[JPL] KKJZ is jazzed about a boost in the ratings - LA Times 101707

Arturo arturo893 at qwest.net
Wed Oct 17 19:02:05 EDT 2007

KKJZ is jazzed about a boost in the ratings - LA Times 101707

Dire predictions after management change don't pan out.
By Don Heckman
Special to The Times

October 17, 2007

KKJZ-FM (88.1) is still all that jazz -- and then some. The recent
appointmentof Jose Rizo, host of the weekday program "Jazz on the
Latin Side," as music director underscored the new management's desire
to bring new vitality and expanding programming horizons to the
Southland's only 24/7 mainstream jazz radio station.

That's not what many jazz fans expected last October, when it was
announced that oversight of the station would be shifted to Global
Jazz Inc. Although the agreement between Global and the California
State University, Long Beach Foundation, which holds the operating
license, specified that the station would continue the jazz
programming it has been broadcasting since it was created 26 years ago
as KLON-FM, jazz Internet message boards and the news media began
simmering with questions and predictions -- many of them dire.

Would the new programming approach slant too young, too smooth, too
mainstream? Too safe, too soulful, too pop? Would it resolve some of
the complaints that had been heard for the last few years regarding
the expertise of the on-air talent and the allegedly narrow focus of
the music?

Much of the doubtful reaction traced to the fact that Global Jazz is
an affiliate of Mt. Wilson FM Broadcasters Inc., which is owned by
Saul Levine. In 1999, Levine -- to the consternation of jazz listeners
-- converted KKGO-FM (105.1), which had broadcast jazz for 29 years,
to a classical music format. Nor did Levine initially help clarify
matters when he took the reins at KKJZ in April. With the exception of
DJs Rizo and Helen Borgers and several technicians, the entire staff
was released. Even the survivors had their doubts about what to expect.

"I rather thought that my job was on the line," Borgers says. "I went
through a really intense time, because I assumed that Mr. Levine would
want to go with people he knew, and not be saddled with anybody who'd
been here before for fear of baggage from the past."

Rizo, whose "Jazz on the Latin Side" has been a popular segment at the
station since 1990, had a similar reaction. So both were encouraged
when Levine hired a lineup of on-air talent that included Bubba
Jackson and Brad Williams (both previously at KLON and KKGO), Bob
Parlocha (former program director at San Francisco's KJAZ) and veteran
DJ Jai Rich, and came to them with ideas for the future that
essentially opened up their musical vistas.

"Saul had one meeting with us," Rizo says, "and basically said, 'Look,
I hired you guys because you're professionals who are extremely
knowledgeable with the music. I'm not going to tell you what to play.
You make your choices from your experience and your knowledge.' "

"From that day on," Borgers adds, "everything became much, much
easier, and the tension eased palpably. Now, I'm happier than I've
been in years. From a programming standpoint, I have a lot more
freedom than I've had in ages. The only suggestion that Mr. Levine has
made is that he'd like us to play at least one vocal an hour, at least
one new thing an hour and at least one classic an hour. And since most
of us do that anyway, I'm feeling much freer and looser than ever before."

Rizo, who had been serving as interim music director before his
appointment to the job full-time at the end of September, agrees.

"It's very different from what it used to be," he says. "Not only was
the range more limited in the past, in terms of the style of music to
play, but an actual library was set aside, and we were encouraged to
use only that library. So a lot of the same CDs were heard over and over."

Rizo's approach as music director is far more open-minded.

"I keep a rotation of about 70 or 80 new releases," he explains, "and
we keep them in a separate library. That's where I put all the new
things -- contemporary stuff, edgier stuff, Latin stuff. But if, after
10 days, it hasn't gotten any air play from the DJs, I remove it.
Because we won't tell the DJs what to play. If you hear something a
lot, it's because several DJs liked it, not because someone told them
to play it."

The choices, thus far, appear to have been the right ones. Levine
cites Arbitron figures showing that the weekly listenership, which had
dropped from about 329,300 in the spring of 2006 to 303,400 last
winter, rebounded to about 331,300 this spring.

Some of the most surprising support has come from a jazz radio forum
on the Allaboutjazz .com website. Initially critical of Levine's
appointment as overseer, the site now features postings such as, "I
love the changes," "great improvement" and "making steady progress."

Like the other DJs, Jackson is grateful to be working in a synergistic
environment that also allows a full expression of his rich knowledge
of jazz and the blues. Equally important, and directly in line with
Levine's desire to expand the station's listenership across a full
demographic spectrum, Jackson is delighted to have the opportunity to
keep the music alive by showcasing young talent.

"Look, man," he says. "New music and new artists are the meat of jazz
music. Jazz was never made to live only in one era. It's always
growing. And the moment you shut your mind and say, 'Well, I don't
want to hear all this new stuff,' then you've lost the essence of what
jazz is. And, believe me, nobody at KKJZ ever wants that to happen."

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