Bay Area Radio History
by Alex Cosper
San Francisco - Oakland - San Jose Radio (1950s-2000s)
Radio is Eclipsed by Television
The end of World War II and the Big Band Era also marked an end of the first "golden age of radio" that was ruled by four national networks. With the advancement of television from the late forties and early fifties on, radio was forced to meet a new challenge. Prior to television, radio was the top medium that held the attention of a national audience. Now radio had to reinvent itself and find new directions for economic survival. At first radio tried block programming and then moved more to longer stretches of consistent programming, although many stations were one thing in the day and another thing at night.
Television became a way of life for most people in the fifties, but made its debut in the Bay on Christmas Eve 1948 as KPIX (originally licensed as KWIS). It was the sister property of KSFO-AM, owned by Associated Broadcasters, Inc, who sold to Westinghouse Broadcasting Company in 1954. Licenses had been granted in 1947 for ABC's KGO-TV and the San Francisco Chronicle's sister KCPR Channel 11. Another was KRON, which first appeared in 1949. By 1952 the television network affiliations were: KGO (ABC), KPIX (CBS/DuMont Project) and KRON (NBC). KCPR had become KNTV/San Jose.
Also emerging in the fifties were KQED Channel 9 and KSAN Channel 32. Serving Sacramento, Stockton and San Francisco at the time was KOVR Channel 13 with the tower at Mt. Diablo. Two stations that were licensed but not in operation in 1958 were KBAY Channel 20 and KMTR Channel 38. Channel 20 was KEMO-TV from April 1968 through April 1971. More stations had been added or changed by the mid-eighties, including KDTV Channel 14, KTZO Channel 20, KTSF Channel 26, KQEC Channel 32, KWBB Channel 38 and KBHK Channel 44. While KDTV signed on Channel 60, it later swapped frequencies with College of San Mateo station KCSM, in which the college station previously aired its content on Channel 14. KSCM also holds Channel 43 for digital television transmission.
In June 1973 a consortium of Bay Area television stations launched Sutro Tower Inc., in which Mount Sutro became the transmitter site for KVTU (owned by Cox), KRON (owned by Chronicle Publishing), KPIX (owned by Westinghouse) and KGO (owned by ABC). Today all Bay Area television signals are transmitted from Sutro.
Introducing Automated Radio
The idea of a radio station running without people in attendance came from the mind of inventor Paul Schafer in the early fifties. For the first two decades of the FCC's existence, the commission required that all stations must employ an engineer to be on duty at the transmitter site at all times. After the FCC loosened the rules, Schafer came up with a remote control system that did not require an on-duty transmitter operator. His device became the foundation of his new company, Schafer Electronics in 1953. That same year the first station to test out his invention was KROW (960 AM) in Oakland. Two years later Schafer's remote control systems were used for NAB field tests, which led to the FCC ruling in 1957 that all broadcast stations utilize the new technology.
Schafer continued to expand his experiments which led to the development of automated radio programming. In 1956 he introduced the concept with reel to reel decks and phonograph players at KGEE-AM/Bakersfield, CA. The owner of the station was trying to save money by replacing an overnight host with automation. Schafer made history again in 1965 when his equipment was used to test the viability of FM for the FCC.
KROW was purchased by Gordon McLendon, who would later be considered with Todd Storz to have been top 40 radio's earliest pioneers. Many figured McLendon would bring his brand of top 40 to the Bay. He was very successful in Dallas at top 40 giant KLIF. McLendon decided to move the KROW call letters to Dallas and change 960 AM's call letters to KABL, creating another first for the Bay: the area's first "elevator music" station. KABL's new identity beginning in 1959 was a forerunner for a highly successful "beautiful music" format featuring instrumental artists such as Percy Faith. Within five years the market would see another background instrumental station with KKHI (95.7), using automation.
Emerging Multiple Formats
Because of the popularity of television in the fifties, the national networks began to focus their attention on television programming as stations were left to create their own local programming. Prior to the stations most stations followed the same general game plan of running a wide mix of mostly adult-oriented pop music and talk. Beginning in the late fifties, with the advent of the transistor radio which caught on with teens due to affordability and portability, top 40 stations began to move toward younger demos, especially at night when radio lost a lot of its audience to television. With the arrival of rock and roll, which gave a national voice to teens for the first time in history, programming questions began to arise concerning the definition of mass appeal.
