With all the bad news coming from the radio industry mainly due to the problems created by the huge corporations that control so many stations, it is often easy to lose sight of the stations that are run by smaller and better corporations or independent owners who understand why broadcasting exists.
Yes, such owners exist, and you can indeed listen to any of their stations right now. Today I want to focus on KOLA (99.9 FM), playing an oldies Inland Empire format.
KOLA has been on my radar for decades. In the mid-1970s, the station was an early adopter of the top 40, airing the hits through an automated system that was once jammed. While I was sick of school, I heard Paper Lace’s “The Night Chicago Died” 16 times in a row, if I remember correctly. But even back then, KOLA was an interesting station to hear.
He signed in 1959 as KFMW playing Beautiful Music as many FM stations did. The top 40 with new KOLA call letters came in 1968. I have a memory of an album-rock format in the 1980s, but I don’t have details of the format. They’ve been playing oldies since the early 1990s, sometimes acting as an IE clone of neighboring – but not co-owned – KRTH (101.1 FM).
They broadcast from the Inland Empire, but the signal hits parts of Los Angeles and surrounding areas like a local, depending on geography. It is one of the strongest FM signals in San Pedro.
They’ve been using local live personalities since they played oldies, and they do a great job of staying on top of their audience. As with KRTH, they have changed over time, adjusting the definition of an elder over the years. It’s something that drives oldtimer purists crazy, but helps keep the resort fresh. While they once returned to the 1950s for music, KOLA today focuses on the 1990s, delving into the 80s and new, including songs from the early 2000s.
They are not old, you say? A song from 2004 is now 17 years old – that’s as old as the oldest song played on KRTH when it debuted in 1972. It’s all about perspective.
I caught up with morning man Jesse Duran, heard on weekdays from 5-9, to ask him what makes KOLA so special. As you may have guessed, it’s not just the music.
“We’re a small, mom-and-pop kind of business,” Duran explained. “People who love streaming for the art form it should be.”
Indeed, Anaheim Broadcasters owns only two stations in total – KOLA and its sister KCAL (96.7 FM). But being small means nothing if you don’t do it right, does it?
So KOLA does it well. “We have local DJs on every shift except nights,” Duran told me. “No voices from other cities. We all live locally, so we can talk about what’s important to our listeners in addition to playing the music they love to hear.
Duran told me once when they were talking about an event happening in town when people called to ask why they weren’t talking about another one. “We bond with our listeners and become part of their family just as they are part of us. Part of that keeps us on our toes when it comes to local coverage,” he said.
Radio with a passion, he calls it. Something successful radio stations know well.
Duran, who is heard with Donna D and Loren Coronado, has been doing matinees for eight years on KOLA. Cindy Davis arrives at 9:00 a.m.; Vic Slick at 2 p.m. and Kevin Machado from 7 p.m. to midnight. Saturdays at 5 a.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m., you can hear the great, late Casey Kasem count down the hits of the ’80s on reruns of America’s Top 40.
The station remains active with local concert sponsorships, on-air contests that local residents actually win, and advertising and promoting local businesses and events. Kind of what the local radio did naturally. The result? A station that has been hugely successful for many years, and has dominated recent ratings.
In the most recent Nielsen ratings results available at the time of writing, KOLA has earned an 8.4 share of local viewership, more than 3 full points above second-place KFRG (95, 1FM) 5.2. It’s impressive. And it shows what happens when you focus on serving your local audience.
“I’m fortunate to work for a company, owner and program director who all embrace local radio,” Duran said. “Have fun, play the hits.”
And keep local radio alive and thriving.