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 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.
FM102 and KWOD play the hits in the eighties
The king of all formats throughout the eighties was still considered top 40 in the music industry, although rock radio had proven to be a legitimate culture existing outside of the mainstream. In the industry top 40 was now called Contemporary Hit Radio or CHR, coined by the industry trade magazine Radio & Records. The CHR showdown in town was between FM 102 and KWOD (106.5 FM), which debuted as a jazz station in 1977, but within a few years was playing the latest hits on the pop charts. KWOD was one of the last independently-owned stations in town under the Ed Stolz company Royce International Broadcasting. Several of the jocks had spent time on the air at KROY including Tom Chase, Mr. Ed, Dave Diamond, Dean Stevens and Russ "Mooseman" Martin. Sports reporter Ken Gimblin had also done KROY sports in the seventies before starting his own service for several media outlets including KWOD. In 1983 KSFM's morning show was Billy Manders up against KWOD's Doug Masters. Within a year both stations would create new morning shows, with Chris Collins and the Morning Zoo on FM 102 while Doug Masters teamed up with Marty Johnson as the "Masters & Johnson Morning Radio Clinic" on KWOD.
The Morning Zoo's Chris Collins and Mike Reynolds lead the market
Chris Collins worked on air at KKIQ in Livermore when Mike Preston, the Production Director of FM 102, and the PD began listening in December 1979 to Chris' afternoon show, leading to him getting hired in early March 1980 at FM 102. Collins started out doing weekend overnights but began doing mornings on June 1, 1983 as the Morning Zoo was born with Mike Reynolds. The show was a smash and helped lead the station to the top of the ratings. It would be a long successful ride as "FM 102."
Program Director Rick Gillette led the station to the top of the Sacramento Arbitron ratings. Collins was Gillette's Music Director. Collins says in 2010, "Gillette and I were like two peas in a pod ... both fired up about everything and unafraid to say and do what needed to be done. I thought Gillette was a great night jock, one of the best I've ever heard or worked with. I thought he was the perfect piece of the puzzle to take us to the top. I cleared the table so Rick could come in, interview, and get the job." Collins did not click with the previous PD, who he complained about to management because he "pushed too hard," leading to a change. Collins asserts "Gillette was and is visionary, courageous and wired just a bit awkwardly to understand how 'vibe' works and resonates."
Collins developed the Morning Zoo into a fun, often outrageous comedy theater of the mind show. "I think in my 'early' radio days doing nights helped with my outward approach and my focus as a morning guy on 'in your face' involvement with the audience both on and off the air in the streets helped. I believe the stunting I did and posturing inside the community helped and obviously I know that Prince, Madonna, Michael J and others hit at the right time with the Zoo so a repetitious cognitive behavioral pattern kicked in."
Some of the stunts Collins did included spending 12 days at Country Club Center on top of a twenty foot tower as a benefit for Families First, Inc., and getting involved in a wrestling match with personnel from the Syrian embassy in Washington D.C. after he tried to burn a Syrian flag. One of the many funny features on the show was "toss the boss" in which listeners would call in venting their anger at their bosses, and then Collins would play the sound effects of a body falling down a flight of stairs.
Indeed, the top 40 radio format, which had come to be known as "contemporary hit radio" was bending in new directions never heard before as some stations leaned toward dance music and others leaned toward whatever was popular. FM 102 played a lot of dance music, usually avoiding rock, while KWOD stayed closer to the whatever is popular principle which included rock. Much of FM 102's music had a female-friendly r&b or pop dance sound.
FM 102 becomes the Valley's hit leader
FM 102 dominated the ratings, sometimes reaching double digits, while KWOD usually trailed with single digits. KWOD actually had an edge in the ratings in 1982 but following an FCC fine and a penalty that lowered KWOD's power for a couple years stemming from KWOD's signal bleeding over onto an adjacent signal (KRAK 105.1 FM), FM 102 took the lead and almost never looked back. Once KWOD's power was restored to 50,000 watts in 1984, the race began to tighten again as KWOD started making steady gains for several books. KWOD's all-time peak was when it hit 8.9 in the Arbitron (12+) ratings for the Spring of 1985. It didn't quite eclipse FM 102's 10.4 share, but it created shock waves in the market when KWOD jumped three points, only to fall three points in the next book. KSFM's all-time ratings high was 12.5 in the Spring of 1986, hitting number one in the market for the fourth straight book. Much of FM 102's popularity of this period can be attributed to the controversial and entertaining Morning Zoo. Chris Collins says in 2010 his favorite memories of FM 102's legendary era was "Laughing constantly. Causing sales people stress and going for the throat of any and all assholes in the region and globally, friend or foe. I think we accomplished all set goals."
