Rick Dees, a morning-radio fixture for two decades at KIIS-FM (102.7), is returning to the L.A. airwaves May 4, when he takes over a.m. duties at KHHT-FM (92.3).
"To be given this opportunity is just overwhelming," Dees said Wednesday. "To be on here and actually be able to broadcast to 2 million people is a little slice of heaven."
Executives at "Hot 92.3" decided the morning show wasn't performing as well as the station overall, and when they surveyed listeners for a new host, Dees' name came up often, even unsolicited.
"They're reconnecting with somebody who made music come to life for them," said Greg Ashlock, L.A.-area president for the Clear Channel radio chain, which owns KHHT, KIIS and six other stations in the market.
In the March ratings, KHHT finished 14th overall, claiming 2.6% of the Los Angeles-Orange County audience ages 6 and older, with an average weekly audience of 1.9 million. But KHHT placed 20th in the weekday 6-10 a.m. period — radio's prime time, with people on their way to work or school — with a 1.8% audience share. The station parted with morning host Victor Zaragoza last week; street reporter Jimmy Reyes has been filling in.
Even though Dees became synonymous with KIIS after nearly 23 years and still fared well in the ratings, the station replaced him with Ryan Seacrest in February 2004. Now Dees said leaving KIIS was his choice, because he didn't accept the contract offered him at the time and added that he stayed on good terms with Clear Channel executives ever since — a relationship that led to his gig at KHHT.
Dees was last on the dial in Los Angeles on then-KMVN-FM (93.9). He hosted the morning show after the former KZLA changed formats from country to R&B-tinged pop in August 2006. But the ratings languished, parent company Emmis Communications leased the station to a Spanish-language broadcaster, and Dees was off the air once more in April 2009.
He remained in front of the mike, though, continuing the syndicated "Weekly Top 40" program he's hosted since 1983, as well as other projects. But he said he craved talking to a live audience.
Dees said KMVN was an uphill climb from the start: "It's very difficult to take a country station and blow off the entire audience and build the audience back up."
But at KHHT, the audience is already there, Ashlock said, listening to a playlist that includes Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince and the Commodores. Plugging Dees into the morning show was a perfect fit, he said.
"We're starting with a format that resonates and screams Rick Dees," Ashlock said.
"These are listeners who are very familiar with Rick from the 1980s," he said, and "it's the music that Rick was breaking. Rick's career and these artists' careers parallel each other."
Ashlock said he has high expectations for the show, hoping that within six months Dees will be among the half-dozen top English-language morning hosts — a challenge Dees said he welcomes.
"I thrive on that," he said. "Every day is a new day to see if I can make somebody smile or laugh."