Onetime smooth jazz station KTWV-FM (94.7) has been through myriad changes this year, and another is coming Tuesday when morning-show host Brian McKnight is scheduled to announce his departure.
McKnight, a multi-platinum R&B star, has also hosted his own TV show, a syndicated radio show, toured the world and is writing a book — a schedule that forces him to prerecord some programs for KTWV. Station management now prefers a live and local host every day. McKnight said that his weekday 6- 9 a.m. show hampered his playing live concerts, except on the weekends.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed my time the last three years. I love the one-on-one with the fans,” McKnight said, but “it seemed like a good time to get out.”
Taking over will be Kim Amidon, who for 22 years co-hosted mornings at adult-contemporary station KOST-FM (103.5), until the station replaced her in November 2007. She’ll join co-host and producer Pat Prescott, who has been on mornings at KTWV, better known as “The Wave,” since 2001. McKnight is scheduled to finish Friday, with Amidon taking Monday.
KTWV program director Jhani Kaye, who once held the same position at KOST and was Amidon’s boss there, lured her out of what she thought was retirement three months ago when he tapped her for weekends at the Wave. Last month she filled in for McKnight when he was touring Asia, and Prescott said “we really clicked like girlfriends, so I’m really looking forward to the opportunity.”
“It’s like we’ve always been together,” Amidon concurred. “It’s not stir-the-pot radio. I think we’re both a little more positive. Maybe it’s a woman thing.”
Even so, she said she doesn’t want gender to be an issue, even though she recognizes the significance of two women hosting a morning show in an industry and time slot dominated by men.
“I want to be able to share,” she said, “real moments, things that happen in both of our lives, and how we feel about it.
“I love talking to listeners,” she added, and wants to “relate stories that they have gone through too.”
Prescott said that Kaye wants the new duo “to connect and be relatable and have a good time and help people get up and feel good about their day.”
“I think it’s going to be a morning show for grown people who are smart and want to be treated that way,” she said.
Kaye, program director at KTWV’s sister station, classic-hits outlet KRTH-FM (101.1), took over the same job at the Wave in January and began tweaking the station.
KTWV had been one of the first in the country to call itself smooth jazz after it changed from a rock format on Feb. 14, 1987. But now the Wave bills itself as “smooth adult contemporary,” while still laying claim as “Southern California’s place to relax … and unwind.” In addition, the playlist that used to feature mostly instrumentals now has shifted toward more vocals, R&B songs in particular.
So even though Wave listeners can still hear saxophone works by Boney James and Dave Koz — KTWV’s morning host before McKnight — they’ll also get Mariah Carey, Phil Collins, Michael Jackson and Fleetwood Mac, artists who overlap and now compete with the playlist on KOST.
“The research pointed out that we needed to adjust the mix of music, to make it more welcoming to people who tuned in on occasion,” Kaye said. “We discovered instrumentals had a highly polarizing effect on the audience.”
Kaye said their research also found that the word “jazz” itself was polarizing — radio listeners “either love it or they hate it,” he said.
“We don’t need to give the listener a reason to tune away, especially since it’s only a word,” he said. “ ‘The Wave,’ under its ‘smooth jazz’ moniker, was more of a niche station, and now it’s more mass appeal.”
He said the station had maximized its primary listeners, and if it wanted to grow, it had to attract new fans.
The changes seem to have paid immediate dividends. In January, the station placed 16th in Los Angeles/Orange County ratings, averaging 2.9% of the audience age 6 and older. In February, KTWV shot up to a fifth-place tie, at 3.5%. The station remained at 3.5% and placed sixth in March, the most recent figures available from the Arbitron ratings service.
“The music is much more recognizable than in the past,” Kaye said. “An amazing thing happens when you play hits: The audience grows.”
McKnight, whose own songs pepper the station’s playlist, called the new music Kaye has added “a breath of fresh air.” But he’s also wary of disappearing venues for instrumentalists.
“Smooth jazz is a dying breed. The Wave is kind of like the last man standing,” he said, alluding to the demise of smooth jazz stations over the last two years in New York, Chicago and San Francisco.
Although listeners might miss McKnight, Prescott said she’s certain they can understand his scheduling constraints.
“I really feel fortunate to have had these three years working with Brian,” she said. “This is the first radio show he ever did, and he took to it so naturally.”