It took the finger sensitivity of a safecracker to get the dial just right. A fraction of a turn too far and the cheap little transistor spit out earsplitting static. Fingernails against a blackboard stuff. A fraction of a turn too little was even worse: gospel music. The North Carolina hills provided an abundance of both annoyances: static and gospel singing. But if the young boy was patient enough, and if he manipulated the dime-sized dial on the side of the radio just right, he could find it. Another world. WLS. Radio 89. Chicago. The Beatles. The Beach Boys. The Stones. Herman’s Hermits. Marianne Faithfull. Drag racing. Freedom.
The youngster was one of countless thousands, perhaps millions, of teenage rock ’n’ roll disciples who faithfully tuned their dials to 89 at night. The 100,000-watt transmitter on the southern shore of Lake Michigan beamed the Top 40 from Florida to Wyoming after the sun went down, and when the boy in Wingate, North Carolina, pulled his transistor from his dresser drawer and closed his bedroom door at night, he was nothing more or less than a participant in a national cultural phenomenon. A social revolution. The rock ’n’ roll generation. But while the teens in Peoria were fantasizing about Ringo Starr or Paul McCartney and young listeners in Mobile were memorizing the lyrics to every new Bob Dylan song, the boy in Wingate directed his dreams to another aspect of this fantasy world that poured out of the aural Aladdin’s lamp.
To the young boy, the real hero of his battery-operated wonderland was the man who made it all happen, the king of the evening airwaves. He was the man whose well-cigaretted voice could be heard throughout mid-America.
He was the king of the disc jockeys. Superjock. Lar-r-r-y Lu-jack. And while the records would move up and down the charts and change from week to week, one constant element remained: Larry Lujack. It would be the greatest feeling in the whole world, the youngster thought, just to be Larry Lujack.
After Larry Lujack signed off at night, the young boy would pull out a battered tape recorder he had purchased from the Sears catalog. He would talk into the microphone and pretend to be Larry Lujack, practicing the superjock’s inflection and enunciation, clipping his words, deepening his voice, and trying to rid himself of his soft Southern accent. Then he’d play back the tape and listen to himself. Then he’d try again. And again. And again. He wanted intensely to sound like Larry Lujack. He wanted intensely to be Larry Lujack. He’d practice the jokes, the style, and the sign-off. The one difference being that when he did the sign-off, he’d drop Lujack’s name and substitute his own. Lar-r-r-y Dixo
IT’S FIVE MINUTES BE-fore 3 p.m. -air time -and Larry Dixon is striding down the hallway of the KVIL studio at Mockingbird Lane and Central Expressway, carrying slips of paper on which he has written a kind of patchwork script, the pre-written “spontaneities” he will spring on his audience between the crooning of Kenny Rogers and the corn-pone platitudes of Vernon Baird.
Soon he dons a worn pair of headphones that are located alongside the mountains of electronic equipment crammed into KVIL’s studios on the fifth floor of the Capital Bank building. The view from his broadcast booth is panoramic. SMU is to the right. Downtown is to the left. Below, Central Expressway is just beginning to turn into a purgatory on wheels. But Larry Dixon doesn’t have time to notice what’s going on outside his window. He’s on. Plugged in. Revved up. Pumping blood. This is no game; it’s for keeps. Every word Dixon speaks will be heard by no fewer than 50,000 people.
At 33, Larry Dixon is at the summit. He’s made it in the broadcast business. He’s KVIL’s king of that most important realm of radio: drive time. It is the time when hundreds of thousands of motorists start home from work and turn on their radios. Within a 50-mile radius of downtown Dallas, literally a million people are listening to radios. Every one of the 38 stations in this market wants to get as large a share of those listeners as it possibly can. Consequently, they all put their top people on the air. The personalities. The golden throats. The very fact that Larry Dixon is on KVIL during drive time makes him a star in the radio business.
Even though he’s a college dropout, he makes more money than the average physician. He’s got a Kim Dawson modeling contract. He makes good money on commercials. He makes enough to pay for his nice home in North Dallas and an expensive sports car. He can afford to vacation in Europe and Acapulco because he’s bringing down the dollars befitting the drive-time king on what for several years has been the top-rated radio station in the ninth-largest market in America. He’s got it made. When he goes to the grocery store, people recognize him from his modeling work and TV commercials.
Larry Dixon is, without question, a member of the disc jockey’s crème de la crème; a personality. And if it’s true that dollars are the way we keep score in America, then it’s fair to say that our culture places more value on being a good disc jockey than on being a doctor or a lawyer or an airline pilot or the police chief or the city manager of Dallas. They all make less money than Larry Dixo
Dixon has ascended to that monetary and professional summit because of his wit and his style, his sense of humor, and his on-the-air charisma. But most of all, he’s ascended to the top because of something much more fundamental to the radio business. He’s a success now because he was a success then, back in his room in North Carolina. He has made it because as a teenager he did learn to talk just like his mentor: Lar-r-r-y Lujac
KVIL, OF COURSE, DOES not pay Larry Dixon four times what the average Dallas family brings home just because station management likes his personality. There’s a much more businesslike reason. Radio stations base their ad rates on the semiannual Arbitron ratings. And because of the number ol’ people and the type of peo-ple who listen (the more disposable income the better) to his show, KVIL can charge Vernon Baird up to $350 every time Dixon plays a 30-second tape of Vernon Baird’s sermonette about his bakery. The ad rates will vary with the frequency on which they are played and the type of contract an advertiser has signed. The important point is that when Larry Dixon is the drive-time king of the entire media market, KVIL can charge more for commercial time than its competitors. A lot more. An ad on KVIL costs 10 times as much as an ad on KIX 106, which just started broadcasting in this market and has no Arbitron ratings to sell from.
During the course of a year, Larry Dixon will play 10,000 commercials during his six-day-a-week radio show. Those 10,000 commercials will gross KVIL in excess of $1.5 million. That makes Larry Dixon quite a bargain. Radio stations don’t have nearly the overhead of television stations, which require significantly more equipment to buy and maintain and personnel to pay. or of newspapers, which have more employees and capital investment, plus massive distribution costs. All the radio stations have to spend their money on is essentially the acquisition of personalities like Larry Dixon. And that’s what makes Larry Dixon important to KVIL. To the people who ask for his autograph at the Tom Thumb when he picks up a gallon of milk, Larry Dixon is a personality. But to KVIL, he is a profit center. If at this point this little melodrama sounds too Camelot-like for Larry Dixon and KVIL, that’s because it is. In radio, nothing is permanent. Audiences are fickle. KVIL is making a fortune because it has been number one for years. But the Arbitron rating book released last fall had some very bad tidings for the little broadcast family at KVIL. They were no longer the un-disDUted number one. The 10.5 per cent audience share KVIL had when the spring 1980 ratings were released had dropped two full points to 8.5. When you consider that a share point in this market is worth $500,000 in gross advertising revenues a year, that’s very bad news.
KSCS, the all-country FM giant in Fort Worth, had an 8.7, two-tenths of a share point above KVIL. Then the spring 1981 ratings rolled around and proved that the fall ratings had been no fluke. KVIL had dropped to an 8.4 rating, and KSCS had climbed to an 8.9.
