It’s hard to believe, but yeah–you read it right…95.5 FM KLOS is turning 50! Of all the self-fulfilling prophecies in our culture, the assumption that aging means we only look backward rather than forward is dead wrong. It’s true, he who wanders is not always lost, ask anyone who’s ever been to a rock show. Truthfully, most of us grew up with having our favorite bands, and our favorite song that’s been the soundtrack of our life. Just as many of us grew up loving our favorite radio stations and DJ’s. Those memories will always be part of who we are. For most people who call Southern California home, there’s one station that’s been with us through all our ups and downs; that station is KLOS.
Truth-be-told, any radio station that can make a 50-year milestone is inherently part of our family. As for this station, it wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for its past. That’s what Program Director, Keith Cunningham at KLOS told us in a recent interview. There’s a lot that goes on off-air that most people aren’t aware of when it comes to radio. A few years ago, KLOS management brought on Cunningham to fly their ship; and boy did he have a plan. The short of it was he didn’t want to rest on the station’s laurels and rich history, but he also didn’t want to push it away either as other competing stations had done up to that point. This station has roots with so many people and it means so much to them for a variety of different reasons. Cunningham and staff have never lost sight of that. That’s the thing about our musical journey, depending on who’s driving, any good journey allows us to look back at where we’ve been, or look forward to where we’re headed. Then again, there’s the epic journey, which allows us to do both, contrary to the prophecy. The plan was to transition to a SoCal rock lifestyle music format, which includes all the bands that made KLOS… KLOS; and new bands that will be part of the musical future. Bottom line–reality leaves a lot to the imagination. Consequently, the plan took root, so did the implementation, and it resulted in a shift in the dynamics of today’s radio landscape.
Looking back, in 1969, KLOS was KABC-FM, and it took its first venture in album-oriented rock. Radio was much different back then, but the move caused a seismic realignment in the radio world. Half a century later, being the trendsetter for lack of a better word is part of the station’s history and future. The broadcasts eventually transitioned to locally programmed freeform/progressive rock music. In 1971, it happened… the station adopted the KLOS call letters. Since then, the station has provided us with seminal moments that will always be with us. KLOS was part of the original Cal Jam Festival, they took part in the US Festival, and they were there when the Stones played the Coliseum. In more recent years, they partnered with the Foo’s to re-launch Cal Jam, they teamed up with the Offspring for Sabroso Fest, and then there was insanely successful, Surf City Blitz that featured just about every kick-ass punk and ska band on the planet! The music and the events are only part of what’s pulled us into their sonic world of vision; there was also the voices! What would SoCal be like without DJ’s like Jimmy Rabbit, Jim Ladd, “Uncle Joe” Benson, Bob Coburn, J.J. Jackson, Fraser Smith, Rita Wilde, Geno Michellini and Cynthia Fox. There’re also the two guys that made us laugh for years, Mark and Brian. These are just some of the on-air staff that made the station part of our lives. That said, in September 2011 the next step in the station’s evolution took place, Cumulus Media purchased KLOS and sister station KABC.
It wasn’t initially clear what direction the station was headed, but the end result was nothing short of broadcast history. Cunningham and crew executed the aforementioned plan. For a few years now, the station has had one of the most successful morning shows on the planet with Frosty, Heidi & Frank. They have late mornings with Marci Weiser, then there’s everyone’s favorite Sex Pistol, Steve Jones, and Jonesy’s Jukebox (middays); (drive time) belongs to Gary Moore. Here’s the thing though about the plan, it was never meant to be measured by a ratings book, although that too has been a very successful journey. The plan was targeted at their fans that have supported them all these years. Another target was new music lovers that just love great music with a boom! As mentioned, the last few ratings books have been very good for the station, but it’s the support from their fans that they are proudest of. When you go to their shows, you see a full-house having a great time, and when they do any type of call-in segment, the phones light up like a Christmas tree. What’s equally as impressive is the support they’re getting from bands. Like most music fans, bands know who is playing legit music, and for that, Cunningham and his staff get high marks from the people that make the tunes.
The station still plays the bands and songs we’ve fallen in love with, but the manner in which they’ve embraced new music and other rock genre’s like Punk an ALT rock is another good reason that we have a renewed faith in terrestrial radio. For example, the station has adopted a Long Beach-based band (Rival Sons), and their fans love them. So-much-so, they’ve recently sold out an upcoming show at the Fonda. It’s true, success breeds success, and when you do things for the right reasons good things will eventually happen. When you follow through with a plan and not deviate from that plan which puts music fans first; great things will happen.
Honestly, the music industry, specifically terrestrial radio, was sucked into a weird-bizarro-alternate-non-guitar vortex world a few years ago. Because of stations like KLOS, radio is slowly coming out of that. It really helps when here’s DJ’s and PD’s that remind us why rock and radio stations matter. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of great online music outlets out there. Some of the local players have taken notice and had no choice but to step up their game too; we all win as a result of the plan, no matter who is executing it. Make no mistake, rock and radio are back.
Circling back to the main event, KLOS is celebrating its 50th year as one of radio’s most successful campaigns. Despite all the accolades, the station remains very civic minded. They support regular blood drives and they stand hand-in-hand with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. They also put on benefits throughout the year for charities or special events like the recent Comedy Store Festival that helped victims of the Woolsey fire and others that were adversely impacted by the tragic event.
So, what’s next? Again, we have to look back for that, but not too far. For years, the station has been looking for a great kick-ass New Year’s Eve show. Like anything in life, timing is everything…. in the past, the timing wasn’t quite right. This year, the station got together with LiveNation and Sharon Osbourne; and before you know it, Ozzfest is about to go down. It’s Monday, December 31, 2018 and features Devil Driver, Jonathan Davis, Wednesday 13, Zakk Sabbath, Body Count, Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie and Ozzy Osbourne at the Forum. The New Year’s Eve party will include an outdoor stage, along with other holiday festivities. The evening will culminate with Ozzy onstage brining in the new year! It’ll be another seminal moment for SoCal when Ozzy and KLOS Gong in 2019.
When asked what their fans can expect in the 50th year, Cunningham was very humble. “They can expect the unexpected and we can all look forward to another 50 years,” he said. I have been extremely fortunate to have been around radio as long as I have, and one thing I can say about this interview is that there is an authenticity to those words. They are bold and honest; being honest may not get you a lot of fans, but it will always get you the right ones. By taking the road less traveled and by NOT being trendy (musically speaking), we can hear music on the radio again that’s legit and inspires. In this new world of internet distraction and Tweet-Wars, inspiration is hard to come by, we have to take it where you find it. Right now, you can find it at 95.5fm. What’s most refreshing is the new measurement of how to do radio right, we just need to listen to the stations that listen to their fans. If they play legit tunes, you won’t need to read a ratings book… you’ll simply know it.