KDAY, the Los Angeles radio station that helped usher in rap music as a commercial force, is back on the air after a nearly 14-year hiatus and looking to pioneer a new musical subgenre: "classic rap."
Since KDAY debuted on Los Angeles airwaves in the early 1980s as a low-powered AM station at 1580 on the dial, rap has grown from an underground phenomenon to the largest commercial force in radio.
Now, back on the air, KDAY-FM (93.5) is attempting to chart new territory by playing songs from the 1990s and earlier cutting against the grain of the relentlessly youth-oriented genre. Rap has been around for a generation, but its listeners generally are younger than 30.
If KDAY succeeds in Los Angeles, it will be the first rap station in the United States to profit by mining rap's back catalog. That would be a second precedent for KDAY, which was the nation's first round-the-clock rap station back in the early 1980s.
"If they do succeed in reaching an older audience, this will be a first," said Larry Heller, president of Music Research Consultants Inc., a Los Angeles-based consumer research firm. "The values of hip-hop are not just street values, they're young values. This is an interesting experiment. It's risky."
That may be, but there is a lot of money to be made. Rap and its more musical cousin, R & B;, are the most popular genres on American airwaves. In 2004, rap and R & B; accounted for 61 of the top 100 most played singles on radio stations, according to Billboard magazine.
KDAY is operated by Styles Media Group LLC, a Florida company that owns 17 radio stations and plans to complete the purchase of the L.A. property this summer. The new owners are gambling they can peel off some of the listenership several rap- and R & B-oriented; stations, including top-rated KPWR-FM (105.9), the Emmis Communications Corp.-owned outlet that calls itself Power 106.
Styles calls itself an underdog in a marketplace increasingly dominated by large broadcasters such as Clear Channel Communications Inc. and Viacom Inc.'s Infinity Broadcasting division. But Styles wants to borrow a page from their playbooks: Thomas DiBacco, executive vice president and chief operating officer, said the company plans to purchase a cluster of stations around Los Angeles.
"It's going to take a little while to get that station profitable, just because of all the promotion we have to do," DiBacco said. "It always takes a couple of years."
KDAY pulled in a 1.1 share in the winter 2005 Arbitron Inc. ratings, far behind KPWR 4.6 share but ahead of 14 of the Los Angeles market's 43 stations.
Station Manager Anthony Acampora said KDAY is targeting the 25-34 demographic of both genders and all ethnicities. He said only 25 percent to 30 percent of its play list draws from the past year, compared with more than two-thirds of KPWR's. "It's adult hip-hop, it's not as current-driven," he said.
KDAY's playlist extends from the pioneering New York rap groups Sugarhill Gang and Public Enemy to the rise of West Coast rappers such as Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg in the early 1990s. KDAY announced its return to the airwaves last year with N.W.A.'s "Straight Outta Compton," a signature track in the Los Angeles-based gangsta rap movement of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The station played a seminal role in developing and promoting West Coast rap music in the 1980s, but struggled with a poor signal and a declining audience once competitors emerged.
In 1991, KDAY's owner sold the then-AM station for $7.2 million to a broadcaster that turned it into a business-news station. That flopped and later the Southwest division of Spanish Broadcasting System Inc. bought the signal and equipment and operated the 93.5 frequency as KZBA "La Sabrosa," a Spanish-language tropical music station.
Meanwhile, the KDAY call letters were controlled by a station in Independence, on the eastern flank of the Sierra Nevada, which broadcast an adult contemporary format known as "beautiful music."
Styles Media bought the KDAY moniker from the Independence station for an undisclosed price, and last August it agreed to buy Redondo Beach-based KDAY and KDAI-FM, which broadcasts the same programming from a transmitter in Ontario, for $120 million from Spanish Broadcasting.
Styles is upgrading the Redondo Beach and Ontario transmitters and promoting the format change. Currently, some listeners in the San Gabriel Valley experience crossover from the Redondo Beach and Ontario signals, a problem that is supposed to be corrected with the upgrade.
Meanwhile, station managers at KPWR say the competition will be nothing new.
Program Director Jimmy Steal said the success of KPWR, which is tied with talk station KFI-AM (640) for the top Arbitron rating in Los Angeles, has driven other stations to try to peel away chunks of its listenership, which skews young and Latino.
"Power 106 is the most competed-against station in the market," Steal said. "I feel like we've got the largest target on our backs because we've been No. 1 for close to three years which is both good and bad."
Steal was circumspect about whether the market can support another full-time rap station. "Obviously, if anyone can make something work in the ratings where they can pay off their (bank) note, that's the minimum they need to do," he said. "Making it work viably and adhere to a successful business model, that's another question."
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