FM 102's success was certainly attributed to Program Director Rick Gillette, a former KROY jock, who said in trade magazines that the station was "the pulse of American dance music." Some called the format churban because it was a cross between CHR and urban (soul music). The station had a fairly consistent line-up through the Gillette years including the Morning Zoo's Chris Collins and Mike Reynolds, Roy Kinji in afternoons and Lisa Kay in evenings. Kay, who had worked at KROY in the late seventies, briefly moved to Florida and was ultimately replaced by KWOD's overnight host Melanie Evans in 1985. FM 102 Late night jock Greg Lane moved to KWOD during this time to do overnights and would later move up to late nights. Lisa Kay returned to Sacramento in 1986 to host the morning show on KNCI. She was joined by Pat Still in the early nineties. In 1994 she moved to afternoons on the country station.
KROY shifts, FM 102 drifts and then returns
After Rick Gillette left for Detroit in 1987, the station's sound then began moving toward more variety, which started to resemble KWOD. FM 102 also made a series of personnel changes that brought Mark S. Allen into nights and Shelley Morgan into late nights. But as the station moved away from the familiarity and consistency that took the station to the top of the market, FM 102's ratings fell dramatically from double to single digits. KWOD even beat FM 102 for the first time in the spring of 1987. KWOD again scored the market crown in the three way battle for the hits in the winter of 1988, with KROY being the runner-up in both cases.
In 1989 KROY led the CHR race in town under the ex-KWOD team of PD Tom Chase and MD Mr. Ed Lambert. Chase also hired Jay Walker aka "Iceman," who had worked for him at KWOD. But personnel changes struck KROY under new ownership of Great American Broadcasting and programming went to Sean Lynch, who was a successful programmer out of Portland, OR. Scott Mitchell (pictured left), remembers, "Was at KROY 1980-1982...FM102 in 1983 Middays and Production under Billy Manders, then under Gillette before going to KITS (Hot Hits 105) in San Francisco. Came back for a brief stint to asst PD/music research/pm drive at KROY 1987-1989. Under Commonwealth, the best year (1987) I ever spent in radio was beating FM 102 in target demos 18-34 women with no promotional budget at all-the only thing we had was a team that came together in promotions, street presence and the on-air trips we gave away provided by the record companies. I remember the GM at FM102 asked me just what we were doing over there cuz they were throwing MONEY away in their promotions and KROY had nothing. Then Great American bought KROY and systematically dismantled everything we had done. Gotta tell ya-that HURT." Mitchell eventually moved on to KSAN in San Francisco and in 2008 does mornings at KRSH in Santa Rosa.
In 1989 PD Brian White took FM 102 back to its churban dance roots as market dominance returned to FM 102. KWOD began falling far behind FM 102 in 1988. By the end of 1989, both KWOD and KROY had fallen far behind FM 102. Lynch was replaced in 1990 by Jeff McCartney, who had programming success in other large markets. McCartney became KROY's final Program Director before the station flipped formats later that year. In the early nineties FM 102's programming team of PD Dr. Dave Ferguson and MD Chuck Fields came close to posting double digit Arbitron 12+ numbers for the station again.
After KWOD's ratings collapse in the Spring of 1988, it only had a few hot months as a CHR including July 1989, but for the most part failed to compete. Hunter left in September 1989 for KHQT (Hot 97) in San Jose and was succeeded by a new programming team headed by Gerry Cagle. He had programmed RKO stations including KHJ Los Angeles (in the 70s) and KFRC San Francisco (in the early eighties). He also had notoriety in the radio industry from writing a novel called Payola. Cagle kept the format at KWOD straight CHR until April 1991 when his Program Director Adam Smasher convinced him to start mixing in modern rock tracks. The format officially went "modern rock" or "alternative" in 1993 after Cagle's departure, making FM 102 the lone champion of contemporary hits.
FM 102 prevailed in a lawsuit with KWOD over supposed slanderous remarks about KWOD made in 1989 on air by Chris Collins. His last day on FM 102 was November 5, 1991 after twelve years at the station. In 1992 Collins filed a huge wrongful termination suit against KSFM, claiming drug abuse among management personnel, which he did not conform to, but the parties ended up settling out of court. Collins briefly did a talk show on KSTE (650 AM) but later became a sports commentator for the San Jose Sharks on KFRC then CEO of Digicast Corporation in Seattle.
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