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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, November 14, 2004

Stick around for more radio changes

Photo by Jeff Widener, photo illustration by Greg Taylor • The Honolulu Advertiser
 •  Chart: Day and evening
 •  Local radio stations stick with family-friendly format
 •  In radio, it's all about the numbers

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

The truth about radio in Hawai'i?

To paraphrase an old David Bowie song, it's always "Ch-ch-changing."

Top-rated Larry Price, left and Michael W. Perry of KSSK has been a constant on O'ahu airwaves for 21 years despite changing station ownerships and formats.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

And changing. And changing some more.

In the past year, four stations have been sold, four underwent call-letter changes, three are in the midst of being swapped, and four have tweaked their programming formats.

One conglomerate — New Wave Broadcasting — left the marketplace and a Federal Communications Commission auction is under way to open up more FM radio frequencies in Hawai'i — from Nanakuli to Captain Cook, from Ha'iku to Wahiawa, from Kaunakakai to Kurtistown — so more changes (buying, selling, swapping) are likely.

As it stands, O'ahu is home to 37 radio stations — 20 on the FM dial and 17 on AM. That translates into one station for every 27,000 O'ahu residents (O'ahu has 902,000 residents, according to 2003 Census Bureau estimates).

"You take population, do division with the number of stations operating, and you'll see where there are more radio stations here, per capita, than in most states," said John Detz, president of Maui-based Visionary Related Entertainment.

Detz, echoing others involved in the local radio industry, says many of the issues Hawai'i faces aren't any different than in other population centers — or "markets," as broadcasters call them — on the Mainland: Stations are bought and sold, formats change. It's the business.

Any description of O'ahu's ever-changing radio marketplace, however, should come with an asterisk: For 21 years, KSSK's morning drive-time duo of Michael W. Perry and Larry Price have been a constant, sitting high atop radio's Arbitron ratings as the most reliable audience favorite on the air (broadcasting on both 590 AM and 92.3 FM). They are the market's exception to the rule, maintaining consistency while ownership and program changes whirl around them on the dial.


Arbitron ratings for Honolulu from July 1 to Sept. 22. Figures represent "shares" — the percentage of listeners tuned in to a particular station during the specified time. Morning drive-time (6-10 a.m. Monday-Friday)

Summer '04 Spring '04
KSSK-AM/FM* (590, 92.3) 23.7 23.1
Perry and Price
KRTR-FM (96.3) 6.9 6.2
Reiser and Sista Sherry
KINE-FM (105.1) 6.1 7.0
KCCN-FM (100.3) 6.0 4.4
Billy V, Lina Girl, Pipi
KDNN-FM (98.5) 5.4 4.0
Lanai and Augie
KIKI-FM (93.9) 4.6 3.8
Wild and Hammer
KUCD-FM (101.9) 3.5 2.6
Hudson and Scottie
KPHW-FM** (104.3) 3.4 2.9
Hawaiian Ryan
KGMZiFM (107.9) 3.2 3.8
KQMQ-FM (93.1) 3.1 3.8
Justin Cruz
"We look around the radio environment here and on the Mainland, and nothing like us exists anymore," Perry said. "It's been a good ride for us, but it's a little worrisome. If we're the dinosaurs, where's the meteor?"

Truthfully? It doesn't look as though it'll be striking this duo anytime soon.

In the Arbitron survey released in October, "Perry on the left, Price on the right" pulled in a 23.1 rating. That means 23.1 percent of all radio listeners were tuned in — more than three times as many listeners as the No. 2 morning drive duo, Chris Reiser and Sista Sherry on KRTR-FM (with a 6.9 rating).

broad appeal

Perry and Price's ratings dominance comes in an era when young listeners say they prefer music to talk. Many in the 18-to-24 group simply search for music, not chatter or news.

Perry and Price are strongest with listeners in the 25-to-54 age demographic; but their morning show also demonstrates appeal among listeners ages 18 to 34. The show is trailed by programming by Island music station KDNN (98.5 FM), which is No. 2; contemporary/urban hits radio KIKI (93.9 FM), No. 3; and Island music/reggae station KCCN (100.3 FM), which is No. 4.

Clear Channel Hawai'i general manager Chuck Cotton makes the proposition that KSSK can keep its leading position by growing its appeal with younger listeners, who are brought in by their parents. That would be great for KSSK, but as Cotton notes, he doesn't have studies or polls to substantiate it.

