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Sacramento Radio History
by Alex Cosper
Take a virtual tour of Sacramento at SacTV.com
see also American Radio History
see also KZAP,
Sacramento Radio in the 1960s
Battle for the hits: KROY vs. KXOA
In the fifties 1470 KXOA flipped from its original MOR/block programming to top 40 hits. The other two teen stations
at the time playing a similar format were KGMS (1380) and Stockton-based KGDM (1140). The rest of the AM dial - which was KFBK, KROY and KCRA -
played MOR for adult listeners. As KXOA emerged as the hit music
leader, in the early sixties both top 40 competitors flipped to MOR. With KGMS taking the lead in MOR programming, KGDM
flipped again during that period, this time to KRAK as a country station. KXOA's main rival became KROY (1240), which flipped to top 40 in February 1960.
KXOA and KROY battled for double-digit market shares throughout the sixties. This period featured KROY night jock Mike Larsen, who went on to write a book called Three Score and More about California radio. Future country star Lynn Anderson actually worked as KROY's receptionist in the early sixties. Another future star who did mornings at KROY during this era was Gary Owens, who went on to be a comedy act on the television series Laugh In. Owens left town in 1961 and went on to work at KFWB then KMPC in Los Angeles. Owens worked at KMPC from 1962 to 1981 before moving on to a series of other L.A. radio gigs.
KROY's on-air line-up in 1963 included Don Mac Kinnon in mornings, Hap Hopkins in middays, Tony Bigg in afternoons and Mark Ford at nights. Tony Bigg, who later became Tony Pigg, moved on to San Francisco radio at freeform rocker KSAN before moving on to the bigger New York market at WPLJ and WNEW in the seventies. From there he became the announcer for the TV show
Live with Regis and Kathie Lee and then Live with Regis and Kelly. Robert W. Morgan, who would eventually become a big time Los Angeles jock until his death in 1998, briefly worked on the air at KROY in the early sixties as "Bob Morgan."
Mike Larsen talks about KROY in the early sixties
Mike Larsen describes his time at KROY in the early sixties this way: "When I came to Sacramento Ralph Kiner was the general manager at KROY. Ron Lyons was the Program Director. My friend Ted Randall left radio as a jock, to do programming for a number of stations in Northern California. He was signed to do the programming for KROY and wanted to change the old style
pop music they were playing, to rock & roll. He sent me to the station and Ralph hired me for part time. My first shift was 6 to midnight, but it turned into full time. A year later I went to the opposite, midnight to 6. Both were great. Our top 40 survey was called the 'Color Radio Tunedex.' Cool Huh?"
In 1963 there was a major shake-up in the market. Larsen says, "All of the jocks were fired. I went to KSEE in Santa Maria as PD. Tony Bigg went to San Francisco and changed his name to Tony 'Pigg.' Mark Ford went to Oakland, 'Happy' Hopkins went to Montana. Gary Owens had already left for Los Angeles. By the way, KROY's address was 1010 11th street, just a few blocks from the State Capitol building." In the late sixties KROY moved its studios to 977 Arden Way, a decade before moving to Old Sacramento.
Musical chairs between KROY and KXOA
In 1962 KROY's Program Director was Mark Ford. The on-air line-up that year was Dick "Buffalo" Burch (6a-9a), Sam Danos (9a-12n), Mark Ford (12n-3p), Tony Bigg (3p-7p), Hap Hopkins (7p-12m) and Mike Larsen (12m-6a). It was Dick Burch who lined Robert W. Morgan up with a gig at KROY. Burch says, "I knew him from the
Monterey Bay Area. I drove down to Fresno to tell him of the upcoming job. He was at KMAK with Ron Jacobs at the time." Burch left KROY in 1963 to be number one in the mornings at KXOA. Burch says, "Morgan and I exchanged tapes many times over the years. I sent him a tape of my 'Good Morning Karate Chop' which he changed and
made it his own thing...'Good Morganization.' We joked about it when we met in L.A. for drinks."
