[JPL] KKJZ is jazzed about a boost in the ratings

Jazz Promo Services jazzpromo at earthlink.net
Thu Oct 18 07:29:26 EDT 2007

KKJZ is jazzed about a boost in the ratings
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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Copyright 2007 Los Angeles Times

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