Leon Worden

Local radio doesn't quite make it to Y2K

By Leon Worden
Friday, October 8, 1999

onday, Jan. 17, 1994. But for the interminable aftershocks, silence fell over Santa Clarita.
    Then, in Canyon Country, a miracle.
    At the 20th hour, at precisely 12:20 a.m., 1220 AM lit up on the radio dial. First, canned music, then, around 5 a.m., Barry McKeever, A.J. Morgan and Dennis Michaels grabbed a microphone.
    Order restored.
    By 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Mayor George Pederson and the City Council had declared KBET Santa Clarita’s “official disaster station,” and McKeever, Morgan, Michaels and station owner Carl Goldman entered the history books as the first in a long line of “Earthquake Heroes,” as Signal cartoonist Randy Wicks dubbed the exceedingly selfless.
    It would be days, weeks, before network television figured out where the hell Santa Clarita was. We already had pulled together, thanks in no small measure to our local radio station.
    For months we tuned to KBET, whose tireless broadcasters filled the air with the dramatic, minute-by-minute play-by-play of our recovery, telling us where to go for shelter, what road to take from here to there, when it was safe to drink the water.
    Life gradually returned to normal, but life was never quite the same for Santa Clarita’s only local radio station after the need for disaster news passed.
    Goldman liked the idea of all-local talk, all the time, and he tried that format for awhile. But Santa Clarita had returned to its old habits. We weren’t listening anymore. All-local talk didn’t pan out— for lack of participants, as much as anything— so Goldman switched back to canned music interspersed with a few talk shows anchored by local business people who paid for the privilege.
    McKeever stayed on after Goldman sold the station, announcing local high school and college games and hosting warm-up shows.
    Media conglomerate Jaycor Communications changed the format to all-sports last October, and in June, when Clear Channel Communications acquired Jaycor, syndicated feed from Rick Dees of Clear Channel’s KIIS-FM music station was added to the lineup.
    This month they’ll be shutting the office in Canyon Country, but the real changes were made months ago. The real changes snuck up on us ever since the station’s sale to a non-local owner. Listeners may not have noticed, since local games are broadcast “on location,” but, according to general manager Larry Thornhill, the station has basically been run from Lancaster since April.
    Santa Claritans still will be able to tune in to AM-1220 this evening and hear Barry McKeever’s live coverage of an SCV high school football game, but now even the station’s old name is gone. Today, “KBET” is nothing more than some letters on a big, yellow pole sign on Sierra Highway that the city’s sign crew will be only too happy to see removed. Clear Channel formally abandoned AM-1220’s original call letters within the last week, changing them to the sterile, gargantuan “KIIS” brand name.
    Welcome to Radio 2000, Wal-Mart style.
    Clear Channel will dominate the airwaves in the 20 largest U.S. markets except Seattle when it completes another mega-merger next year. To run 830 stations cost-effectively, the company must consolidate operations into fewer physical locations. AM-1220 and Clear Channel’s three other northern Los Angeles County frequencies will be managed from the Lancaster office.
    Local radio was a big part of American life for most of this century, but I imagine its days were already numbered by the time we got around to experimenting with it here in Santa Clarita.
    Like the rest of the nation, we were tantalized by television, now we’re intimate with the Internet, and along the way, radio, and some of the sense of community it reflected and helped to foster, slowly slipped away.
    And whose fault do you suppose that is?
    Leon Worden is The Signal's business editor.

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