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From the Field
LA's Newest Radio Station
L.A. Business Journal, 11.26.03

The call letters of the newest radio station in Los Angeles, KHTS-AM (1220), don’t stand for hits. They’re short for "Home Town Station." Last month, for the second time in little more than decade, Carl Goldman launched the low-watt community station, rushing on the air ahead of schedule to provide Santa Clarita residents with updates on the wildfires. The launch marks a return for the longtime L.A. radio executive who sold the station, then known as KBET-AM, to Clear Channel Communications Inc. in 1998. He and his wife bought it back earlier this year when the broadcasting giant sought to get out. Goldman, whose father was a radio executive, got his start at FM station K100 while he was a graduate student at USC, working with legends like The Real Don Steele and Robert W. Morgan. He’s taking a different tack at KHTS, favoring a mix of local news, weather, high school football and shows like "Coffee With the Mayor."

Question: Isn’t it a bit of an anachronism running a community radio station in Los Angeles?
Answer: One of the jokes in the business is everyone says, "my market is unique." The reality is most are not unique, they’re pretty much the same. You have a set of rules for major market stations, and you have a set of rules for suburban stations, a set of rules for your smaller markets and a set of rules for what we call your East Jesus Arkansas stations. And those apply everywhere. We are applying the rules of an East Jesus Arkansas station in the heart of metro Los Angeles, the No. 1 radio market in the country.

Q: What kind of programming do you offer?
A: It’s what we call a full-service radio station. In the morning and afternoon it’s a mixture of news, traffic and weather and special features like high school sports or a quick financial tip. We’ve added the Los Angeles Kings and we’re going to do the Dodgers again (available for free through Westwood One in return for commercial time). Our goal is to fill the time between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday Through Friday, to fill all 25 hours with specialty shows targeted by demographic. Right now, we have Westwood One piped in with an adult contemporary format (during hours without local programming).

Q: Do people want to listen to a 10-year-old talk about her soccer game?
A: Not for 24 hours, but yeah, people will listen to it. It’s just like the book report segment we do. It goes on for two or three minutes once a week. It’s so cute and so different that people remember it. If we stopped our programming and did an hour of book reports, no question we are going to lose all of our listeners.

Q: Book reports?
A: If we do it three days a week, we’re taking nine minutes of our week and we’ve touched 152 classrooms in a year times 30 students times all their brothers and sisters and their parents and all the other teachers in the school. Suddenly the numbers look pretty interesting. Now if you’re sitting in Los Angeles you can’t do that. It’s just a little puddle in the whole sea of listeners. But up here in a given year we should be able to touch everyone in that fourth, fifth-grade community.

Q: What are the cash-flow requirements?
A: We’ll probably be able to operate this thing efficiently for under $500,000 a year. And when we’re up and running, we expect it to be able to earn well over $1 million a year, although our expenses will increase as well. You can do it inexpensively, particularly because we are so hands-on. My wife is playing receptionist and also doing the logs and the traffic and I’m helping empty the trash cans. Tomorrow I’m going to come in with my son and we’re going to put up the soundproofing. So a lot of it is a labor of love.

Q: You’ve worked for companies with much wider reach. Why is this more satisfying for you?
A: We’re working for ourselves, which has always been a desire of mine. And I think I can impact a lot more people here in this small circle and provide a service and leave our mark in a much more powerful way. (KHTS reaches an area extending north to Palmdale and Gorman and south to the San Fernando Valley. The signal is blocked from the San Fernando Valley because it would overlap with Pomona talk station KWPA-AM, which also occupies 1220 on the AM frequency.)

Q: How did you get your start in radio?
A: I needed a way to pay my way through graduate school and my dad’s best friend owned K100 at the time. Gene Chenault and his partner Bill Drake had parted ways with RKO, which owned KHJ at the time, and they created Boss Radio, which now is a legend. They reinvented what was yesterday’s Top 40.

Q: What was it like to work around guys who were pioneering a new radio format?
A: I’ve had some incredible mentors to follow. K100 was right smack there in Hollywood right where radio row was. There was a one-or-two-mile stretch along Sunset and everybody was there. And to work with Robert W. Morgan, Don Steele and BR Bradbury, who was the news director and the one who really took me under his wing, they were great mentors.

Q: A lot of radio people in Los Angeles regard the 1960s and 1970s as a sort of golden era.
A: Radio had reinvented itself in the 1960s with Top 40 and Boss Radio, and of course the music was there to support it with the Beatles, the Beach Boys and Motown. When I came on board, FM was a stepchild to AM radio and had not proven itself. With K100, and in New York WOR-FM, there were two stations trying to step out and become what we see FM is today.

Q: You bought this station out of bankruptcy in 1990 but then sold it again. What happened?
A: When the ownership rules changed in 1996, everyone was looking to expand quickly, and some of the more aggressive companies like Jacor Communications (now part of Clear Channel) started gobbling up stations. This station became a real prime candidate in their strategy because of its proximity to L.A. and because it’s the only station in this market.

Q: So they made you an offer you couldn’t refuse?
A: At that time, in 1998, a lot of the big boxes were suddenly coming in. Our advertisers were drying up because for each Home Depot or Circuit City that came in they were killing off two or three mom-and-pops.

Q: How much did you sell the station for?
A: Three million dollars.

Q: And Clear Channel couldn’t make it work?
A: It worked very well in the Antelope Valley, where they have five radio stations. It’s worked well in Santa Barbara. It didn’t work here, I think, because they were growing so fast and no attention was being paid to it. A station like this, as a standalone, needs to be run in a way where there is more at stake than just reporting down a corporate line. If you look at the landscape right now, we’re not the only ones Clear Channel has peeled off.

Q: And how much did you pay to get it back?
A: Nine hundred thousand dollars.

Q: Sounds like you made out pretty well.
A: Everyone says that, but we sold it when it was a real viable entity that was making a lot of money and was an incredible brand in the community. What we purchased was nothing. This table didn’t exist, the computers didn’t exist. Everything that you see in this building didn’t exist.

Q: So what makes you think you could return it to profitability?
A: The good mom-and-pops were able to weather the storm and the weak mom-and-pops disappeared. Even with all those (chain) businesses, we’ve seen the other categories explode. Whether it’s realtors, mortgage brokers, plumbers, electricians, CPAs, chiropractors, dentists and on and on, those categories have gone crazy.

Carl Goldman
Title: President
Organization: Jeri Lyn Broadcasting Inc.
Born: Fresno, 1953
Education: Bachelor’s degree from Hampshire College; master’s degree from USC
Career Turning Points: Being part of the explosion of satellite radio in 1983 and buying small Santa Clarita station in 1990
Most Admired Person: His wife, Jeri Seratti Goldman
Hobbies: Gardening and skiing
Personal: Married, two sons