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KSAZ Hopes to Fill Tucson's Country Void

For those of you who liked having the choice of four adult-standards stations on the AM dial, you're out of luck: Now, there are only three.

KSAZ AM 580 brought an end to the Rat Pack music glut last week when it switched to a classic-country format.

"Name me any other city in the country that has four adult-standards formats in it. When everybody is playing virtually the same music, there must be something people are missing," said Mike Barna, general manager of Owl Broadcasting, which owns and operates KSAZ. "The demographic for 'Real Country' is 25 to 54 (years old), 35-plus, 55-plus. It surprised me how many adults 25 to 54 like 'Real Country.' They grew up with their parents listening to it, so they know the songs."

KSAZ pulled reasonable numbers with the adult-standards format--roughly a 2 share, similar to the ratings of top rivals KTUC AM 1400 and KCEE AM 1030 (the other adult-standards station is KGVY AM 1080)--but recognized the limitations when it came to advertising options.

"Every day, we just kept hitting our heads against three other radio stations playing the same music, going after the same clients," Barna said. "After a little market research, we found there was an opening: real or classic country. We're calling it 'Real Country.' I think KIIM Country (market ratings leader 99.5 FM) is doing an awesome job with all the new country they play. They're serving their audience extremely well. We just found a little niche that wasn't being serviced. ... We'll play nine Mel Tillis (songs) to one Kenny Chesney. Even the Kenny Chesney we put on isn't going to be the newest single; it's going to be the hit they played last year."

Admittedly, the move is not what Barna had hoped for when he came on board a couple of years ago. KSAZ had been purchased by AIM Broadcasting, a group out of Las Vegas, and Barna was brought in to ultimately create a talk station that served the state of Arizona, taking advantage of the fact that the 580 location gives KSAZ strong coverage throughout much of the state during its daytime power cycle.

However, AIM couldn't make the deal work, and the property went back to Bill Ehlinger under the Owl Broadcasting moniker. Ehlinger's health and limited resources forced the station to operate with tighter purse strings.

"We're like a lot of business owners in Tucson: small mom-and-pop business owners who are doing everything they can to keep their business, and keep going, and make it happen," Barna said.

KSAZ wants to rein in its focus as well. Instead of concentrating on KSAZ being an AM station with a signal that can reach most of Arizona, Barna wants an enhanced local emphasis.

"With the 'Real Country,' it can do nothing but grow KSAZ even more," Barna said. "I want to grow; I want to get bigger. I want to do all those things. Right now, we don't want to be Arizona's radio station. ... Marana is our city of license, so we'll cover Marana very well. Home is going to be Tucson now. That's why we felt the best opportunity to fulfill the business dream is do what we did: It's slowly building a base and creating one friend after another, and hoping the word will get out, and we'll have a group of Tucson listeners."


PALIN'S TUTOR? JOHN OVERALL!

When John McCain tabbed Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice presidential nominee, KVOA Channel 4 anchor/reporter John Overall at first didn't think much of it (beyond, of course, the "Sarah who?" stuff).

But as information on Palin began surfacing in the media frenzy that surrounded McCain's pick, someone located a video on YouTube of Palin working the sports desk at an Anchorage TV station.

Turns out Overall worked at that station (KTUU), at that time (1988), and that Sarah Palin, then Sarah Heath, was one of his interns.

"I didn't remember her face until I saw the tape. It's been that long," said Overall, who thinks Heath's internship with him lasted four or five months. "I remember she was energetic, hard-working and conscientious. She was a typical intern. She wanted to learn. She had a positive, go-get-'em attitude.

"The weekend prior to McCain's announcement, I was in California visiting my mother-in-law. Her son lives in Fairbanks. On my mother in-law's refrigerator was a photo of her son, his son and an attractive woman wearing glasses. I said, 'She looks familiar.' My mother-in-law said, 'That's a politician in Alaska.' Turns out it was Palin. Small world."

On that same trip, Overall also caught up with another former intern--who was moving into a $10 million home. Apparently, the $7 million home wasn't close enough to the beach.

Note to prospective interns: It might not be a bad idea to contact Overall.


DAN RYAN JOINS JOURNAL SALES TEAM

Former KVOA Channel 4 sports anchor Dan Ryan has resurfaced--in the sales department at Journal Broadcasting.

"I tried to take a year off, and got to about the 10-month mark," said Ryan, who parted ways with KVOA in December 2006 after two decades on the sports desk. "A friend of mine at Lotus (which operates KLPX FM 96.1 and KFMA FM 92.1) called, and I went over there, and sat down with him. He asked if I wanted to try this gig. I saw a bunch of friends there and felt it was a good atmosphere. That's when I gave the media-sales thing a try and really enjoyed it.

"Just recently, Journal (which oversees four radio stations and TV stations KGUN Channel 9 and KWBA Channel 58) made me an offer I couldn't refuse. It's different. The learning curve is steep on the technical end of things, and that's about 10 percent of the job. Going out and talking to people has never been a problem for me."

Alan Cook, former program director at KNST AM 790, is selling for Journal as well.

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