Now, as the fall 1981 ratings period approaches, Larry Dixon has to be thinking about another little ritual in the radio business. When the ratings drop, heads roll. When KLIF, the once-dominant Top 40 station tried to improve its cellar-dwelling ratings by “reformatting” and turning to country, management simply fired everyone on the air. That’s the way the business works. The Dallas disc jockey who’s making $100,000 a year today knows that if he drops three share points, he’ll be selling refrigerators for a living. If you don’t think that can happen, consider the case of Mike Selden, the man who preceded Dixon as the afternoon drive-time king on KVIL. Selden is working in Longview now.
Radio station managers are never content to let the guy at the other station make a fortune. For several years now, every other station in this market has been openly shooting at KVIL. It’s a war, and the stakes are quite obvious. The station that is the most successful at appealing to a fickle, button-pushing radio audience gets the biggest share of the $50-milUon advertising pie that is the Dallas/Fort Worth radio market.
Dixon and KVIL gross more than $7 million annually, which is why KVIL remains the most imitated station in town. But KVIL spends a lot of money to attract those ratings and make those advertisers happy. Overall, the station is much more expensive to operate than its arch rival KSCS, which grosses about $8 million, with a semiautomated format that does not require big salaries for its disc jockeys. KKDA, the number three station, also keeps its overhead down with its ramshackle studios in Grand Prairie. They’re not as impressive as the plush KVIL studios towering over Central Expressway, but they are considerably less expensive to run.
Larry Dixon’s promotion to program director has made him more aware of the finances of radio than he ever was as a happy-go-lucky afternoon disc jockey. Radio tends to be a business that runs through disc jockeys almost as fast as hit records. Dixon’s former idol, Larry Lujack, is now a burned-out morning man on WLS AM, where his comments – intended to be clever and witty – sound sarcastic and mean-spirited.
For Dixon, becoming program director means he can eventually move into more lucrative management positions. It also means exclusively shouldering a set of worries that previously belonged to Ron Chapman, KVIL’s legendary morning drive-time disc jockey and vice president of the Indianapolis firm that owns the station.
Dixon’s and Chapman’s biggest worry is the ratings slide last year that unseated KVIL from the top spot for the first time in three years and marked the first significant drop in KVIL’s numbers since Chapman started at the station 13 years ago.
Under Chapman -who kid-dingly calls himself the “Dalai Lama of Dallas radio” -KVIL was the first station to transform the pop music format of AM radio to the more dignified style of FM. In 1968, when Chapman was hired away from Channel 8, the owners were ignoring the FM side to compete with giant KLIF on the AM side of the dial.
Unfortunately for an AM radio station getting such a late start in life, KVIL’s frequency was at 1170. KLIF, which was pulling down 55 per cent shares of the audience ratings, was a notch away at 1190. KVIL’s feeble frequency was powered by only a 10,000-watt transmitter, and it was easy for listeners to miss the station entirely while searching for KLIF.
At one point, desperate station managers renamed all the KVIL disc jockeys “David.” In a promotion that lasted months, all these “Davids” tried to topple the “Goliath” KLIF. It didn’t work. Nothing did, until Chapman, a protégé of McLendon’s, decided to take Top 40 music to the land of easy listening and classical formats.
Chapman, a former KLIF disc jockey, thought no one was listening to KVIL AM anyway, so there was little to lose by making a go at FM. “My thought was that we would call it KVIL FM and AM, and be the first ones to accentuate the FM,” Chapman says. “It was novel.” It also wasn’t immediately successful. Nine years would pass before KVIL would reach the ratings summit.
KVIL’s FM frequency had been acquired almost by accident in 1958 by the station’s first owners, a group of Highland Park investors eager to cash in on the kind of supposedly easy profits being raked in by KLIFs owner, broadcast innovator Gordon McLendon. They were told by the FCC that Dallas had no AM frequencies available, but the investors saw a loophole in FCC regulations and went back with a request. Every incorporated community is entitled to at least one AM frequency, they said, and Highland Park didn’t have one. The application was granted, and the owners named the infant station KVIL, after Highland Park Village, where the studios were originally built. The FCC offered the FM frequency as a bonus if they’d just take the frequency and put anything on the air.
WHEN CHAPMAN AND THE STATION BEGAN THEIR FM-based assault on the ratings leaders in the late Sixties, KVIL was a carbon copy of KLIF. Chapman had learned at McLen-don’s knee the four principles of a successful radio station: Top 40 music taken from the Billboard magazine charts; promotional gimmicks, including catchy jingles and outrageous contests; news that is mostly ripped from the newspapers and read over the air; and personalities for disc jockeys. Critics were dubious about KVIL’s chances. No one owned FM radios. They were too expensive, and nothing but classical music and easy listening formats popular at offices and department stores had succeeded on the FM dial. At that time, no one foresaw the radio revolution that would turn FM radio in Dallas into a multimillion-dollar gold mine for anyone fortunate enough to hold a license and make AM radio into a no-man’s-land where program directors scrounge for any format that will work.
KVIL rode the FM boom and the McLendon/Chapman formula to the top. But it is a sign of the times that the new ratings champ is KSCS, a country and western station with no star disc jockeys. The radio market has changed, and so has KVIL.
“No one is ever going to have a 55 per cent share of the audience again,” Chapman predicts. “I doubt if anyone is ever going to have a 12 per cent of the audience here again, either. It’s just too competitive.”
Today, 17 AM stations and 21 FM stations compete for the eight-county Dallas/Fort Worth market. Fifteen of the FM stations are popular or country music stations going after the same market: the baby-boom generation babies born between 1942 and 1957; the young adults who were attracted to KLIF when they were kids. Now they’re prime consumers, and every one of the stations is trying to get their attention, for they buy the goods and services advertisers want to sell. And on one thing all the program directors agree: The baby-boom generation is sick and tired of Top 40 radio. As a result, stations are narrowing their appeal to specific groups within the generation: women between the ages of 25 and 35; men over 25; men and women between 35 and 39.
“It used to be with Top 40 radio that if you didn’t like a song or two, you stuck with the station anyway because you knew there was a record coming along that you were just going to love,” Chapman says. “That’s because there weren’t that many stations playing popular music. But in today’s market, you figure, ’Why should I listen to a song on this station I don’t like when I can listen all day long to this other station and never hear a song that I don’t like?’ The market has become very specialized.”
Chapman’s answer has been to weed the hard rockers out of the Top 40 lists. A Bruce Springsteen song may head the Billboard charts, but it will never appear on the 30-song KVIL play list. “We’re going after the female audience,” Chapman says. “And what does a woman do the first thing she gets in your car? She turns down the radio. Anything that’s loud and has a real heavy beat, we won’t play.”
Chapman has corralled the audience he wants. He’s the morning’s top disc jockey, with about 11 per cent of the total listening audience over 12 years old. But Chapman attracts a full quarter of all women between the ages of 18 and 34 who listen to the radio in the morning. “As long as I keep my women, I know we’re going to be all right,” Chapman says with a satisfied smile.
He doesn’t just guess at what 18- to 34-year-old women will like. KVIL pays thousands of dollars each year to national polling firms that make hundreds of phone calls a week to women all over the nation. They play bits of songs for each woman, who is then asked for her response.
Chapman never introduces or “breaks” a song in the market unless it’s by an established, conservative artist like Kenny Rogers. KVIL plays only hits. Sometimes this policy is hard for the disc jockeys to live with. A recent release by songwriter Carole Bayer Sager called Stronger Than Before was immediately dropped when it stalled at Number 30 on the Billboard list, even though the song was a favorite with the station’s on-air staff.
