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New Year Brings New Identity for KIEV

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

On New Year’s Day, conservative all-talk station KIEV-AM (870) officially changed to KRLA, reviving the call letters that had been at 1110 on the AM dial since 1959. But at the new KRLA, the name change is taking some getting used to. KRLA’s receptionist drops a quarter in a jar on her desk every time she answers the phone “K-I-E-V.”

"[Tuesday] she had to pay $2 to work at the station,” chuckled station spokeswoman Mary Anderson-Harris.

It was only last month that Los Angeles radio station KRLA-AM changed its format and call letters, and no doubt many listeners thought the long-time institution was gone for good. As it happens, KRLA has only moved--a little to the left on the radio dial, and a little to the right on the political spectrum.

“The call letters are legendary in Los Angeles, and we didn’t want them to leave,” said Dave Armstrong, vice president and general manager of KIEV/KRLA, as well as the other four Glendale-based stations owned by Salem Communications Corp. In addition, he said, “our belief is that KRLA is far better known than the KIEV call letters are. It at least gives you a higher level of recognition.”

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The name became available last month, after Infinity Broadcasting Corp. sold KRLA-AM (1110) to the Walt Disney Co., and the latter changed the station from all-talk to one of its ESPN Radio all-sports outlets. Along with the format change Dec. 1 came a new name, KSPN.

That same day, Salem’s attorney in Washington, D.C., applied to the Federal Communications Commission to let KIEV have the old call letters, Armstrong said. There was no charge, only paperwork to file. And because KIEV was the first to ask, at 6 a.m. during its Jan. 1 Rose Parade broadcast, the station made it official, announcing it was now “News Talk 870, the New KRLA, Your Legendary Talk Station.”

“When KRLA became available, you had an opportunity to get call letters already well-known in the marketplace,” Armstrong said. “I don’t think people listen to a station necessarily because of what the call letters are. The loyalty is to the programming. But for the people who don’t know, who haven’t discovered the station, the call letters offer more recognition.”

Now the station will “start fresh and relaunch,” he said, with changes in commercials, community events to raise its profile and an advertising campaign designed to build toward spring ratings.

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When Salem bought KIEV in September 1998, it turned a station that primarily featured canned infomercials into one that now offers 22 hours of talk radio a day, with much of the programming originating locally. In the last six months, it has settled its lineup, with nationally known personalities Hugh Hewitt and Dennis Prager joining local hosts George Putnam and Larry Marino, as well as the syndicated show of conservative movie reviewer and commentator Michael Medved.

But that also means the new KRLA has no room or inclination to add two talk-radio hosts left without homes on Los Angeles airwaves when the old KRLA changed to sports--Don Imus and Michael Jackson. That, even though the station did bring over chef Jamie Gwen and her weekend cooking show from the old KRLA.

“We are a conservative talk station, so that’s consistent throughout the day,” Armstrong said.

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In addition, Salem owns the Medved, Prager and Hewitt shows, Armstrong said, “and Los Angeles is a very important market for all three of those programs. That’s why we wouldn’t put someone else in place of those.”

“I wish KIEV well,” said Jackson, an L.A. talk-radio fixture who said he’s weighing other options. “I’m so glad they got rid of those call letters. I’ve always thought it was funny that a right-wing station had the name of a Russian town [Kiev].”

Armstrong said there was no significance to the old name. To the founders of the station “the FCC said, ‘You have to pick four letters,’ and those are the four they picked.”

The old KRLA started as Pasadena-based KPAS in 1942, becoming KXLA in 1945 and then KRLA in 1959. Before it went to talk radio in 1998, KRLA was one of the main purveyors of Top 40 and pop music in Los Angeles for nearly 40 years. It featured Wolfman Jack, “the Real” Don Steele, Casey Kasem, Bob Eubanks, Charlie Tuna, Wink Martindale, Shadoe Stevens and many others among its disc jockeys. And it was the first station in Los Angeles to play the Beatles, bringing them to the Hollywood Bowl in the ‘60s.

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The same songs that were pop and Top 40 in the ‘50s and ‘60s became oldies, as KRLA continued playing them into the ‘70s and ‘80s. Then in November 1998, the station changed with the tide that had carried almost all music to the FM dial, leaving AM mainly to talk radio.

For Salem, capturing a station name it wants is nothing new. The Camarillo-based company that owns more than 70 stations nationwide and is best known for its Christian music and talk programming, debuted “The Fish,” KFSH-FM (95.9) in Orange County in August. Wanting to name the Contemporary Christian music station after the traditional symbol of Christianity, the fish, Salem bought the rights to KFSH from an AM station in Alaska for $10,000, Armstrong said.

The new/old name, KRLA, “is obviously more appropriate,” Jackson said. “And I’m glad that the call sign is being preserved. I hope it wears it well. We need some good talk radio.”


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