by Alex Cosper
The history of freeform radio (before 1968)
Early KZAP History (late sixties/early seventies)
The Peak of Radio Anarchy (early seventies)
Transition from Freeform to Album Rock (early to mid-seventies)
The Emerging FM Audience (late seventies)
KZAP Rules the Market (early eighties)
The Greatest Rock Battle...(mid-eighties to early nineties)
Reflecting on the Legend
A revolution was going on everywhere when freeform rocker KZAP signed on the 98.5 FM dial position in 1968 with "Revolution" by the Beatles. Sacramento's top 40 battle on the AM dial was between 1240 KROY, 1470 KXOA and San Francisco AM stations 610 KFRC and 1260 KYA. KROY had become the market leader but not every young person wanted to hear top 40 radio. Progressive music fans called the mainstream "bubble gum" and wanted more experimental music that reached in new directions hosted by music authorities who had something more to say than upbeat one-liners over short song intros. KZAP brought them the freeform station of their dreams on November 8, 1968.
For nearly a quarter century the call letters KZAP would come to be synonymous with "rock" in Sacramento. The station began as a wild freefrom experimental alternative to the structured fast-paced jingly sound of top 40. Freeform stations had been popping up in America since the middle of the decade when the FCC made a decision to reduce the number of AM/FM simulcasts as a way to create new radio programming. FMs were mostly just extensions of the more popular AM properties at the time, but stations like KZAP changed that.
Several of KZAP's early personalities came from Sac State University's KERS (90.7 FM), where creative minds developed and went on to shape the sound of Sacramento radio and beyond. Charlie Weiss and Paul Merriam had been students at the station, which introduced many Sacramentans to progressive rock. Another KERS student at this time was Rick Carroll, who went on to work at crosstown KXOA and eventually crafted a national radio format known as "rock of the eighties" at KROQ in Los Angeles.
Jeff Hughson was a sixteen year old high school student doing the 2a-6a show on station KXRQ at 98.5 on the FM dial. Jeff made one dollar per hour but as he puts it, "radio money didn't get good until radio got bad." The station played lite pop from 6a-6p and then jazz the rest of the time. In the Spring of 1968 the FCC ordered the owner to sell the station due to poor management. It went dark for several months and ended up in the hands of the California Talking Machine and Wireless Company, which was founded and owned by Princeton University Class of '67 graduate Lee Gahagan, who was originally from New York City. He had studied engineering but majored in architecture and was involved with the campus station WPRB. The first person Lee hired was General Manager Ed Fitzgerald. Then Ed started putting a team together that would help build the new station. The first three people he hired were J.B. Winans, who was supposed to be the first Program Director, along with musicologist/announcers Fred Gaines and Jeff Hughson.
"I heard the station was being sold and I pursued that," remembers Jeff. "I said what's going on? So I got a hold of Ed and he came to my house and interviewed me and I had a big record collection. So I was hired as Music Director and put the library together. I graduated from (Sacramento) High School in June of '68 and I went to work for KZAP at the end of July." Another early hire before the sign-on was Charlie Weiss. All of the early staff members, along with a few carpenters, physically built the station that would become KZAP throughout the summer and autumn of 1968. Until the station was built Downtown in the Elk's Temple, station meetings were held at Ed's home in Rancho Cordova.
Charlie remembers it this way: "I was a student at Sac State majoring in speech and journalism. At that time, there was a student operated station, KERS. It was part of the broadcasting curriculum. A fellow student and I started a program that ran on Friday nights from midnight to six. It was a cross between KMPX in San Francisco and Berkeley's KPFA where we played albums - everything from Cream to Eastern music to Firesign Theatre - and invited guests to the studio. One day, I got a call from a guy named J.B. Winans who told me that he and a few other people were trying to convince the new owner of a station that was playing jazz on the 13th floor of the Elks Building (pictured left), to switch to an underground radio format. He apparently was inclined to go with classical music. Winans and his friend Fred Gaines came up to the KERS studios and I said I might be interested. I was headed to Seattle for the summer where my parents had moved and told them I would check with them when I returned in September. When I returned in September, sure enough, things were beginning to happen. I, along with some other interested folks, met with the new GM (Ed Fitzgerald) at his home and things got underway. I remember our transmitters came from a transmitter site near the town of El Dorado. We loaded them on a flatbed one cool fall night and drove them to 11th and J where we took them up the elevator. As we began to install the transmitters, I'll never forget Fitzgerald grabbing a hold of the coax cable outside on the crows nest and sliding down the roof to the 13th floor. Anyway, we painted the place - I chose the paint and frankly picked an ugly green color - thank god for posters."
According to Sacramento musician Mick Martin, "Jeff Hughson and I set up the initial KZAP library when Ed Fitzgerald first came to town." Both Martin, who worked at Tower Records, and Hughson had huge record collections. Jeff remembers, "I called up Tom Donahue and said 'We're starting this station in Sacramento and I'd like to have you show me how to do a record library for a radio station. I had been a fan of Tom since the KMPX days when he first did progressive radio in San Francisco. What I really got from him was service from the labels. Tom helped put me in touch with the (record) reps to help me get service. I stayed in touch with Donahue and he was an advisor and a mentor."
The KZAP call letters had once been used by a top 40 station in Houston in the fifties, but made the list of available names in 1968. Jeff says that the staff had put together a wish list of call letters for the station and then submitted it to attorneys, who checked with the FCC for available possibilities. "There must have been about 30 or 40 suggested call letters like KDMT and stuff," Jeff recalls. "And we submit this whole list and our attorney calls us. I remember we were working at the station that day sawing and hammering. And he calls and says 'hey I got the response from the FCC and I picked the call letters. Out of the whole list there were only two: KPOT and KZAP and I told them you want KPOT.' We said 'NO! NO! We don't want KPOT. Come on, that is so trite and obvious. Tell them we want KZAP.' "
Lee Gahagan also owned classical station KPEN in Los Altos and another FM station in the Monterey-Seaside area. Ed had actually worked for Lee since he put KPEN on the air in 1965. Lee was described by friends as quiet and from a wealthy family. By the time the station was ready to go on the air, Winans had been replaced by Paul Merriam as Program Director. Paul had also worked at KERS and had graduated, went to Europe and had returned to Sacramento. The term "freeform radio" was preferred to "underground" by the owner, the GM and the original staff because "freeform" sounded more accessible, according to Charlie Weiss. Because it was before the digital age, the frequency was referred to as "98 and a half."
Jeff and Ed came up with the idea for the first pre-produced tape that introduced KZAP to the audience. "We went on the air November 8, 1968 at 6am," says Jeff. "The first thing that went over the air at KZAP was Jose Feliciano doing the 'Star Spangled Banner,' which was a single because he had done it at a sporting event and it became controversial because he did it J ose Feliciano style. Then it segued into 'Revolution' by the Beatles." Ed Fitzgerald cracked the microphone as "Uncle Ed" and was the first voice to be heard on the new station. He became the morning jock partly to keep overhead costs down. After Ed got off the air the first morning he and Jeff went to the airport to pick up an electronic part as they listened to Paul Merriam's show. Paul began naming off all the station announcers. When he got to Jeff's 10p-2a shift he billed Jeff as "The Flower Pig," which was a nickname for someone Paul knew in England. "I accepted the nickname," says Jeff, "only because Sacramento's Tony Bigg (who was a popular night jock on KROY) had become Tony Pigg when he went to FM radio. I thought that both were funny names." He used the name Flower Pig for about three months. For about that same stretch of time, Jeff signed the station off the air at 2am overnight to keep costs down. Ed opened his show every morning with the song "Cristo Redemptor" by Harvey Mandel as he would sign the station on the air at 6am.
"We could play anything - and I mean anything," says Charlie, who was the initial afternoon jock. "Segues were what we were about. From Olatunji into Oye Como Va, from Segovia into the Doors. The Beatles were constantly being played - all of their albums. But in addition to Hendrix, one would play a set of blues that could include the Mississippi Delta players to the Chicago guys. A Motown set was always fun. The mood of the music could move through several genres in an hour's time. There were message sets as well that could pass through folk protest, Dylan, Jefferson Airplane and CS&N, for example. We also took turns producing a daily news program that included collages of music reflecting our general opinions on the events of the day. By then, a KZAP house at 23rd and N had a sunroom where a tape recorder, mike and turntable were set up. You would produce your news show and then drive it to the station. This wasn't the first KZAP house. The first one was on Yale Street between X Street and Broadway but was short lived - but quite a bit of fun. I had a 15 year old runaway girlfriend named Claudia for awhile - it never even crossed my mind that I could have been arrested."
Cary Nosler, a nutrition expert, later went by the name Captain Carrot. Cary actually had done an evening freeform show in 1967 on KJML (106.5 FM) in Sacramento and was sought out by KZAP's management. "KJML had the first underground radio show in town," says Cary. "I had lived in Palo Alto and listened to KMPX and KSAN and decided that was what I wanted to do. The owner of KJML got me a trade out at Jack's House of Music where I bought all the music. My show was called 'Fantasy Machine' which became popular by word of mouth. Then we expanded the show to weekends. We had another guy named Stan Goman who we called 'The Worm.' He worked at Tower Records and brought in music. We had to buy everything. But after awhile the owner got paranoid and didn't want to do it anymore."