"I believe that the younger generation are, in fact, brought along by the other — a phenomenon decidedly different in Hawai'i. Kids listen with their parents in the morning commute," Cotton said.

Perry and Price have a warm delivery that makes it seem as if they are part of the family. Their banter is familiar, relevant and in tune with the buzz around the water coolers. Their winning formula involves listeners:

• Providing information on weather and traffic for those caught in the morning commute.

• Dispensing repartee to amuse listeners and please advertisers.

• Programming some music, though news and views and caller feedback are what keeps the momentum going.

• Engaging a cell-phone "posse." Listeners make up this posse ("Never fear, the posse is here") and are the vigilant watchdogs of the community. They call in to report fender benders as they happen, often a step ahead of the police, who are said to have their radios tuned to KSSK.

The posse has even been known to track stolen cars (though listeners are warned to avoid direct contact with suspected thieves).

"We are kind of information brokers," said Price, a former football coach. "Listeners give us orders. They know what's going on, so we listen to them and respond accordingly. I can relate this to coaching. In sports, you find out how you're doing if you succeed on the scoreboard when the final gun goes off."

Perry and Price are most appreciated and do their best work when something goes awry — a car accident closes the highway, for example. Then, the duo not only become a sounding board for frustrated commuters, but keep them up to date with the latest information.

"We become the voices of disaster to the people," said Perry, a former pop-music deejay. "When things go bad, we earn our paycheck. We feel a sense of duty, a strong sense of responsibility to do right when something goes wrong."

Thanks to traffic

As O'ahu's commute time lengthens, listeners are tuning in longer than ever.

"People who commute — and there are a lot of families tuning in — are listening longer, earlier and later now," said Perry. "Larry and I started (on air) at 6 o'clock 21 years ago. Then it was 5:30 a.m. Now it's 5 a.m. And while it used to be busiest from 6 to 8 in the morning, (now) it's still busy between 8:30 and 9. It's all because of traffic."

Billie Gabriel is vice president of development for Easter Seals. She's also a longtime listener of Perry and Price. Her reasons for tuning in are echoed by many who listen to morning radio.

"They inform and help the public," Gabriel said. "I like the variety; the talk with some music. I like the fact that Mike and Larry aren't afraid to address the controversial issues, and they generate thinking. I also know that many listeners are tuned in."

She also values the power of the posse. When an Easter Seals van was stolen recently, callers found it. Plus, a listener-donor bought the organization a new vehicle. "That's the power of KSSK," said Gabriel.

Jeff Coelho
Perry and Price are "Morning Dominant," said Jeff Coelho, vice president and general manager of Visionary Related Entertainment, who oversees five O'ahu stations.

"With longevity, they are to be congratulated for being a phenomenal success," said Coelho of the morning mavens. "They're sort of like the Broadway 'Cats,' which ran and ran ... but eventually closed.

"They have got to be a little worried about 40-and-under listeners, where they are not market dominant. The question is, are they adding new listeners under 30, and growing their demographics?"

Bring on the music

Joannie Wong, 18, is a typical young radio listener who prefers rock, R&B and pop over talk. She lives in Makiki and attends Kapi'olani Community College, working part time in the food court at Ala Moana Center.

She can tell you exactly which numbers on the radio dial she likes to listen to, but few, if any, of the station call letters.

"I listen to 101.9 (KUCD-FM), 104.3 (KXME-FM, which recently changed its call letters to KPHW-FM) and 102.7 (KDDB-FM), because I like the songs they play," she said. "I'm really not into deejays. I switch when they talk. It's the music that draws me."

Like many other listeners in the 25-54 demographic, coveted by advertisers for its spending power, Wong misses the modern rock once broadcast by the station formerly known as KPOI at 97.5 FM. Several months ago, the station on that frequency changed hands and became KHNR-FM — with a conservative news and talk format.

"I miss the rock, the alternative, the R&B and pop sounds," she said.

Marvin Lacara, 17, a Farrington High School senior who lives in Kalihi, is a fan of the stations at 104.3 FM (hip-hop and R&B hits) and 102.7 FM (urban contemporary hits). "I also listen to 93.9 (KRTR-FM — which plays adult contemporary hits) — that's my favorite," he said. "These stations play music I like. I wish that more stations would cut down the commercials and talk, and just mix more music."

Young listeners today are channel-surfing more than ever, thanks in part to digital dials. Keeping listeners tuned in to one station is the challenge not just for Island radio stations but for stations worldwide.