Buck Herring took the programming reins of KROY in 1963 but left that same year to program crosstown competitor KXOA. Robert W. Morgan was then briefly KROY's PD through 1964 then left for Los Angeles. During his brief tenure, Morgan hired Johnny Hyde a month before Hyde moved on to work for Herring at KXOA. Hyde went on to have a progressive rock feature called "The Gear Hour." After Morgan left Sacramento for bigger success in Los Angeles, Don MacKinnon took the KROY morning slot. MacKinnon had come from KWEB in Oakland. MacKinnon moved on to L.A. radio at KFWB (KEWB's sister station), but was killed in a car accident in 1965. He was considered a
very innovative and energetic entertainer of his time.
In 1964 KROY went through a series of musical chairs with PDs. Ron Lyons, who had done top 40 radio at KEWB in Oakland and on-air at KROY before that, became KROY's PD in October 1964, but took the reins of San Francisco station KNBR the following January. Hap Hopkins was his successor then Bill Keffury, who went on to program KYA San Francisco and KRLA Los Angeles in a two year period. Keffury later programmed oldies KCBS-FM and news/talk KPIX in San Francisco. Buck Herring shook up the Sacramento radio market again in 1965 when he returned to KROY as PD.
Johnny Hyde remembers KROY and KXOA during the British Invasion
Johnny Hyde was a jock at KXOA when the Beatles first big American hit "I Want To Hold Your Hand" was number one in early 1964. KXOA had actually played the Beatles song "Please Please Me" in May 1963, several months before the group had their first big American hit. Johnny recalls in 2004, "KXOA played every candy ass record ever recorded. Remember, these were the days of The Singing Nun, The Mermaids, and the closest anybody came to rock was The Beach Boys, Jan & Dean and The Chords. That's when I started searching for something new and pulled out some of the old Beatles stuff that I had been playing at KYNO, Fresno in 1962. Those songs, 'She Loves You,' 'Till There Was You,' etc. were later released on the VeeJay label. My copies were on the old Swan label. That's also when I started importing The Rolling Stones, Manfred Mann, Long John Baldry, etc. and playing them on the 'Gear Hour' every night at 9:00 on KXOA. The audience was ready and grew by leaps and bounds. That's when Buck and KROY announced they would not play any song until it was available at Tower Records. That was a gift from God."
KJAY goes Motown
By the end of the sixties several more stations joined the evolving Sacramento radio dial. Country music came to town
on KRAK (1140 AM) and soul music arrived with KJAY (1430 AM), run by Rick Dumm and Jack Powell. Their venture into r&b in the
mid-sixties coincided with the rise of the Motown sound. Previously they had been running an MOR format. But with the hot
soul format, KJAY became one of the ratings leaders in town right behind KXOA and KROY. KJAY even led the other two hit stations in certain dayparts, but because KJAY went off the air at sundown, it didn't rank as high overall. In 1966 Peter B came on at 5pm and shut the transmitter off at sunset. He did the job for a year and then was hired at KROY for various shifts. By the seventies KJAY had drifted back to its MOR roots. By the end of the seventies it was a religious station.
KPOP pops up as MOR then goes soul
In a similar story, KPOP (1110 AM) debuted out of Roseville in 1968 as an MOR station in which former KGMS PD Jim Hadlock helped put the station on the air under a group of owners which included GM Gene Ragle, Sales Manager Hank Gonzales and PD Wes Myers. "I can't describe the format," former jock Tom Buck says. "It was supposed to be middle of the road. It was more like flipsides of new records that bombed because the A side was a bit too rocky for them, I guess." The overall sound, though, reflected artists like Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand and Nancy Wilson. Then in 1970 they started doing a soul show, which Tom Buck briefly hosted the following year. The format moved toward soul full-time throughout the seventies.Tom went on to do commercial voice work for television and radio and now has his own production company at TomBuck.com.
Memories of the most unusual KHIQ
One of the many unique stations that came and went in the sixties was KHIQ (105.1 FM) on the future frequency of KEWT, KRAK FM and ultimately, KNCI. Georgia Institute of Technology Professor of ECE Marshall Leach was stationed at Mc Clellan Air Force Base from 1965 to 1968. At that time the 105.1 FM call letters were KHIQ. The studios were in the lobby of the Carl Greer Inn, just off I-80. Marshall recalls this adventurous station he listened to in those days:
"KHIQ's programming was exclusively from LPs. They used no signal processing, and the light on the Hewlett Packard modulation monitor that was mounted on the wall routinely flashed 100% modulation. The transmitter and tower were located behind the Sacramento Inn.
