KQLZ (100.3 FM, "Pirate Radio") was an FM radio station in Los Angeles, California, United States that broadcast from March 17, 1989 to April 2, 1993. The station was launched with much attention from both radio and music industry trade publications.
KQLZ was owned by Westwood One, one of the largest producers and distributors of radio programming in the U.S. KQLZ was one of three radio stations the company purchased in 1989 in an attempt to expand its business to include radio station ownership. Westwood One paid $56 million in early 1989 for what was then KIQQ in Los Angeles, a soft adult contemporary station branded "K-Lite". In addition, the company hired noted New York City-based radio programmer and on-air personality Scott Shannon as the new station's program director and morning drive host. The station paid Shannon a then-industry-high yearly salary of $2.3 million.
After briefly registering successful ratings during its first six months, KQLZ soon garnered ratings too low to bill advertising rates high enough to sustain operating costs. Shannon was fired on February 13, 1991 and the station tried various format adjustments to help raise advertising revenue. In 1993, Westwood One sold KQLZ at a loss for only $40 million, $16 million less than what the company paid four years earlier. For these reasons, KQLZ is often cited by many in the radio industry as one of the most high-profile failures in the history of commercial radio in the United States.
Contrary to its brand management based moniker, the original KQLZ at 100.3 FM was not an actual pirate radio station. The station was licensed by the Federal Communications Commission, a regulatory agency that oversees telecommunications and radio frequency communications in the United States.
Scott Shannon/Rock 40 (1989-1991)
In November 1988, Outlet Communications sold its Los Angeles station, KIQQ, to Westwood One for $56 million. The sale closed March 17, 1989 at midnight Pacific time, and KIQQ officially signed off at 5 a.m. after playing its final song, "(At) The End (Of A Rainbow)" by Earl Grant. KQLZ launched with the Guns N' Roses song "Welcome to the Jungle", adopting the title as its slogan. Pirate Radio broadcast with no commercial interruptions for its first few days, adding one or two advertisements per hour thereafter.
Pirate Radio started as a "Rock 40" station playing hard rock and heavy metal music mixed with upbeat pop music and some alternative rock in a manner similar to mainstream top 40 stations.At first, KQLZ played an eclectic range of music and proudly proclaimed it played everything from Madonna to Metallica to Milli Vanilli. A typical hour of music on Pirate Radio in the spring of 1989 could include early crossover hip hop artist Tone Lōc, electronic music from Depeche Mode, a pop music ballad by Martika, a pop rock song by The Bangles, and satirical punk rock by the Dead Milkmen, all mixed with music from such rock acts as Iron Maiden, Billy Squier, and Winger.
The station was programmed by Scott Shannon, famous within the radio business for his work at WHTZ (Z100) in New York City in the 1980s. Shannon left Z100 and moved to Los Angeles to compete against top-rated station KIIS-FM as well as rhythmic top 40 outlet KPWR (Power 106). Shannon developed the "Pirate Radio" concept while launching WHTZ, drawing inspiration from British pirate radio station Radio Caroline.
The original Pirate Radio billboards featured a close-up head shot of Shannon's face. Some of these billboards were soon defaced with "El Diablo" in spray paint. Local news media reported that some members of the area's Hispanic, Latino, and Chicano communities viewed Shannon's picture as a caricature of the devil. Some media sources reported that the acts of vandalism were done intentionally by the radio station to generate free publicity. In 1990, the station adopted as its mascot the "Party Pig", a cartoon pig wearing a trucker hat. This figure replaced Shannon's likeness on billboards and appeared on other promotional items such as T-shirts and bumper stickers.
One popular feature during KQLZ’s first few months was "Flush and Win". The station invited listeners to call in and mention the Los Angeles-area radio station to which they listened before KQLZ signed on. After saying the competing station’s ID moniker or call letters, the sound of a toilet flushing could be heard; this was meant to insinuate that the listener dumped one’s former station and switched to Pirate Radio.
By the autumn of 1989, the station focused more hard rock and heavy metal music (mostly metal in the more pop oriented glam metal genre), putting it more in competition with metal station KNAC and album-oriented rock outlet KLOS.
Along with its local 100.3 FM broadcast in Los Angeles, KQLZ could also be heard via satellite transmission (SatCom 1R, transponder 3, channels 5 and 6). This service was primarily for the delivery of the syndicated program Pirate Radio U.S.A. (see below) to affiliates but it also gave the station wide exposure outside of the local market. Employees of several radio stations around the country listened to and airchecked KQLZ's satellite signal. In 1989, Westwood One had planned to launch a 24-hour satellite version of Pirate Radio; however, a company representative stated that the debut of such a network was unlikely.
Album rock/alternative rock (1991-1993)
KQLZ dropped the "Pirate Radio" name on December 28, 1992 and adjusted its format to a hybrid of album rock and alternative rock. The station from this point forward was known as simply "100.3 FM" with the slogan "Southern California's Cutting Edge".
Sale to Viacom
On March 29, 1993, Westwood One announced the sale of KQLZ to Viacom for $40 million; this marked the end of its brief stint in radio station ownership. Four days later, on April 2 at 3 p.m., 100.3 FM flipped to easy listening with new call letters KXEZ (EZ 100.3). Shannon, on the phone from WPLJ in New York, returned to the station's airwaves briefly to give KQLZ a proper send-off, closing out the old format saying, "Goodbye, Pirate Radio".
