DJ voices in tune with the standards

Special to The Times

If they hear Gary Owens in the afternoon introducing a Frank Sinatra song with an odd joke, or Geoff Edwards making quips about morning traffic, radio listeners can be forgiven if they think they're in a time warp back to the mid-1960s.

But both of the longtime Los Angeles DJs will be back on the air within 10 days -- returning after years of being off the local airwaves and immediately joining a fierce competition between the two adult standards stations.

Owens is already working afternoons at KLAC-AM (570), "The Fabulous 570" that parent Clear Channel Communications switched in December from talk to standards, with a decades-spanning playlist that encompasses artists ranging from Ella Fitzgerald to Norah Jones.

And Feb. 3, Edwards starts a 6-to-10 a.m. weekday show on KSUR-AM (1260), "The Surf," which has been airing its standards format since March and whose owner has accused the corporate giant Clear Channel of muscling in on its turf.

"L.A. radio can sometimes get very stodgy and stale. I love that there are two stations going against each other," Edwards said. "We're gonna bury 'em."

KSUR owner Saul Levine said that Edwards' hiring isn't necessarily part of the new station rivalry and that he's been planning for months to tweak a morning show, which now will feature Edwards and Lisa Osborne, with the longtime traffic reporter doing news reports and serving as Edwards' sidekick.

"This man has such an incredible sense of humor and such a relaxed style," Levine said. "We feel there's a need in the market for a general-service, general-appeal morning show for adults. For the 40-plus listener, there really isn't much in the market."

Edwards and Owens worked together at KMPC-AM, the Gene Autry-owned popular music station that was a powerhouse of local airwaves from the 1950s through the 1970s. Edwards worked mornings at KFI-AM (640) from 1966 to 1968 before going to KMPC for 11 years. He moved over to television, hosting the game shows "Jackpot" and "Treasure Hunt." He last was on the radio in 1989, on KFI.

Most recently he's worked as a travel writer. He said he returned from a Tahitian cruise to find a message from Levine. "The next day by noon, I was enslaved again," he joked.

During Owens' 20 years at KMPC, he was the Southland's top afternoon personality. But generations of listeners around the country know his voice from innumerable TV appearances: everything from his stint as the ear-cupping announcer on "Laugh-In" to his serving as the cartoon voice of Space Ghost and Powdered Toast Man on the "Ren & Stimpy Show."

KLAC program director Brad Chambers said he wanted Owens in the lineup when the station first started using disc jockeys on Jan. 6, citing his heritage and credibility.

KLAC and KSUR also seem to be battling for the offspring of artists they're playing. On KLAC, Mel Torme's daughter, Daisy, is working the 4-to-7 p.m. shift, telling stories about her late father, his career and the performers he worked with.

The station is also planning a program to be hosted by Frank Sinatra Jr. Meanwhile, Nancy Sinatra is slated to host a weekly program on "The Surf" starting Feb. 9, Levine said.

"I think it's wonderful. It's great for radio," Levine said. "Competition is a great thing. Even the Russian people found that out. It gets you out of complacency."


Programming still mostly man's job

More than half of the radio stations in the country offer formats aimed primarily at women, but only 1 in 10 of those have women making the programming decisions, according to a new census of female managers in radio. The annual survey by a group called the Most Influential Women in Radio found that women occupy top management positions at only 19% of radio stations nationwide.

Among stations in the top 100 markets, the percentage of female general managers rose from 13% in 2000 to 17% this year.

Joan Gerberding, spokeswoman for the group and president of Nassau Media Partners, noted that, of the more than 11,000 stations nationwide that they surveyed, 53% play formats aimed at women, such as contemporary hits rather than the male-directed classic rock. But only 10% of those stations -- the same figure as in 2000 -- have female program directors.

Women do occupy high-profile positions at many Southland stations. For example, Val Maki is general manager of the market's top-rated station, KPWR-FM (105.9), "Power 106," as well as its sister station, KZLA-FM (93.9). Nancy Leichter is general manager of KKBT-FM (100.3), "The Beat." In addition, Rita Wilde is program director at KLOS-FM (95.5), Crys Quimby is director of news and programming for KFWB-AM (980) and Robin Bertolucci is director of AM programming for Clear Channel in Los Angeles, overseeing KLAC, KFI and KXTA-AM (1150).

Also, the general managers of the area's four major public radio stations are all women: Judy Jankowski at KKJZ-FM (88.1), Cindy Young at KPCC-FM (89.3), Ruth Seymour at KCRW-FM (89.9) and Brenda Barnes at KUSC-FM (91.5).

But Leichter noted that she and Maki are the only women running large commercial stations in Los Angeles. "I don't want to seem negative about this at all, because I'm very happy with my position," she said. But "I do think it took me longer as a woman than it probably would have as a white man."

Gerberding's group formed in 1999, after industry magazine Radio Ink named the 20 most influential women in radio, and those on the list decided to get together "and do something with this newfound fame," she said. Among other things, they formed a mentoring program to nurture women breaking into the business.

"These companies have been run by men for a long time. Maybe that's the network of people they're used to. Those things take a long time to change," Leichter said. "Once there are women in those positions, the network changes."

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