During the construction of KZAP Jeff Hughson remembers listening to Cary on KJML (106.5 FM, which became KWOD in 1977). Charlie Weiss and Paul Merriam visited Cary at KJML, took him to an ice cream parlor after the show and asked him if he wanted to work at KZAP. Cary went for it. "My pay was $160 a month," says Cary. "I brought in the first two sponsors. One was Sacramento Real Food Company and the other was a head shop run by a Middle Eastern lady named Jodette." Tower Records owner Russ Solomon also bought time on the station early on for "a dollar a holler," according to Ed Fitzgerald. Other early sponsors were Turntables Unlimited, Merriam Real Estate in Auburn (Paul's dad), and the Yankee Doodle restaurant in Auburn (no cash, but all the health food burgers staff members could eat).
Mick Martin says of KZAP management's attitude about hiring air talent, "They wanted to find out who these people were that had all the music. All of the disc jockeys were great. It was their love of music that created KZAP. They knew the records inside and out. They all had their own style." Mick worked with Stan Goman at Tower Broadway in the late sixties on the night shift. Goman was Tower owner Russ Solomon's nephew who later made millions as head of Tower's record division.
The original class of KZAP personalities consisted of Ed Fitzgerald (6a-10a), Paul Merriam (10a-2p) Cary Nosler (2p-6p), Jim Hilsabeck (6p-10p), Jeff Hughson (10p-2a), Charlie Weiss (various shifts) and Fred Gaines (who was still a student at Rancho Cordova High School and did various shifts). The exact line-up on day one is somewhat of a puzzle because of different accounts. Jeff Hughson says at the thirty year reunion they tried to remember the exact line-up on day one and kept coming up with "one extra guy." One thing is for sure: the crew prior to day one that built the station was: Ed Fitzgerald, Paul Merriam, Charlie Weiss, Fred Gaines and Jeff Hughson.
Other early KZAP personalities included Bob Bartell and News Director Ace Young, who went on to work at KMET in Los Angeles three years later in 1971. Michael Sheehy ('68-'70) was an early part-timer who went on to be heard all over the country as a voice-over talent. Charlie was fired and rehired early on and wound up doing overnights but by late 1969 he was doing mornings with Ace Young. Ken Wardell was a Sac State student from KERS who came to KZAP in 1969 and stayed for three years before entering the record industry. Robert Williams also came from KERS and lasted on KZAP for a decade from 1969-1979.
KZAP personalities to follow included Dennis Newhall (mornings/middays/afternoons '72-'75), Phil Glatz ('70-'72), Jack "Mr. Normal" Androvich ('69-'72), Sherman Renius ('69-'70), Robert Williams, Ken Wardell, Tasha Covington, Jock Taft (late nights then middays, '69-'71) and Zoe Riddle. Later personalities included Zack Boles aka Zacharria (mornings, '73-'74), Helen Meline (middays in the early '70s, then returned in the early '80s), Allen Cherry (News Director in the early '70s), Jok Church (News Director, most of the '70s), William Fuller (Sunday morning talk host, circa '73-'79), Jesse Robinson, Robyn Robinson, Roger Moon, Bruce "Jet" Riordan (nights then mornings, '70-'74), Travus T. Hipp (Sunday night talk host, most of the '70s), Viola Weinberg (mid-seventies co-host with Lindy on women's lib talk show Woman Waves), Richard Dunk (weekends, '74-'75) Bill Slater (mornings, late '70s), Gordo Styler and Edward Fong. The morning show changed frequently throughout the seventies and some other morning people who came and went included Marla, Scott McConnell and Eileen Fields. Alan Beim was a key sales executive throughout the seventies. Ted Longmire was the first African-American to be hired as a full-time jock at KZAP and did afternoons in 1972.
Some early KZAP highlights included Jeff's interview with Frank Zappa around the release of the disguised Mothers of Invention album Cruising with Ruben and the Jets in late 1968 and a dance the station put on at a small club with local acts. "In early '69 we did the first name artist (concert)," says Jeff. "Some of the people were against the idea of going into the concert business. But we did an evening with the Incredible String Band at Freeborn Hall. That was in the days when we actually hired the band, booked the hall. We actually took the risk and produced the show." It was uncharacteristic at the time and for many years to come for the station to also be the concert promoter. Shortly afterward the standard became a trade agreement in which concert promoters such as Bill Graham would take the financial risks and produce concerts in exchange for advertising as stations were allowed to claim that they were the ones presenting shows.
Even though the various jocks programmed their own music, Charlie Weiss served as Music Director under PD Paul Merriam from 1968 to 1969. Charlie says, "The original record library was provided by the staff but we had contacts at Tower Broadway as well. One day, early on, I drove up in my '56 Ford sedan and we loaded up a trunk load of LP's from rock to Gregorian chants. I drove them to the station and the GM said, 'I don't even want to know where you got them.' Also, I would drive down to San Francisco with a guy name Dave Turner in a VW hatchback (sales guy and later on air person as well) and we would hit all the record warehouses where they were still quite skeptical about who the hell we were. I also contacted record companies who started sending us product. Blue Thumb Records was the first company that called me. A guy named Jeff Trager who sent me albums including by a group called Southwind and Cajun accordionist Clifton Chenier. Later, they signed Dave Mason and Bob Bartell and I got to go on junket to LA to see him."
Being an hour and a half drive from San Francisco, where artists and fans were moving to in droves, Sacramento in many ways was closely connected to the Bay Area concert scene. KZAP personality Phil Glatz says, "We had an arrangement with Bill Graham in the 1969-1971 period where we were all on the free pass list at the old Fillmore and the later Fillmore West. We saw a lot of incredible shows there and learned about a lot of emerging artists. Graham was very daring in those days and had such a great love of music. It was also very freeform. He would have Miles Davis open for the Dead - stuff like that - turning on a lot of hippies to a much wider range of music."
KZAP developed its own concert scene in Sacramento at the Sound Factory and William Land Park. Unfortunately, the William Land Park shows ended in a Kent State-like ordeal one day when police broke up a show with tear gas because of suspicion that minors were drinking wine. There was also a period of a few years where KZAP did live broadcasts from the fourteenth floor of the Elk's Building where bands played. Phil says, "It had been a 'Top of the Mark' kind of nightclub in the old days, but unused for decades. Great views, windows all around. A lot of great groups played up there: Stoneground, Youngbloods and many more."
The Grateful Dead were the main attraction at the station's first anniversary party in November 1969, in which Mick Martin introduced them onstage. Meanwhile, Robert Williams, a KERS student who had hung out at the station for a year, saw this as his opportunity to get on the air. "The first time I was on the air at KZAP was the night of the first anniversary party, which was the Grateful Dead at Cal Expo. Nobody wanted to be on the air, everybody wanted to go to the show. Well, I wanted to go to the show, too. But I like to think I was smart enough to realize this is my opportunity, so I took it ... You were judged by your musical knowledge and your ability to put it together. Whether you spoke in complete sentences was far less important."
KZAP developed quite a cult following that was starting to shake up the market. But the jocks were not even trying to compete with other stations. They cared more about the art they were crafting. Cary Nosler says, "One day in the early seventies (KROY PD) Johnny Hyde called and said 'I want to congratulate you. You're number three in the book.' I didn't know what he was talking about. I got off the phone and said to Ed (Fitzgerald) 'what's a book?' Then Johnny tried to hire me at KROY. I ended up working there for one night but we weren't even on the air and I kept getting calls for all these songs I didn't want to play. They wanted me to play 45s but the songs would go by too fast and I was used to playing LPs. It was the most depressing night of my life. I told myself 'I cannot live in this world.' So I quit and asked Ed if I could have my job back."
Several members of the original KZAP staff bolted in April 1970 after attending the Alternative Media Conference in Vermont. According to Phil Glatz (pictured left), who arrived at the station around that time to do late night and morning air shifts as well as commercial production, "The original crew was a visionary lot, many from commercial radio. After some of them left, they were replaced by a number of folks coming from the Sac State broadcasting department - that included me, Robert Williams, Ken Wardell, Tasha Covington and others."
For awhile Cary Nosler was the Program Director, not that it was a job he really wanted to do. The jocks still programmed their own music and to some degree, remembers Cary, chose their own shifts when they felt like it without any regard to ratings. But by 1971 Cary wanted to move on to his main interest since junior high, which was educating people on nutrition. After he left KZAP he got a call from Johnny Hyde, who was now Program Director at a contemporary music and talk station KCRA AM, which was the sister property of the city's most popular television station as well. "I didn't want to do radio anymore," says Cary. "He kept offering me different shifts and I kept turning him down. Finally he asked me what I wanted to do and I said I wanted to talk about nutrition. So then he gave me a weekend show and named me Captain Carrot. I started at KCRA TV six to eight months after being on the radio. I had long hair and I was the first hippy to work there. "With Cary's departure, KZAP went without a PD for about a year.
