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The Legend of KZAP
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



VIDEOS

1. Jeff Hughson Interview #1: The Dawn of Freeform Radio
2. Jeff Hughson Interview #2: The Birth of KZAP
3. Dennis Newhall Interview: 70s Freeform Radio
4. Robert Williams Interview #1: KZAP Programming
5. Robert Williams Interview #2: 70s Rock Scene



KZAP RULES THE MARKET


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.

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


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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