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The Sun Threatens to Set on British Radio Comedy

Times Staff Writer

In Los Angeles, and in other big cities, radio stations come and go. They are bought and sold, and their program formats are refashioned with the drop of an Arbitron ratings point.

But those facts of broadcasting life developed a new wrinkle recently when Brian Clewer, longtime host of “Cynic’s Choice” (a 10 a.m. program dedicated to English comedy), felt compelled to make a serious on-the-air pitch to his listeners. His 20-year-old program on KFAC-AM would make its last broadcast Jan. 8, he announced, unless another AM station stepped forward to adopt the soon-to-be orphaned two-hour program.

The response was immediate and impassioned. “Help! Help! Save ‘Cynic’s Choice,’ my favorite radio program,” wrote William G. Barley of Van Nuys, one of more than two dozen listeners who sent written appeals to The Times. “Help get some station to bend its format to accept this program.”

“We Brits will be devastated if our link with home has to be severed!” wrote a melodramatic Ian Cunningham of Redondo Beach.

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“I must have my weekly fix of British comedy or I won’t be responsible for my actions,” Florence Reid of Hermosa Beach stated.

“Cynic’s Choice,” it turns out, had come out on the losing end of a three-way station-ownership shuffle that reflects how the rapid growth of Latino and Asian communities in Los Angeles is reshaping the linguistic landscape of local broadcasting.

Lotus Communication Inc., owners of all-Spanish KWKW-AM, recently bought KFAC-AM for $8.75 million to get its hands on the classic station’s stronger broadcast signal. Officials at KFAC said that they sold the AM station because 95% of their listeners now tune to KFAC on the FM band. KWKW, currently broadcasting on 1300 frequency, will begin broadcasting on KFAC-AM’s 1330 frequency Jan. 14. KWKW, in turn, was purchased by NetworksAmerica, which will be redubbed KAZN, a 24-hour station that will divide its air time among Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino and Vietnamese-language programming.

Officials at twin stations KFAC-FM and AM have acknowledged receiving several dozen telephone calls from irate listeners who have requested that KFAC-FM, which was not sold, add “Cynic’s Choice” to its entirely classical music format.

“We are committed to a 24-hour classical music format . . . we are not considering (any changes),” said a tactful Bob Goldfarb, station director of programming and operations. “I’m sorry that our FM station will not be there to serve this audience that has been so loyal.”

But those kind words haven’t lessened the sting for Clewer, who has had to face another major setback recently. The British native not only lost a home for his show but a roof over his travel, record and video rental businesses at the Ambassador Hotel, which closes its doors today.

Clewer said he has transplanted his businesses to a new Santa Monica location. Doing the same for his program, which draws from a 30,000-piece collection of hard-to-get commercial British comedy recordings, is another matter, he said.

“The AM stations with variety programming (KFI, KABC, KGIL or KMPC) that could air this show are not convinced that British comedy has much of an audience, but they are rather wrong,” he asserted. He acknowledged, however, that he has no figures to bolster his claim, because no ratings measurements are taken for Sunday radio shows.

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Still, Clewer insists that his audience is both large and growing. Half of it is North American, he said, the other half British, a community that official and unofficial sources estimate at between 250,000 to 500,000 for the Los Angeles area.

Judging from a few of the letters sent to The Times, however, Clewer’s plea seems to have also been answered with an anti-Spanish-language and anti-Mexican backlash.

One letter writer said Los Angeles doesn’t need more “endless Spanish-Mexican trash” on the air. Another said the area “needs another Mexican radio show like it needs another earthquake.”

Jim Kalmenson, KWKW’s vice president of sales and marketing, said the letters were based on several erroneous assumptions.

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“This is not a new station,” he said. “KWKW is simply moving up the dial” and will use KFAC’s stronger signal to expand its San Gabriel-based broadcast umbrella into the San Fernando Valley and the rapidly growing Latino communities in the South Bay area.

Finally, the KWKWs of the world are likely to increase, he predicted, because Spanish-language radio stations in the Los Angeles market are proportionately underrepresented. “Of 90 radio signals that reach into the Los Angles basin, six are Spanish-language stations. That represents only 6% of all the stations, while Hispanics represent at least one-third of the area’s total population.”

“In a capitalist society,” Kalmenson concluded, “businesses arise when there is a need. If any segment of society grows, an array of new media services will come forward to deal with (this group’s) needs. That’s the essence and beauty of a capitalist society.”


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