During the time Phil Glatz worked at KZAP in the early seventies, the station remained freeform. "The only rule was no rules," he recalls. "We had a large collection of all kinds of music, from current pop stuff to spoken word to comedy to children's stuff. We didn't play purely commercial stuff like the Archies, that were made just to sell records, but a lot of popular music of the day was played. Remember, in those days many radio stations played popular music that encompassed a much wider range of genres than you hear today. A pop station might play the Beatles, followed by Louis Armstrong, Dean Martin, and Nelson Riddle ... In those days, FM stations rarely made money. We still had (but didn't use) the original Muzak equipment that had been in place earlier. FM stations made more money selling subcarrier rights for background music than from commercials. At the time, few realized what the unique strengths of the FM media were, and the underground movement pointed the way to profitability by playing long album cuts and taking advantage of the higher fidelity of FM. It was a movement that was taking root in many cities and there was a lot of cross-pollination between the various underground stations. We looked towards KMPX and KSAN with respect, they had lots of integrity."
In describing his show, Phil says, "I played a lot of avant-garde music, bizarre stuff, and alternative comedy, stuff that was generally ignored. My background was classical and electronic music, as well as rock. I also did some innovative commercials, such as some of the first radio spots for mainstream porn theatres."
The free-spirited nature of freeform radio that had blossomed across America started to meet resistance from the FCC in 1971. The Commission began looking into "questionable practices" at a freeform station in Des Moines, IA. But instead of a crackdown on "over the line," risque or anti-social content, the Commission warned station owners to voluntarily impose stricter programming of content. The "anything goes" concept gradually began to fade into history. Around that time WPLJ in New York had been experimenting with freeform, but started imposing stricter playlists as control over music shifted from disc jockeys to the Program Director. This had already been the case with AM pop stations since the early sixties.
In May 1971 KZAP began to take heat as both The Bee and The Union ran stories about the station's airing of "dirty words" around midnight one night in March on a newscast. A local real estate investor lodged a complaint with the FCC in April about the airing of risque four letter words in a reading of author Henry Miller along with a critique of the film Quiet Days In Clichy, which was based on Miller's writing. KZAP also aired the film's title song by Country Joe and The Fish, which also contained x-rated lyrics. The articles dealt mostly with the fact that the complaint was being ignored by the FCC. KZAP News Director Allen Cherry told the Union the obscene words "were used in a news story we did about a bunch of women complaining about the film ... The station personally does not use obscenity. We feel to extract the words from a piece of music is like putting fig leaves on a nude painting."
Country Joe and The Fish also did a live performance on KZAP that year, that resulted in complaints about obscene lyrics. Another complaint was made about "Sammy's Song" by David Bromberg, which was about a 16 year old boy who goes to a brothel in Spain to have oral sex with a prostitute. Although the FCC looked the other way, there was a sense that KZAP management did not want to deal with any more possible government investigation and began enforcing its own crackdown on suggestive content. By 1972 jocks were issued a memo that stated "our policy at KZAP will be to avoid the common vulgarities and to work continuously to try to define contemporary community standards." The memo also condemned drug use at the station and restricted visitors after business hours.
An FCC ruling that favored KZAP, though, was in 1971 when a radio engineer named Ed Meece launched KOME, a new freeform station on the 98.5 frequency in San Jose, about 90 miles southwest of Sacramento. Meece was warned not to bleed over KZAP's coverage area on the same frequency. Sacramento rock fans commuting to the Bay Area could hear continuous freeform radio without changing the dial, but it should be pointed out that KZAP used to be heard all over the Bay Area before KOME came on the scene. Nevertheless, KZAP could still be heard instead of KOME in northern parts of the Bay Area such as Marin and Sonoma counties. From the beginning KZAP used innovative engineering.
For its first three or four years KZAP certainly wasn't yet profitable but the idealism of freeform was starting to be at odds with the reality of paying the bills. At the same time the staff was fighting to keep KZAP from "selling out." For awhile KZAP had no Program Director at all and the jocks ran the station, which was a period when the station was at its most freeform presentation and least concern for commercialism. But as Phil puts it, "Deciding things in a true democratic fashion took its toll - there was one infamous meeting up at the studio that caused a number of staffers to nearly resign, after nearly two hours was spent debating who would be responsible for purchasing toilet paper."
The economics of radio also took its toll on KZAP's owner. "Lee was a quiet guy whose aunt was apparently wealthy and got him started in radio by buying him a station in Los Gatos," Charlie Weiss recalls. "There were times when checks were late but we were always paid - I made something like $75 or $80 a week. But remember, you could rent a three-bedroom flat in midtown for $90 a month. My first wife and I rented a two-story flat at 17th and H in which Fred Gaines and another staff member, John Button resided. Part of this was due to decisions by the KZAP family when there was no PD and everything was done by consensus."
Paychecks actually had a tendency to bounce for those employees late getting to the bank. Robert Williams recalls, "There were times in the early seventies on pay day we'd get our checks but we literally had to run to the bank to cash them because the first people there would get the money. The later people there might not get the money if the sales people hadn't hit up enough of the people that owed us some money to put it in the bank."
During the no-PD phase, the air staff had control of advertising. Jeff Hughson says, "We turned down Bank of America and Ed said okay. That says a lot to turn down the first big corporate account. Both Ed and Lee were very gracious." But after serving as GM for a few years, Ed made his exit from the station. "I was voted out for being the straight guy," he says, despite having participated in counter-culture activities with other staff members.
Charlie points out, "We frustrated the hell out of sales managers because we would refuse to run spots if it was deemed the companies helped finance the Vietnam War." The weekly air staff meetings held at an old farm dubbed "Big Deal Farm" out in the north area would go on for hours. One particular meeting went on for hours because some refused to run Standard Oil spots, Charlie recalls. "At that time, we also did a very strange thing and set the week on end. We decided to work four days on and four days off, thus we destroyed the typical seven day week. That also, of course, increased the number of people on air. But we had special programs as well like a Dylan show and even for awhile a children's lib show that ran on Saturday mornings."
But the music and the idealism began to tighten up in 1971 with stricter policies. One of the factors came down to money. The station needed $7000 a month to pay the bills but in 1971 it only reached that quota in three different months. Average monthly billing was about $6100.
Jeff Hughson had quit KZAP four times and got fired three times, but left for good in 1971 to work at a new progressive rock station in town on the AM dial. It was KNDE (1470 AM), which briefly experimented with the same kind of music that KZAP was playing, but in the context of a top 40-like presentation. KNDE during that time was actually consulted by a Sac State graduate and local radio personality named Rick Carroll, who went on to program KROQ in Los Angeles and became known as the architect of the modern rock format. Ultimately KNDE flipped back to top 40 and Jeff bounced around at a few stations.
One might actually pinpoint the end of KZAP's pure freeform era as May 5, 1972 when tragedy struck the station. Lee Gahagan (full name: Lawrence de Peyster Gahagan) died unexpectedly at age 27. He was found dead at his home in Woodside by the sales manager and the cause of death was an overdose of pills. "I recall that he committed suicide over the break up with a female," says Charlie. Jeff Hughson also says it was about a girlfriend. Dennis Newhall, however, says "Shortly after he asked us to pass on our paychecks one more time, we all said 'no, we want to get paid' ... he killed himself." Cary Nosler doesn't quite remember what happened but says "I had heard he had a history of depression." According to an online posting in the nineties by a Gahagan college friend Robert Orban, Gahagan killed himself over "financial reverses." The Princeton Alumni Weekly simply reported he died "suddenly and unexpectedly."
The Gahagan mystery may never be solved, but perhaps the KZAP employee closest to him was Ed Fitzgerald. He believes the suicide was due to a failed romance. "He didn't have money problems, hell no," says Ed. "He came from money, used his IBM stock to put KZAP on the air. He put very little into KZAP. Socially, he was backwards."
Jeff Hughson remembers Lee this way: "Lee was pretty cool. There were times of friction more in '71. In the early days he was really cool. I think they put KZAP on the air for $35,000 - staff, equipment. He thought it would make money, he thought it was a good investment. But he was very laissez faire. He said 'you guys are the artistic, the talent. You just do what you need to do and let me know what's going on.' And we didn't have to fight very much. We did pretty much carte blanche what we wanted to do."
Lee's aunt briefly took control of the estate and then sold the station to "two researchers from Procter & Gamble who didn't know the radio business very well but were willing to learn from the employees," says Dennis Newhall, who adds that the station was sold for about $100,000. The name of the new company was New Day Broadcasting. The two market researchers were Ed Beimfohr from the Midwest and Don Platt. Beimfohr's wife Gordy had wealthy parents who put up the money for the purchase. She became the station's office manager and handled the books. Don Early was recruited as Sales Manager and also invested in the company. With the new owners the pay scale for employees increased. This also marked the beginning of the station's on-air anarchy gradually transforming into more structured programming. At the same time, according to Jok Church, "Ed liked that we were a community of artists. It wasn't about money, it was about making art."
Robert Williams says of Ed Beimfohr, "He married into money (Gordy's parents) and talked his parents-in-law into buying a radio station. They were just not traditional radio owners at all. They knew about marketing and knew what they liked musically. They liked the spirit of KZAP. When New Day Broadcasting took over Beimfohr was on the programming side and Platt was on the sales side. They both worked together on both of these areas but that's one of the distinctions between the two of them. He (Beimfohr) set himself up immediately as General Manager, Operations Manager and Program Director."
