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Sale of Fallbrook Station Reflects a Trend in Radio

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Owner Bob Jacobson grew philosophical as he reflected on his decision, announced last week, to sell KMLO-FM (107.1) to a Northern California-based chain of radio stations.

“I think radio today belongs to the big players,” Jacobson said. “The day of the mom-and-pop radio station is over.”

KMLO was the only station licensed by the Federal Communications Commission to serve this small, quiet North County city. The Palo Alto-based Douglas Broadcasting is buying the station for about $1.2 million.

The new owners plan to use the station to simulcast programming offered by KMAX-FM, a station it owns in Arcadia. The company recently purchased a station in Ventura for the same purpose. All three stations broadcast at 107.1, although their signals are not powerful enough to conflict with each other.

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KMAX currently broadcasts a mix of Asian, black and Latino programming. John Douglas, president of Douglas Broadcasting, which also owns three stations in Northern California, acknowledged that the company is considering other formats.

The purchase typifies a trend in the radio business. The number of small, community-oriented stations is dwindling as bigger companies look to expand their audiences.

“It really is an inevitable trend,” said KGB-FM (101.5) promotions director Scott Chatfield, who worked at KMLO earlier in his career and fondly remembers broadcasting Fallbrook election forums and other community events.

“These mini-conglomerates are going to be a much bigger part of broadcasting,” he said.

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Fallbrook National Bank President Steve Wacknitz compared the purchase to recent events in the banking industry, where larger banks are buying up or merging with smaller banks.

“I think (KMLO) will be missed, I really do,” Wacknitz said.

Fallbrook will lose the community orientation that KMLO offered; it was Fallbrook’s only station specifically geared toward local issues, and it often participated in area events, from community fairs to politics.

“The station will lose its personality, undoubtedly,” said John Schmidt, general manager of Pala Mesa Resort, which frequently advertised on the station. “KMLO was always a nice, small, community-type station.”

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Jacobson will close down the operation Sept. 16 while he awaits final approval of the sale, which should take 60 to 90 days. The move will put the station’s 10 full-time and two part-time employees out of work. They were informed of the impending sale and shutdown a week ago.

“I was surprised at the shortness of notice given” to employees, said acting program director and morning personality Mike Dean. But he expressed no bitterness, calling the sale “part of the business.”

Although the decision to close the station suggests financial trouble, Jacobson, 61, said the main factor in his decision was his health. He recently underwent two angioplasty procedures to relieve pressure on his heart.

Jacobson purchased the station for $850,000 in January, 1989, from North County Communications. Using a light form of adult contemporary music, he tried to market KMLO as a community station. He established a “pet patrol” to help find missing pets and regularly broadcast calendars of community and cultural events.

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“Bob (Jacobson) has always been attuned to the local people and the Fallbrook area,” said Wacknitz, the bank president.

But Jacobson acknowledges that community support of the station was never what he hoped it would be.

People “might be disappointed” about the sale of the station, he said, “but frankly they’ve never supported the station with advertising. I don’t think they fully realized what they had.”

KMLO’s ability to reach the rapidly growing Temecula Valley makes the station particularly appealing to broadcasters. Although the station will certainly lose some of its community orientation, John Douglas downplayed the change.

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“When you hear the signal, it doesn’t say, ‘This is Whitney Houston in Fallbrook,’ ” he said, suggesting that listeners tune in simply for the music.


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