Rick Dees might not rule the L.A. radio scene like he did five years ago, when he hosted his weekly Top 40 show on top-rated KIIS FM (102.7). But the veteran radio host and producer is still making waves.
His production company, Dees Entertainment Inc., recently inked a four-year deal with ABC Radio Networks that will give the Citadel Broadcasting Corp. subsidiary a "first look" at a slate of new programs Dees has in the works.
ABC Radio also picked up syndication rights to "Rick Dees Weekly Top 40," a hit-parade show distributed to more than 100 stations worldwide. Dial Global, a nationwide radio network owned by West L.A.-based Triton Media Group LLC previously owned the show's syndication rights.
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Dees, chief executive of Dees Entertainment, said he switched syndication rights partly because ABC Radio can tap into a vast network of about 4,400 affiliated stations. That provides him peace of mind at a time when the radio industry is grappling with falling revenue.
"Dial Global is a terrific syndicator," Dees told the Business Journal. "But in today's climate, it's vital to have some skin in the game, and ABC does. It's a client base that's very motivated to get us on their stations."
Dees Entertainment already produces "Rick Dees Weekly Top 40" and a radio show with country music personality Shawn Parr. Now, the Burbank company plans to branch into genres in which it does not have a presence, including Spanish-language programming.
Translating Dees' brand name into Spanish-language radio makes sense in light of the rising population of Hispanics and Latinos nationwide, which has led to a boom in Spanish-language radio in areas like Los Angeles. There are about a dozen Spanish-language radio stations based in L.A. County alone, and they pull in roughly one-fifth of the region's total radio revenue.
Dees Entertainment is in talks with several prominent Spanish-language personalities and celebrities to host a version of Dees' Top 40 show in Spanish for Mexico and Latin America, said Kevin Dees, president of creative development at Dees Entertainment and Dees' son.
The show would meld some Spanish pop songs with the tracks Dees plays for his American audience. Dees Entertainment plans to debut the show in Mexico City within the next three months.
Even if a Spanish-language show ultimately does bear his name, Dees conceded he probably wouldn't make many cameo appearances on it. "I can say, 'Open the door,' in Spanish and that's about it," he said.
Dees said his company is also producing a sports talk show featuring broadcaster Fred Hickman, who most recently worked at ESPN.
Dees Entertainment's move to expand its syndication offerings could come at the right time.
With the recession eroding advertising revenue at radio stations around the country, station managers have slashed costs and cut staff to balance their budgets. That means stations will look more to syndicated content to fill their airwaves, said Wally Clark, an independent media consultant in Illinois.
"The timing is perfect to be in the content-producing business," said Clark, who worked with Dees when he was general manager of KIIS-FM in the 1980s. "I think Rick's trying to take advantage of that new wave."
The ABC deal also shows Dees can still remain a player in the radio world albeit not on the same scale when he was at ratings king KIIS-FM for more than two decades. Dees now hosts a weekday morning show on KMVN-FM (93.9), which only grabbed about 1.1 percent of the listening audience from mid-December to mid-January, making it the 27th ranked morning show in Los Angeles, according to the latest rankings from Arbitron Inc.
But Dees' Top 40 show is still a well-recognized brand. And the distribution deal with ABC could be taken as a vote of confidence in Dees' continued relevance.
Carl Anderson, senior vice president of programming and distribution for ABC Radio, said the company is banking on Dees to produce shows that would rope in the much-coveted 18-49 demographic.
"There are few names you can put on a billboard and everyone knows who it is," Anderson said. "And Dees is one of those."
The 58-year-old radio host said he didn't plan to give up on radio any time soon. His 25-employee company recently opened a multimillion-dollar, state-of-the-art recording studio off Olive Avenue in Burbank where Dees and his partners record their shows.
Dees also is eyeing projects outside of radio, such as pushing Dees Entertainment into television and film production.
"To someone who's 6 to 18, anyone 25 and over is an older person. Once you hit 25, there's a risk of not being relevant to that group," he said." But I think I'm still very in touch with what they like. This isn't brain surgery. It's just giving people what they want.
"If I can get 50 different shows spinning off some profit, it's better than two or three shows spinning off a great deal of profit."
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