ABC Radio Zoned out for Disney

ABC Radio’s six-month experiment with female-skewed talkradio ended Tuesday when KTZN-AM — a.k.a. “the Zone” — abruptly changed format to a 24-hour programming mix aimed at kids under 12 dubbed Radio Disney.

The staff at the Zone learned of the move Tuesday in a hastily called 3 p.m. staff meeting during which Maureen Lesourd, prexy for KTZN as well as KABC-AM and KLOS-FM, confirmed the switch effective about 10:30 p.m. Monday following Angels baseball.

Among the KTZN on-air lineup, only the fate of afternoon drivetime personality Stephanie Miller was certain on Tuesday. She will be installed at KABC in the 7 to 9 p.m. slot (her old spot at KFI), replacing “Sportstalk.” KABC is dropping Dodgers baseball at season’s end and saw no need to continue the sports show.

Miller, whose show is syndicated nationally, reportedly has a contract that prevents her from being axed.

The futures of KTZN’s other personalities — including the morning team of Tracey Miller and Robin Abcarian, Joe Crummy, Merrill Markoe, Dr. Toni Grant and Yolanda Gaskins — remained up in the air, though at least a few will reportedly be offered jobs in on-air capacities at KABC.

KABC has also reportedly hired Ed Tyll, a flamboyant jock currently working in Orlando, Fla., for an undetermined spot in its lineup. He is said to be priming to begin work in about three weeks.

However, the station has apparently assured controversial afternoon personality Larry Elder that his job is safe despite recent reports to the contrary, a fact confirmed Tuesday by Lesourd.

Anaheim Angels baseball will remain on KTZN through the end of the season. And the call letters will remain KTZN.

It’s no secret that the Zone had struggled to find an audience since signing on in February, accompanied by a call-letter change from KMPC. Its ratings have hovered below 1% of the overall audience among listeners aged 12 and above.

“Talkradio takes a long time to build, and Los Angeles is an overcrowded talk market as it is,” Lesourd said. “But this decision wasn’t just based on a couple of bad rating books for KTZN. It was more the potential of Radio Disney that made it happen.”

It was indeed expected that ABC Radio would begin to install Radio Disney on some of its owned stations. The network announced Tuesday that it would program it on WPZE-AM Boston upon completion of the station’s acquisition by a new owner in mid-September. And ABC revealed Tuesday that it had also acquired KKDZ-AM Seattle, which already carries the format.

Radio Disney debuted with a six-month on-air test in November on stations in Atlanta, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City and Birmingham, Ala.

“It was a runaway success,” said ABC Radio prexy Bob Callahan, “and that made making the change (on KTZN) a relatively easy decision. In all of the markets, the results beat our expectations by leaps and bounds.”

Another motivation for Disney was no doubt economics. Radio Disney will cost the company comparative pennies, given that the format is broadcast by satellite using a single set of personalities.

The format includes a Top 40-style playlist with songs from a variety of musical genres, including pop oldies and movie and TV soundtracks as well as kids’ songs. It also incorporates short-form news and sports features each hour, stories and listener interaction.

However, the kids’ format is considered a huge gamble for several reasons. Chief among them is the fact that radio measurer Arbitron doesn’t measure children under 12 in its ratings sample. Another stumbling block is that kids have so many choices today — from TV to VCR to videogames to computer online services — that there is little time left for radio.

ABC Radio Networks prexy David Kantor responded Tuesday that the network will be able to extract accurate audience measurement through a private firm called Statistical Research Inc., adding that Arbitron is considering getting into the kid measurement business as well.

“It’s also clear to everyone in radio that kids listen to radio, too,” Kantor said. He cited studies that note some 70% of American children own radios and listened to them “yesterday.”

Curiously, however, Radio Disney’s format will target kids even during the overnight shift, utilizing a softer music format called “Audio Nightlife” that Kantor said will serve “kids who listen to the radio in bed or wake up in the middle of the night.”

Disney continues to be targeted in a lawsuit filed last year by the Children’s Radio Network of Minneapolis, which has charged the company with pilfering its idea in forming Radio Disney after the companies had worked together jointly producing programming.

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