February 28, 2009
For those of us who like to listen to people rant, whine and talk about their gastrointestinal problems on the radio, the last week has been a sad one in Southern California. KLSX, which had been the region's only all-talk FM station since 1995, abruptly changed its format to Top 40 music on Feb. 20. The switch, according to executives at its parent company, CBS Radio, was an effort to attract younger listeners.
Now known as 97.1 Amp Radio, CBS describes the station as an "on-air, online, on-site and mobile audio destination." It plays music by artists such as Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears and Ne-Yo. DJs have not yet been hired; for a while at least, the music will play itself.
If you're wondering what I'm wondering, like a) what is a "mobile audio destination"? and b) how can you have a radio station without disc jockeys?, you are the reason CBS made this format change. You, and I, are officially old.
You probably think "mobile audio destination" has something to do with those car radios people used to pop out and carry around to prevent car break-ins back in the 1980s. You probably think Ne-Yo is a new sushi place. Maybe you enjoy, at least on occasion, turning on the radio and hearing the sound of a human voice talking not about Darfur or modern dance (as they do on National Public Radio) but about, say, zit popping. Maybe you even like to hear this not in the tinny, right-wing zone that is AM radio but in the warm, high-fidelity tones of FM.
If so, you're not only old by radio audience standards, you're apparently a guy. KLSX's core audience was 25- to 54-year-old males. CBS' Amp Radio, according to several reports, is supposed to draw younger and more female listeners.
I may not be young, but I am female. And I'm here to say that until last week, I probably spent more hours listening to KLSX every day than to the combined sounds of my friends, family members and various birds and leaf blowers outside. Back when Howard Stern aired on KLSX, I listened to him in the mornings and then toggled between the station's other offerings and NPR for the rest of the day. In 2006, when Stern went to satellite radio and Adam Carolla filled his slot, I listened not just religiously but, as some readers may recall, evangelically.
Along the way, I got hooked on the hokey, middlebrow "Frosty, Heidi and Frank Show," the only slightly less hokey and middlebrow "Tim Conway Jr. Show," and Tom Leykis, the misogynist, libertarian-leaning shock jock whose program was as mesmerizing and anthropologically fascinating as it was vile and depressing. I even got drawn into some of KLSX's weekend fare, which included a show that was devoted, as best as I could tell, to liposuction.
With the exception of Carolla (who is continuing his show -- sort of, anyway -- via a daily podcast), KLSX wasn't exactly a bastion of sophisticated or, let's face it, even humorous humor. It was mediocre at best and, at worst, jaw-droppingly insipid. But that, ironically, may have been its most seductive quality. For all its ribaldry and supposed shock value, the station was more a sedative than a stimulant.
I listened to KLSX less for entertainment than for comfort. It was a comfort that came from being able to turn on the radio midshow and, thanks to the repetition and time-stalling techniques every presenter employed, not feel like I'd missed anything. It was a comfort that came from knowing that no matter how banal the on-air conversations got (I wasn't kidding about the gastrointestinal discussions), I was at least spared the worse banalities of Justin Timberlake.
What was important about KLSX was that it was a Southern California station, and talk radio is important to a lot of Southern Californians. We listen in our cars during commuting hours and, as a result, our "radio friends" enjoy privileges our "real friends" don't. The radio people can talk to us for hours on end without any interruption, save commercials. They can drone on about nothing, and we'll keep listening because, well, we're trapped. And when they suddenly disappear, as was the case last week, we feel a little bit sadder than we thought we would, not only because we lost our middle ground between public-radio earnestness and AM-radio fanaticism but because we feel, well, old.
On the other hand, getting old does have its benefits. I just had a birthday, and what did I get as a gift? A satellite radio subscription! So, au revoir, les windbags. I'm taking my fart-joke business elsewhere.
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