An old-fashioned Kentucky thunderstorm is coming down around him, but Rick Dees doesn't mind -- he's on a mission to start something new. Crackling through a bad cellphone connection while preparing to board a plane from Louisville back to Los Angeles, the popular radio host explains that he has been out promoting his new Web channel, All Number 1 Hits, with teen sensation Miley Cyrus.
The fit seems natural -- Dees is launching a Top 40s website today and Cyrus is top of the charts (as well as starring in the new movie version of her successful TV series, "Hannah Montana.") "She's a billion-dollar industry on two legs," Dees said. "I'm just reflecting what people want."
That's what Dees does for a living, whatever the media. For decades, the 59-year-old has tapped into the pop music market as well as any radio host in Los Angeles and has lived to tell about it. Yes, he was famously fired from KIIS-FM (102.7) in 2004, and recently, his new home, KMVN-FM (93.9), announced it would be switching to Spanish-language programming on Wednesday. But he's surviving the industry shift and bracing for the future of radio. "I don't think local stations are understanding how to use their websites," he said. "You have to make people go there for something."
Dees hopes to accomplish this in several ways. First, the new channel -- www.allnumber1hits.com -- is more of an entertainment destination than a traditional Web streaming portal. Dees and other personalities will host live shows and bring in guests such as Cyrus, but there will also be original reporting, videos, games and even an iPhone application. All of this will be presented in high definition as a featured channel on his upgraded website Rick.com, operated by Dees Entertainment out of Burbank. Plans to sell content to satellite radio stations XM and Sirius are in the works, he said. "This is just a massive filter for content from around the world," Dees said. "People are time starved and so they want to know where are the best podcasts."
Approach to radio
With more stations switching to Spanish or going Web only, like the former "Indie 103.1," corporations in L.A. might want to rethink their approach to radio, he added.
"The more that it's homogenized, the worse it can be," Dees said. "Broadcasters have to change back and give people what they ask for, which is a community of one on one."
Dees remembers listening to Bill Cosby on the radio and practicing the comedian's delivery. It was smooth and familiar, he said, like he was speaking to the audience directly.
"No one even knows what original radio sounds like," he said. "People don't even get the weather anymore. There's not a school for talent teaching anymore."
But times have changed, and Dees has changed with them. The era of big radio personalities has given way to podcasts, and while technology has improved and expanded, familiar voices have died out.
With All Number 1 Hits, Dees hopes to tap into the feeling that drew him to radio when he was young. By bringing in new hosts such as his son, Kevin, and Joe Kieley (whose late father was the program director at KIIS-FM for many years), Dees is hoping to keep the radio personality tradition alive.
But he's also adding modern twists through social networking components such as Facebook and Twitter accounts, something that more stations should be doing, he said. Scouring YouTube for videos and tweeting status updates is part of daily life now -- why not bring it into the mix?
When 16-year-old Cyrus came into the studio last week for an interview, she had just finished tweeting to fans. Before shaking Dees' hand, she tucked her smart phone under her neck and offered a hello.
"Why fight it?" he asked. "Last week, one 13-year-old sent out 10,000 text messages."