The afternoon talk trio of Frosty, Heidi & Frank signed off from KLSX-FM's old studios near Wilshire Boulevard and Normandie Avenue for the final time last month, three miles to the west, afternoon host Tom Leykis sat ready to inaugurate a new era in Los Angeles radio.
At 3 p.m. on Jan. 17, an engineer at the Infinity Broadcasting-owned station flipped a switch, Leykis came on, and the company's move to consolidate five of its seven Los Angeles stations in one building began.
Listeners might not have been able to tell the difference except that the signal on Los Angeles' leading FM talk station sounded clearer, according to station managers. Since then, Infinity's KTWV, a smooth jazz station formerly in Culver City, also moved in, and three other stations are scheduled to join them by summer.
"Any time you get more stations in one place, you have more back up and more opportunities to work together," said Scott Mason, director of engineering for the West Coast operations of Infinity.
The moves, which are designed to save money and increase operational efficiency, come as Infinity's parent, Viacom Inc., considers splitting into two publicly traded companies.
Infinity would be joined with CBS Television in a new publicly traded company separated from Viacom's cable programming networks under a plan floated this week by Viacom Chief Executive Sumner Redstone.
The implications aren't entirely clear for Infinity's seven Los Angeles radio stations three of which are in the top 10 of Arbitron Inc.'s ratings. Five of the stations are moving into one building on Miracle Mile to share resources and cut costs.
Infinity, the nation's second-largest radio broadcaster after Clear Channel Communications, has been struggling since Viacom acquired it as part of its purchase of CBS Corp. in 2000. Last month, Viacom wrote down the value of its radio division by $10.9 billion, saying that stagnant advertising had sapped its cash flow.
But analysts and Infinity executives say the division's Los Angeles cluster, which includes the market's No. 3 station, alternative rock powerhouse KROQ-FM (106.7), has been thriving.
"With them having a strong market presence and with the size of the market here, I would think this would be the last place that Infinity would be thinking of coming up with any changes," said George Nadel Rivin, a partner at Miller Kaplan Arase & Co. LLP, an accounting firm specializing in broadcasting.
Local Infinity executives also are hopeful they will not be adversely affected by the proposed split-up.
Brian Ongaro, Infinity's executive vice president for the Western United States, said Viacom executives have not explained its implications, but he noted that the radio division remains profitable, with Los Angeles among the most profitable markets. "(Radio) is still one of the biggest cash-flow divisions in the company," he said. "Los Angeles is doing incredibly well."
Viacom might be tempted to leave the cluster alone, if only because Infinity has just spent $12 million in a refurbished broadcasting center on two floors of its building at 5670 Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles, which houses five of the seven Los Angeles stations.
KLSX (97.1), an FM talk radio station that ranked ninth in Arbitron ratings for the Winter 2005 period, moved into the new building Jan. 17. Fourth-ranked KTWV (94.7), a smooth jazz station known as The Wave, began broadcasting from its new quarters March 11. Oldies broadcaster KRTH (101.1), is scheduled to move next month, followed by news stations KFWB (980) and KNX (1070) in May and June.
KROQ and KCBS (93.1) will remain in their current facility on Venice Boulevard. Infinity officials said they wanted to keep a second location in Los Angeles in the event of an emergency at the Wilshire Avenue building.
"We don't believe in putting all our eggs in one basket," said Mason. "We did a risk assessment analysis and asked, 'What if the building had to be evacuated?' We need to stay on the air."
Infinity executives and station managers said clustering five stations at the Wilshire Boulevard facility will allow Infinity to cut costs by leaving rented buildings and sharing some resources, such as financial offices and advertising traffic coordination.
The move also allows the stations to convert from outdated analog technology to state-of-the-art digital broadcasting, including the emerging high-definition standard.
Ongaro said no layoffs are planned, although the stations will review staffing once they all are moved to the Wilshire building.
"We are consciously keeping all of the stations separate to retain the culture and sound of each station," he said. "We'll know more once we put all the stations in one place. Because the brands and the stations are going to remain unique, I don't think you're going to see a lot of (consolidation)."
The union representing Infinity's on-air employees, the Los Angeles local of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, is watching the move carefully, although spokeswoman Meredith Snow declined to discuss specific concerns.
"There are issues at the bargaining table that are coming up as Infinity moves to consolidate these stations. During bargaining, we're trying to proceed with them face to face," she said.
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