KKLA-FM’s Evangelical Voice Has Grown Louder

Times Staff Writer

Since its modest beginning 20 years ago in a small North Hollywood studio, KKLA-FM (99.5) has grown to become the nation’s largest Christian teaching and talk radio station.

Now based in a spacious Glendale office, the 50,000-watt station that calls itself the “Spirit of Los Angeles” offers around-the-clock broadcasting that emphasizes conservative evangelical values. And while growing in religious influence, KKLA also has done so well financially that the station is now worth at least $250 million, according to the Southern California Broadcasters Assn.

Throughout the last year, more than 12,000 listeners attended various 20th anniversary events and lectures featuring popular celebrity program hosts, including Chuck Swindoll, former president of the Dallas Theological Seminary, of “Insight for Life”; child psychologist James Dobson of Focus on the Family; and Frank Pastore, a former Cincinnati Reds pitcher who leads a popular afternoon show.


“We feel like we can really make a difference in people’s lives,” said Terry Fahy, vice president and general manager of KKLA and its four sister stations. “We believe it inspires people to live better lives. We are constantly exhorting people to reach out more to their fellow men, be more giving to the poor.”

Pastore’s three-hour, live, drive-time talk show is produced locally. Most of the other programs are produced elsewhere by ministries and firms that buy their time on KKLA. More than two dozen regularly scheduled programs include Bible studies, sermons by theologians and segments dealing with health, finance and the law.

Their common thread is that they all are from a conservative Christian perspective. “Our goal is to have a consistent program voice as much as possible,” said Fahy, who has been with KKLA since its start two decades ago.

The station is the flagship of Camarillo-based Salem Communications, owners of 105 radio stations throughout the country, Fahy said.

Salem Communications acquired the 99.5-FM signal, then KHOE, after its previous owner, the Rev. Gene Scott, lost a seven-year court battle with the Federal Communications Commission, which did not renew his license because he refused to reveal financial records after the agency alleged that designated contributions were not spent as intended.

KKLA’s subsequent success -- both financial and as a conservative voice -- is apparent inside its posh fifth-floor quarters in Glendale. Also operating out of the studios on Brand Boulevard and in satellite facilities in Orange County and the Inland Empire are four sister stations: KRLA-AM (870) and KTIE-AM (590), both general talk radio stations; KFSH-FM (95.9), a Christian contemporary music station; and KXMX-AM (1190), which broadcasts Christian programs in Korean and Vietnamese.

More than 250,000 listeners in Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Ventura counties tune in every week to KKLA’s programs on the Bible, morality and public affairs, and to its many lucrative commercials, according to Arbitron, the national radio rating service. The Los Angeles metropolitan area has the nation’s largest number of evangelicals -- nearly 1 million adults -- according to the Barna Research Group, a Ventura-based firm that tracks trends related to values, beliefs and attitudes.

The Rev. Clay Schmit, professor of preaching at Fuller Theological Seminary, said the radio station’s impact was far-reaching, especially in the evangelical community.

“People are looking in every conceivable direction for answers that deal with life and real-life situations and concerns and issues,” said Schmit, who was pastor of a Lutheran church in Northern California for 15 years. “It’s very useful for Christians to be able to find trusted voices on radio that can help them seek answers from a biblical perspective.”

At the same time, Schmit also noted that some people might say that KKLA presents an overly conservative perspective out of step with most Christians.

“They’re obviously targeting a particular kind of Christian audience,” he said. “That audience may not include all Christians. But there is a spirit of care that you get in these programs -- to help children through World Vision, to help homeless people in Los Angeles, to meet various needs here and internationally -- and that’s the kind thing all of us as Christians can embrace.”

Schmit said KKLA also meets an important need of people who are unable to attend church or not affiliated with one.

Longtime listeners said the station offered a much-needed counterpoint to what they view as the liberal bias of many media outlets.

“If you listen to [National] Public Radio and you listen to Christian radio, that’s the two ends of the spectrum,” said Los Angeles trial lawyer Carol Vallely, who tries to catch Alistair Begg’s “Truth for Life” sermons during her morning commute because “he is a great preacher” and because starting the day with the program “gives you a foundation and a daily reminder of how life should be lived.”

Loyal listener George Raines and his wife, Lisa, real estate brokers, said they keep their radio tuned to the station, whether they are on the road or working at home. They are members of Yorba Linda Friends Church, an evangelical Quaker church.

“I like it because it is provocative intellectually,” said George Raines, a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary.

“I am a big fan of Frank Pastore,” Lisa Raines said.

KKLA’s top syndicated program, “Focus on the Family,” is aired three times a day Mondays through Fridays. Other programs include “Grace to You,” a teaching ministry of the Rev. John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley; and “Jay Sekulow Live,” presented by the chief counsel for the American Center for Law & Justice and dealing with such issues as prayer in school.

One program, “Thru the Bible,” features tape-recorded sermons of J. Vernon McGee, of the historic Open Door Church in downtown Los Angeles, who died in 1988.

Los Angeles and Orange counties are the world’s largest radio market, taking in more than $1 billion in advertising revenue, said Mary Beth Garber, president of the Southern California Broadcasters Assn. Though most people think New York is a bigger market, it hasn’t hit the $1-billion mark yet, she said.

Garber, citing Arbitron statistics on listener numbers, said KKLA ranked in the top 40% of all radio stations in Los Angeles and Orange counties. Compared with secular-oriented stations, KKLA is not a “blockbuster” in ratings, but it is “respectable” and “doing quite well,” she said. But Arbitron statistics show it is the largest Christian “teaching and talk” station in the country.

Fahy declined to disclose KKLA’s revenue or fees for commercials or shows that rent time. Its publicly traded parent company reported net broadcasting revenue of $187.5 million in 2004, according to Salem Communications’ 2004 annual report, the latest available.

The company grew from 46 to 105 stations in the last five years, having “created a national platform that has become the most efficient way for advertisers to reach the audience interested in Christian and family-theme programming on a national basis,” the report states.

In 1986, there were 10 Christian stations in the Los Angeles area, broadcasting officials say. Today, there are only two: KKLA and KWVE-FM (107.9), licensed in Orange County and owned by Calvary Chapel, the movement founded by the Rev. Chuck Smith. KKLA, starting in 1995, was the first station in Los Angeles to do Internet streaming, so its programs are available worldwide.

Its Frank Pastore show, billed as “the intersection of faith and reason,” focuses on current events and controversial subjects, beginning at 4 p.m., as listeners call in from their car cellphones.

Pastore, who describes himself as a former agnostic-atheist, became a Christian after a 1984 elbow injury that took him out of baseball. He earned a master’s degree from Talbot School of Theology at Biola University and a second master’s in political philosophy and American government at Claremont Graduate School.

“Jesus taught me that life’s true meaning is beyond the pursuit of pride, power and possessions,” said the 48-year-old broadcaster, who commutes 45 minutes each way from Orange County on a magenta-colored motorcycle. “Real fulfillment begins with knowing God, and deepens as you walk with him daily.