The latest ratings report, taken during a 13-week period in March, April, May, and June, shows that for the first time since the mid-Seventies, the ratings battle is shaping up into a close race among half a dozen competitors: KSCS, now the leader with a country and western format; KVIL, with its female-oriented soft rock; KKDA, the black-oriented station that is now the number three station; KZEW, a teen-oriented “chain saw rock ’n’ roll” station; and KEGL, a former teeny-bopper rocker that is aiming for the men KVIL doesn’t attract.
“Everybody’s gunning for Chapman and KVIL,” Christopher Haze, program director at KEGL, admits. “I won’t allow this station to try and copy the leader -and they’re still the leader as far as I’m concerned – but we’re going to make a serious run at them.
“Everybody plays records,” he adds. “The trick is to come up with a mix that is going to attract the exact audience that you want. I come from the old McLendon school. You’ve got to provide more than a jukebox. We try to get the on-air people who can deliver the unique entertainment for the 18- to 34-year-old audience that is tired of being courted by the leisure-suit mentality like our friends in Highland Park (KVIL).”
KVIL’S TARGETED AUDIENCE IS 18- to 49-YEAR-OLD women. KEGL, with its harder rock format, is after the boyfriends and husbands of those women. Haze also wants to hold onto the teens who listened to the station when it was KFJZ FM, but he doesn’t want to cater to them. KKDA pitches its product mainly to the black population, but it also attracts a surprising number of white teenagers. KMGC, which is softer than even KVIL, wants older women and men tired of loud music and loud disc jockeys. KFJZ is after the middle-aged and silver-haired set.
Almost every station’s format follows McLendon’s four radio commandments: music, personality, promotion, and news. KSCS though, has been successful solely with its music. Its on-air personalities are more like announcers than disc jockeys; they simply introduce records. The news department is of the “rip and read variety” – news announcers clip the daily newspapers and read them over the air. And the station’s biggest promotion has been its promise to play three songs in a row -no around-the-world trips or free cars here.
KSCS is “country elevator music,” Ron Chapman says, but that’s in the tradition of country and western radio stations. More music and less talk. For KSCS and KPLX, riding the Urban Cowboy fad has been a gold mine. For KLIF, it’s been a bust.
As usual, Gordon McLen-don saw which way the wind was blowing. Sensing the shift from AM to FM, he sold KLIF to Fairchild Industries in 1971 for $10.6 million when it was still the market’s top-rated station. Almost 75 per cent of Dallas’ AM listeners were making the switch to FM, and KLIF’s ratings began to plummet. In 1976, the station was sold to Susquehanna Broadcasting Corporation.
Pennsylvania-based Susquehanna obviously purchased KL1F for what it had been -a 55-share mammoth -instead of what it was at the time of purchase last year: a three-share pip-squeak. In apparent hopes of broadcast dominance, Susquehanna paid $8 million for KLIF. If each share point is worth $500,000 gross annual revenue in this market, KLIF was grossing about $1.5 million annually. That makes it tough to make back the $8 million. So Susquehanna gambled and went from rock to country, bringing in big name country disc jockeys like Don Harris of WBAP and creating a tremendous salary outlay in the process. But instead of going up, the ratings went down. Now KLIF is down to a 1 per cent share of the listening audience. That rating will only produce $500,000 a year in gross annual revenues, guaranteeing a red ink bath for the owners of the once mighty KLIF. Fortunately for Susquehanna, much of the KLIF deficit is made up by profits from sister station KPLX, which is doing well with country stereo.
INDUSTRY OBSERVERS CANT DECIDE IF THE ANE-mic ratings are a sign of an oversaturated country market or the continuing decline of AM radio in Dallas, the most FM-domi-nated market in the country, according to Arbitron findings.
Format changes are always risky. At times they mean instant success, high ratings, and an avalanche of advertising cash. At other times, they spell disaster. Timing is the key. KKDA FM is one station that has experimented with various formats and slogans over the past several years, but has never been able to find a stable listening audience -until recently.
KKDA has been Dallas’ black station since the Fifties. It puttered along until the mid-Seventies with a consistent, if not particularly spectacular, share of about 4 per cent. Suddenly, black-oriented radio stations across the country took off by switching to disco formats. KKDA hedged its bets by sticking with the slogan “K104 Soul.” When its rival for the black market, Fort Worth-based KNOK, went all disco in 1978, KKDA followed suit and changed its slogan to “disco and soul.” In 1979, it became strictly “disco radio,” but it was too late. Disco had already peaked, and the ratings dropped.
Last year, KKDA dropped, disco dropped, and KKDA became simply “K104 music radio.” By dropping the heavy “funk” and disco hits and concentrating on pop songs by mostly black artists, the station has found ratings gold. “They’ll play a lot of songs that we will,” Chapman says. “They’re not that much different from KVIL.” It’s true. A recent Kenny Rogers song, Lady, written and produced by Lionel Ritchie of the Commodores, was a big hit on KKDA.
KEGL, on the other hand, is trying to carve itself a niche as the rock side of KVIL. If KVIL is Kenny Rogers and Anne Murray, KEGL is Bruce Springsteen and Pat Benatar. You won’t hear Barry Manilow on KEGL, and you won’t find Tom Petty’s name on KVIL’s play list. Both station’s play lists are exclusively composed of songs found on Billboard’s “Hot 100.” Each one has about 30 songs on a play list, but they usually play less than half a dozen songs in common during any given week.
Christopher Haze, a former KFJZ FM disc jockey and program director at KNUS, was recruited from Houston’s KILT to revamp KEGL’s image (then known as KFJZ). “Before I got here and there was a change in management, there were some pretty significant problems,” Haze says. “It was labeled a teenybopper station. Very few people over the age of 18 were listening.”
The old call letters were the first to go, for two reasons: They were too closely associated with the teenage audience, and too many people in Dallas knew that KFJZ was a Fort Worth station. (Fort Worth stations rarely do well outside Tarrant County, but most Dallas stations draw well in Fort Worth.)
After considering the paperwork required to change call letters, Haze and station manager Jim Tandy at first decided to keep the letters but ignore them on the air. For six weeks last fall, the station called itself “The Texas Star,” but an audience tuned in expecting a country and western station. It was back to the drawing board.
Haze hit rock bottom in December of 1980 during a night of too many drinks at the Chelsea Street Pub in European Crossroads. He had arrived at the station in September just in time for the disastrous fall ratings “book”; KFJZ’s share audience had slipped to 3.5 per cent, down from almost 6 per cent 18 months before. Even the teenagers were beginning to desert KFJZ FM for “album rock” stations KZEW and KTXQ. The station’s new format and call letters had to be firmly entrenched before the new ratings survey began in mid-March.
“We were trying to come up with a handle for the station,” Haze recalls. “We have a brand name-oriented society. We felt we couldn’t maintain any sort of momentum without a brand name.
“We were sitting there drinking, when suddenly it occurred to me -The Eagle,” he says. “It just popped into my head. I don’t exactly know why. But it was exactly right. The Eagle – it was patriotic. It can mean freedom. It can mean flight. It’s the symbol of America, and there’s nothing negative about that except at income tax time.”
