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KFI-AM Dips Into Sacramento Well for Talk-Show Format

Times Staff Writer

Completing its two-year transformation from pop music to all-talk, KFI-AM (640) has raided a Sacramento radio station to recruit a new morning talk team and a new news director in an effort to compete head-to-head with Los Angeles’ three current news/talk stations.

Terri-Rae Elmer and David Grosby, the agricultural reporter and sportscaster, respectively, at all-news/talk KFBK-AM in the state’s capital, will replace KFI morning veterans Gary Owens and Al Lohman in their 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday time slot beginning July 17.

KFBK’s news director, David Hall, will also switch to KFI at the same time, signaling a ratings strategy that will attempt to lure listeners from all-news KNX-AM (1070) and KFWB-AM (980) as well as KFI’s arch-rival talk station, KABC-AM (790), Southern California’s top-rated AM station. Hall will replace Dave Blake, who was fired with Owens and Lohman last week.

Elmer’s husband, KFBK weatherman Gerry Wallace, has also signed on with KFI, but will remain in Sacramento until he has sold the couple’s home and a photo finishing business they operate.

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“Part of KFBK’s big mistake, I guess, was that they didn’t have any of us under contract,” Elmer, 32, told The Times on Monday. “We were free to come and go.”

KFI program director George Oliva, himself a KFBK graduate who moved to KFI at the beginning of this year, was not available Monday for comment on the latest moves. He did instruct KFI publicist Mike Venema to release the following statement:

“Having Grosby, Elmer and Hall on board at KFI reflects our commitment to increased credibility and competitiveness in the talk radio arena.”

Since KFI began phasing music out and phasing talk radio in two years ago, station management has attempted to increase credibility and competitiveness by adding to its lineup tabloid talk jock Tom Leykis, curmudgeonly talk-show host Rush Limbaugh and psychologist Toni Grant.

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Despite the changes, the powerful (50,000 watts) station has continued to flounder in the quarterly Aribtron ratings. KFI has failed to climb into the ranks of the 20 most-listened-to stations despite frequent advertising campaigns and publicity stunts, such as Limbaugh’s plan to bus the homeless to Malibu and Leykis’ much-publicized destruction of several dozen Cat Stevens records earlier this year.

(Leykis railed against Stevens, now a Muslim, for his approval of the late Ayatollah Khomeini’s death sentence against novelist Salman Rushdie and urged listeners to send him old Stevens albums so that he could publicly destroy them.)

Owens and Lohman remain under contract to KFI, but don’t expect to return to the air following their final show on July 14. Lohman, currently on vacation near Palm Springs, will probably not return to the air at all.

“We were humorists and entertainment-oriented folks, so basically with the news format change, they (management) felt it was not cohesive with their new all-talk programming,” Owens said. “There will be no music on the station at all.”

Elmer said she was uncertain how the new morning program will operate, though she hopes to bring her agricultural expertise with her to KFI.

“I’m real big on poison cheese and poison watermelon issues,” she said with a laugh. “It’ll be interesting to watch the water issue from down there too.”

Grosby, who did play-by-play for the Sacramento Kings while at KFBK, has worked with Elmer as his afternoon sidekick at the station for the past six months.

Wallace plans to syndicate his weather reports to KFI, KFBK and a Modesto station.

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