First Listen: The CHR Battle For L.A.

When former FM talker KLSX Los Angeles debuted as Amp Radio 97.1 last Friday (20), it wasn’t the tween format that CBS had run for a year on L.A.’s KCBS-HD-2. It wasn’t exactly the “all the hits” mainstream CHR that 48 hours of advance publicity had suggested. It was, instead, aimed squarely at Top 40 rival KIIS with an elbow also extended toward Hip-Hop KPWR (Power 106). Amp’s music was Rhythmic Pop (Britney, Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake) and the pure pop on its immediate right (Katy Perry, Pink, Kelly Clarkson, Taylor Swift), Hip-Hop/R&B (Beyonce, T.I.) and a smattering of teen punk (All American Rejects, Paramore). What’s missing is the handful of Modern AC songs that KIIS has successfully sat out in recent years — Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” or the Fray’s “You Found Me.”
That doesn’t mean there were no differences between the stations. You can’t deny the excitement of a well-produced new station playing 10,000 songs in a row when the other guy is doing three breaks (two, four, and five minutes respectively in the hour I heard). And because Amp is programmed by Kevin Weatherly, whose team at Alternative KROQ finds its own hits, Amp signed on with a new Kanye West song (“Paranoid”) and had a second brand new title (the new Ciara & Justin Timberlake) on within an hour. Some locals told me they heard more tempo than KIIS and also more ’90s/early ’00s Hip-Hop, although the latter has been part of KIIS for a while, according to Mediabase.
What is most different about Amp Radio is its on-line presence. In keeping with CBS’ expanded new platforms activity of the last year, the station announcement promised “an extensive online destination with blogs, music videos, widgets, photo galleries, celebrity gossip reports, in-depth artist pages, an embeddable and multi-functional streaming player, and a platform to create artist centric radio stations. Fans of the station can also stay connected through instant messaging, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and other social networking sites, as well as wirelessly via texting, and applications for the iPhone, and select Blackberry devices.” Those may be on a lot of PD “to-do” lists these days, but the Amp website does look different — it’s a blog page, not a standard station site.
Weatherly certainly has credentials in rhythmic-leaning Mainstream Top 40, having come through KKLQ (Q106) San Diego, one of the stations that first helped the “fast rhythmic/slow rock” template take root at Top 40 radio in the late ’80s/early ’90s. But Amp’s arrival makes things very short spaced among L.A.’s contemporary outlets. There’s a nearly continuous spectrum with relatively slight gradations between:
* KIIS, which plays a smattering of Maroon 5 and Gwen Stefani oldies that weren’t on Amp in its first days, but you’d have to go looking for them;
* Amp, which takes a lot of what KIIS is playing and adds a few of Power’s hits (Ludacris’ “One More Drink,” Kid Cudi’s “Day And Night”);
* Power, still mostly Hip-Hop and R&B but with the willingness to play a Lady Gaga in recent months;
* KXOL (Latino 96.3), which combines Spanish-language Hip-Hop and compatible genres with Akon, Kanye, and Lady Gaga;
* KDAY – The low-rated Urban AC/Urban hybrid which broadened its music a little recently, venturing into Kevin Rudolph and, yes, Lady Gaga.
For industry people, seeing a new top 40 battle — an endangered species over the last decade — is exciting. And while it’s unlikely that KIIS sounded complacent a week ago, they sound energized now. When I heard them Tuesday they were alternating promos that emphasized paying even more of listeners bills than before and soliciting local bands for Wango Tango (thus allowing the excitement of that event to start months in advance). They were also making a big deal out of the new Black Eyed Peas song that played at the top of two consecutive hours when I heard them.
But it would still be interesting to get an answer to “what would happen if somebody went just a little poppier than KIIS?” In other places, including some once solidly rhythmic markets, pure mainstream top 40 has made a comeback, young-end tastes are less rhythmic than they used to be, and songs like “I’m Yours” and “You Found Me” sell in advance of airplay, the way that Hip-Hop used to. And depending on how things shake out, it’s likely that songs like those will eventually become a point of differentiation for somebody in the market — we just don’t know who, yet.
Here’s Amp Radio at 2:35 p.m. on Monday:
Timbaland, “The Way I Are”
Lundacris, “One More Drink”
Beyonce, “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)”
Pitbull, “The Anthem”
Ciara & Justin Timberlake, “Love Sex Magic”
The Game, “Hate It Or Love It”
Pussycat Dolls, “I Hate This Part”
Sean Kingston, “Take You There”
Britney Spears, “Womanizer”
Akon & Lil Wayne, “I’m So Paid”
Lady Gaga, “Let’s Dance”
Chris Brown, “Run It”
And here’s KIIS at 6:10 p.m. on Monday:
Eminem, Dr. Dre & 50 Cent, “Crack A Bottle”
Beyonce, “If I Were A Boy” (not on Amp)
Kanye West, “Heartless”
Paramore, “Misery Business”
Taylor Swift, “Love Story”
Ne-Yo, “Mad”
Britney Spears, “Circus”
Pussycat Dolls, “I Hate This Part”
Ying-Yang Twins & Pitbull, “Shake”
Beyonce, “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)”
Black Eyed Peas, “Boom Boom Pow” (which had also played an hour earlier)
T.I. & Justin Timberlake, “Dead And Gone”

5 replies
  1. Mike McDowell/Blitz Magazine
    Mike McDowell/Blitz Magazine says:

    Sadly, in recent years, the AM and FM dials around Los Angeles simply have not been as interesting as they used to be. It was wonderful to hear Pasadena’s KROQ and Long Beach’s KNAC go head to head for their target demographics. It was also wonderful to hear KRLA make hits out of the likes of Fats Domino’s “Whiskey Heaven” or Chubby Checker’s “Running”.
    But these days, there simply hasn’t been that much in terms of adventure. And I’m talking about all formats, not just those who wrap themselves around some sort of affinity with what is loosely known as popular music.
    So when a station such as this one presents itself, it is bound to get noticed, simply because the variety isn’t there as it used to be.
    There is reason to be guardedly optimistic. But hopefully others in Los Angeles will follow suit and at least bring a bit more variety back into the mix with their own respective formats.

  2. Mike Krinik
    Mike Krinik says:

    Being in L.A. Sunday & Monday for work, I was excited to hear something new. Like you said, AMP had the up tempo energy with a “hit after hit” on the rthymic/dance/pop side to my ear w/ other mainstream pop sounds from Pink. The one thing I must comment on is the proccesing. It sounds awesome on AMP – as a former PD – I loved it! Hopefully this is the sign of some excitement in L.A. radio again.

  3. Chuck Geiger
    Chuck Geiger says:

    AMP sounds great. Kevin was guided early on by Guy Zapoleon at KZZP Phoenix and they found thier own hits as well. The imaging on AMP has the KROQ sound, which imprints well with the high rotation, 12-24 hit package.


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