Leach says the hotel "had a large restaurant and bar adjacent to the lobby which had an authentic theater pipe organ that was played at night. During the night one could hear the organ and the rattling of dishes and silverware from the restaurant and bar when the KHIQ announcer opened the microphone. The programming was easy listening until 7pm. From 7:00 to 9:00 the fare was more upbeat with some novelty tunes. Then from 9:00 to signoff, they played classical music. It was the most unusual station I have ever heard. They had by far the best fidelity signal in Sacramento. I have heard few stations that had a cleaner sound."
Les Thompson's Memories of Programming KXOA
KXOA's only lead over KROY in the battle of top 40 listenership from the mid-sixties through the rest of the decade came in June 1966 under PD Les Thompson. "It was the best time of my life," Les recalls in 2008, "Not a care in the world and getting paid for something
that was great fun. When I came back from building KPLS in Santa Rosa for the Polaris Corporation (who owned KXOA at the time), KROY had been the top dog for a long time and they had gotten lazy."
Les turned things around quickly as PD of KXOA when he re-organized the staff and crafted a tight "wheel" format that everybody followed. "I had a contest every
hour," says Les. "In those days you could trade top ten records at Tower Records. So I would give away a hit (new or oldie) every hour.
It took one rating book to knock them off. The June 1966 book was the best. Let me say this, I was just an instrument. The jocks were
very important, and I couldn't have done it without the talent there. But I will always contend that it's the format, not the jocks that
make success. How we did it without a signal I'll never know. We had the worst signal pattern in radio. It was great beating KROY. But KROY had one thing we didn't, and that was their manager Dwight Case. He was a talented guy with insight to sales."
Early in his career, Les had worked at KGMS in 1960 then was hired at KXOA a few years later. In 1964 he took off for Santa Rosa, CA radio. In 1966 he returned to KXOA as Program Director. He stayed with the station through several shifts in station direction through 1974. It was Les who hired Don Imus from KJOY Stockton, CA to do morning drive in 1970 on KXOA. Although Imus never made a ratings splash during his brief stint, his career elevated after leaving the station. First at WGAR Cleveland in 1970 then at WNBC New York the following year, his career skyrocketed. In 1993 his show Imus In The Morning became nationally syndicated.
KROY spends six years at the top
Under the reign of GM Dwight Case, KROY had an incredible run at the top in which Case remained the mainstay, hiring the top decision-makers. William E. Bauer, who did on-air news for the station for two years, became Operations Manager but then the station's consultants were blown out shortly afterward and the station drifted toward limbo. Then Johnny Hyde soon arrived as Program Director with a plan. In 1968 KROY began to use the identity "music power" in their slogans. That year KROY was the number one rated radio station in Sacramento for the 12+ audience. KROY remained on top for six straight years. The winning sound was patterned after "Boss Radio," a format credited to radio consultant Bill Drake at stations KHJ in Los Angeles and KFRC in San Francisco three years earlier.
The Drake-Chenault consulting firm influenced several stations around the country in the RKO chain. KROY was not an RKO station, nor was it consulted by Drake-Chenault, yet it was emulating the very structured high-rotation high-energy presentation that characterized the successful consultancy. The jock was very tight and fast-paced with an upbeat personality. Basically it trimmed the playlists and the chatter, resulting in an accelerated feeling of hearing the most exciting hits most of the time, based on research. The upbeat sound was candy-coated further with sweet jingles, wild slogans and bigger than life contests.
In 1969 Lincoln Dellar sold KROY to partners Ralph Guild and George Fritzinger under the name Atlantic States Industries.
They owned other stations such as KFAC Los Angeles and some stations in Ohio. KROY's station manager throughout their heyday was Dwight Case, the future RKO President who in 1994 would purchase the 1240 AM dial position.
