Less than five months after knocking classical music off the air in favor of rock music, KKBT-FM has had to change formats because of dismal ratings.
KKBT(92.3), which rose from the ashes of classical KFAC last September, had called itself "rock with a beat" and played contemporary hits. Despite a major advertising campaign and comedian Paul Rodriguez's stint as morning deejay, KKBT plummeted in the ratings and was dubbed by another Los Angeles station executive as "the biggest ratings disaster ever."
The station dropped from 22nd place as KFAC to 36th as KKBT in the most recent Arbitron ratings survey, attracting just 0.4 % of the audience, or about 6,800 people listening during any given quarter hour period.
Despite that poor showing, KKBT general manager Jim de Castro denied last month that the station would change formats. "We're going to stick to our guns," De Castro had said in January, just after the ratings were released. "There are no massive major changes planned at all."
But last Saturday night, without any announcement or explanation to listeners, KKBT did introduce a new format, which it calls "urban contemporary," featuring such artists as Milli Vanilli, Bobby Brown, Paula Abdul, Janet Jackson, Luther Vandross and Anita Baker. It also dropped all deejays from the air.
"Through a lot of research and refinement, we've kind of decided to evolve FM 92 into hopefully the newest urban contemporary in the market," De Castro explained Monday. "The sound is the most popular form of music today and we've done research that supports that an urban format would be the easiest and fastest way to excel in the market."
The change was a subtle one that may have not been noticed initially by listeners.
"There's a fair amount of music that's the same, about 25-30%," De Castro said. "I think it's an evolution as much as it is a change."
Research also had been cited by De Castro when he scrapped KFAC's classical music format and introduced KKBT's eclectic mix that included such artists as Fine Young Cannibals, David Bowie, New Kids on the Block, Stevie Wonder and Miami Sound Machine. The station, bought by Evergreen Media Corp. for $55 million, had spent $2 million in advertising in preparation for its debut on Sept. 20.
"We were a little too wide; we were trying to please too many people," De Castro said this week.
"I think their research was ill-founded and their arrogance excessive," said Ellen Stern Harris, co-founder of the Committee for Classical Music, which was formed to protest the station's changeover.
Industry analysts said that it was clear that a change needed to be made.
"They have to put a lot into it because they spent a lot of money on that radio station," said Encino-based consultant Allan Klein. "The jury's going to be out for the next six months . . . but urban stations in other markets have done very well.
Other urban contemporary stations in Southern California include KACE-FM (103.9), KDAY-AM (1580), KGFJ-AM (1230) and KJLH-FM (102.3). De Castro maintains that KKBT's strong signal of 43,000 watts will enable it to reach more listeners than the other FM stations.