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One day a week, it’s music of the Beatles

Special to The Times

In 1985, Deirdre O’Donoghue began playing host of a Sunday-morning radio show in Los Angeles that was devoted to the music of the Beatles. During the next 15 years, “Breakfast With the Beatles” and the soothing, erudite voice of O’Donoghue became synonymous.

So when the veteran disc jockey passed away in January 2000 from complications connected to multiple sclerosis, it was hard to imagine another personality piloting the show.

Three years later, not only is “Breakfast With the Beatles” still a ratings winner at KLSX-FM (97.1), but two other local radio stations also program Sunday shows surrounding the timeless tunes of the Fab Four.

Acting on a rumor it had heard that KLSX might discontinue “Breakfast With the Beatles” following O’Donoghue’s death, public radio station KCSN-FM (88.5) at Cal State Northridge created its own show, called “Meet the Beatles” (10 a.m.-1 p.m.), in February 2001.

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Then, about a year ago, oldies station KRTH-FM (101.1) launched three Sunday programs: “Back to the Beatles” (8-9 a.m.) with Jim Carson; “The Beatle Years” with Bob Malik (9-10 a.m.); and “Beatles by Request” with Bo Woods (9-11 p.m.).

Meanwhile, KLSX has expanded, rather than contracted, its Beatles programming on Sundays. O’Donoghue was host of a two-hour show. New host Chris Carter oversees “Beatlewood” (8-9 a.m.), which features acoustic music by the band, then segues into four hours of “Breakfast With the Beatles” (9 a.m.-1 p.m.).

At least locally, it seems the Beatles have rarely been more popular since the English group disbanded way back in 1970.

“As much as I love the Rolling Stones and David Bowie, there will never be another Beatles,” Carter says. “The thing that shocks me is that people who were born in the ‘80s love the band the same way as people who grew up with them. Most of the time you have to kind of live through something to have that strong connection. But with the Beatles, I get 11-year-olds who tell me they love the Beatles’ ‘Rubber Soul’ album. It’s a true statement about the [enduring quality] of the Beatles’ music.”

Recent interest in the Beatles has been generated by other factors as well. In 2000, Capitol Records launched a major marketing campaign for the release of a CD compiling the band’s No. 1 singles. Titled “Beatles 1,” the disc has sold nearly 9 million copies in the United States alone.

“It’s the perfect Beatles primer. So it appeals to people of all ages,” says Rick Camino, senior director for marketing at Capitol Records.

On April 1, Capitol released a five-DVD box set, “The Beatles Anthology.” The project was first aired on television in 1995. The set includes one disc with rare and previously unseen footage.

The death of former Beatle George Harrison in November 2001 and Paul McCartney’s highly profitable American tour last year have also created new or heightened interest in the group.

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But “Breakfast With the Beatles” continues to find an audience partly because Carter has changed the tone of the program to fit his personality.

The reclusive O’Donoghue insisted on broadcasting her show -- which began at the now defunct KMET-FM before finding its way to KLSX -- entirely from the radio station.

Conversely, the gregarious Carter often does remote broadcasts. “Breakfast With the Beatles” airs from B.B. King’s Blues Club at Universal CityWalk the first Sunday of every month. During commercial breaks, Carter coordinates trivia contests and Beatles merchandise giveaways at the club.

The former bass player for the rock band Dramarama, Carter previously worked as a fill-in DJ for Rodney Bingenheimer at KROQ-FM (106.7) and had his own show at the now-defunct Y107 in Los Angeles between 1997 and 1999.

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With “Breakfast With the Beatles,” he plays a wide range of Beatle-oriented material. He presents hits, album cuts, solo material and, occasionally, unreleased bootleg tracks from his personal record collection. Between 11 a.m. and noon, he takes requests from listeners.

Carter also tries to play songs that work as part of themes.

“I might create a set around what the band was doing in 1966,” he explains. “Not long ago, I presented a set of songs for your parents. So I played ‘Your Mother Should Know,’ ‘Martha My Dear,’ ‘When I’m Sixty Four.’ ... We also do something called set starters where we have listeners call up and start the first song. I finish it off with other songs that relate to it somehow.”

Although he does provide historical information for some songs, Carter tries to keep the tone fairly light and fun. Occasionally, he’s been able to spice up the show with phone conversations with McCartney, who called when he was in town last year to perform at the Staples Center, and Beatle drummer Ringo Starr.

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With KCSN’s “Meet the Beatles,” host Les Perry delivers a similarly broad range of Beatle-oriented music. Although he emphasizes the familiar songs, Perry plays plenty of album tracks, solo material and rarities, such as a version of Harrison singing lead on “Get Back,” a Beatle song that was officially released with McCartney on vocals.

“I will also play songs by other artists that have a Beatle connection,” says Perry, a Beatles fan club member in the ‘60s. “So I might play ‘We Love You’ by the Rolling Stones because John Lennon and Paul McCartney sing backup vocals. I play a Jimi Hendrix version of the Beatles’ ‘Day Tripper’ because John performs on that. On the first James Taylor album, there’s a song called ‘Something in the Way She Moves.’ That was the prelude to the song ‘Something’ by George Harrison. So we’ll throw that in once in a while.”

“Meet the Beatles” is one of KCSN’s highest-rated shows and one of the station’s biggest moneymakers during pledge drives, Perry says. The fact that the show presents three hours of Beatles music commercial-free is a key reason that some fans choose “Meet the Beatles” over its competitors.

KRTH program director Jay Coffey says his station started programming more Beatles music after its audience began to express more interest in the band, which produced an astounding volume of quality music during its brief recording run between 1962 and 1970. The growing interest in the Beatles was especially pronounced among KRTH’s Latino audience, which makes up about 39% of the station’s listenership.

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Both “Back to the Beatles” and “The Beatle Years” are prerecorded and scripted. The two shows are similar in orientation, with the latter focusing a little more on the second half of the band’s career while the former program is tilted slightly toward the early Beatles’ music.

Coffey says “Beatles by Request” is the most popular of the three shows. KRTH also plays a Beatles song every 15 minutes Mondays through Thursdays between 4 and 5 p.m.

“ ‘Breakfast With the Beatles’ is a little bit more for die-hard fans,” Coffey says. “Our shows are for more mainstream fans and people who are just learning about them.”

Coffey speculates that increased interest in the Beatles is partly due to the lack of compelling acts in the contemporary pop and rock scenes. This could change if a new band or singer captures the imagination of the broader public, he conjectures.

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But for now the Beatles are living large at these three radio stations.

“There’s a real love for the ‘60s right now and the Beatles are first,” Coffey says.


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