The jocks still hung on to a degree of control throughout most of the seventies. According to Dennis Newhall, "You were hired on the basis of what you knew about music. It was encouraged to mix things up and to have the ability to move from folk to jazz to rock to country/rock to blues. Not everybody could keep up with that as a listener. But I think you had people then who were far deeper into music who wanted to listen for long periods of time, not just 15 minutes at a time."
Part of the magic of the era was that the jocks were allowed to program their own music from the wall of albums in the control room. Newhall says, "People knew about segues. You'd put a record on not knowing what you were going to play next and just frantically have about four or five minutes going around the control room trying things out until you found one that would flow right out of it. The best segues were the ones where you couldn't tell where one ended and the other began." Segues were based on a wide range of parameters inluding music key and lyrical themes.
Shortly before Gahagan's death, the station filled the PD position, which had been vacant for awhile. Bruce "Jet" Riordan had briefly served as PD from late 1971 to early 1972. Then with the arrival of Station Manager/Program Director John Williams in early 1972, a certain degree of structure was creeping in. Charlie says, "He's the guy who fired me on March 15, 1972 because I refused to stop playing jazz. That's the point where the staff started changing because John Williams was there to turn the station more commercial like the station he was from in the Midwest somewhere. By commercial, it was a long shot from what it sounded like in 1991 but some would say the real KZAP ended then."
It was John Williams who issued the crushing memo to jocks dated April 12, 1972 that clearly demanded a more commercially-minded direction for the station. Jocks were informed they needed to visit each and every one of the station's sponsors. They were also told that Arbitron ratings would be a critical factor in the station's survival. It warned drastic economic cutbacks might happen if the station did not attract more advertising. Effective April 15 the station's national sales rep became ABC-FM Spot Sales, Inc., which was beginning to represent other progressive stations around the country. The memo also called for jocks to identify the station's call letters at least four times an hour, cross-promote other jocks and to contribute more to producing commercials. And as far as sick pay, forget it, the station couldn't afford it.
The memo also boasted that a new computerized system would soon be in place. It described a computer terminal as a "strange looking machine." It would mark the station's first use of computerized program logs, traffic, billing, sales and more. The memo stated that KZAP was "perhaps the first station to use such an advanced method of handling all paper work." The system was launched the following weekend.
Robert Williams (no relation to John Williams) became Music Director in May 1972 when Ken Wardell left the position to take on record promotion at RCA Records in San Francisco. Robert was also doing the 7p-12m shift at the time as well. During the next few years he would be directly involved with transforming KZAP into a more structured station, a direction that would be a cross between the early freeform era and more mass appeal rock.
Although John Williams would briefly appear in the original Grateful Dead Movie, he was not considered a star at KZAP. "John Williams was universally despised by the staff," confirms Phil. "He was considered a poseur with no love of music." As it turned out, the programming days for John Williams were short-lived and he was replaced for awhile by Ed Beimfohr. The 1973-1975 period saw a lot of personnel shifts including at the PD position. Fred Gaines briefly served as PD then Robert Williams took over in the mid-seventies and would remain in that position until early 1979 - shortly after another ownership change. Charlie returned in 1975 after a three year absence.
Ed Beimfohr represented the station frequently in press coverage of KZAP. According to Robert, "He always had a say in major programming decisions or direction changes, but left much of that development and execution to me. By the time I became PD, we'd worked so closely together that we trusted each other to make the right moves. He'd sometimes come into announcer (programming/music) meetings if he had any points he wanted to make, but did not dominate the staff."
"It started becoming a more focused radio station," says Robert. "It still had a lot of room for creativity and was still a lot of fun and still daring and innovative but started getting more of a focus because a goal was taking shape that aimed for a larger audience ... We knew we had a big audience because there were indicators out there: sales for concerts, sales of certain albums that we knew we were playing and nobody else was, word of mouth response to promotions. As kind of small time as they were at the beginning, we'd get thousands of pieces of mail. There was some evidence. We knew we were being paid attention to also from advertisers."
During Robert's tenure as Music Director and then Program Director he worked with other programming people at formatting the station. Instead of anything goes, they began to implement a format based on a sequence of categories. "It was color-coded so it was kind of psychedelic," says Robert. In other words, jocks had to plan out shows as every song slot became a song category. They were free to mix up the sequence of categories as long as they played a song from each category. "It evolved to a color-coded A-B-C-D-E kind of thing," Robert continues, "with A's being things out of the new box and E's being oldies, which at that point was anything that came before KZAP went on the air. You could play a whole string of oldies that would satisfy your hourly quota of oldies. You could do a little oldies set. Or you could put something new together with something old and relate it somehow, whether lyrically, thematically or the same key. So the freedom was still there to create. To me it was always about the segue and I was always a sucker for an obvious segue.
"At the time, we felt we 'invented' that color/coded/category format since we didn't know of any other station using it. We did develop it, tweak it, and put in into play. Later, I learned that other stations were using a similar kind of approach to help focus the stations to get a larger audience. At the time, it seemed a pretty obvious and easy way to insure any given hour contained enough 'familiar' music," says Robert. They also loosened the format up at night, which was a concept they thought they invented as well, but turned out to already be a broadcast standard. Robert admits, "These concepts are pretty much common sense, but the details for KZAP were top secret!...I think we were developing that approach within the first year of their (New Day) ownership, and by their second anniversary it was as sophisticated as it got ... but was always being worked on."
It was a new era for KZAP as New Day Broadcasting tried to balance between art and commerce. "They really were working at holding an audience," says Robert. "The neat thing for me luckily was that I was interested in that as well. I thought it was too diverse. Of course, what I thought was too tight was still so much looser than anything going on." As far as executing the format, New Day successfully got jocks to comply as Robert says, "it never needed to get to the point where somebody's fined or punished because we were all working for the same thing."
With the ownership change KZAP took on a completely new identity. In 1973 KZAP moved from the Elk's Building to the third floor of a building at 9th and J bearing the sign "Patricia Stevens' Finishing School," which overlooked what is now called Chavez Park. At the time people called it "Wino Park." Also in 1973 the station introduced its unforgettable logo and bumper sticker featuring the cartoon of an orange cat, originally designed for a coupon book by Roger Shepherd and then adapted by Bill Styler. "Roger Shepherd did a lot of great graphic art for the station and a very memorable poster for the fitth anniversary concert that featured the Beach Boys," says Phil. It's interesting that the introduction of this lovable image of a peaceful laid back "Cheshire Cat" inspired by Alice in Wonderland, was a time marker that paralleled the beginning of KZAP's overall rise in the ratings. KROY had been the market champion from 1968-1973, hitting number one in Sacramento every single quarter during that period. But radio listening began to change as FM stations started to become competitive, as KZAP's notoriety attracted a few more rock stations.
First came KSFM at 102.5 FM, calling itself Earth Radio, which started out as freeform in April 1974. It was first programmed by former KZAP sales executive Don Wright, who had just passed on KZAP's offer to do mornings for $650 per month upon the departure of Zack Boles. Earth Radio's initial music library was personal collections of Don and early KZAP jock Michael Sheehy. Another early KZAP employee, Jeff Hughson, became Earth Radio's first Music Director and Promotions Director. Also in 1974 another rock competitor emerged, which was KXOA-FM, calling itself K-108, with a mellow rock presentation and a mascot called "The Mellow Beaver." By that point KZAP was already reacting as jock Richard Dunk recalls, "the management was promoting playing popular rock and roll. It was no longer freeform." Dennis Newhall left KZAP in 1975 for a gig at rock station KSJO in San Jose, but returned to Sacramento in 1976 to work on the air at Earth Radio. The following year he became Program Director, a position he would hold for the next two years.
When Robert became Program Director shortly after the rock competition began he was sent by New Day to Washington DC to examine Arbitron diaries and read what surveyed listeners had written about the station. He said it was "like the CIA," who were located next door. It was at this point in the mid-seventies that KZAP started to pay close attention to ratings.
Even with this stepped-up game plan of ratings analysis, industry secrets and increased competition, KZAP still catered to the fringe elements of society. Some KZAP listeners were downright radical. Manson Family members Squeaky Fromme and Sandra Good paid a visit one day to the station to get Robert to send a message to their imprisoned leader. "They came up to the radio station," recalls Robert, "handed me a tape and said 'you must play this on the radio, it's a matter of life and death.' Well, at the time I didn't recognize them as Manson women, although I did see the cross carved in their foreheads. So they gave me this tape to play. I didn't realize that the motive for giving it to me was that Charles Manson could hear it at Folsom (Prison). I unfortunately never listened to the tape. I kind of have a feeling it may not have made any sense. A week or two later they came back, demanded that I give them back the tape. And so I did and I never listened to it." A couple weeks later Squeaky Fromme tried to shoot President Ford at the state capitol in Sacramento.
