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KSTL Misjudged the Market

When radio stations had individual, rather than corporate, owners, the competition for listeners was evidenced by what was on the air, and what was promised off the air.

KSTL signed on in 1948. The market already had strong radio stations, so instead of emphasizing what it would be, KSTL was promoted by telling the audience what the station wouldn’t be.

The entire radio industry had begun to face the inevitable: television was here to stay and it was taking away all the network stars radio had relied upon. However, in 1948 there were still plenty of network programs for affiliates. NBC and CBS still filled most of the broadcast day and evening, but those stations with no network connection had to come up with their own programming.

There were the special interest shows aimed at women and kids. These were simple and cheap to produce: Hire a host and come up with a script. The more dramatic programs required a staff of actors, sound effects, live musicians and scripts with actual plot lines.

 

It was easier, and much cheaper, for the stations to hire disc jockeys to play records. And that’s where the station’s image was developed.

KSTL told its audience it would hear “a mood sequence technique with middle-of-the-road musical selections, ranging from old familiar to popular and classical.” Instead of establishing itself by creating a strong, positive identity, KSTL was established as a comparison with other stations, telling people what it was not. “Less talk, less chatter, less yakity-yak.”

In fact, just before KSTL signed on, management told St. Louisans the music would accent “melody, rather than novelty. KSTL will carry no hillbilly or hot jive programs. On the other hand, we will not be too highbrow or longhair, and we do not intend to have disc jockeys as such. Our announcers will introduce the programs and musical numbers with a minimum of talk and chatter.”

KSTL Weatherman Harry Wahlgren In other words, the station’s management was trying hard to not do what the other successful stations in St. Louis were doing.

Within a year, some of the programming boundaries were loosened. Local news was provided through a reciprocal agreement with five community papers. A station profile also boasted of “two noteworthy series of programs: ‘Who’s Who in St. Louis’ is a daily feature presented by tape interviews with outstanding local personalities in all lines of activity, and ‘The St. Louis Forum,’ a weekly discussion of major local issues.

How successful was the station?

A few years later, in 1956, KSTL’s programming included farm reports with Charley Stookey, livestock market reports, the Johnny Rion Western DJ show, Harry Wahlgren’s specialized weather reports and Tony Glenn’s daily mobile transmitter show. So much for no hillbilly programs and less “yakity-yak.”

(Reprinted with permission of the St. Louis Journalism Review. Originally published 7/07.)