But others were skeptical. There were negative aspects, namely the Philadelphia Eagles football team, which had just eliminated the Dallas Cowboys from their Super Bowl chase. The name was tested by professional survey groups over and over again. “None of the focus groups mentioned the Philadelphia Eagles,” Haze says. Everyone at the station breathed a sigh of relief. The call letters were a more difficult problem. How would they match the Eagle symbol with new call letters. Haze searched the Federal Communication Commission call-letter booklet. Nothing seemed right. Then word came that a California station was switching from a pop to Spanish language format and giving up the KEGL call letters. Perfect. The day the letters went up for grabs, Haze applied for them. The FCC approved on February 19. Haze and station executives hurriedly put together a promotional package, including a fluorescent orange Eagle symbol (which was slapped on billboards all over Dallas and Fort Worth) and a simple four-tone call-letter identification accompanied by the synthesized sounds of an eagle in flight. The new package began on March 15; Arbitron began its new ratings sweep four days later.
Haze got word of the FCC’s approval during his 10 a.m. to noon radio show – right in the middle of a song performed by the rock group the Eagles.
But Haze still had plenty of problems. With 38 stations in the eight-county Dallas/Fort Worth market competing for the estimated 2.6 million regular radio listeners, a virtually all-new radio station was going to be difficult to sell, especially the type of radio station Haze was trying to sell. He didn’t want to alienate the teen audience, but he didn’t want to cater to them either. He had to market a pop rock ’n’ roll station in a market increasingly infatuated with country and western music.
Haze’s aim was to bring in an enthusiastic young staff who would both keep the teenagers and attract an older, more loyal audience to challenge KVIL.
One of Haze’s new disc jockeys could become the next Larry Dixon. Jonathan Doll is a baby-faced 26-year-old who has been a full-time disc jockey since he graduated from high school eight years ago. Like Dixon, he has all-American boy looks: a tan, unlined complexion; clear brown eyes; straight brown hair. Doll, which he insists is his real name, looks about 20, and his boyish, out-of-breath radio delivery makes him sound even younger.
But Doll is an experienced disc jockey; in eight years he has toiled at nine different stations. He sounds extemporaneously witty on the air during his six to 10 p.m. show, but he has carefully practiced his craft. Doll is the master of the droll remark, without being controversial to turn off the advertisers or listeners whom Haze craves.
Doll was named Billboard magazine’s Disc Jockey of the Year last year for his work at a station in Des Moines. But in a manner that has become Doll’s way of life, he had already moved to a station in Fort Pierce, Florida, when he was given the honor. Now that he’s cracked a top 10 market for the first time, Doll is more aware than ever of his status as an expensive, on-the-air racehorse.
“Radio is like being in the service,” Doll says. “You have to move around a lot. My wife is prepared for me to come home any night and tell her to start packing. We pack light.”
Since 1973, when Doll started his career as a “gopher” and part-time disc jockey for a West Palm Beach, Florida, station, he has put in time at stations in Tallahassee, Florida; Jacksonville, Florida; Mobile, Alabama; Des Moines; and Pittsburgh. Life’s been discouraging at times. Doll spent only six weeks in Mobile; and in Pittsburgh he was Fired because not enough young women listened to him.
“This is like the one gig I’ve been waiting for,” he says. “The way I look at it, you practice your craft for a few years, and then get a gig in a big city and enjoy it. I see a lot of potential in this station. It’s gotten too expensive to cart all my furniture around. Every time I see a trailer hitch, I get nervous.”
So far, Haze’s attempts to attract an audience like KVIL’s have met with modest success. The latest ratings marked a substantial increase in KEGL’s audience share. But he’s not about to rest on his laurels and wait for his numbers to come in. Haze is experimenting with new promotions, including a character called the “Moose” (actually disc jockey “Humble” Billy Hayes), whom Haze hopes will challenge Ron Chapman in the mornings; and “The Party,” a radio dating game hosted by Sharon Wilson (real name: Sharon Golinar), a 1972 graduate of Bryan Adams High School.
THE BIGGEST SURPRISE ON THE AM side is KFJZ AM, owned by Tulsa’s Swanson Broadcasting, which also owns KEGL. Last year, KFJZ adopted a format featuring the big band sound and the crooners of the Forties and Fifties. With the slogan “The Music of Your Life,” KFJZ is the first area station to actively court the older listener, the one who would be more likely to have an old AM radio in his home anyway. KFJZ’s ratings have tripled since initiating the oldies format. But its success is just one bright spot in what appears to be a bleak future for AM radio.
AM isn’t dead yet by any means. Until last year, KVIL’s biggest competitors for number one were WBAP, with the area’s strongest signal, and KRLD, both AM stations. KRLD had been successful with its all-news format. Its morning news show generally outranks Chapman’s show; and KRLD has a healthy share of the 18- to 34-year-old males throughout the day. Unfortunately, the news format isn’t as popular among women, and the station also attracts more than its share of listeners over 45 years old. Advertisers worry about stations with such an “old” audience, which doesn’t spend as much money on advertised products as the prime 18 to 34 group.
But all the experts agree that no AM station ever will be a serious threat to the FM leaders. FM is here to stay; no technology looms on the horizon to upset the FM leaders the way FM upset AM a decade ago. Today’s FM leaders are likely to be leading the market by mid-decade.
“There’s no way in a market the size of Dallas that anyone is going to come along overnight and turn the market on its head,” says Mickey Ashworth, program director of KIXK, Dallas’s newest station and the area’s 10th country and western format. “This is obviously a tremendous FM market, and nothing’s going to change that.”
KVIL will probably continue to be the leading popular music station by 1985, and there’s speculation throughout the industry that it will regain the rating’s top spot once the Urban Cowboy fad dies. “Country and western music is this year’s disco music in a way,” says Steve Nichol, program director of soft rocker KMGC. “The market cannot sustain that sort of competition. I would feel much safer running a country and western station if I was someplace like Seattle, which doesn’t have a country and western tradition. Once the fad fades, a station might survive in a market that doesn’t have a lot of country and western competition.”
The fading of country and western could finish off some dying AM frequencies, where there are seven country formats. “Right now in AM, they’re just throwing anything up on the wall to see what will stick,” said an area station manager. “It could be real exciting, but mostly they just rehash tired old formulas.”
Ron Chapman and crew aren’t sitting around waiting for the country fad to end. They’re actively experimenting with new promotions like “Take Your Radio to Work Day,” during which disc jockeys cruise the city giving away $50 to anyone listening to his radio at work, during business hours. “One of the reasons the beautifui music stations do so well in the ratings is that a lot of offices listen to them in the middle of the day,” Chapman says. “As more and more people go to work, like women, we want some of that action.”
Most competitors feel KVIL will remain on top because of its personnel. The turnover there is very low. All-night disc jockeys on KVIL are notoriously frustrated waiting for an opening during the daytime hours. In the last four years, KVIL has had only one opening.
Larry Dixon continues as king of the afternoon disc jockeys. If there are any clouds on his horizon, they are that the thrill is gone from spinning records and telling jokes. Larry Dixon the star would like to become Larry Dixon the station manager. “I have a dream,” he says. “I’d like to own a station. No, I wouldn’t. I’d like to own 12 stations.
“When I first began to think of the business, all I wanted to do was get on the air and tell people that it was 83 degrees outside,” Dixon says. “It wasn’t the glory that attracted me, really. It just looked like it would be fun to do. I had no career aspirations at the time beyond that.