In 1975 and 1976 KZAP booked summer shows at the Cal Expo State Fair and broadcast the middle bands. Many were regional acts. The biggest names included Pablo Cruise and Greg Kihn. Robert says, "I booked this thing for months ahead of time. We did it for two years. The first year ran completely successfully. The second year I had completely booked the whole run of the fair. There was some kind of riot that didn't have to do with us but we got blamed for it because rock and roll gets blamed for everything if there's no obvious cause for things. So the second year we only did a few shows and had to shut it down. The state fair people said its attracting the wrong element or whatever their argument was."
KZAP got perhaps its most positive press on May 1, 1978 when the Sacramento Bee featured KZAP as the top story on the front page. It was mostly a huge photograph of a kite flying contest sponsored by KZAP. The kite that made it in the picture was that of a cheshire cat. The event was held at Elk Grove County Park and was a benefit for the Humane Society.
Toward the late seventies the technology of FM transmission had remarkably improved, so that the signal could clearly cover an entire market, even in cars. This revolutionary development marked the turning point in which listeners began to shift from AM to FM in droves for music stations. Disco had also taken over AM top 40 radio to the point where overkill forced the masses to search for alternatives. Although KZAP spiked in the Bee Gees and early disco, it was still mostly a rock station.
KZAP also hung on to a political edge through the seventies with news and Sunday talk shows. Viola Weinberg did a controversial talk show called "Woman Waves" while Travus T. Hipp voiced radical views on his show. Travus hung out with beat generation figure Neal Cassady (who inspired Jack Kerouac's spontaneous writing style) several times in the sixties and even sold him his '47 pickup truck. "He documents that truck in the last published letters about his '65 trip to New York City," says Travus. Viola's interviews were heard often on KZAP and featured several prominent people including Dolly Parton in 1978, President Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan (when he was governor) and many others. News Director Jok Church, who hired the news staff, also interviewed artists and politicians and reported on anti-war activities during the Vietnam War. He went on to create a national comic strip called Beakman, published in 300 newspapers while Viola became an accomplished writer/poet. Another news team who worked under Jok was Richard Beban and Judith Nielsen, who went on to write the script for the television series Barney Miller.
Although there was a lot of turnover throughout the seventies, one of the jocks who hung with the station through most of the decade was Sunday morning host William Fuller. He recalls, "KZAP in the seventies, despite having a weekday 'pie format' towards the end of the decade, still allowed djs a great amount of musical freedom and that's what made it so exciting, adventurous and vital! You knew you were going to get a certain kind of show and music from different jocks, but you could never be quite sure exactly what you'd hear. It seemed at the time in Sacramento there was a real community of djs, listeners, musicians, artists and a lot of artistic 'cross-pollination' so to speak."
But the idea that rock radio was an eclectic experimental playground completely swirled into the past in 1978 when KZAP was sold to a bigger corporation and for the first time fell under the direction of a national consultant. Following the death of Gordy's father, who was the main investor, the station was put up for sale. The new company was Western Cities, based in Las Vegas. "I was never in contention for the job," says Robert Williams, who had still given jocks creative leeway on how to program their own shows, within a structured commercial sense. Robert was fired the first business day of 1979 but a few months later he resurfaced on the air at his dream station, KSAN in San Francisco. KSAN was owned by the same company that owned KMET in Los Angeles, MetroMedia, who would drop the progressive format at both stations within four years.
With the new ownership jocks lost their power to control their own shows at KZAP. In January 1979 Western Cities brought in a new Program Director named Chris Miller, who was consulted by Kent Burkhart and Lee Abrams - a firm that was changing the face of rock radio across the country. They called their programming the "superstars format." It was Abrams who coined the term "album-oriented rock" which is what many freeform stations evolved into throughout the seventies. Even KMET had transformed from freeform to AOR under the consultancy of Burkhart-Abrams and hit number one in Los Angeles in 1976.
Basically they weeded out a lot of obscure rock and compressed the best-selling rock artists into a merry-go-round of accelerated hit rotations, but not quite as repetitious as top 40. The consultants also demanded less jock talk, because their research revealed that the majority of the audience didn't really care for lots of chatter between their favorite songs. So one by one they began replacing personalities, including Cary Nosler, who had returned to the station to do an organic food talk show, but went on to host a national television show called PM Magazine. He also went on to become an author of health food books.
With the new formatting, the KZAP library shrank from thousands of songs to about 400. Charlie remembers, "It was a very tight format. People were fired or quit over the format and by the time the bloodletting was over, I was the only staff member pre-Western Cities remaining. By then, I had experienced all the changes and to me, this was a job and had nothing to do with idealism." Charlie was briefly News Director after the format change. He then headed to Houston to be News Director at KLOL, but would inevitably return to KZAP in the eighties.
Bryan Davis was one of the first new hires at KZAP under the new owners, arriving in January 1979 before leaving in February 1980 to work at crosstown KXOA. "I did middays and was the production director," says Bryan, who eventually moved on to Los Angeles radio at KOST. "I left for more cash and the midday/image director slot at KXOA AM. My time at KZAP, while brief, afforded me the opportunity to be more of an adult on the air. I turned 21 that year and had a blast. I hosted and produced the 1st KZAP Rock Awards and almost every Concert Express to the Bay Area. KZAP literally exploded that year. Our original line-up for the BA Superstars format was Andy Rush in morning drive, me in midday and Bruce Meier in afternoon drive. We went through quite a few 7 to midnight guys and gals that year."
Davis recalls that the phone response early on was mixed. "We still had the very vocal minority that was pissed at the ownership change and programming shift. Chris Miller put out a memo that I can't recall word for word, but the gist of it was that the old audience was small and we couldn't worry about them. The other segment of callers was made up of people who discovered and loved our new sound. We didn't actually implement the real format for a few months. At first, while we played Led Zeppelin and most of the rock you'd expect alongside songs from Carly Simon, James Taylor and even Hot Chocolate ... It was a total music format shift when the new ownership came in."
A few months later KZAP changed over to the AOR format crafted by Lee Abrams. "The only control we had as jocks was the usual digging around in the card files as we filled out the music flow sheets," remembers Davis in our 2012 discussion. "We did, however, continue to get individual music service from the record companies as our freeform predecessors had. There was some freedom on the air, not in picking music but in what we could say. There were formatics that gave us a somewhat uniform sound, but we were light on structure when compared to a Top 40 station. No sweepers save for a few special occasions, just music and jocks, a very clean sound."
KZAP personnel found out first hand how much listeners knew about the new format by the reaction they got at one of KSFM's last concert presents with Bill Graham. It was at Cal Expo starring Blue Oyster Cult. "We asked people to bring KZAP banners, signs, whatever," says Davis. "We said we'd be there awarding concert tickets to people we found with the banners and signs. I know first hand that it pissed off the KSFM people, but what could they or Bill Graham do? Each jock was armed with hundreds of tickets to see Peter Frampton in Oakland to give away to the banner holders. End result, it sure looked like a KZAP concert presents with the call letters everywhere. That, was when I knew we'd arrived as a force in Sacramento radio."
In the Fall of 1979, Earth Radio (KSFM) dropped its progressive rock format even though they had beaten KZAP in its target demographics and did well in advertising. Apparently KSFM's national sales rep did not believe that the station's adult male rock audience was as valuable as the top 40 audience, which they thought would attract bigger sponsors. KSFM then shifted gears and became a dance-leaning top 40 station, calling themselves FM 102, under the direction of consultant Jerry Clifton.
"It was the last place I worked that radio was any sort of artform," said Tom Cale at the 2000 Earth Radio reunion, It had probably also been one of the last stations to use three turntables in the control room, in case jocks wanted to add phase shifting to their creative segues. The era of the segue as a vehicle for theater of the mind was now officially over on commerical radio in Sacramento.
Chris Miller then brought Tom Cale over to KZAP as Music Director and did the morning show. Cale described KZAP during this period as a "very mainstream, broad spectrum, broad appeal radio station." Comparing the two stations, Cale said "one was McDonald's (KZAP) and the other (Earth Radio) wasn't," meaning that Earth Radio was much more diverse and unpredictably compelling. Cale had been very familiar with consultant-driven radio, as he had worked at AM top 40 stations over the years, including Sacramento stations KROY and KXOA as well as KFRC in San Francisco.
To the surprise of disgruntled purist rock fans who had grown up with KZAP, the result of the newly more structured format was incredible ratings success. Not only did the disappearance of Earth Radio help KZAP's cause, but K-108's mellow rock format began to trail KZAP. Dennis Newhall wound up as Program Director of KROY-FM (aka Y-97) and mounted a formidable challenge. But because of the owner's limited promotional budget and fickle programming preferences, KROY struggled with identity (was it pop, rock or adult contemporary?) and was unable to dismantle the steamrolling commercial rock machine that KZAP was becoming. The orange Cheshire Cat was turning into a monster, especially with teens.
Chris Miller was able to lead KZAP into the new decade with a burst of ratings success. Tom Cale says Miller plugged into the Sacramento market in a big way. "I learned a lot from him. He pulled out every trick in the book to reflect the lifestyle of 18 to 24 year olds and did an A+ job. The ratings were his report card. That, and the Superstars format got kissed by society at the same time: Look back at the top 40 charts of the time and you'll see what I mean. The top 40 hits were the Superstars mainstays ... the crossover between audiences was at an all-time high. Look at today's charts and you'll see the difference. So, while KZAP was super-serving its core 18 to 24 year olds, we were cuming top 40s, ACs ... everybody but country stations, it seemed. Oh, and we had a KILLER airstaff! Without the personalities to bring it all home, KZAP would have died on the vine."
