by Alex Cosper
KMEL, Wild and The Beat
KMEL has outlived competitors, although it became part of a Clear Channel combo with KYLD (Wild) in 2000. In San Jose KHQT (Hot 97) served as a solid competitor to KMEL during the late eighties and early nineties, although it eventually became a simulcast of KFOG as 97.7 KFFG. Back in the eighties, as hit radio was transforming into dance beats, Hot 97.7 did well in San Jose over the more pop-oriented KWSS (94.5).
Wild's morning show since 1995 had been the Doghouse through April 2005, created by Jeff Vandergrift aka JV at Hot 97.7/San Jose in 1994. After Hot 97.7 sold, the Doghouse moved to Wild. The Doghouse was JV, Elvis and Hollywood.
Considered by fans and critics to be shock jocks, the Doghouse shook up a San Jose school district by encouraging a student "sick out" as reported by the San Jose Mercury News on March 23, 2005, the day after about 900 students in the school district actually skipped class. It was a protest against the district issuing warning notices to teachers that more jobs would be lost than expected due to a projected ten million dollar deficit. After Wild's management was warned by the school district that they were losing more money due to the walkout, management attempted to discourage the morning show from taking it further. The show only lasted one more month after the incident.
Despite the great ratings among young listeners, the Doghouse show did not return to Wild after Friday, April 22, 2005. The following week the San Jose Mercury News reported that the Doghouse had featured on their show members of the San Francisco Renegades Drum and Bugle Corps on Thursday, April 21 (the day prior to their final show). From that on-air visit a complaint was filed by the organization against the morning show, claiming that they were subjected to verbal abuse by the Doghouse while trying to promote an annual fundraiser. A few days later Wild PD Dennis Martinez issued a statement that the station "decided to go in a new direction" and the morning team's contract was not renewed. In the wake of several other stations across the stations being facing heavy five figure indecency fines ordered by the FCC, the path of least resistance has been a taming of the airwaves.
Dance music fans have experienced a series of format and ownership changes at the 92.7 dial position, which originally was jazz station KJAZ since the fifties. It had been a simulcast frequency in the nineties for San Jose's KSJO, owned by Clear Channel, which allowed the rock station to cover San Francisco. It became KPTI "The Party" in 2002 and then went hip hop for six months in 2004 as "Power 92.7" under the ownership of Three Point Media. It was acquired later in the year by a new independent company called Flying Bear Media, which changed the station identity on October 2, 2004 to "Energy 92.7," being the Bay Area's exclusive station dedicated to electronic dance music. Within weeks the call letters changed to KNGY.
Energy 92.7 is run by Joe Bayliss, son of John Bayliss, who was President of the radio divisions of both Gannett Broadcasting and Charter Communications in the seventies and eighties. Joe had been a market manager for Clear Channel and Infinity before venturing into his own station. Prior to the arrival of John Peake, Chris Shebel served as the initial Program Director. Shebel formerly worked at legendary hit station WLS in Chicago during the eighties. He also programmed a Chicago dance station called "Energy" from 2001 to 2003. Energy's morning host Fernando Ventura, who started in March 2005, formerly worked at crosstown Z95 when it played contemporary hits. From 1997 to 1998 he did nights at Z95 and then mornings from 1998 to 1999 before moving to Dallas radio to work at KHKS, where he worked with Joey V and Greg the Gay Sportscaster, who joined "Fernando in the Morning" a few months after the new show's launch. Joey V arrived in 2005 as well.
The independent dance station went through a period of accelerated evolution throughout 2005. In June the station completely abandoned its studios in Oakland and moved to Downtown San Francisco. The new location, at Harrison and 2nd Street, was previously occupied by Bonneville. So in a sense, Fernando "came home" to the same studios where he worked at Z95 in the late nineties. KNGY's tower was on Russian Hill and delivered a signal that could only cover San Francisco and parts of the North Bay and East Bay. In the summer the engineers moved the tower to Mount Sutro, the highest point in San Francisco to experiment with increasing coverage. For those who could not get the signal, it was broadcast online at Energy927fm.com and on Comcast cable channel 964. Comcast also delivers most of the popular Bay Area FM stations.
Several voices came and went throughout the year, with the very notable Brandon, who worked evenings 7-11p before Trevor Simpson the Late Night Freak's show. Brandon progammed a similar dance station in Toledo, Ohio, as well as being part of a short-lived Los Angeles dance station, Mega 100. Brandon became closely involved with Energy's programming on an interim basis throughout the second half of 2005. Consultant Don Parker, of Parker Communications, has overseen the programming of several dance stations around the country, including stations in Houston, Phoenix and Las Vegas. By the end of the year Alice @ 97.3's head of programming, John Peake, who also had experience in programming the dance format, was named Energy's Program Director.