Corporate ownership

Fil Slash this year marks his 11th year as a radio personality on the "new" KPOI-FM 105.9, owned by Visionary. The "old" KPOI, at 97.5, is now KHNR-FM, a talk and news station operated by Salem Media.

Advertiser library photo • July 22, 2004

Most radio stations in Hawai'i are part of conglomerates — multistation groups spread over the country and largely owned by Mainland-based investors who shuffle their holdings when a good business opportunity presents itself.

Clear Channel Communications, a publicly traded corporation based in San Antonio, Texas-based behemoth, has more than 1,200 radio stations, including seven in Hawai'i. Here, Clear Channel fields a mix of formats, including staples such as adult contemporary and modern alternative rock, along with Island music, talk and business news. Some argue Clear Channel adds to local radio diversity, since an independent niche station programming, say, business news, would not be able to survive without the corporate support provided by several sister stations in today's market.

But that doesn't keep the owners from shedding stations when they see greener pastures.

Detz, the lone Hawai'i-based owner in the field, says the key reason for constant sale and resale of stations here is that "it's still a good business."

Visionary, Detz's company, controls a group of 14 radio stations on three Islands — five on O'ahu, five on Maui, and four on Kaua'i.

Detz also is the only Islander actively involved in the FCC's auction to acquire additional Hawai'i frequencies, particularly in under-served communities such as Kaunakakai, Moloka'i.

The one-owner, multistation trend has evolved over the past decade. In recent years, however, the landmark Telecommunications Act of 1996 changed the landscape dramatically.

Designed to lend stability to an industry struggling with competition from television, the Internet and other sources, the federal law boosted the number of stations one company may own in a given market to four AM and four FM stations.

Previously, Hawai'i station owners could operate only one of each.

Not everyone is happy with the current state of radio.

News reports around the United States have examined the way programming and radio news staffs have been consolidated as a result of the buying trend. The bottom line: Where once stations competed against each other, they are now playing off and cooperating with each other, limiting diversity.


Clear Channel stations

KSSK-FM (92.3)
KSSK-AM (590)
KDNN-FM (98.5)
KUCD-FM (101.9)
KIKI-FM (93.9)
KHVH-AM (830)
KHBZ-AM (990)

Cox stations

KCCN-FM (100.3)
KINE-FM (105.1)
KRTR-FM (96.3)
KPHW-FM (104.3)
KGMZ-FM* (107.9)**

Salem stations

KAIM-FM (95.5)
KHCM-AM (940)**
KHNR-FM (97.5)
KHUI-FM (99.5)
KHNR-AM (650)**
KGU-AM (760)
KJPN-AM (1170)***

Visionary stations

KDDB-FM (102.7)
KQMQ-FM (93.1)
KUMU-FM (94.7)
KPOI-FM (105.9)
KUMU-AM (1500)

* Owned by Honolulu Broadcasting but operated by Cox
** Swap under way; Cox is awaiting FCC approval to swap KGMZ-FM to Salem Media, which would turn over KHNR-AM and KHCM-AM; a decision could come as early as December.
*** Simulcasting with KHUI-FMThe market's top 10 stations from 6 a.m. to midnight, and how long they've retained their present formats.

"It's expensive to have your own local news operation, so those have been the first to get chopped from a lot of radio stations," FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein told the Associated Press. "And people have found that local radio has been wiped from the radio dial."

Conglomerates such as Clear Channel have been criticized for homogenizing the airwaves by gobbling up mom-and-pop radio stations, centralizing radio playlists and firing deejays, as the Washington Post reported in June. Some, such as the FCC's Michael J. Copps, have tied consolidation to troubles with indecency, suggesting centralized owners are less interested in and responsive to community standards.

Detz, the Hawai'i owner, has his own take.

"A lot of stations used to be small, mom-and-pop-sized operations, that today have grown into large companies," he said. "In most cases, these stations are controlled by stock prices, after going public and acquiring investors. I approach it differently. I can invest for the long term. I don't have to ratchet out quarterly reports and monitor shares and stocks — none of the pressures that are faced by my competitors on O'ahu, who are governed by Mainland owners.

"In my opinion, radio takes time, and I'm committed to be in it for the long run."

Enter satellite radio

On the Mainland, the biggest question facing traditional airwaves is whether the advent of satellite radio will force AM and FM stations to go the way of the 8-track tape. Satellite radio offers less censorship and more freedom: Subscribers can pay a monthly fee to listen to all the music, or talk, they want.