As KZAP entered the eighties it would be faced with a series of more staff changes. Les Tracy, who had worked at rock station KPRI in San Diego, came in as Program Director of KZAP in 1980 while Chris Miller and Charlie Weiss headed for KLOL in Houston. Tom Cale would also join them, but for about a year remained in morning drive, followed by Tim Bedore in middays and Jon Russell in afternoons. Bob "The Godfather" Galli did overnights. The golden shift in those days was evenings when things were allowed to be a little more loose as Curtiss Johnson, who went by Curtiss Interruptus, spun the vinyl. He held the 7p-12midnight shift from April 1980 through May 1982. Curtiss had also worked with Les Tracy in San Diego, where he got his start in radio.
"Night numbers used to be stronger than other dayparts. That period was pretty much the peak of KZAP's ratings success. The entire time I was there the station was #1 (12+). KROY never beat KZAP. In those days it was still very much about the music. I never considered myself a comedian. A lot of it was a dry cynical type of thing. I was more into the music. But I did host segments of a TV show called 'Sacramento Rocks.' We'd have a stand-up comedian and bands came in at the Shire Road Pub (night club)."
Reflecting on his favorite KZAP moment, Curtiss says laughing, "When the station was at 9th & J on the third floor, the cruise would always go on J Street (Friday nights) and you could look out the window and see the crowd and the long line of cars bumper to bumper. It looked like L.A. One night I put on Led Zeppelin's 'Kashmir,' which was a long (8 minute) song, and I went on the fire escape to watch the cruise and all you could hear was 'Kashmir.' It gave me goosebumps."
Tim Bedore, who did mornings 1980 - 1981, remembers the early eighties when KZAP became Sacramento's top station: "It was a very unique station. I only was on there 18 months but it was a wild and densely packed experience ... Chris Miller had a 14.1 12+ before he left. Did anyone ever beat that? The next two books under Les were 12.8 and 13.3. At least that is my memory. 50+ shares in teens, 30+ in men and women 18-34 that 14.1 book. Surreal market domination."
Yes, KZAP had become the king of Sacramento radio in the early eighties. Despite all the cynicism on the street among the early freeform audience and maybe even among personnel that KZAP was becoming a corporate rock station, the Sacramento rock audience ate it up. The station still had its famous cat logo that could be seen everywhere on T-shirts and bumper stickers, like no other station logo in town. KZAP seemed to be the only station among youth to generate an attitude of intense listener pride.
It was no longer the era of peace and love hippy rock and eclectic message artists. It was a new era of arena bands that had begun rising to popularity in the seventies such as AC/DC, Van Halen and Aerosmith, that would inspire the hair bands of the eighties. The era of introspection and mind expansion in rock seemed to yield to a much more glam-oriented, type of rock. Some bands, like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, crossed both eras. The late seventies and early eighties also marked the beginning of industry formula music that would come to be known as "corporate rock."
Musical chairs continued at KZAP in 1981. Bob Keller moved into the midday slot, where he would stay for the next eleven years. Keller went on to introduce his lunchtime "Cafe Rock" show which became a staple of Sacramento radio, even on other stations where he eventually worked, long after the fall of KZAP. The feature used food and restaurant metaphors, which Keller cleverly tied into the music. Keller had arrived at KZAP the previous year from Madison, WI, although he had started out on the air at a South Miami Beach freeform station called Magic Bus (WBUS) in 1969. With the departure of Cale in 1981, stand up comedian Tim Bedore did mornings briefly before the arrival of Kevin "Boom Boom" Anderson. Bedore went on to work at modern rock station KQAK (The Quake) in San Francisco from 1982 to 1985 and eventually did a feature on NPR called "Vague But True" starting in 1997. Bedore also became a headline comedy act and appeared on Comedy Central, NBC, Fox, Showtime and HBO.
After Jon Russell left to become MD at KRQR in San Francisco, Jonah Cummings began filling in on the afternoon shift then Les Tracy asked him if he wanted the shift. How does one fill the shoes of Jon Russell? You don't, Tracy told Cummings. Tracy advised Cummings to just be himself. Jonah Cummings then became the Doctor of Rock, holding the position until Chuck Browning became PD and put Tom Cale in afternoons. Cummings then packed his bags for a PD job at KEZE (Rock 106) in Spokane, WA. Jonah recalls, "KZAP was one of the most fun radio stations on the face of the planet. We rocked hard. We played hard." Cummings later ended up doing Bay Area radio.
Tim Bedore says during the early eighties KZAP allowed a lot of artistic freedom to be a personality, although the music had become very structured. "Obviously if your goal was to garner audience, you had the right approach and failure was an option. But we played what songs we were told to play. That's where it was structured. It was the kind of place where the audience thought it would be ok to scale the walls of the building, climb up three stories, come in through an open window at midnight, just to see the place where all this rebel radio was happening and that they, the intruders would be welcome because the jocks were that crazy too. Scared me a bit and I told the guys to never do it again but I admired their moxie and motivation. That station was pirate radio. The press never mentioned us in the radio column in the Bee ... they hated and disapproved of us so much."
It's amazing how KZAP was able to remain a market leader throughout much of the decade considering their continuous personnel changes. Despite the successful harder rock programming of Les Tracy, he would encounter philosophical differences that led to his departure. In 1983 GM Tom Weidle asked Tracy to start mixing in more pop-sounding artists like Little River Band. Tracy refused, resigned and was replaced by Chuck Browning. Tracy took his hard rock approach to KOME in San Jose, where he was PD for about a year.
Tom Cale returned from Houston in 1982 to work at KZAP's main rival. "When I came back to town and went to work at KROY," says Tom, "I was part of a dual 'drive' approach Dennis Newhall had put together, along with the station's consultant Jesse Bullet, and Operations Manager Richard Irwin. Adrian Bolt was doing afternoon drive, having come in from San Diego, and me, fresh from Houston. The whole crew at KROY worked very hard to gain ground against KZAP, which we did within a year, going from nowhere to a 5+ share versus KZAP's 6+ share, and we were eating them in their key demographics. There were politics at work within KROY, though, that ... how do I say this? ... were uncomfortable with these gains and how they were being attained (my opinion), and set about to 'correct' the situation. It was during this time that Chuck Browning called me and offered me a job ... I accepted."
Tom then came back to KZAP to do mornings in 1983. He was paired with Kevin "Boom Boom" Anderson for a few months. "We always got along great ... there was never a rivalry," says Tom. But the show ended when Anderson was fired over a "Jimi Hendrix choke-off" contest. Browning remained PD until 1984 when Chris Miller returned from Houston as PD. On Jan. 1, 1985 Miller began programming KRQR (The Rocker) in San Francisco for the next six years. Tom Cale served as KZAP PD from January 1985 to May 1988. Charlie Weiss also returned to KZAP from Houston in 1986 to do mornings with Cale and long hours as Production Director.
Curtiss Johnson had left in 1982 to do middays in Phoenix at rock station KUPD, where he was promoted to Program Director three years later. He would have a very successful run there for the next decade before coming back to Sacramento in 1995 to be Station Manager of 93 Rock. Four years later he added the same duties for sister station KSEG (The Eagle) and then eventually alternative rocker KWOD in 2003. But let's not get too far ahead of the story.
For awhile KZAP was the only rocker in town and enjoyed incredibly high ratings. It was usually the top music station in town. KROY-FM had dabbled in rock in the early eighties and attempted to be competitive by mixing in new wave and newer rock music. KZAP countered the attack by calling itself "The New K-Z-A-P" beginning in March 1984, shifting to a more current rock approach themselves. KZAP won the ratings battle decisively and continuously. So in late 1984 KROY dropped its rock format and became KSAC, an adult contemporary ho-hum background station that was destined to be forgotten. For about the next year KZAP was the lone rocker in town. In the Winter of 1985 KZAP climbed back to the top of the Sacramento ratings (if you didn't count the elevator station KCTC). The excitement continued in the Spring book as KZAP returned to double digits with a ten share - which would mark the final time that would ever happen.
Then on January 10, 1986 there was an attempt to shake up the market. KPOP, which had been a modern rock station just a year and a half earlier and then switched to top 40 only to remain at the bottom of the ratings, decided to go after KZAP. Morning man Dave Skyler barracaded himself in the station with his partner Rusty Humphries for six hours during their "Rude Awakening" show until management agreed to switch the format to rock, which actually began during that show. They made fun of their own call letters and jingles and severely criticized KZAP. According to Skyler in a 2000 interview this was actually a staged event. KPOP changed its call letters to KDJQ and eventually KRXQ, but from the switch began calling themselves 93 Rock. It would take a few years for the new rock competitor to challenge KZAP for the crown.