Since then, 100.3 FM has changed formats and call letters several times. In 1996, the station became rhythmic AC KIBB; in 1997, it flipped to rhythmic oldies KCMG, "Mega 100". In 2000, KCMG switched frequencies with urban contemporary KKBT; "100.3 The Beat" remained on-air until 2006. That year, the station became urban AC KRBV, "V 100.3". From April 8, 2008 until November 16, 2017, the station broadcast rock music as KSWD, "100.3 The Sound". Following the sign-off of KSWD, the station broadcasts the Christian adult contemporary music network K-Love with the call letters KKLQ.
Pirate Radio U.S.A.
Pirate Radio U.S.A. was a nationally syndicated program that was produced by KQLZ and distributed by Westwood One. The five-hour show aired on Saturday nights from November 1989 through October 1993, ceasing production several months after the Los Angeles station changed its format. Like the station on which it was based, the program showcased hard rock and heavy metal music. KQLZ afternoon drive DJ Shadow Steele was the original host of Pirate Radio U.S.A. Following the 1991 departure of Scott Shannon from the station, the show was hosted by Jeff Jensen and later by Jamie Osborne and music journalist Lonn Friend.
On April 1, 1994, as an April Fools’ Day radio stunt, Los Angeles alternative rock station KROQ-FM switched to KQLZ’s "Rock 40" format, complete with original Pirate Radio bumpers, station legal IDs, airchecks, and playlists. Shadow Steele returned to the airwaves for the event, broadcasting live from the KROQ studio.
A tribute website, "100.3 FM KQLZ Los Angeles, Pirate Radio" was launched in April 1999 at www.KQLZ.com.
In 2001, a fan-produced, commercial-free Internet radio station launched at KQLZ.org. The stream emphasized heavy metal music as played on the original FM radio station between 1989 and 1991 and adopted much of the imaging. On December 31, 2015, citing rising royalty costs, the KQLZ.org streaming station went off the air.
Since the demise of Pirate Radio, the KQLZ call letters have been used at several other stations. From 2008 to 2011, an oldies station in Boise, Idaho (now KPDA) took on the KQLZ callsign. In 2012 the KQLZ calls went to a station in Beulah, North Dakota. Since 2013, a station licensed to New England, North Dakota has assumed the KQLZ call letters.
- Z Rock — a defunct 24-hour radio network that broadcast a similar format of hard rock and heavy metal
- "Westwood One Buys KIQQ For $56 Million" (PDF). Radio and Records. November 4, 1988. Retrieved March 27, 2018.
- "Shannon Departs As Pirate Enters AOR Waters" (PDF). Radio and Records. February 15, 1991. Retrieved March 28, 2018.
- "Westwood One Sells KQLZ To Viacom for $40 Million" (PDF). Radio and Records. April 2, 1993. Retrieved March 28, 2018.
- "Pirate Radio Surprise Attack Clears Decks For L.A. CHR War" (PDF). Radio and Records. March 24, 1989. Retrieved March 27, 2018.
- "100.3 KIQQ Becomes Pirate Radio KQLZ - Format Change Archive". Format Change Archive. March 17, 1989. Retrieved December 3, 2017.
- "Shannon Launches Pirate Radio" (PDF). Radio and Records. March 24, 1989. Retrieved December 3, 2017.
- Kojan, Harvey (July 20, 1990). "Whatever Happened To Rock 40?" (PDF). Radio and Records. p. 60. Retrieved May 28, 2018.
- "Now In Birmingham, It's Beat The Clock; Easy Loses Memphis, Recent Texas Convert" (PDF). Billboard. May 12, 1990. p. 14. Retrieved May 28, 2018.
- "L.A. Update: The Golden Year, 1983; WQUE's Gator: The Ultimate Fundraiser" (PDF). Billboard. April 29, 1989. Retrieved March 27, 2018.
- Rosen, Craig (September 9, 1989). "Networks Going To Saturday Night House Parties" (PDF). Billboard. p. 16. Retrieved May 28, 2018.
- Snow, Shauna (March 30, 1993). "TV/Radio: 'Pirate Radio' Sold". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 28, 2018.
- "Streaming Fuck at KLOS OK". Los Angeles Radio People. April 2, 2015. Retrieved November 27, 2017.
- Rosen, Craig (November 11, 1989). "'80s Retrospectives To Glut Market At Year's End" (PDF). Billboard. p. 19. Retrieved May 28, 2018.
- Stark, Phyllis (April 16, 1994). "April Fools' Day Brings Out On-Air Pranksters; Library Cash Grab Goes Too Far In Fort Worth" (PDF). Billboard. Retrieved April 1, 2018.
- nycradiofan (February 17, 2013). "April Fools: KROQ stunts 'Pirate Radio' (scoped) [KROQ Los Angeles] (04-01-1994)". YouTube. Retrieved April 1, 2018.
- Silvers, John (December 21, 2015). "Thank You for 18 Amazing Years!". KQLZ.org. Retrieved November 27, 2017.
Sadly we are among a slew of internet radio hosts that are fighting a battle that we simply cannot win. For some time, now, Pirate Radio’s operating costs have come solely out of the pockets of its’ [sic] principle [sic] owners. That includes keeping Pirate legal, and paying the monthly royalties to do just that.
- The Pirate Radio Tribute Site
- Pirate Radio 100.3 Internet radio station KQLZ.org
- The Pirate Radio Facebook Page