Top 40 radio came to be patterned after an idea at a Todd Storz station in Omaha back in the early fifties. The idea was to play the most popular songs in "rotations" to meet the need of the common listener who listened only so many minutes per day. The first top 40 station in the Bay Area was actually independent station KOBY. In 1956 classical station KEAR-AM went dark and then sold from Steve Cisler to Dave Siegel, who re-launched the station as KOBY (1550 AM) in 1957 with an early top 40 format that was the first in the Bay to feature rock and roll music. KOBY quickly rose to number one in the market in its first quarter. By the end of the fifties the top 40/rock and roll format had spread across the dial except at KSFO and KCBS. KGO (which went by "K-Go") and KNBR both flirted with fifties hits long before going talk. Country station KEEN briefly mixed in rock and roll around this time. Upstart KPEN (101.3), owned by Jim Gabbert and partners, was the first FM in the market to play pop music featuring rock and roll beginning in 1957.
KPEN began an a peninsula station licensed to Atherton with a power of 1500 watts. Two years after its debut, the transmitter moved to San Bruno and power increased to 35,000 watts. Then in 1960 power further increased to 125,000 watts, making it the most powerful signal west of the Mississippi River. Gabbert recalls in 2005, "The power really had nothing to do with the initial success of KPEN. We started at the beginning of the hi-fi revolution. Besides KDFC the only other FMs were owned by the big guys and they were simulcasting their AMs with poor audio quality. KFOG, which started as KBAY, was not on the air yet, KKHI did not exist and no independent FMs were playing popular music. It was unheard of that an independent FM would dare play popular music."
In the daytime KPEN played pop music and then at night it would be background "dinner music" followed by classical music at 8pm. Gabbert says, "I did a nightly show from 10 to midnight called 'Excursions in Sound.' It was like an eargasm for audiofiles. We did the first high fidelity (15khz) remotes from hi-fi shows and stores." The next FM to come along and get attention in the Bay Area was KSFR (94.9), owned by Al Levitt. "He tried to meet us head on and lost," says Gabbert, "finally going classical for years before he sold to MetroMedia and they made it KSAN." Gabbert and his partners realized after clobbering the station in the ratings that they should increase power and move to San Francisco. Over the years several FM stations would try to take KPEN on, but lost. Those competitors included KFOG, KBRG (105.3), KFRC-FM (106.1) and KGO-FM (103.7). "None of them figured out why we were successful," Gabbert concludes. "I could write a whole book on this, so I'll stop here...this was even before stereo."
Classical music seemed to be one of the most viable formats suited for early FM radio. The combination of hi fidelity for audiophiles and serious sophisticated music for the elite fan made classical a forerunner of FM formats. Throughout the sixties several classical stations came and went in the Bay, along with partial classical programming at night on KCBS-AM. FM stations that played classical during this era included the short-lived KAFE and KBRG. KDFC played complete classical works all day and a weekly opera on Saturday nights.
By 1960 the main top 40 battle was between KEWB (910 AM) and KYA (1260 AM) with KPEN developing as an independent alternative on FM. It quickly gained notoriety for being the first licensed stereo FM in the nation and was also the first FM of any format in the country to score high ratings. KOBY was out-promoted by the other two AMs and also lost listenership after dropping a favored policy that restricted two commercials back to back. KOBY flipped to beautiful music (soft instrumentals) then sold to Sherwood Gordon, who changed the call letters to KQBY, but continued affiliation with Mutual Broadcasting System. It sold again in 1963 to Frank Atlass, who changed the call letters to KKHI (1550 AM & 95.7 FM) and the format to MOR/personality. KKHI was unable to match competitor KSFO in the ratings. In 1964 the FM switched to automated elevator music before evolving into classical. The following year the combo sold to Buckley-Jaeger Broadcasting, which later became Buckley Broadcasting, who held the combo through 1994.
