The displaced talk jocks of KLSX-FM (97.1) did not go quietly into that good night as the station switched over late Friday afternoon to a Top 40 music format designed to entice younger listeners.
Informed midweek that they would be out of a job in only a few days, the station’s personalities -- including Adam Carolla, Tom Leykis, Tim Conway Jr. and the team of Frosty, Heidi &Frank -- spent their final on-air hours saying goodbye to fans with emotions ranging from exasperation to sadness to celebration.
Said Carolla in his last minute to listeners Friday morning: “To you who listen, who get me up every morning and every weekend, I appreciate every one of you. . . . It has been a pleasure to serve you. This is not goodbye, just a brief parting.”
As he signed off, co-host Teresa Strasser wiped away tears.
Frosty Stilwell, Heidi Hamilton and Frank Kramer started their last show Friday with Sia’s “Breathe Me,” the melancholy song that marked the finale of HBO’s “Six Feet Under.” On Thursday afternoon, Leykis told fans, “On Monday morning, I will wake up for the first time in 15 years with no place to go. I have had a great time doing this job. It’s the best job in the world. But I don’t get to ride that pony anymore.”
Owner CBS Radio had announced Wednesday that at 5 p.m. Friday it would be changing the station to 97.1 Amp Radio, described as an “on-air, online, on-site and mobile audio destination.” The music format -- initially with no DJs -- will feature contemporary artists such as Justin Timberlake, Rihanna, T.I., Kanye West and Britney Spears, and it is intended to compete for young adult audiences with top-rated KIIS-FM (102.7).
“At the end of the day, we wanted to better position our cluster of stations to give us better leverage,” said Dan Weiner, senior vice president and market manager for CBS Radio. “We’ve got a very strong collection of stations that delivers ratings with males, and this move will balance it out a little bit. We’ll hopefully draw more advertisers by going a little younger than we have with the 25-to-54 male demographic” that has been the core of KLSX’s talk audience.
The personalities on KLSX, which was the local broadcast home to shock jock Howard Stern before he leapt to satellite in January 2006, specialized in call-in shows that mostly explored dating, relationships, sex and popular culture. The conversations with callers were often crass, raunchy and filled with innuendo.
Though its overall ratings were not strong, KLSX had a loyal and devoted fan base. Carolla, who took over the morning slot from Stern, has seen his popularity steadily rise in the last several months. He produced, co-wrote and starred in a well-received boxing comedy, “The Hammer,” in 2007, and he was a contestant on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” last year.
Leykis, who dispensed advice to men on how to woo women without spending too much money on dates, said his afternoon show was recently rated No. 1 with men ages 25 to 54.
“What’s happening had nothing to do with ratings,” Leykis said in an interview. “We had great ratings.”
One radio industry expert found the switch surprising. “It flies in the face of the general trend, which is for talk radio to go from AM to FM,” said Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers, a radio industry trade publication. “It’s the next territory for radio. This is a setback. KLSX was not a ratings giant, but it was a significant platform in terms of talk radio.”
Harrison added that he admired the “very colorful personalities” on the station but felt the direction of the format should have aimed a bit higher.
“I really am not belittling the talent, which is awesome,” he said. “But it’s not the only way to do talk radio to get young people to listen. Instead of reaching for a younger demographic, CBS went for the stereotypical image of what they thought young people wanted. If you aim high, if you appeal to more intelligent listeners, it will be more successful.”
Still, the mood of the hosts was mostly upbeat in the final hours (in some instances helped by alcohol). Carolla, Leykis and Conway repeatedly praised their CBS bosses and were particularly grateful that they were allowed to say goodbye to their fans instead of being yanked abruptly off the air, which is the usual case when a station changes formats.
“I’m not angry or bitter. . . . I’m a professional,” Leykis told his listeners. “I understand this is not my train set.”
The farewells also gave the hosts the chance to speculate about the future. Leykis, a one-time host at KFI-AM (640) who has been on KLSX since 1997, said he had been “solicited by countless people” in the industry and was weighing several possibilities, including television projects or a book. He said CBS Radio had been “generous, and I only have to work if I want to,” noting that he was under a “no-cut contract through March 31, 2012.”
Carolla said he had “very good offers in the way of TV” and would also start a podcast Monday that listeners could access through his website, adamcarolla.com.
Not all was sweetness and light. Carolla on Thursday riffed on what he called the sad state of Los Angeles radio. “All you’re going to hear on L.A. radio now is ranchera music and Top 40,” he said.
But the mood of the hosts was mostly celebratory and optimistic. And Carolla wasted little time in making plans with his stationmates.
Calling in to Conway’s last show Thursday night, he said, “Tim. Monday at the ArcLight. Matinee of ‘Paul Blart: Mall Cop.’ See you there.”