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Abrupt Change on the Dial

Times Staff Writer

Former listeners to radio station KZLA 93.9 are calling Aug. 17 “Black Thursday.” That’s the day the FM station abruptly changed from country music to a pop format focusing on beat-heavy rhythm and blues.

The day also marked the end of a brief relationship between the station and the Motor Racing Network, commonly known among NASCAR fans as MRN.

MRN had switched L.A. affiliates after last NASCAR season, going from all-sports KMPC 1540 to KZLA.

Then came Black Thursday.

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David Hyatt, MRN president, was as stunned by the format change as anyone.

“The first thing we had to find out was, did we still have an agreement with KZLA?” he said.

Turns out they didn’t.

So MRN, which will broadcast Sunday’s Sony HD 500 NASCAR race from California Speedway to some 750 affiliates nationwide, had to scramble to find another L.A. station.

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A deal was reached earlier this week for AM 570 to carry Sunday’s race.

“We were glad to help out with this race for now,” said Don Martin, 570’s general manager, “and we’ll see if we can clear the time to carry other races as well.”

The initial move to KZLA, which is now calling itself “Movin’ 93.5,” by MRN was partially inspired by Gillian Zucker, who became California Speedway’s president in July 2005. She also helped launch Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.

Before the 2005 season, MRN picked up a country-music affiliate in Chicago, and that relationship has worked out well. So Zucker and Hyatt sought out KZLA and reached a deal.

It’s not unusual for MRN to have a country music station as an affiliate.

In fact, 45% of MRN’s affiliates are country music stations, clearly the most popular format in the group. The second-most-popular format, at 25%, is news and talk.

But most of MRN’s country music affiliates are in small markets. The success of the Chicago affiliate showed it would work in a major market.

Cheryl Knight, MRN’s director of affiliates, said the network has few all-sports stations.

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“The problem there is, most all-sports stations have commitments to sports teams on the weekends,” Knight said.

Roger Nadel, KMPC general manager, said he was caught off guard by the move from his station to KZLA. But, he said, he still called MRN to offer his station’s services after KZLA’s format change.

Two things MRN liked about KZLA: its strong signal and its demographics. More women listen to country music stations than listen to all-sports stations.

And NASCAR on radio has increased in popularity, along with NASCAR on TV.

“It goes hand in hand,” MRN’s Hyatt said. “If people are at home watching a race, and they have an errand to run, they’re going to want to continue to listen to the race on radio.”

According to Arbitron, MRN now averages more than 3 million listeners for each Nextel Cup race.

NASCAR has also become a fixture on satellite radio.

A deal with XM Satellite Radio expires this year, and NASCAR moves to Sirius next year. MRN provides the programming, but because of its relationship with its regular radio affiliates, Hyatt said it does not promote satellite radio or accept any advertising from satellite radio.

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MRN, created in 1970 by Bill France, the founder of NASCAR, is based in Daytona Beach, Fla., and is the primary radio network for NASCAR. It is owned by International Speedway Corp.

The other major NASCAR radio network is Performance Racing Network (PRN), owned by Speedway Motorsports Inc. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network broadcasts the Brickyard 400.

MRN has an affiliate in San Bernardino, KTDD 1350, but its signal does not reach into L.A.

As for television coverage of Sunday’s race, NBC goes on the air at 4 p.m. with its prerace show, and the race is scheduled to start at 5. TNT will televise Saturday night’s Busch series race.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Nextel Cup Series drivers

All current active Nextel Cup Series drivers, including their car number, make and sponsor, and team (*-denotes rookie).

*--* #16 Greg Biffle National Guard Roush #22 Dave Blaney Caterpillar Bill Davis #07 Clint Bowyer* Jack Daniel’s Richard Childress #31 Jeff Burton Cingular Wireless Richard Childress #2 Kurt Busch Miller Lite Penske South #5 Kyle Busch Kellogg’s Hendrick #61 Chad Chaffin Peak Performance Peak Performance #74 Derrike Cope Sundance Vacations McGlynn #8 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Budweiser Dale Earnhardt Inc. #99 Carl Edwards Office Depot Roush #38 David Gilliland M&M;'s Robert Yates #7 Robby Gordon Jim Beam Robby Gordon #24 Jeff Gordon DuPont Hendrick #66 Jeff Green CertainTeed Haas CNC #11 Denny Hamlin* FedEx Freight Joe Gibbs #29 Kevin Harvick Reese’s Richard Childress #88 Dale Jarrett UPS Robert Yates #48 Jimmie Johnson Lowe’s Hendrick #9 Kasey Kahne Dodge Dealers Evernham #17 Matt Kenseth DEWALT Roush #32 Travis Kvapil Tide-Downy PPI #43 Bobby Labonte Cheerios Petty Enterprises #49 Kevin Lepage LoansDepot.com BAM #14 Sterling Marlin Ginn Clubs & Resorts MB2 #6 Mark Martin AAA Roush #26 Jamie McMurray Sharpie Roush #42 Casey Mears Texaco/Havoline Chip Ganassi #01 Joe Nemechek U.S. Army MB2 #12 Ryan Newman ALLTEL Fastap Penske South #45 Kyle Petty Marathon Motor Oil Petty Enterprises #96 Tony Raines DLP HDTV Hall of Fame #10 Scott Riggs Valvoline Valvoline #19 Elliott Sadler Dodge Dealers/UAW Evernham #00 Hermie Sadler The SPEED Report MBA #21 Ken Schrader U.S. Air Force Wood Brothers #41 Reed Sorenson* Target Chip Ganassi #20 Tony Stewart The Home Depot Joe Gibbs #40 David Stremme* Coors Light Chip Ganassi #1 Martin Truex Jr.* Bass Pro Shops Dale Earnhardt Inc. #25 Brian Vickers GMAC Hendrick #178 Kenny Wallace Furniture Row Furniture Row #55 Michael Waltrip NAPA Auto Parts Waltrip-Jasper #4 Scott Wimmer Bully Hill Vineyards Morgan-McClure #18 J.J. Yeley* Interstate Batteries Joe Gibbs

*--*

Source: NASCAR Note: Not included are Carl Long (who ran in one race) and Mike Skinner (two).

Los Angeles Times


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