Deejays get paid to talk through anything. But at the end of her on-air shift Tuesday, Nicole Sandler choked.
The Kinks wound down “Around the Dial” and as she started into a goodbye to listeners and co-workers at KSCA-FM (101.9), Sandler’s voice cracked. For a moment, before she put on Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road,” she stopped speaking altogether.
“I really did lose it,” she said later. “I never break down on the air like this.”
She wasn’t the only one. But Tuesday was a highly emotional day for Sandler and other deejays at KSCA because they hadn’t just worked at the station, they had built its format--a combination of new and classic rock, acoustic and electric. And at midnight Tuesday, the 2 1/2-year experiment was over.
KSCA was bought by Heftel Broadcasting Corp., a unit of San Antonio-based Clear Channel Communications, which runs mostly Spanish-language radio stations, including KLVE--FM (107.5), the most popular station in Los Angeles.
Starting Wednesday, KSCA was to change to a “Mexican regional” music format, similar to that of KLAX-FM (97.9).
A still emotional Sandler got some better news an hour after ending her show at 1 p.m.: a job offer from a music industry magazine.
“I’m still sad,” she said. “Driving into the station, it was like that feeling of driving to the hospital to see a friend who’s dying.”
No throngs of fans crowded the nondescript office building next to Burbank where the station was based. Instead, mournful listeners called. They faxed. And they e-mailed.
Sandler said she had to stop taking calls after a while. The sound of crying fans made her tear up as well.
One faithful listener, Dietricha Sweeney, did walk into the office and wound up on the air. She had suffered a severe head injury two years ago. Though she had loved music, the injury left her with a painful sensitivity to sound. To combat it, she would force herself to listen to the radio.
“The first time I was able to really listen to music and feel that love again, I was listening to this station,” she said. “And I never changed the station.”
For the station’s last day, program director Mike Morrison gave each of the deejays one- or two-hour blocks to play whatever they pleased. He encouraged them to put listeners on the air. Several musicians, including rocker Melissa Etheridge, called to say they would miss the station.
The purchase of the 5,000-watt station from cowboy star and businessman Gene Autry and his wife, Jackie, for $112 million is fairly typical of trends in radio today, said radio consultant Allen S. Klein, president of Media Research Graphics in Encino.
Since radio ownership restrictions were loosened by Congress a year ago, big firms have been snapping up radio stations to “position themselves with more than one property in each market,” he said.
That is driving prices up, so there is more pressure on stations to build mass market appeal, boost advertising revenues and pay off big debts, Klein said. KSCA made modest profits last year, but not enough to satisfy these new radio economics, said Robert Lyles, KSCA’s marketing director.
Although nearly a third of the city’s residents are Spanish-speaking, according to the last U.S. census, only 10 of the 50 radio stations in Los Angeles offer programming in Spanish. And Spanish-format stations claim less than a 20% share of the city’s $500-million-per-year radio advertising market, Klein said.
“KSCA is a darling of the industry. It has a small, loyal, very upscale audience, ages 25 to 54, and virtually all white,” Klein said. “But it isn’t a mass appeal format. They could never make it grow.”