not something that we’d program against, because we will not change our format, which is breaking news,” said KFWB’s Yeager. “We can only counter by doing our job better.”

“This will be quite a departure for KABC,” observed Robert Sims, program director of KNX-AM (1070), another news-focus station. “The question is whether they will be able to hang onto the audience they have--a fairly decent late-afternoon audience--by making this switch.”

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Sims also suggested that winning listeners’ favor with new programming is still a hit-and-miss endeavor.

“Anybody who tells you that this will work and that won’t work in radio is kidding themselves,” he said. “The bulk of these things are done with gut feelings about what you think will sound fine and serve your listeners. It’s trial and error.”


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