“I was a junior in high school before I believed I could actually be on the radio,” Dixon says. “One night at dinner, I just told my parents. And my father said, ’Why don’t you?’ That one sentence changed my life.
“Since then, I’ve had offers to go to New York and Los Angeles,” he says. “I’ve turned them all down. I like this area better than anywhere else I’ve lived in my life. The L.A. market is such a rat race. I thought I could go out there and get a game show or a soap opera, but I don’t like all that auditioning. I don’t want to be caught up in all that.”
But he is caught up in it; autograph hounds, constant phone calls, groupies. The problem is especially acute for Larry Dixon, whose handsome mug has been prominently displayed in newspaper and magazine advertisements and on billboards over the city’s busiest freeways. It’s gotten so that Dixon is even afraid to wander into his neighborhood Tom Thumb unless he’s dressed to the teeth.
“The other day after I was running – and I was wearing the rattiest pair of gym shorts that I could find – I went into the supermarket,” Dixon recalls. “This one woman recognized me, looked me up and down, and said, ’It’s nice to know that you have to eat like everyone else.’
“But I like to be recognized too,” he adds. “Other times, I like to sit in a dark corner. I don’t mind if I don’t get autograph requests, but it’s nice if I do. The trouble with me is that I’m a completely different person in the control room than I am off the air, and people don’t realize that. In the control room, I don’t know what Larry Dixon is going to do next. This Larry Dixon is a conservative. I have a drink or two, but I’m basically a conservative guy in a business that’s not.”
Dixon wasn’t always such a conservative thinker. As a teenager, the only way he could think of escaping the dusty hills of North Carolina was to become a game show host in Los Angeles.
It was certainly a feasible ambition for the model-handsome Dixon. With his neatly cropped brown hair, greenish eyes, and teeth that are an orthodontist’s dream, Dixon resembles a young, square-jawed soap opera doctor. In fact, when Larry was a boy, he also used to dream of starring in General Hospital.
But Dixon worried that his parents, lifelong Baptists who rarely missed the Sunday church service or Wednesday night prayer meetings, would not encourage their son into a profession that appeared to be so much fun.
But Floyd and Mary Natalie Dixon were more prepared for his offbeat career choice than Larry Dixon had assumed. Mrs. Dixon’s favorite picture is nine-year-old Larry sitting beside his brother Ray’s General Electric portable record player pretending he is a disc jockey. At the time, the Dixon family was living in Bentonville, Arkansas, in the northwest corner of the state. Ray, who is five years older, would listen to WHB AM in Kansas City at night. When he would leave, Larry would sneak out his brother’s records and pretend he was a WHB disc jockey, alternating hits by the Platters with readings from the family Bible: Larry Dixon presents “Rock ’n’ roll and Revelations.”
The Dixons remained somewhat skeptical, however, especially after he dropped out of the University of North Carolina in 1969, at the end of his junior year, to take an on-air job with WIXE AM in Monroe, a county seat of 1500 people 50 miles southeast of Charlotte.
“My parents were devastated,” Dixon recalls. “The term ’disc jockey’ is not exactly like president of Chase Manhattan Bank. I don’t think they realized what you could do with it. It wasn’t until I was working in Jacksonville, Florida, and making more money than my father that he began to appreciate it.
“I remember the first song I ever played. It was Soul Man by Sam and Dave. But I had no idea what it took to be a disc jockey. The music was louder than I was. In the background there was just this noise that vaguely resembled a human voice with a bad southern accent.”
Dixon continued to tape himself even after he landed his first full-time job. “I would play it back, and say, ’Wow, that stinks.’ Within a month after I started at WIXE, my accent was gone.”
Dixon lasted a year in Monroe before he was recruited by the new owners of Jacksonville’s AM powerhouse WAPE, known locally as “The Big Ape.” Its hallmark was an earsplitting Tarzan yell. With just a year of experience under his belt, Dixon became The Ape’s morning man, and he flopped. Within a month, he was shifted to the less pressure-filled 9 a.m. to noon slot, where he stayed for two years. He then switched back to mornings. He was The Ape’s morning man until 1975.
By that time, most of the nation had switched its radio loyalties from AM to FM in the biggest revolution in the radio industry since the advent of television. Dixon was still on an AM station, and he wanted to make the switch, too.
Fairbanks Broadcasting, which owned a station in Cocoa Beach, Florida, that competed with The Ape, offered him a drive-time slot at its Boston station. Dixon turned it down. “You can imagine my position being in Florida five and a half years and moving to cold, cold Boston.” Fairbanks came back with an offer of the 9 a.m. to noon slot at KVIL, which in 1975 was just beginning its assault on market leaders WBAP and KRLD. In 1978, just as KVIL reached the summit, Dixon replaced veteran afternoon drive-time man Michael Selden, who left the station for KNUS in a dispute over KVIL’s soft-rock format. We all know where Selden is now.
But sometimes, if a disc jockey is lucky, he can hook up with an audience just as it comes of age, and that audience will stick with him forever.
“Every market has one or two disc jockeys that stay there year after year,” said KIX’s Mickey Ashworth. “In Chicago, you have Wally Phillips and Larry Lujack. There’s Gary Owens and a couple of others in Los Angeles. But in Dallas, there’s only one: Ron Chapman. Just mark my words. When every other disc jockey working in the market today is gone, Ron Chapman will still be there, doing the morning show and bringing in the ratings.”
Chapman was fortunate to hit the Dallas market in the late Fifties, just as the baby-boom babies began turning on their transistors. But those first Dallas teenagers who listened to Chapman (after Gordon McLendon hired him away from a station in New Haven, Connecticut) didn’t know it was Ron Chapman they grooved to in the morning. They knew him as Irving Harrigan, the name McLendon pinned on him when Chapman was still in Connecticut.
“I came to Dallas late one night and of course I turned to KLIF,” Chapman says. “There was an ad for this Harrigan fellow. Well, it was election year, and I thought that he was a politician or something, but the ad was weird, and I thought ’Dallas certainly is a strange place.’”
It wasn’t until later that Chapman found out that he was Harrigan and that he was being teamed in the morning with a fellow by the name of Charlie Brown. That wasn’t his real name, either. (It was Jack Woods.) But Charlie and Harrigan were destined to make radio history. Jack and Chapman weren’t.
McLendon promoted them heavily. They played exhibition games for Lamar Hunt’s infant AFL team, the Dallas Texans (now the Kansas City Chiefs). The biggest selling postcard of 1961 featured Charlie serving up Harrigan’s head on a platter. At every public appearance, the duo dressed in snappy red blazers embossed with the letters “KLIF.” Teenagers loved them – especially the girls.
Chapman solidified his reputation as the “Dalai Lama of Dallas radio,” as he kiddingly calls himself, in the mid-Sixties, when he briefly flirted with television fame.
At one time, he hosted three shows for WFAA TV. The most popular of those shows was Sumpin’ Else, a local American Bandstand that featured miniskirted girls who danced the watusi to the latest hits. It aired weekdays after school and was taped at special Channel 8 studios at NorthPark, where hundreds of girls lined up each week to audition for the show.
“I don’t think people realize that those very girls who were watching Sumpin’ Else in 1966 are listening to KVIL today,” Chapman says. “A lot of those kids who grew up with KLIF are now with us. As long as we keep them, we’re going to be in good shape.”