Satellite radio has picked up a bit of speed since shock-jock Howard Stern announced he was joining Sirius Satellite Radio in 2006, when his contract with Infinity Broadcasting expires. The five-year, multimillion-dollar deal gives Stern a safe haven devoid of FCC scrutiny.

Stern's appeal has yet to be tested in the Islands. In Hawai'i, satellite radio is not available yet. Meanwhile, radio's current industry figures argue that it may not be as necessary here.

"Hawai'i is a unique radio marketplace," said Coelho, who oversees the five Visionary stations on O'ahu. "One reason is the lifestyle, and the fact that people like folks they're comfortable with. So they like Perry and Price. Augie and Lanai (on KDNN). Tiny and Mandy (KUMU 94.7 FM). The morning shows do well, because the radio audiences want personality. ... We don't have major-league football, basketball or baseball stars, so we are loyal to our radio stars."

He added, "Hawai'i's isolation has a lot to do with how radio operates here. There are many unique markets on the Mainland, but here, we have music and culture on our side. When you have as much Hawaiian product being sold at Borders, you are a unique market."

The morning drive-time shows indicate how Hawai'i's radio business is doing, Coelho said: It's radio's bread and butter, and tempo setter. And morning listenership is the highest it has been in 30 years because of longer commutes.

"Most people listen during morning drive," he said. "And consider how much time Hawai'i spends in cars. Until there is mass transit, Hawai'i will remain a very good radio market. Mass transit would not be good for radio."

Cut the clutter

After 10 a.m., there's a different reason to tune in the radio.

Music or news, rather than personality, might be the lure, Coelho said. That's one reason stations are trying to reduce radio "clutter" — commercials or station promos interspersed between music and news.

"I think it's an industry trend," said Cotton. "At KSSK, this means we've gone from 18 minutes to 15 minutes of commercial time per hour."

At Cox stations, Kelly said, the ceiling for commercials is 12 minutes per hour.

Cotton, following national Clear Channel guidelines, said the initiative to reduce air-time clutter was triggered by a J.P. Morgan report on the radio industry that indicated commercial radio stations were in danger of limiting their growth. According to Investor's Business Daily, the theory is that reduced advertising would raise demand and stabilize prices, while adding value to the spots.

"At Clear Channel, the decision was announced in July, with a Jan. 1 deadline to conform," said Cotton. "But because we have been so decentralized here, we've already launched some of the changes."

Rock slipping


Good sports: KKEA (1420 AM) has been Honolulu's only all-sports station since September.

All Hawaiian: KHUI-FM (99.5) is the lone all-Hawaiian-all-the-time station, effective last August.

Alphabet soup: KXME-FM (104.3) axed the X from its name, becoming KHPW in October; further, it dropped its contemporary urban format and launched a hip-hop, R&B format and a new station nickname: Power 104.3 ... KPOI-FM (97.5) became KHNR-FM, eliminating modern rock and instituting conservative news and talk, in August ... KAHA-FM (105.9) became KPOI The Big Kahuna in August, retaining a classic rock format.

Swap meet: Cox Radio Hawai'i is in the midst of swapping its KGMZ-FM (107.9) oldies station with Salem Media of Hawai'i's KHNR-AM (650 AM) news station and KHCM-AM (940) country music station.

• Buy and sell: New Wave Broadcasting sold its four Honolulu stations — KPOI-FM (97.5), KHUI-FM (99.5), KQMQ-FM (93.1) and KDDB-FM (102.7) — earlier this year to Visionary Related Entertainment of Maui for $11 million because Federal Communications Commission regulations restrict the number of stations one owner can operate in a specific market (four AMs, four FMs). Visionary sold two stations, KPOI and KHUI, to Salem Media of Hawai'i, for $3.7 million (but retained the KPOI call letters, reassigning them to KAHA).

Voices in action (and not): Jacqueline Rossetti, aka The Honolulu Skylark, returned to the airwaves in August on KHUI-FM (formerly Bob-FM) ... In January, Frank B. Shaner was pulled off morning drive on KINE-FM (105.1), leaving Brickwood Galuteria as solo host ... Dan Cooke left the morning slot at KRTR-FM (96.3) in September, enabling co-pilot Chris Reiser to latch onto a new partner, "Sista" Sherry Clinton.