The Program Directors at KROY who pulled off the incredible accomplishment of a six year run at the top were Johnny Hyde (1967-1970), Bob Sherwood (1970-1971) and finally Chuck Roy (1971-1973). After Hal Murray ("The Big Stallion") succeeded Roy, the station continued to have success but wound up in a tighter battle with KNDE as both top 40 outlets began to lose ground to the emerging FM dial. In its heyday as a number one station, KROY had big name jocks like Johnny Hyde, Bob Sherwood, Wonder Rabbit (Martin Ashley), Terry Nelson, T. Michael Jordan, Gene Lane, Dave Williams, Dr. Tom Becker, Donovan Blue, Bob Castle (The Blue Whiz) and others.
Other stations playing contemporary hits in the market in the seventies were KPOP and KJAY. KCRA (1320 AM) and KGMS were considered "middle of the road" stations, playing more adult-oriented hits. Two Bay Area top 40 stations whose
signals clearly reached Sacramento were KFRC (610 AM) and KYA (1260 AM).
Inside the KROY Machine
Even though top 40 song rotations created a repetitious merry-go-round of the same hits being heard over and over, KROY was
still much different than what top 40 inevitably became. PD Johnny Hyde believed in mixing art with commerce as a way of
establishing station identity. Bob Sherwood says in 2004 that Hyde allowed air talent "to make music programming decisions
based on their individual abilities to sense and react to what they were doing on the fly. In my view, his management of that, while extraordinarily difficult to quantify, played a significant role in the reaching of Dwight's targets and their maintenance during John's time as PD." So the station did what it needed to do to get ratings, but it also took on artistic directions not known to top 40 radio. For extra flavor Hyde let college students come in on Sunday nights and play whatever they wanted.
KROY had a hand-crafted sound compared to how strict top 40 playlists became in the eighties and
afterward. Jocks still had a certain degree of musical input even though tight playlists began sweeping the industry since the early sixties. Dave Williams reflects in 2004, "I think it was pretty standard in the sixties and seventies for top 40
stations to keep their current hits in a rotation while allowing jocks to choose oldies, generally determined by dayparts. What was NOT standard was that KROY played 50% oldies! Rebounds is what we called them. And yes, indeed, you could tell who was on the air by hearing the music selection only. Wonder Rabbit was famous for loving bubble gum rock which worked well for midday housewife time. T. Michael Jordan and later Gene Lane were masters of the much harder fare at night (Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, Stones, etc.) along with some other night-only selections both old and new from artists who never became huge but whose music fit the sound of the station at the time. This is not to suggest, however, that you couldn't play Iron Butterfly in morning drive or middays. You certainly could and we did. An aside -- you would be shocked to hear how nice Barbara Streisand's 'People' could sound right next to 'Honky Tonk Women' or that Louis Armstrong's 'What a Wonderful World' blended beautifully into 'Suzie Q' by Creedence."
FM begins to attract listeners in the sixties
After an FCC ruling in 1965 that FM stations had to have separate programming from their AM sister stations,
the dial became more diverse. Popularity of the FM band was still in its infancy throughout the sixties due to
two major factors: most people did not have FM receivers and FM signals had spotty coverage, especially in cars.
Advancements in technology helped create a growing demand for FM receivers throughout the seventies. By the
end of the decade the FM stations were in position to surpass AM for music listeners. This was true nationally
as well as locally.
KZAP plays freeform for a decade
At 98.5 FM, KXRQ had offered a wide open format (lite pop in the day, jazz at night) but went dark in early 1968 as the FCC ordered the owners to sell it due to poor management. It re-emerged later that year in November as KZAP under the new ownership of Lee Gahagan. He was a pioneer in three and four channel FM stereo. Gahagan, who came from a wealthy family and attended Princeton University, owned KZAP until his apparent suicide at age 27 in 1972. The family then sold off the station to New Day Broadcasting, headed by Ed Beimfohr, who kept the station artistic, but had programming people such as Robert Williams gradually move the station in a more commercial direction, which was part of a national trend among freeform stations. A big reason freeform was transforming into a more streamlined presentation was the rise of national radio consultant Lee Abrams, who is credited as the creator of the format known as "album oriented rock." Abrams would
ultimately consult KZAP starting in 1979, when the KZAP freeform era clearly ended. The station's entire history is documented in the story The Legend of KZAP.
© Alex Cosper. All Rights Reserved.