And there s the dilemma for Chapman and other program directors: Should stations continue to pitch to the baby-boom generation, which is beginning to pass the age most desired by advertisers? Chapman, for one, has decided to stay with the audience that has been loyal to him since the Sixties. “There are so many of them, they’re always going to influence the trends,” Chapman predicts. It’s not coincidence, after all, that contemporary high school girls dress to look 30, while in 1966, 30-year-old women dressed to look 18.
But the audience is fragmenting. The latest siphoning of the audience has been by country and western formats that Chapman feels are most likely responsible for KVIL’s 2 per cent ratings drop last year.
The beneficiary appears to have been KSCS, which has quietly become the market leader since it dropped its Fort Worth-associated call letters of WBAP FM four years ago. Chapman is generally worried about KSCS’s strength; KSCS is equally popular among men and women in the baby-boom generation. “They’re no fluke, unfortunately,” Chapman says. “They’re here to stay.” Other experts in the industry point out that baby-boom babies are notoriously fad prone -they were responsible for the hula hoop and the pet rock, remember. Country and western music, critics say, is just this year’s disco radio.
Larry Dixon can’t help but hope those critics are right. His job rests on attracting a majority of young adults. The station’s reputation rests on the slim shoulders of program director Larry Dixon.
HE’S MORE TIRED THESE DAYS. He gets less sleep, and his mind is constantly in high gear.
“I keep a pad and pencil in the car and a small tape recorder there, too,” he says. “If I see something when I’m driving home from work, I may make a note of it.” Almost every night, Dixon says, he awakens at three in the morning to jot a note on the pad he keeps by his bedside.
But Dixon insists he’s more invigorated these days than he has been since his days at the tiny station in Monroe, North Carolina. “I miss playing tennis with my wife in the morning,” he says. “And I miss not getting to sleep late. But this is so much more fun. I’m so much more involved than I ever used to be.
“I went through a mid-life crisis a few years ago, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he says. “Now I know what 1 want to do for the rest of my life.”
But the most important time of Dixon’s day-just as it is with Chapman-is the three hours he’s on the air.
Because Dixon knows, professionally speaking, that he will live or die by the numbers. If he drops more points in the Arbitron ratings period that begins at the end of September, he’s got to be looking over his shoulder a little and wondering. There are hundreds of Larry Dixons in Tampa and Des Moines and Fresno, all waiting for an opportunity at a market like Dallas/Fort Worth. And Larry Dixon knows the radio business well enough to know that when the numbers drop, heads roll. Even at venerable broadcasting institutions like KVIL.
He’s got to hope the jokes he throws out between commercials and records cause people to laugh instead of punch that button and tune into KMGC. He’s got to hope that Merle Haggard, Ronny Milsap, and Johnny Paycheck and all the dozens of other country and western artists being played by KSCS don’t draw away the 18-to 34-year-old women that KVIL’s advertisers want so badly. He’s got to hope that some new music fad doesn’t turn the recording industry around; or if it does, he’s got to hope that KVIL picks up on it first.
Because Dixon knows that in this busi ness, the only difference between being the star of the drive-time airwaves and being an encyclopedia salesman is about three ratings points.
Hype Hall of Fame
In radio promotion, money is often no object. Taste isn’t either.
BACK WHEN RADIO stations concentrated their promotions during a four-week ratings sweep, station personnel would meet clandestinely and indulge in large quantities of nicotine and caffeine until they reached a late-night inspired state of consciousness. Out of these brainstorming sessions came goofy gimmicks that epitomized the most meaningless kind of hype for hype’s sake. Find a shopping mall ribbon cutting, rent a hootchie coochie girl, distribute something to the people for free, and there you have it: a veritable radio-worthy event. Some of the promos, however, were terrific bits of radioland ingenuity-even when they didn’t work. But because many program directors have deemed the Dallas/Fort Worth area officially “promotioned out,” we may have seen the last of the great radio attention-getters. The rating sweeps are 13 weeks long now, and that’s too long for a gag’s laugh to last. Here’s a list of the most spectacular promotions of the recent and unrewindable past:
– KLIF’s “living billboard.” Located downtown near the station at Commerce and Pearl, the billboard featured a shapely blonde model who spent all day sitting in a living room constructed to its front. Dubbed “the laziest girl in town,” the billboard boasted that “the only thing she has ’on’ today is KLIF.”
– The great 50-mile march. Ron Chapman (then known as KLIF’s Irving Harri-gan) and his partner Charlie Brown staged a downtown march in support of President Kennedy’s fitness program. For weeks, the morning duo promoted a march between the Southland Life Building and Sheraton Dallas, which are less than a block apart. But the 3000 people who showed up for the march didn’t realize that and were left scratching their heads when Charlie and Harrigan abandoned the march after a block, buckled over in laughter.
-The KLIF election poll. KLIF disc jockeys would tell their listeners to drive by a certain street corner during election day and register their preferences with a waiting disc jockey. For the Kennedy-Nixon battle, voters sounded their horns for Kennedy and flashed their lights for Nixon. There was only a .2 per cent difference between the KLIF poll and Dallas County results.
-The great KVIL-KNUS billboard war. When Ron Chapman became KVIL’s program director, he blanketed the major freeways with billboards. In the early Seventies, Bart McLendon (Gordon’s son) countered with a billboard that read “KNUS Top Banana” right behind and above a KVIL billboard on Stemmons Freeway. Chapman was furious. He had the KVIL billboard redone to show the KVIL staff members looking over their shoulders at the KNUS billboard and eating bananas. The billboard read, “Look who’s still behind KVIL.” McLendon capitulated and offered Chapman a job.
-The KNUS treasure hunt. This 1972 promotion ripped off from KLIF’s heyday featured a 30-day on-the-air hunt for $50,000. For 30 days, disc jockeys gave out clues. At the end of the 30 days whoever could recall correctly the most clues won the $50,000. Most gave up by the end. During that promotion, the ratings dropped. (The $50,000 was won by a little old lady in Oak Cliff.)
– Rod Roddy’s nudism. KLIF talk show host Rod Roddy was the bad boy of Dallas radio in the late Sixties. He tried to hype the ratings of his program by doing the show in the nude for one week and try ing to describe to listeners what it was like. Roddy was known for insulting his guests and listeners who called in. He was later let go after a former Miss America threw cof fee at Roddy in the middle of a show and stomped off in a huff.
-KBOX’s disc jockey tryout. When Allen Peck’s female partner became pregnant several years ago, KBOX had the great idea of letting young female listeners try out for the spot. It worked. Ratings went up, and the station was swamped with entrants. Peck got tired of it when they tried it again later, and he left the station for newcomer KIX 106.
KFJX’s commercial-free month. When beautiful music KQXI became a rock ’n’ roll KFJZ FM in 1977, it started out by promoting a “commercial-free month.” Ratings boomed, but the audience was mostly teenagers, a woe that plagued the station until it was forced to change its letters to KEGL.
KNUS bumper sticker fiasco. When KNUS began promoting itself as KLIFs “little sister,” the station issued a distinctive navy blue with white letters window sticker. You could spot them all over town, and the McLendon people were happy about the promotion until one enterprising listener rearranged the letters to spell SUNK, which is not the image the McLendon people had in mind for the new station.
