`Kidstar' Gives Children Their Own Voice In Radio

Already we're being asked: "When's `The O.J. Simpson Story' going to be on TV? Huh? When? What's taking so long? Who's going to play O.J.?"


Kid you not: If you have no children you are probably oblivious to the programming and marketing revolution under way in a building just north of the Seattle Art Museum on First Avenue, across the street from the Lusty Lady.

It has been a little over a year since KKDZ-AM (1250) signed on, and as "KidStar" marks the birthday, its owners, 40 investors who formed a company called Children's Media Network, are poised to take the format national.

Before year's end, KidStar, which targets children 8 to 11, plans to be in several Top 10 markets (Seattle-Tacoma is 13th) - thereby winning the hearts of national advertising agencies.

Using recent advances in PC-based digital automation, KidStar in Seattle will feed programming to affiliates, which will insert their own local content.

KKDZ here has evolved in the last year into a charming, professional-sounding, personality-oriented "full-service" station for kids.

There's news at the top of every hour. Unlike many stations these days, KKDZ actually has a news director, and the newscasts are informative even by adult standards.

Research shows KKDZ listeners are hungry for information. "It's a really great age," said Mary Elder, vice president for print and program development. "They're asking questions. They want to be cool

but they still want to be kids."

The station also plays a mix of novelty, oldies and current pop music. And there are stories.

But the real draw of KidStar seems to be the station's multimedia approach, which management says sets it apart from children's formats elsewhere.

Listeners register their names, birth dates and addresses - with their parents' permission, of course - and get access to the "PhoneZone," a touch-tone system of information and feedback. They also get a quarterly magazine. Eventually, there will be computer access.

With this interactivity, the station can broadcast profiles of kids, their testimonials about exercise, safety and other topics, and advice.

The other value of this listener participation, of course, is it documents an audience ignored by the major radio-ratings service, Arbitron, which does not measure people under age 12.

KidStar's 60,000 registered listeners are joined by an estimated 115,000 other kids who listen casually - and 125,000 adults. The station is not yet profitable but has some big-name advertisers, including McDonald's, Nordstrom and Washington Mutual.

KKDZ is on the air from 6 a.m. to midnight, ignoring the assumption that all kids go to school and go to bed early. After all, some are schooled at home, stay home sick or have special days off, and others aren't always strictly supervised, or they wake up in the night feeling lonely.


X-rock: Things are getting pretty lonely down at The X. Today was to be the day of reckoning.

But the best guess now as to when the Federal Communications Commission will give Alliance Broadcasting the go-ahead to take the reins of album-rock KXRX-FM (96.5) from Shamrock Broadcasting is Monday, according to Gary Taylor, the soon-to-be general manager of The X.

But like FM reception on Interstate 5 alongside Boeing Field, things get fuzzy after that.

Citing competitive considerations, Taylor, who for now is working out of an innocuous office somewhere outside radio land, declined to say whether there might be a format change - or when.

Inside the station down on Elliott Avenue, where the employees still work for Shamrock and aren't exactly in the loop, the word is it will be a couple of weeks before anything changes. But that scuttlebutt could be a smokescreen.

Smart money is on a switch to country music, but with two strong country outlets here - KMPS-FM (94.1) is ranked No. 1 in Arbitron's overall ratings and KRPM-FM (106.1) is No. 10 - don't bet your pickup truck on it.

Seattle Times media reporter Chuck Taylor can be reached on the Internet at 71460.1463@compuserve.com or on CompuServe at 71460,1463.