Tom Cale attributes his ratings success in the battle with 93 Rock to many factors but points out "I knew what made KZAP 'tick' and what people wanted. I had been there for a while, knew the market and did a lot of research. We also had two consultants at that point, Abrams and Jeff Pollack. We were the heritage AOR, 93 was the newcomer. They were taking a demographic slice below us, as we were shooting 25-44 at that point, not 12-24. We were still doing a good job of serving our core audience, but the tides were equalizing, demographically. We knew we could not hold 18 to 24s if a competitior made a run against us, and that was calculated into the 25-44 decision. Management felt the 25-44 demos were far more lucrative than 18-24s, so we quit catering to the lower demos and started catering to the uppers, which was easy, since we all pretty much fell into that demo anyway."
As the battle progressed, 93 Rock became more teen and KZAP shifted to a more adult sound. Toward the end of his tenure, Tom Cale stepped out of the morning show to concentrate on programming while Bill Prescott moved from 6-10 at night to 6-10 in the mornings and Dorian Mackenzie jumped up to nights. Prescott had an entertaining cynical wit that helped keep KZAP on top of the ratings. "He is one of the most naturally humorous human beings on the planet," says Tom Cale, "and has a heart as big as Oregon, where he's from." Then a shake-up happened in 1988 with a new Program Director, Pat Still, who took over the morning show while Prescott embarked on a series of radio gigs in Portland, Oregon. Bob Galli (The Godfather) landed the afternoon shift in the mid-eighties while Bob Keller remained in middays.
No matter how critical one could be of KZAP's more structured format in the eighties, it still was the music station in town. It was never as repetitious as the top 40 stations and it did more special music features than anyone. One of the milestone accomplishments of KZAP in the eighties was that it began to put Sacramento on the map in terms of local music. The station released a local artist compilation in 1982 called the KZAP Hometown Album, which was based on talent competitions. One of the artists discovered from this process was Steel Breeze, who went on to have a few national hits in 1982 including "You Don't Want Me Anymore." Other local area artists to launch national careers from KZAP's airplay support included Bourgeois Tagg, Night Ranger and Tesla, who sold over nine million albums in America and had several big hits including "Little Suzi" and "Love Song."
One of the highlights of KZAP's entire history was "Psychedelic Sunday," which started in the eighties, and was somewhat of a flashback to the station's early days, featuring a wide array of sixties and early seventies rock. Charlie Weiss says, "It started while I was in Houston. When I returned (in 1986), I started doing the show, alternating with Bob Keller. But one morning, I played Van Morrison's 'TB Sheets' And the GM, Tom Weidle, told Tom Cale to take me off the show because I was too esoteric or something." Another popular feature was "Sunday Night Six Pack" in which the station played six albums in a row throughout their entirety. Throughout the decade Mick Martin did movie reviews for the station in mornings and afternoons. Then in 1989 he started a blues show Sundays 7-9p under PD Pat Still, who gave Mick complete artistic freedom.
KZAP was full of news people. Charlie Weiss, who had been News Director at KZAP in the seventies, stayed in mornings with Pat Still and News Director Chris Davis. Assistant News Director from 1987 to 1989 was none other than future television anchor/reporter Cristina Mendonsa, who went by the name Cristeen Carr. She eventually became the news anchor on KXTV Channel 10 in the 1990s and the 2000s. Earlier in the eighties Vicki Liviakis had done news at KZAP and went on to become a television news reporter in 2001 at San Francisco's KRON 4. She had also done Bay Area radio news at KFRC, KIOI and KGO as well. Shawn Cash started out as an intern at KZAP in the late eighties under Pat Still and went on to do news at KWOD before becoming half of their "Shawn and Jeff" morning show, which moved to KZZO (The Zone) in the 2000s.
In the Fall of 1988, for the first time ever, 93 Rock edged KZAP in the ratings. The race had been close since the previous Winter. 93 Rock remained the leader in the following Winter 1989 Arbitron ratings. But for the subsequent Spring and Summer books Pat Still would steer KZAP to winning ratings over its rival. Then in the Fall of 1989 the two stations tied, which would mark the last time that the race would be close. The winning female programming team of PD Judy McNutt and MD Pamela Roberts at 93 Rock would enter the next decade as the leaders of the Sacramento rock scene.
The exact point in time when KZAP seemed to unravel into oblivion was when Pat Still was let go in early 1990. His programming had kept the station in close competition with 93 Rock and Still's morning show had been very popular. From that point on the new Program Director, Scott Jameson, struggled to find a top notch morning replacement, although Dorian MacKenzie did a decent straight show in the morning for several months.
Then KZAP made the news on October 6, 1990 when The Sacramento Bee reported that "KZAP's attempt to steal format rival (93 Rock) KRXQ's Boomer & The Boys (featuring Whitey Gleason and Justin Case) morning team apparently has fizzled." The article stated that 93 Rock had countered the offer. KZAP then hired its final morning show, "The O Brothers," who came from Denver and Las Vegas radio. Meanwhile, Pat Still ended up on the morning show of crosstown top 40 station KWOD, which shifted to an alternative/pop mix in 1991. Still stayed there until 1992 and then moved on to mornings at country station KNCI.
Garry O'Neal, half of the O Brothers says, "When we arrived at KZAP, we quickly realized that the station was already dead in the water. The Eagle had just come on, doing the format that KZAP should have switched to years earlier. KZAP was just kind of a lame, low-rated, poorly programmed, semi-classic rock station, trying to make itself over while at the same time clinging to the past. Nationwide wasn't putting any money into the station, so all the promotions involved asking listeners to give money to this or that charity ... The consultants, Pollack Media, were the ones who suggested KZAP hire us, and who continued to encourage us to push the envelope. Their vision for KZAP, and what was being done there, were two different things. What I would have done with KZAP, especially after the Eagle arrived, is change formats to AAA (adult album alternative). Thus they would have a link to their heritage as a progressive station, and the jocks who had been there a long time would have fit in well. And no, the O Brothers with the show we did would not have fit. We could certainly have done a more low-key, less in-your-face morning show, but that is not what we were hired to do."
In 1991 long-time veteran Bob Galli would leave KZAP for a shift at oldies station KHYL and KZAP wound up replacing him in afternoons with the return of Jon Russell. Throughout 1991, KZAP's ratings started to slide horribly. The music wasn't the same. In a way it tried to be classic rock while still clinging to only the newest rock that appealed to the station's oldest listeners. But the market now already had a full-time classic rock station with KSEG (The Eagle) at 96.9 FM. The Eagle used to be KROY (the same dial position as the old KROY that changed into sleepy KSAC in 1984, only to go top 40 again as KROY in 1986 and then the Eagle in November 1990). Even KWOD, which had been in the ratings cellar for three years, began beating KZAP in the Summer of 1991.
It was bad enough that KZAP had not at least tied with 93 Rock in the ratings since the Fall of 1989, but starting in the Winter of 1991, KZAP began to lose to the Eagle and would never beat them again. Also in the Winter of 1991, 93 Rock, with its edgy youthful hard rock sound, began to double KZAP's numbers, and would continue to do so the rest of the year. Jameson was replaced in September but went on to successfully program WRZX in Indianapolis, which became one of the top-rated alternative stations in the country. The new and final KZAP PD was a familiar face, Chris Miller, returning for the third time, but apparently it was too late to save the station from sinking in quicksand.
Despite KZAP's fall from grace in the early nineties, Bob Keller recals that one of his favorite KZAP memories during his twelve years (1980-1992) at the station was "partying with the Rolling Stones in Copenhagan in 1990."
The final blow to KZAP was its Fall 1991 Arbitron ratings, which were released in early January of 1992. Sadly, KZAP had now fallen to the bottom of the Sacramento ratings. On Jan. 20, 1992, KZAP's final owner Nationwide Broadcasting, which had purchased the station in the eighties for about $14 million, flipped the format to country. The call letters switched to KNCI (and two years later became KRAK).
KZAP's last song, according to Mick Martin, was the same as the song that the station would open with every morning in its early days, which was "Cristo Redentor" by Harvey Mandel. The jock was Andy Emert, who Mick calls "KZAP's last rebel and keeper of the flame. Andy was a gentle soul who took his own life several years ago. A true believer, he temporarily revived the KZAP format in Marysville on 99.9 FM (KRFD) in the mid-nineties, only to be pushed out because of his staunch support of freeform versus ratings." Not long after, the station was sold and changed format.
And so, what was once a vibrant community force was now washed away into the oceans of ancient history. Despite the poor ratings KZAP suffered in the end, Sacramentans were stunned. In the years to come it would be one of the few stations of the past that would still come up in conversation. For awhile the call letters lay frozen in radio history's lonely graveyard but were resurrected a year and a half after the demise in the small town of Chico, about 75 miles north of Sacramento. Then in March 1998 rock returned to the 98.5 FM dial position in a frequency reshuffling that changed KRXQ's identity from 93 Rock to 98 Rock with former KZAP personality Curtiss Johnson as Station Manager. Other KZAP personalities would resurface on other stations, but clearly, the animal that once ruled the River City first in spirit then in ratings was lost. The nineties turned into a new era of radio with bigger corporations than ever before but also with more competition from other media than ever before. Somehow radio went from being a close friend to one of many, many choices for news and entertainment.