– KLIF’s London and Englemann dis aster. In the waning days of KLIF as a pop music station, KLIF spent more than $100,000 to bring London and Englemann from Los Angeles to anchor the morning show. Billboards and bus placards her alded their arrival all over the city. A con test was held called the “London and En glemann fan club,” which promised nov elty prizes for people who joined. But the station and disc jockeys had a parting of the ways over money before they had been there six months, and there were few win ners. London and Englemann are now in Houston. -S.K.
If you don’t think names are important in the radio business, see how ’Cloyd Moll’ rolls off your tongue.
TO MAKE IT BIG in radio you have to develop a persona. You have to become a personality. To do that, you must first change your voice and your accent so you will sound like all the other disc jockeys. Then you’ve got to change your name so it will sound like all the other disc jockeys’ names. That’s how Ralph Chapman became Ron Chapman.
Of course, that was only after he spent a few years as Irving Harrigan, which was a good name when he hit the Dallas radio market at KLIF during the Fifties.
“When I first got here, I heard this promotion on KLIF about Irving Harrigan,” Chapman says. “I thought he was a politician. Then I went to this station party, and I was introduced around as Irving Harrigan. I said, ’Wait a minute. I like the old family name.’ But later, I was introduced somewhere else as Irving Harrigan, and the crowd went crazy. I decided I liked it a little better.”
Chapman remained Irving Harrigan until he went to Channel 8 in the mid-Sixties and was told to leave the name at the station. (KLIF passed down the Harrigan name through a series of disc jockeys, one of whom has appropriated it and is still using it in San Diego.)
After living as Irving for several years, Chapman decided he couldn’t go back to Ralph.
He came up with Ron. “I experimented with Rick and Rock, but I thought Ron had staying power,” he says. (It has such staying power that political observers credit the name with electing State District Judge Ron Chapman to the bench in 1978. He became the first lawyer in 25 years to knock off an incumbent. The disc jockey and the judge don’t even know one another.)
But Chapman isn’t the only air personality to give up his or her family name in pursuit of glory, as the following hall of fame will tell:
Charlie Van Dyke (formerly KLIF, now WRKO in Boston): Charles Sniveley. Charlie developed a voice like a 40-year-old game show host when he was 13. His mother had to drive him to work at KXOL in Fort Worth because he was too young to drive. But with a name like Sniveley, he would have gone nowhere.
Cat Simon (KVIL): If you were given the name Cloyd Moll at birth, wouldn’t you change it?
Harry Nelson (KNUS): Victor Pryles.
Cuzzin’ Lenny (KLIF): Leonard Henderson. He was the first black disc jockey to star at a white-dominated radio station; he thought it gave him a friendly -but hip -image.
Sharon Wilson (KEGL): Sharon Golihar. Her station manager hoped listeners would think she was related to the Wilson sisters of the rock group Heart.
Jim White (KEGL): His real first name if Clyde. How many disc jockeys have you ever heard named Clyde?
Jimmy Rabbit (formerly KLIF): Dale Edward Payne just doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily.
Kevin McCarthy (formerly WFAA): Dan Cory. Some fine Irish names are better than others.
Jimmy Stewart (WBAP): Kerry Alford.
Gene Kraft (Texas State Network): Gene Ashcraft.
Mike O’Shea (formerly KLIF): Mike Williams. – S.K.
Pilot Of The Air Waves
Gordon McLendon didn’t just make a killing in Top 40 radio, he invented it.
BEFORE GORDON McLENDON launched his attack on the business with all the subtlety of General Patton, radio in Dallas was … well, dying.
Listeners were deserting the big stations in droves for the novelty of television, which offered many radio favorites, but added pictures. More importantly, along with the listeners, the advertisers were jumping ship. There were those sage voices who were predicting the end of radio.
But Gordon McLendon wasn’t listening. He was in Palestine, Texas, playing with paltry KNET, a 1000-watt station. A year later, he moved to Dallas and purchased KLIF, which served Oak Cliff (hence the catchy call letters) with a 1000-watt signal so weak you could hardly hear it east of the Trinity River. The station didn’t even broadcast at night.
McLendon had big plans, but Dallas broadcasting big shots just laughed at this hick son of a two-bit movie theater owner from Paris, Texas. But they learned-just like McLendon’s competitors learned – when he crossed the Trinity with KLIF and set the Dallas broadcasting market on its ear.
In the process, this sharp-nosed young hustler who called himself “The Ol’ Scotchman” would rejuvenate popular radio across the country with a format he invented: a format called “Top 40.”
“At that time, the big stations in Dallas were WRR, WFAA, and KRLD,” says Ron Chapman, now Dallas’ premier radio personality, once a radio apprentice of McLendon’s. “They were all affiliated with networks. You would have news in the morning, daytime dramas in the afternoon, popular music in the evening, and classical music at night. It was a real hodgepodge, and people were tired of it. McLendon was the first person to take popular music and play it 24 hours a day.
There was nothing like it at the time.”
By 1952, KLIF was the Dallas radio station. Not only was it number one in the ratings, by the end of the decade it was literally destroying the competition with audience shares of more than 50 per cent. Radio executives had never seen anything like it, and they never will again. It didn’t take long until KLIF imitations hit the airwaves in every major American city.
But McLendon wasn’t satisfied with just one station in one city. By 1960, he had formed Liberty Broadcasting System, a Top 40 network that was carried on 458 stations during its peak. McLendon owned KLIF and 13 other stations outright, including top-rated KILT in Houston, KTSA in San Antonio, KELP in El Paso, and stations in Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Buffalo, San Francisco, and Oakland.
At the same time, McLendon took over the Tri-State Theatre Chain founded by his father, Barton R. McLendon, in Idabel, Oklahoma, in 1932. Although the chain was originally limited to theaters in small towns, Gordon McLendon moved its headquarters to Dallas in the Fifties.
The theaters -including the Preston Royal, the Park Forest, the Casa Linda, the Gemini and Apollo drive-ins, and the giant Capri downtown -and KLIF were an unbeatable empire based on teenagers and young adults. The radio stations promoted the theaters and vice versa.
The empire seemed self-perpetuating in the Sixties, and McLendon began “dabbling” in politics, real estate, the oil business, and the purchase of precious metals, which now makes up the majority of his business dealings.
The much-imitated KLIF system of music, news, promotion, and personality dominated the airwaves. Billboards were everywhere. Disc jockeys that appeared at McLendon theaters drew crowds as though they were movie stars. At one point in 1971 McLendon positioned a disc jockey on top of a pole above the Gemini Drive-in on Central Expressway for 100 days to promote his new FM station, KNUS. (McLendon has long since sold the station, but the pole remains.)
Critics thought the “Ol’ Scotchman” had flipped when he sold top-rated KLIF for $10.5 million to Fairchild Industries in 1971. But time has borne out the wisdom of that decision, as KLIF’s current rock-bottom ratings testify.
McLendon, now 60, sold off the rest of his media empire throughout the Seventies until he was left with just KNUS. He sold that in 1979 for $3.75 million to concentrate on other aspects of the empire.
But his touch is still with us. Many of today’s program directors and station formats are patterned after KLIF. Ron Chapman worked there during the Sixties, and he sets a McLendon style for KVIL that is consciously copied throughout the city.
