Former KZLA Listeners Are Out In Full Force. ll

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Southern California Country music lovers are not sitting still. In just a few short hours after KZLA FM flipped formats, a grassroots movement started to get their country back.

Southern California Country music lovers are not sitting still. In just a few short hours after KZLA FM flipped formats, a grassroots movement started to get their country back. Within hours of the flip, a new website was started and information of who to contact regarding this change was posted. Thousands began to flood Emmis Communications with emails and calls telling the company they were not happy with the switch and vowed to keep fighting. And kept fighting they have.

Black Thursday is the name that KZLA country music listeners now refer to when they talk about August 17, 2006 as Emmis Communications flipped the station format from country to a pop format focusing on beat-heavy R&B and dance tunes, competing with several of the same type of stations already in the Los Angeles market.

What Emmis Communications, and maybe Los Angeles itself did not realize, is the stronghold that KZLA and it fans had for the music they love. A grassroots movement is well on it way. KZLA fans, who prefer to call themselves the KZLAnation, have banded together to let America know they want their country back and they are pleading with Nashville to help them.

Press releases, letter writing, and placing advertisements in Los Angeles and Nashville markets are just a few of the things the KZLA fans already have on the way. They have jumped on and are sending messages to every country artist they can find to ask for help. And if that weren't enough, they are now targeting radio broadcast companies to consider changing existing formats or investing into a station in Los Angeles and help them with the switch. Finally, a petition to get country back begun circulating. All this and barely a week has gone by since the change.

Recently, Whitney Allen, former KZLA Afternooner, stated on LA, "The passion of these now mostly station-less listeners is OVERWHELMING. It is something that makes me sadder and more frustrated than I could ever have though possible. After all, as we hear over and over again, and even say to ourselves, 'it's only radio.' We sometimes forget, and we should not, the difference we can make in someone's day, or dare I say life. In my two plus years at KZLA I have felt embraced by these Country music listeners more than I have felt in any of my other 25 plus years in radio."

"We are boycotting advertisers on the new format (Moving 93.9), as well as the station itself," proclaimed Debby, a country music Fan. "And we will support any new station and those who advertise there."

The listeners are definitely not alone. Press releases by ACM and CMA have clearly stated that they pledge to keep country alive in Southern California and openly offer assistance to any radio station considering a change in format. It is obvious to this writer that there is certainly a market that is hungry for Country in Los Angeles.

CMA has also given us numbers to prove country music is wanted and worth the investment in LA. "We are No.1 in the market for country sales YTD, with roughly 1.3 million units sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan. It was also the top market in 2005, with 2.1 million country albums sold." Also stated was that "although KZLA will be streamed via the internet and on HD2, these distribution vehicles won't afford country music the same sized audience it enjoyed via KZLA's over-the-air signal."

Los Angeles has been and can continue to be a vital market for Country music. "Country is certainly well represented in product sales there and it gets good concert stops," said Victor Sansone, chairman of the board of the Nashville-based Country Music Association. "That station's been country for a barrel of years. When you have that kind of equity, you don't think they're going to flip it. I don't get it." As quoted in the Associated Press.

Industry insiders have proclaimed that there are operators within Southern California who can easily profit from the revenue of a KZLA format even though they feel it is a smaller market. Fans have already been extremely outspoken about their dedication to any broadcasting company that decides to change an existing format or invest in another station and help them switch over.

And they couldn't be more right. Arbitron has released its format trends report for the Spring, 2006 radio survey in the 97 continuously measured markets. Country quietly extended its 4-year rebound in the top markets, rising of a 9.5 AQH share (12+) from its low point of 8.4 in spring, 2002. Spanish formats saw the biggest gains, increasing to an 11.1, up 1.3 points from spring, 2005.

The NY Times writer Jeff Leed recently stated "Paradoxically, Los Angeles consistently ranks as one of the top two markets for country album sales (it accounts for roughly 3 percent of all country sales so far this year) and plays host to the genre's biggest touring acts. Thursday marked the first night of a sold-out three-night stand by Mr. McGraw and Ms. Hill, country's power couple, at the Staples Center arena."

Emmis Communications, Val Maki stated to the Associated Press that the reason for the change is the diverse marketplace of Southern California. He has recently been quoted in several papers as stating they felt their KZLA audience "draws predominantly white listener" and thus was holding back their ability to move up in the market (as stated on Country Many Latin American KZLA listeners are taking offense to this statement "I take offense to these statements as I see Emmis taking a reverse racial card to this whole event. I say this as a Latina who fits the target audience you are trying to reach with your new format," affirms one KZLA listener who prefers to remain anonymous. She continues, "If you have ever been to a KZLA sponsored concert you would quickly realize this music reaches out to everyone in Southern California, not just one population."

"It's not that we just need to hear country music, it is what Brian Douglas, Whitney Allen and Paul Freeman brought to the table. It is the personal, local touch they brought into our homes and lives that we are missing. Country music fans are a different breed. That is what I am missing," states devoted country listener Ethan Thomas of Huntington Beach.

Karen Oliver, of Glendale, a country music lover states, "KZLA and it's air staff was a vital part of our community. They brought to us various charities that helped the homeless, deaf, cancer sufferers and more. Together we raised hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. Plus KZLA brought artists out, creating tickets sales and jobs for many people in Los Angeles."

Ms. Oliver continued, "We have asked the Mayor of Los Angeles to take a look at what has really happened and we are asking him to him recruit a new broadcasting company to pick up where Emmis communication could not envision."

If the listeners have anything to do with it, Los Angeles will not become another New York with out a country station. They are sure fighting like hell to get their voices heard. After all, Los Angeles is located in the Wild West.

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