Long KIIS hello: Dodgers ankle KABC

Breaking off a 24-year association with KABC radio, the Los Angeles Dodgers announced a deal Wednes-day to make KIIS-AM the team’s new radio home for its baseball game broadcasts, as well as the “Sportstalk” and “Dodgertalk” staples that go with being the Dodger flagship station — beginning in 1998.

Industry sources put the rights fee deal at about $7 million per season, or slightly more than $35 million over the course of the five-year agreement. KABC’s Dodger contract expires at the end of the forthcoming season.

While at first blush the perpetually low-rated, low-power KIIS would seem an odd choice to take over as the Dodger broadcaster — it currently simulcasts the top 40 programming of sister station KIIS-FM — the station plans a complete overhaul to make the Dodgers the center of its focus.

Looking for new base

Bob Lawrence, prexy for KIIS-AM and FM parent company Jacor Communications (which acquired the two stations from Gannett on Dec. 9), said the AM station will develop a sports and news talk format around the Dodgers over the next few months and will use KIIS-FM for heavy cross-promotion to recruit baseball fans from a new audience base.

“You guys will be pleasantly surprised with all of the things that we do with this broadcast,” Lawrence said. “We will be picking up all of the sports programs that KABC has, plus a lot more.”

While the Dodgers often have served as a divisive format element over the years at KABC, forcing preemptions and disrupting program flow, Lawrence said KIIS will have no such problems.

“We have a chance to start over with a radio station that’s a clean slate, as it’s currently simulcasting another sta-tion’s format,” he said. “We will be able to make the Dodgers the real focal point of the radio station and construct the format around them.”

Another element that appealed to the Dodgers is the promise by Jacor to increase KIIS-AM’s weak 5,000-watt sig-nal to 50,000 watts before the start of the 1998 baseball season, greatly enhancing the coverage area provided by 5,000-watt KABC and matching the signal strength of KFI-AM.

“The fact that KIIS-AM is going to be reformatted around the Dodger package was a great incentive for us,” said Tommy Hawkins, VP of communications for the Dodgers.

Look to future

“This is a baseball package of the future that will appeal to a lot of people. If you love baseball, you’ll love this new agreement we have with KIIS.”

The Dodgers’ split from KABC — which lured the team’s broadcasts away from KFI in 1974 — was not unex-pected, and was predicted over the summer (Daily Variety, Sept. 3).

For one thing, KABC’s new Disney ownership already was allied with the Angels, and quickly grew tired of the Dodgers and the demanding agenda that goes along with the team. That includes the requirement to run such daily interstitials as “Dodger Confidential,” “Dodger Replay” and “Dodger Focus,” in addition to “Dodgertalk” and “Sportstalk.”

KABC prexy and G.M. Maureen Lesourd was among those reportedly not fond of the Dodgers’ penchant for exert-ing pressure to carry Dodger and sport/news talk programming in addition to the games.

Lesourd was unavailable for comment Wednesday, instead issuing a statement that read, in part, “The Dodgers are a quality organization and they have been terrific partners. … We will continue broadcasting all the games in the 1997 season and wish the Dodgers the best of luck in the future.”

While the Dodgers have enjoyed generally solid ratings on KABC, they are a more valuable asset to the station as an advertising sales tool than in being a true audience grabber, according to sources. In the end, they have turned out to be more of a pain in the neck to KABC of late than a true boon.

Staying power

Even so, there reportedly was fairly intense bidding interest for the Dodger package — though not from KABC. But KIIS clearly was the most aggressive, with Lawrence and his Jacor team remaining in L.A. during ne-gotiations for three solid weeks.

Lawrence said the announcement earlier this month by Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley that the team was for sale “caught us a bit by surprise. But in the end, it doesn’t really make any difference.”

The Cincinnati-based Jacor also has the broadcast rights to Cincinnati Reds baseball, to the Colorado Rockies and to the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays, which begin play in 1998. The company owns, operates, represents or provides programming for 122 radio stations in 26 U.S. markets. It also owns WKRC-TV Cincinnati.

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