As a footnote, many of the people who dedicated their lives to making KZAP great got together for a thirty year birthday reunion on November 7, 1998. A few years later KZAP memorabilia was put on display at the Sacramento Radio Museum, housed at Nakamoto Productions in Downtown Sacramento. Then in early 2004 some of KZAP's family members contributed comments and interviews to this story. On November 8, 2008 several KZAP employees reunited once again at the new Cosmopolitan night club on the K Street Mall in Downtown Sacramento.
So how important was KZAP not just to Sacramento but American radio history? Aside from being one of the earliest album rock stations in the country, it also inspired other radio stations - and at least one television show. Rumour has it that in the 1970s a couple of KZAP members got a wild idea to write a screenplay for a television pilot about life at a radio station. They sent it off to Hollywood where it floated around and became the basis of the series WKRP in Cincinnati.
BOB KELLER (2009): "It was the community campfire where people could join their friends everyday. Plus, the personalities were a lot of fun ... plus, we were all YOUNG!"
Bob is on the air middays at 96.9 The Eagle (KSEG) in Sacramento.
TIM BEDORE (2009): "We had tons of freedom over what we said and how much attitude we had on the air. We came up with bits and pieces to do and fun things to play on the air and I don't even remember asking for permission. Obviously if your goal was to garner audience, you had the right approach and failure was an option."
Tim has appearred on national television as a stand up comedy act. His website VagueButTrue.com explains his career.
ROBERT WILLIAMS (1998, anniversary party): "Contrary to what even we believed at the time, we DID know what we were doing. We didn't know where it was going, but we knew it had to be done. We set out to use the freedom we had and at the same time, somehow knew to respect that freedom. Credibility with our audience was of prime importance. There was too much music and information out there that needed to be heard. From the beginning in 1968, it was always about the music first. Even when it was about the real news, public affairs, creative promotions, community involvement, and unique sales efforts, it was ultimately about the music. It was about making comments, taking stands, learning, teaching, and growing; much of it done with music. We weren't the musicians, but we were artists and wordsmiths, making the thought provoking statements and nailing that perfect segue often enough. Sometimes the music and information was broadcast as it was created. Sometimes it was a product of pre-production that lasted hours. The cultural, social, and artistic influence KZAP had over Northern California from 1968 through the '70s and '80s was significant. The community was lucky to have KZAP, and we were privileged to be ... FM 98.5, K-Z-A-P, Sacramento." more
Robert has been a Software Analyst for DST Innovis in El Dorado Hills since 1985.
PHIL GLATZ (2004): "The first three years - it was the passion for music and emerging underground culture the staff members had, who were motivated less by money than trying to change the world. We were able to get away with a lot then because of the way FM was looked at by other broadcasters. But as soon as underground radio became profitable, the suits moved in ... Sometimes I wonder how much of it was just the fact that most of the staff were in their twenties; full of energy and looking for a way to do something a little different than the folks before us. At that age, rock music seems very important and a way to make some changes to the world. It does seem as though the world of music was a lot different then, with a lot more possibilities for alternative voices to be heard. Both the radio and music industries have gotten too fat and cautious for something like KZAP to happen again. Fortunately, other technologies (like the internet) are making it possible for people to self publish and get the word out."
Phil is now a web administrator and designer for Glatzland.
MICK MARTIN (2004): "Without KZAP I don't think Sacramento would have had a central information place. If you wanted to know who played at the Fillmore, the Sound Factory or the free concerts at William Land Park, you listened to KZAP. You listened to KZAP for the music, personality and the disc jockey's musical taste. It was experimental, personal, real, it was of the moment. It was Sacramento's youth saying what we felt. The blues was the foundation itself of FM radio. I owe everything I learned about radio to the people I listened to on KZAP." more
Mick now hosts "Mick Martin's Blues Party" on Sacramento jazz station KXJZ. He says the show is the continuation of KZAP. He is also the author of DVD Music Guide.
DENNIS NEWHALL (2004): "The heyday was '69-'74 from a listener standpoint. In the '73-'78 era KZAP was trying to compete and realized it wasn't going to be a bunch of hippies playing records. So there was a little formatting. 1974 was the beginning of its slow move toward corporate rock. People remember their days listening to KZAP because by comparison to anything else on the air it was comfortable. It certainly wasn't loose by structure at the end. It was very structured, but it felt comfortable. They remember the fun announcers who were honest and weren't hyped up. The real structure came in the early '80s with computers."
Dennis now runs his own record label Dig Music and does commercial production work for Ray Nakamoto Productions in Sacramento.
MICHAEL SHEEHY (2004): "KZAP wasn't so much a radio station as it was a cultural event. It was a big counter-culture club to which you were very much a member or you weren't. There was not a lot of middle ground. It was that 'damn hippie station' and one of the early and unfortunately, last bastions of freeform radio. You may remember freeform radio - that was the last time broadcasting gave the audience and, for that matter, the airstaff credit for having an ounce or two of intelligence. Was it subversive, clique-ish, condescending and sometimes boring or overbearing? Hell yes, but it was OURS. And it could also be absolutely enlightening and very entertaining. It's a chunk of my personal experience I wouldn't trade for anything - as a listener or a participant!" more
Michael is now based in Burbank, CA and offers production services at Michael Sheehy Productions.
WILLIAM FULLER (2004): "While jocks might stray a bit into jazz and country, it was definitely a rock station (in the seventies). My show was not for the average KZAP listener, but I was extremely lucky in that I guess there were enough people who liked a bit of experimentation and that some of those people included the Station Manager and Program Director! ... Occasionally I would get phone calls from travelers passing thru Sacramento who happened to accidentally find KZAP on the dial. They were ecstatic and highly complimentary, but there was a common, ominous thread to their comments: they were so surprised the station still existed, because 'there used to be a station like it' wherever they were from, but it had been bought and then turned into some top 40 classic rock or country format. People seemed to think we were the last of a dying breed." more
TRAVUS T. HIPP (2004): "KZAP was still a great experiment in the late sixties and when it was sold to Ed and his gang it remained very creative because they believed in the magic of the time and the new FM revolution. Later it became something less, but still hipper than most of the radio spectrum, and when the Vegas white shoes arrived it was over for both the format and most of the personel ... The FM radio story is simple: capitalism co-opts any successful enterprise, and by doing so drags it into the mainstream where corporate management rapidly purges any non-conformists from the premises ... It is interesting how many of the KZAP gang went on to unusual careers and adventures as opposed to regular jobs. Viola Weinberg, Jok Church, Dennis, Gordo Skyler and several others never really went what you'd call straight. I stayed an outlaw with my version of the 'Poor Hippy's Paul Harvey' and now I can collect social security on top of my miniscule moneys from broadcasting." more
Travus currently voices news and commentary feeds for radio stations KPIG, KPYG KVMR, KMUD and KTHX.
JEFF HUGHSON (2004): "I see KZAP as a reflection of what was going on in society then. But it was our little world, our Sacramento scene. But it was a pure scene, based on pure values. Impractical, perhaps. But you know there's something that resonates with me about a pure philosophy of believing in peace, love. And it was real for a couple of years. We lived that life, we lived that world ... It was a very personal relationship with the audience. The most important thing about KZAP was that of a real sense of community. I'm the disc jockey and you're the listener and we're doing this together. People felt a personal connection with KZAP. They felt involved, engaged, they felt a part of this. I think that's what sustained KZAP's loyalty. I think it was the core that people always connected with until KZAP went off the air." more
Jeff has been selling music, posters and memorabilia since 1975. His website will soon be www.buymymusic.org and his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
CARY NOSLER (2004): "In the beginning was a tradition of fascination with music. You'd have a couple of LPs playing at the same time. You were creating a kaleidescope. You were creating a tapestry of sound with a story you were telling. It all depended on whatever mood I felt that day. The culture was about exploration. Music was part of the era and that's where my head was at. But it wasn't just music, it was exploration. People would ask each other back then what are you into? I was into macrobiotics and whole nutrition. We were the voice of the community. It was fun. Nobody ever told me what to play. It was complete artistic freedom." more
Cary has hosted a nutrition show Sunday afternoons on KSTE AM in Sacramento since 1997. He is also the author of Cary Nosler's Everyday Tips For A Healthier Life and Captain Carrot's Book of Good Health.
Thanks to all the contributors of this story (in semi-chronological order): Dennis Newhall, Tom Cale, Richard Dunk, Charlie Weiss, Phil Glatz, Mick Martin, Cary Nosler, Curtiss Johnson, Don Wright, Michael Sheehy, Robert Williams, John Button, Jack Androvich, Helen Meline, Jim Hilsabeck, Travus T. Hipp, Jeff Hughson, Viola Weinberg, Ed Fitzgerald, Jok Church, William Fuller, Cristina Mendonsa, Garry O'Neal. Special thanks to Phil Glatz and Jeff Hughson for all the photos.
OTHER WRITING ABOUT KZAP
SacPress: KZAP on KDVS celebrates freeform
SacPress: When FM radio was new - how KZAP was born
Sacramento Rock & Radio Museum
MORE VIDEO ABOUT KZAP
KZAP Returns on KDVS Part 1: Michael Taber
KZAP Returns on KDVS Part 2: Freeform Era
KZAP Returns on KDVS Part 3: College Freeform
KZAP Returns on KDVS Part 4: The 60s
Freeform Radio Survives
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