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Sacramento Radio History
KROY in the 70s
by Alex Cosper
Take a virtual tour of Sacramento at SacTV.com
see also American Radio History
see also KZAP,
See The KROY Story Video Series at SacTV.com
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.
But even though each jock added personalized flavor to the mix, they weren't bound by any personas that happened to emerge. Iron Butterfly still got played in
morning drive and middays regardless of the jock so it was kind of a chemistry of loose rules within a structure where almost anything could
happen depending on the moment. Dave adds as 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."
The seventies mark the end of the AM top 40 giants
KROY's exciting six-year ride at the top of the Sacramento ratings ended in 1974. Interestingly, the KROY PD Chuck Roy
left KROY at the end of 1973 and joined adult contemporary station KCRA for middays in early 1974, under the programming of former KROY PD Johnny Hyde, who became head of KCRA's programming in 1971. At that time Hyde brought in sixties KROY personality Lee Kirk. In many ways, the success of KCRA in the seventies was built on the prior success of KROY. In 1971 Hyde hired Cary Nosler from KZAP, who he had tried to hire while PD at KROY, but the rock jock preferred freeform. It was Hyde who gave Cary the nickname "Captain Carrot." More familiarity was brought to KCRA when Dave Williams, in a two year period, jumped from mornings at KROY to Los Angeles to PD/3-7p jock at KNDE to a short stint in Memphis, then landing at KCRA in 1975. He did production, news and a talk show before moving to mornings in 1981, which became a top rated show in town for four years that marked a preview to even bigger career achievements.
In 1976 KROY picked up a sister FM station KROI (96.9 FM), which had previously been country station KEZS. For awhile it was nicknamed I-97, but in 1979 it was renamed Y-97 as the call letters shifted to KROY-FM. To be different from the AM top 40 station KROY-FM focused on a more adult-approach to top 40 rock hits. But the format never seemed to stay consistent as it shifted several times, sometimes leaning more pop and sometimes more rock.
On September 30, 1978, Brown Broadcasting, who had already owned KXOA-FM for five years, turned their new property KNDE back into KXOA-AM, once again returning the format to album rock. For awhile it was called "AM 14, the Rockin' Home."
In January 1980 KXOA played with their identity again by starting to call themselves "The New 14K." People either didn't get it or simply were too busy listening to the same music on FM. So the station kept fishing for a format. By the fall of 1981 they were back to 50s/60s oldies, which failed. To make a long story short, their status as a leading AM station was the forties through the seventies.
KROY FM went through a series of Program Directors in its first few years that included Robert John (late 1976-September 1977), Steve Michaels (1977-1978) and Terry Nelson (1978). Then on Halloween 1978, Richard Irwin arrived as head of programming. The morning show on KROY-FM at the end of the decade was Russ Martin and Barry K. Fyffe (who had previously done mornings with Terry Nelson on the AM). During this period Ann Schmidt rose from receptionist to newscaster and later
went on to work at KPOP and then afternoon drive at KFBK with Ken Yearwood. She dabbled in television for awhile at KCRA-TV, producing a news magazine show called "The West,"
before moving on to a series of Public Relations jobs including work at the California Farm Bureau in the 2000s. She also launched her own company, Ann Schmidt-Fogarty Communications.
In 1978 the KROY AM & FM combo changed ownership from Atlantic States Industries to Jonsson Communications. The AM sold for about $3 million and the FM sold for about $1 million. Mark Jonsson had convinced his father Kenneth to buy a couple Sacramento stations, a couple Reno stations,
Sacramento Magazine and Heavenly Recording Studios. Both stations were still big players in the market at the time (the AM had an eight share), but within
two years KROY AM had fallen off in ratings along with much of the nation's heritage top 40 stations. Popular music formats were migrating to FM.
Still, it was a good investment because when KROY-FM sold seven years later it went for $11 million.
Shortly after Jonsson Communications purchased the combo, technical disaster struck the FM when vandals cut cables and destroyed the station's antenna at the
transmitter site, forcing it off the air for several weeks. Then the station returned on partial power until a new tower was built several months later. According to Mark Jonsson, "Between an
underpowered AM signal and a dead FM signal, our audience was basically wiped out. It took considerable time and money for us to build back even a small
audience for either station."
Mark Jonsson refects on KROY in 2010: "AM top 40 radio was in a serious state of decline all over the country when we purchased the stations in 1978.Ê
In Sacramento, KROY AM was the lowest powered radio station in the market with a daytime power of 1000 watts and a nighttime power of only 250 watts.
The KROY signal could no longer cover the growing metropolitan area around downtown Sacramento (where the transmitter was located) and the listeners were
expressing a strong preference to hear music on the higher quality FM stations." The programming staff believed the AM should stay the same while the FM take
on a more rock feel, competing with KZAP.
Tony Cox tells how FM took over
Tony Cox did middays on KROY AM in 1976 under PD Steve Rivers, who later went on to become a big industry name as a radio
consultant across the country. Other personalities on KROY at that time were Uncle Byron and
T.N. Tanaka in the mornings, Dave Michaels in afternoons and Jeff "Mutha" Robbins in evenings. Brian White did late nights and would go on to program KSFM in the late eighties. A few years later Cox left to do Chicago radio.
When he came back to do mornings at KROY-FM in 1979, he sensed the sudden popularity of FM due to the new technology that improved FM reception in cars. Cox says in our exclusive 2000 video interview, "Prior to 1978 there was too much ghosting and shadowing of (FM) signals in cars. It was corrected by MPX multi-path. When you were on an AM radio station back in '79 during this transition to FM, you could actually hear a vacuum of people tuning out." Cox, a popular voice in town, stayed with KROY until its ownership change in the mid-eighties and then did middays at FM 102 through the early nineties.
The commercialization of FM
With the improved technology of FM reception which dramatically increased the band's popularity, radio owners began to move away from eclectic programming and shift to tighter programming of popular hits, which had been the hallmark of AM radio.
In January 1979, after an ownership change at KZAP from New Day Broadcasting to Western Cities, they fired Program Director Robert Williams and replaced him with Chris Miller. One by one they fired most of the jocks except for Charlie Weiss, who ended up working off and on for the station in every decade from the sixties through the nineties. KZAP immediately moved away from its wide-open rock format of thousands of songs and cut the list to just hundreds of songs by the most popular rock acts. The result was that KZAP became one of the top-rated stations in town for the next decade.
Earth Radio also dumped their eclectic rock format in September 1979 in favor of disco.
Program Director Dennis Newhall was let go and took the same position at KROY-FM under Operations Manager Richard W. Irwin (who has an interesting radio history site at www.reelradio.com). Several other staff members were let go as the station dropped the "Earth Radio" name and took on the identity of "FM 102" while retaining the KSFM call letters. The format followed the pop charts, which had become flooded with dance hits. The new regime, consulted by Jerry Clifton, delivered ratings that not only put FM 102 ahead of KROY and all other top 40 competitors within a year, but also among the top stations in the market for years to come.
© Alex Cosper. All Rights Reserved.