A New Spin on Programming


We've got radio on AM and FM and, thanks to the Internet, on WWW. But more and more these days, radio's happening on CD.

There's a boom of Southland radio stations, shows and personalities releasing CDs of material recorded on the air, running the gamut from KIIS-FM (102.7) morning man Rick Dees' collection of his inane, juvenile "Spousal Arousal" bits to an upcoming set of ace singer-songwriter performances taped live on the enduring "FolkScene" program on community-supported KPFK-FM (90.7).

Some are meant to bring in the bucks: The November release of "Mark & Brian: You Had to Be There," a double CD featuring musical performances and comedy segments from the KLOS-FM (95.5) morning pair's decade on the station, has passed the 100,000 sales mark and raised more than $300,000 for the Make a Wish Foundation and the Mark & Brian/KLOS Scholarship Fund.

The " '97 Star Lounge Collection" of music performed live on KYSR-FM (Star 98.7) brought in more than $60,000 for the Victory Over Violence anti-child-abuse organization, selling out its limited-edition run of 15,000 copies almost instantly.

A set of segments from Phil Hendrie's unique KFI-AM (640) farce also sold out its pressing, raising the same amount for My Friend's Place, a Hollywood center for troubled teens.

Other recent charity releases include KROQ-FM (106.7) morning show "Kevin & Bean's" annual Christmas release (on CD for the first time last year) and a second volume of material from "John London & the House Party" on KKBT-FM (92.3).

Others, though, are meant merely as souvenirs for fans, such as the just-available "Mr. KABC: Greatest Hits," a limited edition that the pseudonymous KABC-AM (790) evening host is giving away to listeners attending personal appearances.

"It's sort of just designed to reinforce listening," says Mr. KABC of his CD, which features the three show theme songs written and performed by Dave Seal and a few on-air exchanges with callers and guests. "The idea was to make it a real keepsake for the die-hard fans, people who in some cases will drive halfway across the county to get one."

Josh Weiland, producer of Hendrie's show, recounts similar experiences.

"The best thing to come out of it, besides the money for charity, is that Phil got to do so many public appearances and meet so many fans," he says. "We had more than 400 people show up two nights before Christmas, coming from all over."

Ruth Seymour, general manager of KCRW-FM (89.9), was thrilled to be able to purchase a copy of one of her station's "Rare of Air" series of in-studio musical performances nearly halfway around the world.

"I bought one in London at the Tower Records on Piccadilly Circus," she says of the series drawn from Chris Douridas' "Morning Becomes Eclectic." A fourth volume for the Mammoth Records label is in the works. "It was really thrilling," Seymour said, "and just like [former music executive] Joe Smith told me to do, I moved copies of it from the back of the bins up to the front."

And yet, at the core, the value she sees in the venture isn't too different from Mr. KABC's view.

"It puts us in the world," she says.

However, even the 100,000 figure for the Mark & Brian release is a pretty small piece of the world on the record business scale.

What they have in common is that they're cheap and, for the most part, easy to produce. The material is already recorded, so production costs are limited to editing, mixing, mastering and physically manufacturing the discs and packaging. And with the latest technological developments, even that is a simple process.

"I did the editing and all that myself on a home minidisc system," says Mr. KABC. "So the cost was minimal. And the cost of [CD pressing] these days is pretty low--well under $3 a copy, because we're not paying any talent fees."

That puts them not out of line with such common promotional items as T-shirts and mugs. And even the music-heavy releases are not really any more expensive, because the artists involved waive their royalties for the charity or fund-raising projects.

"We sent out 24 requests to artists to use their material and we got 24 positive responses," Roz Larman, who with husband Howard has hosted "FolkScene" for the last 28 years, says of the album, to be released next month by the St. Paul-based folk specialist label Red House.

"Nobody turned us down," she says. "This is a charity in a way, benefiting both the station and the show. It's a no-budget program. All the years we have paid all the expenses. So this is nice."

What it really comes down to in the end, though, may be the basic motivation cited by KABC's Stephanie Miller, as she contemplates releasing a CD to coincide with the upcoming move of her show into national syndication.

"Fans are always calling, asking for tapes of bits," she says. "Obviously that's not possible to do for everyone who asks, so with a CD they can have some of the best moments."

Wide-Screen Radio: How can a radio station devote full coverage to the Academy Awards without being able to show film clips? Simple--play the music, take listener calls predicting the winners and assessing the competition and hold an on-air Oscar quiz.

Cal State Northridge public station KCSN-FM (88.5) is doing all of the above Monday, from 6 a.m. until the 6 p.m. show time. Of course, given that this is show business, the event is also meant as a station fund-raiser, with CDs of all five of this year's nominated dramatic scores available as premiums.

Meanwhile, KCSN General Manager Rene Engle has made the revival of his own "Citybilly" a welcome addition to weekend programming. Engle started the music program in the '80s at KCRW and then moved to KPCC-FM (89.3), offering consistently top-flight choices from the world of country and country-influenced music--as the name implies.

The basic philosophy is summed up by Engle's rule that every installment must include one song by each of five musical pillars: Patsy Cline, Merle Haggard, Lefty Frizzell, Emmylou Harris and Bob Dylan. Airing on Sundays, 5 to 7 p.m., "Citybilly" caps off what he terms the "Americana weekend," which also includes "The Grateful Dead Hour" and a newly expanded bluegrass show.

Arbi-Trary: Ever wonder how the Arbitron people select who they're going to include in their regular surveys of radio listeners, which determine station ratings? Not very carefully, apparently.

A recent call from an Arbitron staffer looking for people to keep a weeklong log of radio listening included a question designed to screen out people who work for broadcasters but no question aimed at someone who deals with radio professionally in other capacities--a journalist who writes a radio column in a major daily paper, for example.

So, with no lies having to be told, this writer soon received logs for his household to fill out, plus a fee of a nice, crisp dollar bill each. The coverage period already ended, however, so all you station managers can forget about calling to sway the numbers.

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