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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





THE GREATEST ROCK BATTLE IN SACRAMENTO RADIO HISTORY


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.

Station Wi 86 Sp 86 Su 86 Fa 86 Wi 87 Sp 87 Su 87 Fa 87 Wi 88 Sp 88 Su 88 Fa 88
KZAP 6.9 7.5 7.1 5.9 8.0 6.3 8.8 7.2 7.0 7.3 6.2 5.2
KRXQ 2.1 2.1 4.8 3.7 3.9 3.4 4.0 4.1 6.7 5.8 5.8 5.8
© 1986-1989 Arbitron. May not be quoted or reproduced without prior permission from Arbitron.


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."

Station Wi 89 Sp 89 Su 89 Fa 89 Wi 90 Sp 90 Su 90 Fa 90 Wi 91 Sp 91 Su 91 Fa 91
KZAP 5.5 6.0 6.4 6.9 6.5 5.2 6.2 4.6 3.1 3.4 2.7 2.4
KRXQ 7.1 5.8 5.6 6.9 8.7 8.7 8.4 6.5 7.9 6.9 6.6 6.0
KSEG 3.3 4.7 3.8 5.2 4.5
© 1989-1991 Arbitron. May not be quoted or reproduced without prior permission from Arbitron.

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.


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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