In 1959 the Oakland Tribune, who had owned KLX since it launched in May 1922, sold the station to Crowell-Collier and changed to top 40 KEWB. Program Director Chuck Blore had a knack for hiring talent that moved on to Los Angeles for bigger success at sister station KFWB. KEWB's morning man Gary Owens and other jocks Bill Wood, Mark Foster, Buck Herring, Ted Randal and Frank Bell gave the station a strong edge in personality. Some of the other legends who went through KEWB included the Real Don Steele, Robert W. Morgan, Don McKinnon and Emperor Bob Hudson. KEWB led the ratings following the decline of KOBY. KSJO (1590 AM) did well in the San Jose ratings as an early sixties top 40 radio station. By the mid-sixties they had a rockier sound than the other top 40s in the area, playing a lot of regional garage and surf bands that appealed to South Bay suburbanites.
KYA changed ownership from John Keating and Elroy McCaw to the Bartell Family Group in 1958, who flipped the former Hearst Publishing station to rock and roll. Then in the early sixties ownership switched again to Golden State Broadcasters. They held on to the station until 1963 when it was sold to Churchill Broadcasting and then again to Avco Broadcasting three years later. In 1961 KYA's Program Director was Bill Drake, who patterned his top 40 programming after KFWB in Los Angeles. It was at KYA that Drake crafted a sound that would eventually change the face of pop radio for years to come.
Other formats beyond top 40 began to surface as well. In 1959, Patrick Henry put jazz station KJAZ on the air at 92.7 in Oakland. KRE (1400) also played jazz. In the seventies, Wolfman Jack paid a visit to KRE-AM to film a scene for the motion picture American Graffiti. Since rock and roll was based in part on rhythm & blues music, it made sense to some stations to experiment with r&b as a dedicated format. KSAN-AM (1450), which had been a pop station since the forties, shifted to soul in the mid-fifties, going after the African-American East Bay audience. The Patterson Family (Norwood and Gloria) sold the station in 1964 to Les Malloy, who kept the format soul, but changed the calls to KSOL to emphasize the format.
Throughout the sixties KSOL competed with another Oakland soul outlet, KDIA, originally KLS then KWBR in the forties at the 1310 position, in which the station played r&b even back then. During the KWBR days one of the stand out personalities was evening jock Big Don Barksdale. Sony Executive (and Sacramento radio programmer) Bob Sherwood grew up listening to the station and recalls about Barksdale in 2005, "He was not only an icon for black radio listeners in the late 50s/early 60s, but a teacher of the artform to impressionable middle-class white listeners as well."
Long-time owners Stafford and Eugene Warner sold KWBR in 1959 to Sonderling Stations, who changed the call letters to KDIA. WBR had stood for Warner Brothers, but they had no relation with the record label or motion picture company. The new owners kept the format soul and stayed with a more produced mainstream sound, occasionally flavored with harder r&b. KSAN then KSOL, on the other hand, played the more screamin' r&b sounds along with blues. By the mid-sixties they added blues-based rock such as the Rolling Stones into the mix.
KSOL would emerge as the market leader for soul and carved a place in history, being the station that housed one-time air talent and Autumn label producer Sly Stone, who went on to have huge hits with Sly & The Family Stone. On the air he used the name Sylvester Stewart. He had joined the station when it was KSAN. At one point he did afternoons up against Tom Donahue (who owned Autumn Records) at KYA. One thing that made Stewart stand out was the he played a small electronic keyboard in the studio, as he would play and sing along with the records. In 1971 KSOL sold to Douglas Broadcasting, who changed the call letters to KEST and the format to MOR (middle of the road).
MOR had become a proven format in the sixties, which is why so many stations flocked to the format. MOR stations of the era included KSFO, KNBR (formerly KNBC) and KFOG (which even played soft instrumentals). Other formats that began to spring up in the sixties were all-oldies, all-news and elevator music. KOIT first appeared as an automated oldies station in 1967, programmed by Bill Keffury, who had also previously programmed KYA and KROY/Sacramento. The seventies saw the emergence of a series of oldies outlets that included KCBS-FM, KLOK, KNEW and KFRC-FM.
America's First All News Station
The Oakland Tribune contained an article in 1961 with the heading "America's first all-news station." The article was about KFAX, which originally had been KJBS from the twenties through the fifties. KJBS had made history by being one of the first stations in America to go all music back in 1930. In May 1960 it became all news as KFAX under the ownership of L. Ray Rhodes and J. Gil Partridge. FAX stood for "fast, accurate and exclusive." The idea of all news was considered revolutionary at the time as the radio industry across the country watched the development of KFAX. The 1961 Tribune article described how national advertisers wanted to buy time on top five stations, and did not want to advertise on an all news station unless KFAX could land in the top five, which never happened.