Bay Area radio stations beginning with KMEL in the late eighties have offered dance mixes during specialty shows. Cameron Paul was KMEL's early guru of mixes and remixes that set the station apart from everyone else in the market. The concept of airing dance mixes on radio had its origins in New York's WKTU and San Francisco's KSFX in the late seventies during the eruption of the disco era. It was a short-lived station called Disco 104 that inevitably became smooth jazz station KKSF. KMEL has had several hip hip mix shows in the 2000s by DJs such as Jay Plus, Mind Motion, Rick "Dragon-Style" Lee, Scott Fox, Ol Dirty Chan and Chris the Rebel.
The scramble to save terrestrial radio
In the 2000s terrestrial (traditional AM and FM) radio faces huge challenges from new media. Radio listening no longer seems as important to culture as it did in the past up until the mid-nineties. Now consumers of music and information have an expanded amount of choices compared with the past. The two satellite radio channels XM and Sirius are rapidly growing in subscriber base. Apple's iPod has become a monster hit for people who want to store 10,000 songs on a handheld unit and create their own playlists. Podcasting - the audio version of blogging - is becoming its own culture, so much that Infinity Broadcasting decided to launch a station (KYCY 1550 AM) in May 2005 devoted completely to "open source" podcasts from the public called "KYOU Radio."
Apple's iTunes Music Store has also dominated legal online music downloading, with Napster, Real Networks and other websites offering similar downloading services. Emmis Broadcasting President Jeff Smulyan told the industry in early 2005 that he was more concerned about the iPod than satellite radio as a threat to terrestrial radio. A few months later Sirius announced it would devote a channel to podcasting. In 2006 Sirius becomes the home of Howard Stern, whose syndicated morning show is carried on Live 105.
Radio has also been hurt by corporate greed. Prior to the Telecom Act of 1996 there were limits as to how many commercials could be run per hour on a radio station, but deregulation left the decision on spots per hour up to the station. Many stations went overboard. The Telecom Act also relaxed ownership limits, allowing radio companies to grow beyond 40 stations per chain nationally and up to 7 stations in a market. In some cases, big chains were able to exceed maximum limits through loopholes (as in marketing agreements or under different business names). The previous limit had been two FMs and two AMs per owner in any market. The result was the arrival of a few big players - who bought out a lot of smaller players - and went on to dominate the industry.
The two big radio groups who both have several stations in the biggest markets are Clear Channel and Infinity. Clear Channel became the biggest radio group after acquiring AMFM in 2000, as the company grew to 1200 stations, representing about a tenth of the entire U.S. radio industry. In 2004 Clear Channel decided to cut back on commercials with a "less is more" campaign. This led partly to the company's year to year first quarter profits falling in half, as reported in April 2005. Clear Channel responded by restructuring the company. Even before these changes, Clear Channel initiated a cost-cutting business model of replacing jocks (especially in the non-rated overnight hours) with automation. In many cases the company had one person cut voice tracks for several stations in the chain in order to eliminate high paid personalities.
Many radio fans and critics say that corporate consolidation has ruined what radio used to be, which was local, community-minded and personality-oriented. The idea that the public owned the airwaves and that radio was a community service, as historically defined by the FCC, became overshadowed by the effects of the Telecom Act. Corporate leaders began putting the pressure on their market executives to emphasize sales and marketing over programming at their stations. Commercial stopsets then began to grow, as playlists shrank and became more reflective of record promoters who engineered high budget promotion deals with stations, despite a decline in music industry sales, leading to the airwaves being flooded with recordings that are less mass appeal than hits in previous decades.
In an effort to save a sinking industry, there has been a mad rush in the 2004-2005 period to create new formats based on unpredictability. The "Jack format" has been spreading across the United States (from Canada) during this period. Several stations are now calling themselves "Jack," "Bob," "Dave," among other names, and playing a wider variety of hits, particularly from the seventies and eighties. Radio formats splintered considerably in the eighties and nineties to the point where stations began playing a lot of marginal records that simply fit a sound or genre as opposed to meeting a demand. Record sales have also slumped since the late nineties (which labels blame mostly on illegal downloading off the internet).
Jack, which has performed well in some markets such as Dallas, rolls over format barriers and has an image of a rule-breaker. As early as the fall of 2004 rumors began spreading that Jack (or something like it) would be coming to the Bay Area. In May 2005 Bonneville dropped country for "Max," another spinoff of the Jack idea, which was trying to break established radio industry rules to combat the criticism that radio had become too stale and predictable.
Meanwhile, internet radio stations are popping up all the time and podcasting is growing. The "iPod Shuffle" which is a mini version of the iPod, but with a button that shuffles the playlist, pretty much sums up where consumer tastes are at the moment. People want more and more to listen to their own programming, as the shuffle button gives people control to change the mix. By early 2006 Apple had sold over 42 million iPods, far exceeding the combined total of XM and Sirius subscribers. In other words, the iPod has been the clear winner of capturing the hearts and minds of people looking for alternative listening streams. So where does that leave terrestrial radio?
