KFBK in the 80s and 90s
by Alex Cosper
Take a virtual tour of Sacramento at SacTV.com
see also American Radio History
see also KZAP, KROY, KSFM, KWOD, KRXQ, KNDE, K108, index
The last AMs standing are KFBK, KCRA and KRAK
By the early eighties, FM had become the desired band for music listeners while AM mainly remained strong as a talk medium with KFBK and KCRA as the leaders in local talk and news. KCRA, which had flipped from adult contemporary to news/talk in 1975 with Larry Page as the morning anchor, changed call letters to KGNR in the early eighties. Although they initially stuck with news/talk, KGNR went through a series of format changes that included big band music in 1985 and then later in the decade it went oldies. Eventually in 1990 it became KCTC AM and played elevator music before swinging back to the swing era.
KRAK (1110 AM) remained strong in the ratings as a country music station throughout the eighties. Morning man Joey Mitchell, who came to the station in 1975 and stayed through the early nineties, helped keep the numbers up. Another big name on KRAK that lasted just as long was Big Jim Hall. As late as the Spring of 1985, KRAK AM was beating sister country station KRAK FM in the Arbitron ratings. KRAK AM even consistently beat challenger KAER (92.5 FM) to the bloody end until 1986 when KAER dropped country for "love songs." KRAK AM's ratings finally began to drop off in 1987, although it did not change its identity to KHTK ("Hot Talk") until the Winter of 1994.
The turning point in which KFBK took the lead over KGNR was the mid-eighties. KFBK did talk shows in the past such as Gil Krause in the seventies and Erik St. Johnn in the early eighties. But starting in the eighties, KFBK began to feature more controversial talk hosts.
Sacramento has had very controversial talk hosts on various sides of the political spectrum. Morton Downey Jr., who co-wrote the Surfaris hit "Wipe Out" in 1963, went on to national television after being shaken out of KFBK in 1984. Downey made headlines for using the term "China man" on his show, which outraged City Councilman Thomas Chinn, forcing Downey to resign. He was replaced by Rush Limbaugh, a college drop-out coming from Kansas City radio. Like Downey, Limbaugh was sympathetic to ultra-conservative political views and showed no love for the opposition.
In early 2005 Barry K. Fyffe explained the early winds of change between the two talk stations: "In 1982 I was working at KGNR when KFBK publicly stated they wanted to make a run in the market with a new approach and new talent (they retained Erik St. John). They had just hired a new PD, Chet Cassleman, formerly of KSFO (in San Francisco). I had worked on a couple of telethons with Chet and he called and asked if I would be interested in coming on board as a talk show host. We had a couple of meetings, they offered me more money than I was currently making so I signed on. They did some slick direct mail, some TV and billboards. In the year I was there we showed slight increases in the ratings but nothing to shout about. It was shortly after that McClatchy sold and they brought in Morton Downey Jr."
Under new owner Group W, KFBK began to shake up the market in the mid-eighties thanks to personnel and programming changes. The ratings were ignited when the market's number one morning team of Dave Williams and Bob Nathan moved from KGNR to KFBK in early 1985. They brought along their editor and future News Director Betsy Braziel. Once the Dave and Bob audience figured out where they had gone, that crowd stayed with KFBK for mornings and the rest of the day as well.
On top of doing the morning show, Dave Williams briefly served as Program Director throughout most of 1985. He ultimately decided to go with the four-hour work day five days a week instead of what he calls "seven 24-hour days." The new General Manager Rick Eytcheson and consultant Bruce Marr further accelerated the station toward its surge to number one in the market. One of their moves that proved highly successful was their acquistion of the rights to broadcast games of the Sacramento Kings NBA basketball team, who had just arrived from Kansas City.
Reflecting on that era, Dave Williams says in 2005, "I do not take all the credit for KFBK's success. There were a lot of good people who found each other and a lot of important pieces which fell into place nicely. Kismet. But I'll accept my share of the credit. To say Rush saved AM radio is a bit much but he certainly rescued a lot of stations that had become directionless in the new era of FM domination. Music on AM was collapsing but nobody could figure out what to do instead. News and/or talk were the obvious answers for many stations but the historical way of doing those formats was in for a drastic change and Rush was largely responsible for that. He brought world and national politics to local radio. Ridiculous notion! It had never been done before and there was no reason to believe it could succeed on any level."
