R.A.P. Interview: Ronn Lipkin

R.A.P.: You've worked with Andy for a long time. That has to have many advantages for both of you.
Ronn: Yes. We're on similar wave lengths a lot of the time. We have a certain ESP that goes on. He starts to say something and I'll say, "Yeah, I got it. I know just what you mean." Then I'll go an execute that idea, and afterwards he'll say, "There you go. That's it."

It also helps that Andy is able to very clearly articulate what it is he wants, and I know what he's looking for. Conversely, I try not to make everything "formula." I'm always looking for something different, but something that still maintains the basic idea Andy has instilled in us, and that is that we are selling the station first. We are involved in positioning and marketing the station, and we always keep that in mind every time we produce a promo. A station promo should not be cute just for cute's sake or creative to show how flashy you are. Does what you are doing sell the station? Does it sell the position and the call letters effectively? That's something he has really instilled in everybody here. That's one of his many strengths.

R.A.P.: What are some specific applications of this positioning and marketing philosophy there at KLSX?
Ronn: First of all, any promotion starts from the "promotional" level -- anything we do is designed to reinforce the station image. For example, we have this giant flea market that we do. It's called the Classic Rock Expo. The first words are "Classic Rock." The same goes for the Classic Rock Art Show we did last year where we gathered a number of classic rock performers who are also painters and photographers. We staged a large exhibition of their works and auctioned them off for charity, for the American Foundation for AIDS Research. Those two things were two of the station's biggest recent promotions, and they, by definition, were involved in reinforcing the station's image. We were dealing with Classic Rock artists and with merchants of Classic Rock memorabilia.

The other major promotion we did this year was Howard Stern's visit to town. As you may recall, he promised that when he became number one in L.A., when he beat Mark and Brian, he would come to town and hold a funeral for them. The other half of our positioning, which is "Howard Stern All Morning" was obviously there as well.

R.A.P.: Tell us a little more about the funeral for Mark and Brian.
Ronn: Well, the first day Howard was on the air here in Los Angeles, which I believe was July 25, 1991, he said he was going to be number one and that he was going to beat the pants off Mark and Brian. Well, Mark and Brian have had a very significant run of being number one here. They were very dominant here in the mornings. I guess their TV show had just started at that time, so they were about to get some national exposure. Everybody was listening to them. That's an exaggeration obviously, but their ratings were very strong. Howard said, "When we beat them, we're coming to L.A.. We're going to do a broadcast, and we're gonna have a funeral for them."

Using my experience with Howard in Philadelphia as a guide, I said, "Alright, it will probably be about three years or so, maybe two and a half years." But Howard shot up in the ratings. People discovered him very quickly. A year later, Howard was number one. He beat Mark and Brian. It was very fast. We started doing all sorts of positioning right before Howard became number one. Warren Williams, who is our Music Director and also the voice of the promos, came up with the idea of "helping to put the 'fun' back into 'funeral'." We did these subtle exhortations to "Make Howard number one -- put the FUN back into funeral!" So, when we were sitting there watching the numbers on the Arbitron download, and Howard became number one, we began howling. We were screaming! It was time to start planning this funeral.

Howard did this song parody contest where he solicited Mark and Brian song parodies from the listeners. The winning parody was set to the Bonanza theme, and the guy was singing, "When you gonna go, when you gonna go back to Nebraska?" That was one of the nicer ones. A lot of them were not very complimentary to Mark and Brian. That was a preliminary thing. Then we started to get the details on where and when Howard would arrive. It turned out we were going to do a two day broadcast the Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving. On the first day, Howard would have a star studded line up of people, and we would broadcast live from Spago which is a very famous and trendy restaurant in Los Angeles. I couldn't begin to describe the amount of preparation. This was like staging a concert. They arranged for everything from food to security. Because he is a controversial figure, we did not scrimp on security.

It was pretty exciting to have Howard, in the flesh, come down and do the broadcast. At most stations, if you come into the station at eight o'clock in the morning, you can see your morning guy. Well, here we just watch tapes roll.

From a production stand point, putting this together was very challenging. Howard asked us to produce the in and out bumpers here -- "Howard will be right back" and "Now here's Howard Stern" and so on. We really wanted to make them extra special, so I called on Paul Turner who took my job at YSP when I left. He's got this very strong, gritty, "basso" voice that can be very nasty. We produced a number of bumpers that were, you know.... "hasta la vista Jay Thomas!" I had one with the sound of someone screaming, like they were falling off a building, then Paul said, "Adios Rick Dees! Mark and Brian...YOU SUCK!!" If you could just hear Paul Turner with his voice, "Here's the king of all media, Howard Stern, live from L.A.!"

Howard himself was not subtle with his attacks on the other stations. He was very brutal, but it was funny. It's just a hoot to hear them attacked that way. Could you have imagined, however many years ago, even mentioning another station's call letters on your station? Howard's always talking about the competition. One saying we came up with was, "The first three letters in loser are L O S." I hope no one there [at KLOS] takes that personally because I don't know anyone there. However, Howard did latch onto that, he really liked it, and he used that a lot. In fact, the day Howard became number one, we had an airplane fly over KLOS with a banner stringed behind it that said just that. Hey, this is war! Anyway, we had Paul Turner voice these in and out bumpers, and I produced them. Howard really liked them. We figured there was going to be a lot of people listening to the broadcast, so I made sure we had some really sparkling things that positioned the station, positioned our classic rock theme. We also started to promote our Classic Rock Expo at that time. Since this would probably be our highest cume over a two day period ever, with people checking out Howard, I had to make sure everything that went on the air was pristine. I try to do that anyway, but especially for this. There were a lot of late nights making sure every promo sold the station as well as it could.

The second day of the funeral, which was Tuesday, was the funeral itself. It was held at the Palace Theater in Hollywood right at Hollywood and Vine. Howard had a press conference, and the attendance was just unbelievable. Reporters from all over the country were there. After the press conference we held a mock funeral for Mark and Brian under a huge Roman Parthenon like set that was built outside in the parking lot next to the Palace Theater. There was about 25,000 people there. They closed down Hollywood Boulevard. They closed down Vine. There was a huge police presence, helicopters, everything. I got there at about five in the morning, and there were already two or three thousand people waiting outside under the lights. Howard inspires that kind of loyalty and with good reason; he's funny as hell. Sometimes, when I'm coming to work, I have to sit out in the parking lot and wait for Howard to finish his show because I can't miss a minute of him when he's really on a roll.

Anyway, we had the stage set up, and Howard came out in an emperor's outfit. He had the song parody winners come out and sing their various song parodies downing Mark and Brian. It was basically Howard's coronation and Mark and Brian's funeral service. The climax of the funeral involved two mannequins of Mark and Brian with big guillotines coming down and blood spurting out. Not subtle, but again, this is warfare.

It was very satisfying. We were in every newspaper. We were on every TV newscast. I mean, this was a big deal. In a town where there are many celebrities, where you can see them walking down the street, for someone in radio to command that much attention was really amazing. Scott, our Promotions Director, was just telling me that he was making up his monthly promotion report. Part of that report includes dubs of all the news stories that appeared on the TV stations about the station and about Howard. Scott said we were going to have at least two hours of footage for the month. Riding the Howard Stern train has really been amazing. I think he's the funniest morning show I've ever heard.

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