On May 15, 2005 Infinity Broadcasting, which later went back to calling itself CBS Radio, made radio history by introducing the first podcast station based on public submissions. They coined the new format "open source" and named the station "KYOU Radio" at 1550 AM. The overall sound is a stream of unsigned or under-played music mixed with a wide spectrum of subject matter that includes art, technology, philosophy and social commentary. The station's quality control over programming while allowing public input brings a breath of fresh air to the Bay Area airwaves, that a radio station actually trusts its audience to create a compelling sound. Who would have thought that the return of freeform would be on AM instead of FM? This time, however, the audience has taken over the airwaves. In that sense, freeform seems more futuristic than nostalgic.
One can only guess the future of any industry. A calculated guess based on the growing evidence suggests that the survivors of this decade will be the stations that merge and don't try to compete with new technology. Interactivity (which talk radio already embraces), portability, convertibility, personalization and on-demand are keys to where the new thinking is headed in the expanding field of popular media. Some radio groups have already prepared themselves for the road that lies ahead. Others will learn where they went wrong by reading about themselves in this report, which will continue to document radio's developments as time goes on.
The Bay Rocks On
In 2006 KFOG was acquired by Cumulus. Music Director Haley Jones left early in the year and moved on to a similar format at KMTT ("The Mountain") in Seattle. She was succeeded by Kelly Ransford. In the 90s KFOG's Program Director was Paul Marszalek, who was succeeded in the 2000s by Dave Benson. Big Rick Stuart, formerly of Live 105 for over a decade, has been doing afternoon/evenings since 2000.
KFOG is heard up and down the coast, even as far south as Monterey. It is also heard on a repeater signal in Yosemite Village.
One of America's most progressive markets
The San Francisco Bay Area is easily one of the most forward-thinking and adventurous markets in the country in terms of social and technological advancements. The entire metro has been a haven for progressive politics over the years. In the 2003 San Francisco mayoral race Democrat Gavin Newsom won with 53% of the vote over Green Party candidiate Matt Gonzales to succeed Willie Brown, who became a morning host on KQKE in 2006.
KGO Reign at the Top Ends
ABC Radio sold KGO to Citadel in early 2006 and made several changes in the next few years that coincided with lower ratings, as the station lost its number one market position that it had held for over two decades. African-American host Ray Taliaferro had been the overnight star on KGO from 1977 to 2011 with one of the most progressive talk shows in the country. He followed late night host Bernie Ward, who leaned left. had worked on KFBK in Sacramento before doing the late night show for several years on KGO. He became embroiled in a scandal involving circulating porn of his kids online. Ward left the station in early 2008 to serve a prison term. Ronn Owens, a more moderate but left-leaning host, kept his 9a-12 noon show.
More Experimental Radio
In September 2004 Clear Channel station KABL (960 AM) moved to FM as the company used the AM frequency to launch KQKE (The Quake), not to be confused with KQAK, which was a modern rock station in the eighties called "The Quake." With the new Quake, KQKE began delivering the national feed of "Air America," which was launched earlier in March 2004. The network marked the beginning of liberal talk radio as a national fomat but did not last through the end of the decade due to financial trouble.
Another experimental format was introduced in 2001 called CNET, an all technology talk station featuring Alex Bennett in mornings. Bennett had done mornings on the original Quake (KQAK) and then mornings on Live 105 for many years. CNET was run on 910 KNEW but went regular news/talk in 2003. Some may consider KYCY's "KYOU Radio" experiment to be progressive talk. It's the first station ever to launch a format based on podcasts submitted by the public.
San Francisco AM Dial 2000
San Francisco FM Dial 2000
Where have all the call letters gone?
Here's a look at where classic San Francisco call letters ended up as of 2005:
KBCD - nowhere in radio
KBGG - Des Moines, IA
KDN - nowhere in radio
KEWB - Anderson, CA (covering Redding)
KFAT - Anchorage, AL
KHQT - Las Cruces, NM
KJAZ - Thorndale, TX
KJBS - nowhere in radio
KKCY - Colusa, CA
KLS - nowhere in radio
KLX - nowhere in radio
KMPX - nowhere in radio
KNAI - Phoenix, AZ
KNBC - Los Angeles TV station
KOBY - nowhere in radio
KPO - nowhere in radio
KQAK - Bend, OR
KQW - nowhere in radio
KPEN - Soldotna, AK
KPUP - Patagonia, AZ
KRE - nowhere in radio
KROW - nowhere in radio but resurfaced in WB series "Smallville"
KRPM - Houston, AK
KSFR - Santa Fe, NM
KRQR - Orland, CA (covering Chico)
KSFX - Roswell, NM
KTAB - nowhere in radio
KWSS - Scottsdale, AZ
KXXX - Colby, KS (covering Witchita)
KYA - used by "Oldies Radio" KYAA (1200 AM) in Soquel, CA (covering central coast)
KYUU - Liberal, KS
KZQZ - nowhere in radio
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