I lost a client yesterday. More importantly, upwards of a million Southern Californians lost a radio station that had become near and dear to them.
KSWD – The Sound – left the airwaves yesterday afternoon, and ended a fascinating run that proved that in 2017, a radio station could still capture the hearts and souls of throngs of people at a time when iPhones, Spotify, “Serial,” YouTube, “Game of Thrones,” and Facebook are dominating our media lives. And they accomplished this in the entertainment capital of the world, the nation’s second largest market, and home of some of the most jaded people who walk this earth.
The Sound was just nine years-old – around for a lot less time than stations like KMET and KLOS. It was also a rare standalone station in a radio era dominated by powerful clusters, run by the biggest broadcasting companies in America.
One of the station’s staffers – an old compadre of mine named Steve Hoffman – wrote a blog post the other day referring to The Sound as being in radio hospice. And I couldn’t have said it any better. Apart from learning the bad news the station had been sold to a company that would most certainly change its format back in late September, no one had a clue precisely when KSWD’s amazing run would officially come to an end. It turned out to be the ultimate tease, but without a good payoff.
Aside from the pressure on the jocks, the salespeople, and of course, local management, the ambiguity of not knowing when “judgement day” would come was both painful but also captivating. And for the Sound audience, a similar surreaality set in for them. Just as in life, we may have a feeling when the end is near, but we never know for sure. But when it comes – even when expected – it can be very bittersweet.
And so it is for The Sound, its staff, and its tribe – because this was a radio station that had more than an audience. It was like a family for both those who worked at the station and those who came to enjoy it.
What’s the big deal for me in all this? Oddly enough, while never being fired from any job I had (and my current employer assures me I’m pretty safe), the same cannot be said for my consulting relationships with the broadcasters who have hired me over the past 34+ years.
Every relationship has a beginning, a middle, and an end. And in my case, I’ve suffered some disappointing, even heartbreaking losses over the years, due to station and company sales, format changes, and those tough times when things just didn’t work.
But with this one, it was different. My former employee and friend, Dave Beasing, brought me into the station several years ago (aided and abetted by some guy named Greg Solk). Dave and I got the chance to work together again, along with GM Peter Burton, a guy who doesn’t have an “off switch” and was endlessly supportive of the decisions we made – the good ones and those other ones.
Dave put his heart and soul into this place. Despite almost a couple decades between programming gigs, he made the emotional investment into a set of call letters, as dangerous as that can be. And systematically, he assembled some of the most talented and iconic personalities in Southern California radio, and mostly let them be themselves. Maybe all those years as a consultant paid off, because Dave did his best programming at The Sound.
The audience knew this was a different kind of radio station, even when it played “Free Bird.” For many Los Angelinos, The Sound was often spiritually reminiscent of KMET, a station revered by many radio fans who grew up saying “Whoo-ya.” You had to be there.
I always felt welcomed and embraced by the Sound staff. It was fun and challenging for me to visit L.A. to help with navigation and strategy. You always felt like you were walking into a living, breathing, vital radio station.
And then there were the Sound Backstagers – a brand advocate group of super P1s we put together several years ago. From there, the station’s social media footprint expanded and evolved. And in the past few years, The Sound was looking at engagement metrics that were crazy good. Whenever a client asked me to name a Classic Rock station doing it right socially, I always pointed them to The Sound.
To everyone’s credit, The Sound never faltered these past few weeks, presenting special programs like a memorable A-To-Z while no one knew the station’s expiration date. Dave and his classy staff never lost control or wavered, providing quality radio right to the end.
And so yesterday, it was appropriately Andy Chanley doing the honors, and leading the station and its fans through its final hour. Andy was the first DJ on the air when The Sound debuted, and was given the honor to be the last one.
His very last track – the Beatles’ “Golden Slumbers Medley” – delivered the right message and a thank-you to everyone who supported the station. The Sound’s last breath concluded with this apt phrase, still reverberating a day later:
Thanks for the honor to be a part of this, and work with you all.
LAradio.com’s Don Barrett wrote a moving tribute to KSWD, along with Dave Beasing’s “love letters” to his staff. Read them here.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,000 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.