Feel-good radio

Publication Date: Friday Mar 20, 1998

Feel-good radio

Need some advice or just some warm fuzzies? Tune-in to KMPA, the Palo Alto station that celebrates self-help

by Kimberley Lovato

Give us 21 minutes and we'll change your life." That's the motto of KBPA, Personal Achievement Radio, the only commercial station in the Bay Area that emanates from Palo Alto.

Tune into 1220-AM and you may be among the scores of Bay Area listeners seeking enlightenment and advice from self-help gurus, how-to experts and love specialists.

You'll get tips from Stephen Covey, author of the best-selling book "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," on ways to improve your self-esteem, powers of influence and relationships with people. Deepak Chopra will let you in on his new-age medicine, Tony Robbins will wax on the ways of love, and Norman Vincent Peal will pump you up with his enthusiastic slogan, "You Can! You Can! You Can!"

The new format is the brainchild of John Douglas, owner of the station and chairman of Palo Alto-based Douglas Broadcasting, Inc., which acquired KBPA, formerly classical station KDFC-AM, in August of 1996.

Douglas had tested the feel-good radio format at his Los Angeles station and thought the Bay Area would be the perfect location to try it on a different audience.

"This is an area full of upbeat, healthy people. You have Montgomery Street, which is the Wall Street of the West, and you have Silicon Valley, where young entrepreneurs are born every day. It's a natural fit," said Douglas, who owns 18 radio stations across the country.

At the moment, Douglas' radio stations appear to be the only ones in the country airing self-help 24 hours a day.

He does it primarily through an exclusive agreement with Nightengale-Conant, the largest producer of self-improvement tapes in the country. For the last several months, KBPA has simply aired the tapes for the bulk of its programming, but the station is beginning to develop its own shows.

KBPA divides its programming time into half-hour segments, focusing on business skills, personal relationships and healthy lifestyles for approximately 21 of the 30 minutes. According to Douglas, this format works because at any one time, listeners can touch on several different subjects and pull from it what they like best.

"It is like a music format." Douglas said. "You may not like the song that is playing now, but the next song may be your favorite."

And there's no shortage of material. Listeners can get uplifting messages on weight loss, 12-step programs, goal setting and motivation techniques, all delivered by cheery-voiced announcers.

David Jackson, publisher of the on-line trade journal Radio Digest, said Douglas appears to have found what could be a successful niche in the Bay Area's crowded radio landscape.

"Personal Achievement Radio has an entrepreneurial spirit and has found a place in this market," Jackson said. "They have basically taken a greatest-hits format and translated it into spoken word. It works."

Douglas, in explaining why he has leaped on the self-help bandwagon, said he wants to play a role in helping people feel good about themselves.

"We want to make a difference in people's lives," Douglas said. "There is a lot of talk radio out there and it is mostly negative. We want to put a positive spin on it and provide people with upbeat radio."

The station, which also airs San Jose Laser women's basketball games, is planning to add more call-in interactive programming, including a financial-planning program and a relationship advice show due to begin airing this month.

You can, for example, dial in on Wednesdays at 2 p.m. and get hot tips from Bonnie Gabriel, a k a. the professor of pillow talk, giving singles and couples alike advice on improving verbal communication and adding spice to romantic relationships.

In addition to airing on KBPA, Personal Achievement Radio is heard on Douglas' stations in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Seattle and on ABC affiliates in six cities across the country, including Albuquerque, Memphis and Oklahoma City. Douglas boasts that his programming is one of only two shows that ABC syndicates and one of only two geared to the AM dial that ABC does not own.

"The other is Disney," Douglas said, "so we are in good company."

The concept of Personal Achievement Radio first came to Douglas after meeting a DJ in Florida who played tapes on the air. "I kind of forgot about it until I was in Florida again and tuned in. I thought, "This would be a great idea for a national program.'"

Douglas also realized that there is a huge demand for self-improvement books and audio tapes. That, he says, is proved by Nightengale-Conant, which ships about 50,000 audio tapes a day. And, Douglas said, the industry is still growing.

"Self-improvement is a multibillion-dollar business." Douglas said "And it hasn't been tapped on radio."

His goal is to have Personal Achievement Radio in the top 15 metro markets across the country and seize one percent of the Bay Area radio audience or 60,000 listeners.

So far, however, KBPA has not shown up on the Arbitron ratings, radio's equivalent of the Nielsons. Douglas said he anticipated the slow star.

"When we acquired the station from KDFC-AM (the station that broadcasted KDFC-FM's classical music), we weren't able to capture an existing audience. We basically started with almost a zero base," he said. "I'm not worried. We'll get there."

Advertisers seem to like the concept.

Diana Putterman, general sales manager for the station, said the response from marketers of self-improvement products has been tremendous.

"Advertising on our station has proven to be very successful for our clients. They are signing long-term agreements and are very happy with the results." Currently, KBPA does not have an advertising or promotion campaign but does use its partnership with Nightengale-Conant to direct mail those who have attended a self-improvement seminar or purchased products from them.

To help steer his ship, Douglas has put his son, Greg, in charge of network operations and programming for Personal Achievement Radio. Together, they have partnered with several publishers to keep a pulse on the latest trends in self-improvement.

"We are always evaluating our format," said Greg Douglas. "It is important to keep up on what is happening out on the streets and give people what they want."

Greg Douglas said he attends seminars and events and relies on retail outlets to monitor who and what topics are popular in the industry. He also admits that he has spent many hours answering calls from listeners and has taken suggestions from them.

According to Greg Douglas, self-help gurus love KBPA's programming. He's trying to get some of them to do live call-in shows this year.

"There are very few outlets to get positive information to the public," Greg Douglas said. "We provide them with a vehicle to touch lives and inspire people."

And that could be the secret to success for KBPA and Personal Achievement Radio.

"I think whenever you have the opportunity to change people's lives or make a difference in some way, you'll be successful," John Douglas said.

And, like their motto says, you only need to give them 21 minutes.

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