Dave remembers a funny story about a meeting he had with Rush: "As PD of KFBK I took him to lunch one day and said, 'I'm not going to tell you what to do. But I will warn you: If you don't find something to talk about besides the Soviet Union and national politics, your career is going to go right down the toilet.' He thanked me for the first part - not telling him what to do."
Within a year midday man Limbaugh was the most popular talk host in Sacramento. In 1988, a year after the deregulating Reagan Administration eliminated the Fairness Doctrine, and shortly after The Morton Downey Jr. Show became a nationally-televised talk show, Limbaugh took his one-sided radio show national and became the megaphone for the right-wing. He went on to host a television show and write best-selling books. By 1993 he was the most listened to voice on American radio coast to coast. Eight years later he became the highest paid radio personality in the industry. He would eventually come under harsh media scrutiny in 2003 for racial remarks made on ESPN, which cost him a job on the popular sports cable channel.
As 1985 progressed, KFBK began to clobber KGNR in the ratings, leading the former AM giant to flip from news to big bands and when that didn't work they tried sixties pop oldies for awhile. Another KFBK talk host of this period was Joyce Kreig, who leaned liberal in her views. She joined the station in 1978 and stayed until 1993. She went on to write an award winning novel set in Sacramento called Murder Off Mike (published by St. Martin's Minotaur). Mary Jane Popp was another well-known female talk host on KFBK who worked at the station in the seventies and eighties. In the 2000s she hosts a 1p-3p talk show on 950 KAHI.
Christine Craft was a KFBK afternoon host from 1990 to 1993. She had previously been a television anchor in several markets. Since 1992 she has done fill-in anchoring at KQED-TV in San Francisco. She has also done fill-in work at KGO Radio (810 AM) since 1993. In the seventies she did a one year reporter stint for CBS-TV after working at CBS affiliate KPIX-TV San Francisco. In 1983 she was the plaintiff in a landmark federal case versus MetroMedia involving sexist practices. She attended McGeorge School of Law in the nineties, while working at KFBK. The Museum of Broadcast News in Washington, DC has an exhibit of the historic case. In 2004 she began doing an afternoon show on 1240 KSQR (Talk City).
Kitty O'Neal is also a long running female voice on KFBK in the 2000s, working close to two decades for the station. She started out as a local singer. In the eighties she was producer for Morton Downey Jr. and Rush Limbaugh. She then spent seven years at sister FM station Y92 as morning drive news anchor. In the 2000s she is entertainment feature editor for KFBK and does an afternoon show 4-7p, and in 2004 teamed up with Fox 40 TV personality Jay Alan. Kitty also does news updates for the Tom Sullivan show. She has been consistently voted "best afternoon drive radio personality" in Sacramento Magazine.
Dave Williams and Amy Lewis left their stellar number one morning show in 2000 for talk station KABC in Los Angeles. Williams then moved on to KFWB and now mornings at KNX, both of which are L.A. talk stations. He has also been a playwright who has won several national awards. KFBK's current morning team is Kelly Brothers and Chris Lane, weekday mornings 5-9am. Chris joined the morning show in 2000. Kelly, who came to the show in December 2003, also anchors the news on KCRA-TV Channel 3. Kelly began his broadcasting career while attending the University of Notre Dame in the eighties, as he did play by play for their football and basketball games. Although originally from Sacramento, his first TV news job was in Nebraska. In 1989 he returned to his hometown to work at KCRA-TV.
Air traffic reporter Commander Bill Eveland stayed with KFBK and its sister FM (KAER then KGBY) combo from 1979 until he retired in February 2005 at the age of 75. He had previously served in the U.S. Air Force for 27 years. He's been one of the all-time most heard voices in the history of Sacramento radio. Commander Bill's Co-Pilot for nearly two decades was Joe Miano. Also on the list of most heard voices in Sacramento radio history would include Tom Sullivan, now doing afternoons 1p-4p on KFBK as well as business reports throughout the day. Sullivan joined the station in December 1980 doing business reports. In July 1988 he moved up to talk show host replacing Rush Limbaugh, who moved to New York and went into national syndication. His afternoon show is consistently the top rated talk show in Sacramento. Sullivan is also the Financial Editor for KCRA-TV. KFBK has been the home of many personalities who have made a mark in Sacramento including evening host Mark Williams, sports reporter Pat Walsh and former afternoon host Rick Stewart.
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