Because KFAX was unable to achieve the goal of 60% national sponsorship, in 1961 the station sold to Argonaut Broadcasting, who changed the format to religious programming. In 1977 power was raised to 50,000 watts during the day and 1000 watts from 10p-3a. Salem Communications purchased the station in 1984. In the late sixties, following the success of WNUS/Chicago, KGO and KCBS-AM moved to all news/talk. KNBR got into the act of all-news in the mid-seventies, as did KNAI (99.7), but both situations were temporary. Eventually KNBR went news again, as did KCBS in the nineties. After KEWB's top 40 run in the sixties, it briefly experimented with news/talk as KNEW and then shifted back to pop music again in 1969, before moving on to country in the seventies.
San Francisco AM Dial 1959
560 - KSFO 610 - KFRC 680 - KNBC 740 - KCBS 810 - KGO 910 - KEWB 960 - KABL 990 - KKIS Pittsburg 1050 - KOFY 1010 - KSAY (country) 1100 - KFAX 1220 - KIBE (simulcast with KDFC) 1260 - KYA 1310 - KWBR became KDIA in 1959 1370 - KEEN San Jose (country, top 40) 1400 - KRE 1450 - KSAN 1490 - KTOP Petaluma 1500 - KXRX San Jose 1550 - KOBY Oakland 1550 - KTIM San Rafael 1590 - KLIV San Jose
San Francisco FM Dial 1959
89.3 - KPFB Berkeley 90.1 - KSCU Santa Clara 91.7 - KALW 92.3 - KSJO San Jose 92.7 - KJAZ Oakland 94.1 - KPFA Berkeley (Pacifica Network) 94.9 - KSFR 96.5 - KRON 97.3 - KEAR (originally KWBR in 1947 then KGSF then KSMO until 1952) 98.5 - KRPM 98.9 - KCBS 99.7 - KNBC 101.3 - KPEN (James Gabbert and Gary Gielow) 102.1 - KDFC 103.7 - KGO FM 104.5 - KBAY 105.3 - KBCO 106.9 - KPUP
Early KFRC History
The K-F-R-C call letters are by far the most legendary in the history of San Francisco music radio, based on the strong influence the station had on the entire industry in the sixties and seventies. A market leader in the thirties, forties, sixties and seventies, it continued to survive in the new century. The station originally made its debut with 50 watts at the 1120 AM dial position in 1925. Its first owner was the Radio Art Corporation, a shop that sold radios at Sutter and Powell.
Harrison Holliway was KFRC's first station manager and station voice. He later went on to bigger fame at KNX in Los Angeles. In its early years, KFRC played strictly opera and classical music. Soon after its launch, the shop sold the station to the City of Paris Department Store. In 1926 the station changed hands again to car dealer Don Lee, who moved the programming to the 660 AM dial position. He also raised the power to 1000 watts in the day and 500 watts at night. The following year he purchased KHJ in Los Angeles from the L.A. Times.
In 1929 KFRC finally landed at its long term home, 610 AM. That same year Lee signed an agreement with CBS to create shows at KFRC and KHJ for the growing national radio network. It worked out so well that the following year the partnership changed its name to the Don Lee-Columbia Network.
After Lee's death in 1934, his son Tommy took over the company, which separated from CBS and signed with the Mutual Broadcasting System two years later, marking the beginning of the Mutual-Don Lee Network, which included KDON in Monterey. RKO-General acquired KFRC in 1949. From that time until the mid-sixties it fell out of market dominance with its personality-oriented MOR programming. Then in the mid-sixties Bill Drake's top 40 format brought KFRC back to number one for many years.
The Boss Radio Takeover of the 1960s
In the early 1960s KEWB and KYA were the AM top 40 leaders. On KEWB during this era was Robert W. Morgan, who was hired by Earl McDaniel after he had heard Morgan on KROY in Sacramento. Morgan went on to become one of the biggest names in Los Angeles radio for four decades. Another Bay Area jock of the early sixties who went on to bigger fame was Casey Kasem, first at KYA in 1961 then at KEWB in 1962. Bill Drake was Program Director at KYA (1260 AM) in 1961 and had instant ratings success with the "Drake Sound." He left in 1962 to program a Fresno, CA station that was owned by Gene Chenault. From this relationship developed a consultancy called Drake-Chenault.
