Rich Returns With New Spin on Old Idea : Radio: Bobby Rich says the new ‘Rich Brothers’ on KRMX will be a contrast to the more risque morning shows in town.
Once the king of the San Diego radio heap, Bobby Rich is sitting in a La Jolla restaurant explaining how the resurrected “Rich Brothers” concept will help bring ratings and credibility to the recently revamped KRMX-FM (94.9).
A big man, Rich is sporting his familiar beard, and he’s wearing what can only be described as Bobby-Wear--a light blue shirt, dark blue tie with little Teddy Bears on it, blue jeans and red high-top sneakers with yellow shoelaces. It is the look of a young executive in a state of arrested adolescence--which is how San Diegans have viewed Rich, off and on, for 15 years.
The new Rich Brothers will be only vaguely related to the old Rich Brothers, Rich says, just as the 38-year-old Rich is different than the Bobby Rich who first started programing KFMB-FM (B100) in 1974. Scott Kenyon, hired away from KKOS-FM in Carlsbad, is the only Rich Brother joining Rich at KRMX from the “B-Morning Zoo” lineup on B100, which was the most popular morning show in San Diego in the mid-'80s.
“The new Rich Brothers are definitely calmer, more mature, definitely less silly,” Rich says. “There are no funny noses. We’re even more like normal people.”
The “B-Morning Zoo featuring the Rich Brothers” featured a wacky, hip, scatter-fire approach that struck a chord with B100’s young, upwardly mobile audience. By 1989, though, the audience was diminishing and Rich left to take a job in Seattle.
“We were getting tired,” Rich says of the B-Morning Zoo. “It was ready to be revamped, and I was working on things that would have rejuvenated it” before leaving for Seattle.
Establishing the morning show is only one of the challenges facing Rich, who also serves as the program director for KRMX, which was known as KKYY-FM (Y95) until earlier this month. Faced with consistently mediocre ratings, in mid-January Sandusky Radio began firing almost all of the station’s key employees, including the general manager, program director and morning show.
Rich, who had reached an “amicable” separation from the Seattle station just a few days before the Y95 bloodletting became official, was hired by Sandusky to implement a new musical format, featuring the “the right mix of the ‘70s, ‘80s and today.”
Although that is just so much radio rhetoric to most listeners, Sandusky is attempting to place the station somewhere between the light tunes of KJQY (Sunny 103) and the adult contemporary format of Rich’s old employer, B100. The “new mix” features up-tempo pop standards by artists ranging from the Supremes to Elton John.
Rich is preaching that KRMX will be the home of “good, clean fun,” and that the new “Rich Brothers” will be a contrast to the more risque morning shows in town.
“Our idea of success will be to have a 35-year-old woman driving her 9-year-old and 15-year-old to school and have all of them not only find reasons to be entertained by the station, but also not to be embarrassed,” Rich says.
A veteran of the industry, Rich is accustomed to challenges. In 1973, he left popular KHJ in Los Angeles to become operations manager of KFMB-AM. A year later, general manager Paul Palmer tabbed Rich to convert the FM station from a beautiful music format to an adult contemporary station, B100.
Rich helped put the station on the San Diego radio map, leaving in 1979 to take a program director job in New York City. He bounced back to Los Angeles for stints at KHTZ and KFI before returning to B100 in 1984.
He came back with the idea of doing a multipersonality morning show, four individuals playing off of each other, doing skits and routines. The “B-Morning Zoo” soon became the top-rated morning show in San Diego. The quartet, which included Rich, Kenyon, Frank Anthony and Pat Gaffey, was a familiar sight at community events, San Diego Padres games and anywhere else they could be seen, including local television.
By 1989, though, with increased competition and changing community attitudes, the Zoo’s popularity was clearly waning. Its ratings had fallen into the middle of the pack. John Lynch, head of Noble Broadcasting, which operates XTRA locally, offered Rich the opportunity to be general manager of KMGI in Seattle, near where Rich grew up. Many believed that Lynch, a former KFMB employee, purposely hired Rich to damage his long-time rival, Palmer.
“I’m sure it was a factor,” Rich says of the rivalry, but he believes it was only a small part of the equation. He took the job for the opportunity to be a general manager.
“What brought me there was the opportunity that I didn’t think would ever exist in this town,” Rich says. “Plus, Seattle is a special town for me.”
After Rich left, B100 continued with the B-Morning Zoo for about six months before disbanding it and hiring “Jeff and Jer"--Jeff Elliott and Jerry St. James--from Y95.
“I think the Rich Brothers with four players could have continued,” Palmer says. “But when Bobby left it wasn’t the same.”
In Seattle, things didn’t work out the way Rich planned. As part of the terms of his contract settlement with Noble, Rich can’t discuss any details of his separation from KMGI, but he emphasized that he and Lynch are still on good terms.
“We were both frustrated by the inability to breakthrough the way we expected we could,” Rich says.
At KRMX, Rich is inheriting a station that has had problems breaking through for several years.
“We have never accomplished what we wanted to accomplish in San Diego,” Sandusky Radio president Norman Rau says. “It’s the one market that is really a thorn in my side.”
Industry insiders wonder if Rich and the “right mix” is enough of a niche to support the radio station. The multivoice zoo concept has faded in popularity all around the country.
Rich counters that he has learned some lessons from his recent experiences, and, above all, he knows San Diego.
“After doing something for five years, you learn a lot,” Rich says. “I had an opportunity not only to learn what we were doing right, but what we were doing wrong.”
Upon his return to San Diego, Rich evaluated the local morning shows and came to his own conclusions. There are three areas he believes the Rich Brothers can address to counter the current mishmash of prankster-style morning teams.
“What I’ve identified is that most morning shows talk a lot, so we’ll play a lot of music,” he says. “Many of them also feature off-color or gross content, so we will have good, clean fun.” Extensive traffic reports will be the other area spotlighted by the station.
“Those three things will be the key,” Rich says.
It is more than a little ironic that Rich has returned to do battle with, among others, “Jeff and Jer,” the team that supplanted the Rich Brothers at B100. Rich has nothing but praise for all the morning shows in town, but his competitive streak, his desire to be No. 1, is clearly visible.
“I didn’t come here to build a low-rise office building,” Rich says. “I came here to build a skyscraper.”
Rich also realizes he gave something up when he left San Diego two years ago. He now understands the security of spending time in a city, forming a relationship with an audience and a community.
The concept of “good, clean fun” may not set the world on fire, he acknowledges, but it fits into his long-term goals.
“I don’t want to move again,” he says. “I’d rather come here and be remembered as a nice guy on the radio.
“I don’t care if they say I’m a young Pat Boone. I’ll last.”