Radio station KTZN-AM (710) is betting that a new programming format aimed at children will be more profitable than its just-ended experiment in talk radio aimed at women.
KTZN last week was broadcasting such pop oldies as "YMCA" by The Village People and "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper after it switched Tuesday night from a talk radio format promoted as "The Zone" to a new format called "Radio Disney."
The station fired most of its talk show hosts in switching to the new format, which consists primarily of recorded programming originating out of the Dallas headquarters of KTZN's parent company, ABC Radio Networks.
The new format is aimed at children 12 and under and is designed to attract advertisers who want to reach children and their parents, said David Kantor, president of ABC Radio Networks, which is owned by Walt Disney Co.
Kantor said KTZN will aim to attract two primary types of adverisers, "those who want to reach kids and those who want to reach families." A chocolate-drink manufacturer might want to reach children, he said, while an auto manufacturer might want to reach the whole family.
Kantor said the new format already has been proven in tests conducted since November at stations in Atlanta, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City and Birmingham, Ala. Besides KTZN, the new format also will be broadcast soon at stations in Seattle and Boston. The Seattle and Boston stations, both soon to be acquired by new owners, will switch after the sales are complete, Kantor said.
Although the format is aimed primarily at children, it was designed to also be palatable to their parents by including a "Top 40-style" playlist of about 500 oldies and pop tunes. The format also includes hourly features such as ABC News for Kids, ESPN Sports for Kids, and call-in shows and contests.
Kantor said one of the pitches to advertisers wanting to reach families is that 40 percent of the new format's listeners tune in while in their cars, according to tests of the Radio Disney format in four U.S. cities. He said those test results prove that parents and children are listening at the same time.
The new format's success ultimately depends on how many parents tune in, said radio industry analyst Allen Klein, pointing out that Arbitron radio ratings do not track listeners under the age of 12. That's considered crucial because radio advertising rates are pegged to Arbitron ratings.
"The biggest problem they'll have is proving listenership," said Klein, president of Encino-based Media Research Graphics Inc.
Kantor, however, said the younger audience can be tracked through a company called Statistical Research Inc. and through other research sources.
According to Klein, the new format isn't entirely new.
He said it has been tried at some L.A.-area stations, but "those stations don't have full market coverage, so this will be the first real test of it."
Station KPLS-AM (830) and KAHS-AM (850) in Thousand Oaks have been broadcasting the format for several years, said Joy Plaschko, a spokeswoman for Minneapolis-based Children's Broadcasting Corp.
Plaschko said Children's Broadcasting began airing in 1990 and now has a national network of 30 stations. She said the company has filed a federal lawsuit claiming Radio Disney filched the format after working on it jointly at one time.
Kantor declined to comment on the Children's Broadcasting suit, which Plaschko said is pending in federal court.
Klein said the Radio Disney format is less expensive because it is mainly automated, using recorded programming that doesn't require expensive on-air talk show hosts, but Kantor said the switch still involves "a substantial financial commitment." He wouldn't say how much ABC is spending on the new format, however.
All of the Radio Disney programming is broadcast from Dallas and most of it originates there, according to Kantor, although some programming originates from a studio at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. and some future programming may originate in Los Angeles.
"We'd love to do some programming out of Los Angeles, but it's a question of finding the right talent and finding out which parts work or don't work for that area," he said.
Analyst Klein said one factor in the new format's favor is that it could be "a good compromise radio station when the whole family is in the car together."
The music, he said, is "a lot of oldies bubblegum music that has that very, very young appeal but could also appeal to the parents."
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