Drake-Chenault devised a format - similar to one successfully introduced a few years earlier by WABC/New York PD Rick Sklar - that trimmed the playlist to highlight the hottest songs in repetitious rotations, which accommodated the two requirements for ratings success: familiarity and consistency. The emphasis was more on music and less on personality, as jocks talked over intros instead of in between songs. In other words, emphasis on fast-paced polished production called for elimination of "dry" linear content and an acceleration in excitement level over intros of the hottest hits. The jocks were more energetic and more concise than what had become the industry standard of low-key conversational talk hosts playing mostly soft pop songs and oldies for adults who grew up in the forties. The new sound was a mix of current top 40 and rock & roll oldies called "Boss Radio."
After consulting KGB in San Diego, the Drake-Chenault team that changed pop radio forever landed their format at KHJ/Los Angeles in 1965. KHJ was owned by RKO, which also owned KFRC (610 AM) in the Bay. Since Boss Radio was an instant hit in LA, RKO brought it to San Francisco in 1966 under PD Tom Rounds. Although KYA called themselves "The Boss of the Bay" in 1965, Drake gave KFRC its official Boss Radio sound. Tom Rounds left KFRC in 1967 and founded a radio syndication company with KHJ PD Ron Jacobs. The company was called Watermark, Inc. and three years later they launched the popular syndicated show American Top 40, hosted by Casey Kasem. Paul Drew, a future executive at Radio & Records, programmed KFRC in the early 70s. The founder of the trade magazine was Bob Wilson, who programmed KDAY/Los Angeles in the early 70s.
KFRC's success led to the decline of the more talkative KEWB, which moved to even more talk as KNEW after being bought by KSAN owner MetroMedia in 1966. KYA remained top 40 for nearly two decades and then was changed to KOIT after being sold to Bonneville in 1983. KFRC's heyday was boosted by the arrival of Dr. Don Rose in 1973, who brought the station number one ratings in mornings for a solid ten years. He clearly set an indelible mark for one of the most known, enjoyed and respected Bay Area personalities of all time. Despite the excitement he brought to the airwaves, his personal life was troubled with a series of health problems, resulting in a leg being amputated in 1984, which is why for several months he did his show from a hospital bed. After leaving the station in 1986, Dr. Don briefly did mornings at KKIS/Concord, CA in 1988 and went on to do mornings on KIOI. Four months later he had a heart attack on the air and retired in 1989. He died in his sleep at age 70 on March 29, 2005.
KFRC remained the Bay Area's hit machine until 1986, when it briefly experimented with its "Game Zone" format, in which the station ran contests from 9a-6p. The game show idea came from radio consultant Walter Sabo but only lasted a few quarters and led to a ratings decline. Then later in August of that year it became Magic 61, playing nostalgic artists of the swing era. Ironically, when KFRC switched to the game show format it was still number one in its target demo, but never reached the zenith again after the change. In the early nineties KFRC returned to the hits of the sixties and seventies and simulcast its programming with 99.7 FM. Infinity Broadcasting sold 610 AM to Family Broadcasting in March 2005 and the format switched to Christian as KEAR while the FM was retained by Infinity (which returned to the company name CBS Radio in late 2005). In 2006 CBS Radio flipped KFRC-FM to a classic dance format, calling itself "Movin 99.7," while keeping the legendary call letters.
Gerry Cagle, who programmed KFRC in the early eighties, and now writes for MusicBiz.com, reflects in 2005:
"KFRC wasn't a position on the dial. It was a place in the hearts of the many professionals who worked there to build and continue a legacy unmatched in radio. It was also a place in the hearts of the listeners who made it important in their lives. 610 means nothing. KFRC San Francisco with the Best Music! will live forever in that magical place we all go when we think about the good things of the past." The KFRC call letters moved around the dial and landed at 106.9, playing oldies.
Freeform stations KMPX, KSAN, KSJO, KOME, others rock the Bay
Prior to the rise of freeform radio, which was the seed to album rock radio, fans of more guitar-oriented rock bands grew up listening to AM pop stations that mixed in rock and roll. By the mid-sixties KLIV (1590 AM) in San Jose was playing a lot of regional garage and surf bands along with British Invasion groups. San Jose had a blossoming suburban garage band scene that included bands who went on to have national hits such as the Count Five and Syndicate of Sound. KLIV leaned more basic rock and roll than psychedelic. In 1965 KNBR-AM briefly experimented with a rock-based format.
