Goodbye Beatles, hello Dolly.
Happy days are here again, or so it seems on KGIL-AM 1260, which last month switched its format from all Beatles music to show tunes.
From the Hollywood musical "Singin' in the Rain" to the hot new Broadway show "Rent," popular musicals now make up KGIL's programming 24 hours a day, seven days a week making it the only radio station in the country to play just show tunes, according to Saul Levine, owner of station parent Mt. Wilson Broadcasters and KGIL's station manager.
If listening to those nostalgic tunes doesn't stir up memories of the past, the voices of the on-air talent likely will. They include Radio Hall of Famer and former "Laugh-In" emcee Gary Owens, Florence Henderson (best known as a lovable TV mom from "The Brady Bunch"), and Rose Parade announcer Stephanie Edwards (also known as the TV and radio spokeswoman for Lucky supermarkets).
"I had been listening to those wonderful weeks and months of Beatles, and my husband and I were reliving our past. We realized it was going away eventually, so the day I heard the new format my jaw dropped," said Edwards. "Before I lost my courage, I wrote in and I said, 'I'll clean your bathrooms, I'll do anything, just let me be a part of this.' ... Our excitement level is huge."
KGIL's unusual format switch is a somewhat risky move for the station, with ad executives predicting it will only attract an older audience that advertisers are not anxious to reach. But for a station with only about 200,000 listeners a week too small to be rated by the Arbitron Co. experimentation isn't quite so dangerous.
It's too soon to tell whether the new format has attracted or repelled listeners, but Levine's goal is to more than double KGIL's prior figure. He thinks the format will eventually attract about 500,000 listeners a week.
In 1993, Los Angeles-based Mt. Wilson Broadcasters, which also owns classical music station KKGO-FM 105.1, purchased KGIL for $2.5 million. Shortly after, Levine says, he was inspired to switch from KGIL's adult-standard format (vocalists like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett) to show tunes because of the strong response to KKGO's "Music On My Mind," a one-hour program that features Broadway tunes and musical scores.
"There was a great deal of enthusiasm generated," said Levine. "We knew there was a gap in the market. We found that it worked."
In January of this year, KGIL changed to an all-Beatles format, a move planned to be only a one-month transition before switching to show tunes. But a positive listener response prompted Levine to keep the Beatles until July.
"People really enjoyed it," Levine said.
Whether the new format will work for advertisers remains to be seen.
"It's a format that I have never experienced before in my 17 years in the advertising business," said Alison Winston, a media buyer for the L.A.-based Fuller Group. "I'm curious to see how they're going to execute it."
Winston gives this word of advice to the station:
"If they want to make any kind of an impact, they need to stay away from the image of an older format. Florence Henderson was 'The Brady Bunch,' Gary Owens was 'Laugh-In.' They need to mass-appeal-market the station to even entice anyone to sample it."
But radio veteran George Green, who retired last year as station manager of KABC-AM 790 after 38 years, predicts KGIL will likely pull in an affluent audience that advertisers should find attractive.
"Their demographic will be 35 to 64, high-income, professional, San Fernando Valley to Pacific Palisades," Green said.
The compatibilty between KKGO and KGIL, says Levine, is one reason Mt. Wilson Broadcasters made the switch.
"People who listen to classical would also want to listen to show tunes," said Levine. "We feel there's a certain synergy."
Levine believes KGIL will lure advertisers like Mercedes Benz and Neiman Marcus, which currently sponsor KKGO a station that draws a weekly audience of about 600,000. The new format will allow Mt. Wilson Broadcasters to sell advertising on both stations to a single sponsor, thus allowing the advertiser to reach a bigger audience.
In addition to its two L.A. stations, Mt. Wilson owns classical music stations KKHI-FM 100.7 in San Francisco and XBACH-AM 540 in Tijuana (a station with many listeners in San Diego).
Earlier this year, the company paid about $300,000 for an unused part of the AM spectrum, allowing it to simulcast KGIL programming on 1650 AM and thus blast show tunes all over Orange County, in addition to its current coverage in L.A. County.
"We feel it could be a very profitable format by serving the needs of people who don't want to listen to rock n' roll," said Levine. "There are a lot of people who don't enjoy that music."
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