“Everyone learned a lot from the man,” Chapman says. “He changed this business like it will never be changed again.” – S.K.
The Way They Were
A year ago KVIL was number one in Dallas, but in radio, a year ago doesn’t matter.
THERE’S A REASON RADIO station managers get nervous during the two Arbi-tron rating periods each year: Every share point is worth half a million dollars in annual advertising revenues. Ad rates plummet at the drop of a rating point. Careers rise and fall at the placement of a decimal point. Good numbers can mean a raise. Bad numbers mean it’s time to pack. And often, that can affect everyone from the general manager to the mail clerk.
Arbitron determines the ratings on the basis of about 3000 “diaries” sent to randomly selected addresses in the Dallas/ Fort Worth market. (Until a decade ago, the two cities were considered separate markets.) Diarists log their radio listening time during all hours of the day and night, even at work. If your office has piped-in Muzak, for instance, and you’re a diarist, you have to list the station the Muzak is turned to. When Arbitron tabulates the results in the spring and fall of every year, each diary represents a certain number of Dallas/Fort Worth households, depending on how many diaries are returned to Arbitron’s New York headquarters.
Arbitron recently lengthened its ratings “sweep” periods from four to 13 weeks each fall and spring to make the ratings more realistic. Stations had complained that promotions during the sweeps “hyped the ratings” of certain stations and didn’t reflect the stations’ true strengths. The first 13-week sweep, conducted between March 19 and June 10, did show a substantial jumbling of stations. But that’s always the case, as a comparison of ratings over the last three years shows.
Rank Station Rating Rank
1981 Spring/81 Fall/80 Spring/80 Fall/79 Spring/79 Fall/78 1978
KSCS 8.9 8.7 7.9 8.2 6.9 6.4 4.
KVIL 8.4 8.5 10.5 11.1 10.8 9.8 1.
KKDA FM 6.9 5.5 5.1 5.8 4.7 5.5
WBAP 6.5 6.4 9.2 7.6 11.2 7.8 2.
KMEZ 5.9 7.0 5.5 4.8 5.4 5.8
KRLD 5.6 7.7 6.7 7.3 6.8 7.2 3.
KPLX 5.1 5.8 2.7 1.6 2.1 2.3 17.
KZEW 5.0 4.7 4.9 3.8 2.8 3.1 14.
KEGL 5.0 3.5 3.8 3.8 5.7 4.9 8.
KOAX 4.7 3.8 6.4 5.1 6.2 5.6 6.
KNOK FM 4.7 4.4 3.9 4.2 3.6 3.4 1
KTXQ 4.6 4.0 4.5 5.1 6.8 4.6 9.
KNUS 3.4 2.2 2.5 3.3 2.9 4.1 10.
KMGC 2.8 3.2 3.8 3.3 2.1 2.6 16.
WFAA 2.7 3.7 4.3 4.4 4.6 4.0 11.
KBOX 2.7 3.0 3.3 4.0 4.0 3.3 1
KFJZ 2.2 1.8 *** 1.0 1.3 1.7 18.
KPBC 1.4 1.2 0.9 0.5 0.8 1.5 20.
KLIF 1.4 1.6 1.9 2.3 2.1 2.9 1
KAFM 1.4 1.7 1.0 1.7 1.2 1.7 19.
The ratings comparison shows the ascendancy of country and western radio formats. In less than three years, KSCS has increased its audience share by 2.5 per cent and risen from fourth to first in the ratings. Even more spectacular were the gains made by KPLX, which almost doubled its audience in three years and rose 10 spots in the ratings.
Seasonal variations also become apparent in the comparison. WBAP’s spring ratings -when it broadcasts Texas Rangers baseball games -are always substantially higher than its ratings in the fall. But its decline, even with baseball, is apparent during the last three years. KRLD also generally rates higher in the fall because of its Cowboys games broadcasts. -S.K.
Dialing For Dollars
Radio stations make money not only from how many people are listening to them, but who is listening.
ADVERTISING AGENCIES, major department stores, blue jeans manufacturers, and car dealers don’t buy time on radio shows because they like a disc jockey or because they prefer a certain type of music. They buy air time because of the others who like a certain disc jockey or a certain type of music.
Coppertone would buy hours of commercial time on WRR FM, for example, if they thought sun worshippers listen to classical music while they bake by the pool. But they don’t. So you’ll find Coppertone ads on contemporary hit radio stations like KVIL and KEGL. Conversely, Cadillac dealers aren’t breaking down the doors at the teen-oriented album rock stations, and western wear manufacturers don’t buy air time on black-oriented stations like KKDA FM.
Almost every program director in town is gearing his station toward the largest audience that will attract the wealthiest advertisers. If he doesn’t get that audience, he very likely will lose his job, and the station will get a new format. Here is a list, by preference, of the select audiences to whom both station executives and advertisers pitch their products.
Eighteen- to 34-year-old women. Advertisers and program directors salivate over young, professional women for a myriad of reasons. There are more of them -approximately 12,000 more-living in the Dallas/Fort Worth area than their male counterparts, and they spend approximately 43 hours a week listening to the radio, according to figures compiled by Arbitron, the New York-based radio rating service. Men spend about 41 hours a week tuned to their radios. If these 18- to 34-year-old women are single, they tend to spend more money on consumer goods than men, advertisers say. And if they’re married, they dominate the family’s spending habits. KVIL has this market locked up, but other stations aiming for these women include KSCS, KMGC, WBAP, KIX, and almost all the others.
Eighteen- to 34-year-old men. According to Arbitron, there are 468,000 men in this age group living in the Dallas area, slightly less than their female contemporaries. But the reason they’re not preferred to women is that the men aren’t true consumers, advertisers say. When men in this age group leave college, they don’t set up housekeeping like women. They rent furniture rather than buy. They spend almost half the amount that women do on clothes. They hold onto old cars longer. Only when they marry, do these men begin to spend more money, but then it’s their wives who generally make the spending decisions. Men prefer news. KVIL, KSCS, KRLD, WFAA.
Thirty-four- to 65-year-old men. Generally, this age group is the wealthiest of the general population. But by age 35, conventional thinking goes, these men are past the age of prime conspicuous consumption. They’re more interested in exotic vacations and expensive sporting goods -the type of products that don’t readily wear out, so they’re not advertised often on the radio. KRLD, WBAP prominent here.
Thirty-four- to 65-year-old women. Once women pass the threshold of 35, they tend to stop forking over the big bucks. Like the men their age, these women presumably have made all their major purchases by the age of 35. Their attractiveness to advertisers grows less and less the closer they get to 65. There are also a lot less of them than there are younger women. Advertisers could change their thinking about this middle-aged group of men and women as the baby boom generation begins to pass into this category. WBAP, KSCS, KVIL, KMGC, KMEZ, KOAX.
Teenagers. “Those stations that live by the teenager, die by the teenager. They’re the most fickle group around. You can’t trust them,” say some Dallas program directors. Lately, they’ve become hated and reviled by station managers and advertising executives. They spend a lot of money, but on inexpensive items like soft drinks, blue jeans, and records. KZEW, KTXQ, KEGL.
Anyone over 65. They have little disposable income, and what they have they don’t spend on nonessentials. Stations with large audiences of senior citizens are often in trouble because listeners have a tendency to die off. KFJZ and KRLD have this market locked up. KMEZ and KOAX also have large shares of this audience.