For all the talk of disappointment with KPOI's changes, rock, apparently, is no longer a passion among most listeners.

"KPOI's modern-rock ratings were tanking," said Coelho, whose station inherited the legacy call letters but dumped the format. "(Rock) has been slipping all across the country. KPOI's rating (at the time of the demise) was a 2 share. But there are folks who still want (the rock). My theory is that a third of the audience resorted back to CDs and MP3 players; some stayed with us (now broadcasting classic rock),

some moved to Star (KUCD 101.9 FM), some to Da Bomb (KDDN 98.5 FM), and some just found something else. It's like your favorite restaurant going out of business — you still have to eat."

Salem Media of Hawai'i, a subsidiary of Salem Communications of California, has been part of the flux defining Hawai'i radio in the current era. It holds seven stations here, including KAIM 95.5 FM (The Fish, with a Christian contemporary format), KHNR 97.5 FM (news and talk), KHUI 99.5 FM (The Breeze, traditional and

contemporary Hawaiian), KHCM 940 AM (country), KHNR 650 AM (news; now simulcasting with KHNR-FM), and KGU 760 AM (Christian talk). The seventh station, KJPN 1170 AM has been simulcasting with KHUI 99.5 FM. Salem broadcasts no rock.

Salem is in the midst of swapping two stations, KHNR-AM (650) and KHCM-AM (940), with Cox. Cox will in turn relinquish KGMZ-FM (107.9); the FCC could green-light the swap in December or January.

What's it mean? More changes, of course.

The bottom line

Corporate radio is evolving into a boon for brand advertisers, eager to make media buys with minimal complications, said Dana Alden, a professor of marketing at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa.

"With consolidation, an advertiser can buy a package across the radio group and reach different markets and demographics with ease," Alden said. "From a business standpoint, consolidation makes a lot of sense. A lot of stations mean consumers have more choices; it's always a good thing. And radio is the most affordable (medium); if you use it in conjunction with another format, it can be very effective. ...

"There is clutter (a cacaphony of paid advertising spots), just like TV. But the consumer can do a lot of imagining on radio."

Detz suggests conglomeration is preserving multiple formats in radio. "A single-station owner may have to address the highly touted 25-54 demographic," he said. "But multiple ownerships allow for specialized formats.

For instance, for years, I've had the only country music station (KDLX-94.3 FM on Maui), and we're still building on it."

Alden cautions that consolidation can be a problem when an entertainment company also owns news operations. "The line between news and promotion of a branded product gets gray," he said. "Such cross-owning could blur news and promotion ... that's one thing the public needs to watch and not stand for."

As an example, Clear Channel Communications has several divisions, beyond radio, including a mammoth entertainment component. In 2000, it acquired SFX Entertainment Inc., one of the world's largest diversified promoters, producers and presenters of live entertainment events. SFX now stagesHawai'i shows, such as the touring "Miss Saigon" spectacle, Janet Jackson concert, and a David Copperfield magic show.

That said, UH's Alden says he believes the quantity of Hawai'i's radio stations translates into diverse choices for listeners.

"It is an incredibly competitive marketplace," he said, "as long as someone comes in and makes money."

Reach Wayne Harada at 525-8067, wharada@honoluluadvertiser.com, or fax 525-8055.

• • •


The market's top 10 stations from 6 a.m. to midnight, and how long they've retained their present formats.

Station Summer '04 Spring '04 Owner Format Format launched
KSSK-FM (92.3) 11.6 11.2 Clear Channel Adult contemporary 1987
KCCN-FM (100.3) 7.2 5.3 Cox Island music, reggae 1990
KINE-FM (105.1) (tie) 7.0 7.1 Cox Contemporary Hawaiian 1992
KRTR-FM (96.3) (tie) 7.0 8.1 Cox Adult contemporary 1984
KDNN-FM (98.5) 5.7 4.6 Clear Channel Island music 1999
KSSK-AM (590) 5.0 5.4 Clear Channel Adult contemporary 1987
KGMZ-FM (107.9) (tie) 4.2 4.2 Cox Oldies 1997
KPHW-FM** (104.3) (tie) 4.2 4.1 Cox Hip-hop, R&B 2004
KUCD-FM (101.9) 4.0 3.3 Clear Channel Modern, alt-rock 1997
KDDB-FM (102.7) 3.7 5.1 Visionary Urban contemporary 2000

* Simulcast ** Formerly KXME-FM

Source: Arbitron ratings