During this era a revolution was brewing on FM, as independent pop station KPEN (101.3) successfully ushered in FM stereo and received national recognition for doing so. KPEN, which changed call letters in late 1968 to KIOI, began experimenting with rock music as well. Up until that time it had been the top rated FM in the market. It eventually moved toward adult contemporary and regained momentum. Part of the station's success story was that it was the most powerful radio signal (at 125,000 watts) in the market. Certain radio companies such as ABC tried to protect their AM properties against the emergence of FM by filing a petition with the FCC in 1963, proposing to limit the power of FM stations, but KPEN owner Jim Gabbert and partners prevailed and were allowed to keep their wattage, although the FCC set a limit at that time of 50,000 watts, except for stations already transmitting at higher power.
Toward the end of the sixties listeners who did not want to follow pop radio's turn to repetitive "bubble gum music" with less emphasis on community information and commentary, were served by the emergence of KMPX. An early freeform pioneer who steered KMPX toward full-time freeform programming in 1967 was Program Director Tom Donahue, who did an evening show with his wife, Raechel. While freeform radio had developed in other places around the country for years, it was Tom and Raechel who defined the wave of freeform radio that would represent the progressive community from the late sixties through most of the seventies.
The KMPX story defined the evolution of early freeform radio. Owner Leon Crosby sold block time to different groups to air their programs in 1967. Although most of the shows were foreign language, in February Larry Miller began doing an overnight freeform music show. Tom Donahue arrived to do his 8p-12m show in April and became Program Director. Tom had worked on the air at several top 40 stations around the country including crosstown KYA. He had grown tired of the high energy of top 40 and its gravitation toward light information. So he offered a more surreal mix of album tracks outside the pop charts with more insightful as well as off the wall air personalities.
Then on May 21, 1968, following an employee strike, Donahue moved his staff to crosstown KSAN (94.9), which changed from classical to freeform, becoming Jive 95. In the early seventies, KSAN rose to number one in the 18-34 demographic. It developed a cult following for many years. KSAN was owned by MetroMedia, the same company that owned freeform rocker KMET in Los Angeles at that time. MetroMedia also bought KEWB and changed it into KNEW. After many stations around the country had looked to the Donahues for inspiration, Tom died in 1975 of a heart attack in his forties. Gradually KSAN became more structured until inevitably taking the shape of the more streamlined album rock format. Raechel has written books and played in movies and television shows. In May 2005 Raechel reflects, "KMPX was the root, KSAN was the flower. Since then, the bloom has pretty much been crushed beneath the boot of corporate radio."
KMPX sold to National Science Network in November 1969. Then in 1972 KMPX flipped from rock to big band music. In 1977 National Science Network sold the station to Chronicle Publishing, who sold the station the following year. Family Radio, which owned KEAR, sold the 97.3 signal to KCBS, which had broadcast on the weaker signal 98.9. In turn, Family Radio purchased 106.9 KMPX and moved the call letters and format of big bands to 98.9, calling the station "Big Band 99." In 1981 KMPX started mixing in easy listening artists like the Carpenters, but the ratings remained low. The station was sold in 1982 and became KQAK The Quake.
Both KSAN and KSJO went on to become legendary rock stations throughout the seventies, but KSAN flipped to country music in November 1981 while KSJO survived as rock until flipping to Spanish in October 2004. A rock station that left the market but commanded a strong following in the eighties was KRQR (The Rocker). KSJO/San Jose debuted in 1968 as a freeform rock station, the same year that KZAP in Sacramento went freeform. Until 1971, KZAP could be heard all over the Bay at the 98.5 frequency. Then came KOME, which took the frequency, covering most of the South Bay, East Bay and parts of San Francisco. Both KOME and KSJO leaned more toward straight ahead rock and roll party music than the emerging psychedelic music. Other Bay Area stations including KGO-FM and KSFX attempted experimental programming with rock music following KSAN's popularity in the late sixties.
Evolution of rock music
In 1982 KMPX transformed into a new station as Bay area listeners could now hear the emerging modern rock format at 98.9 FM on KQAK (The Quake), which played "rock of the eighties." The sound of the station was shaped by the consultancy of Rick Carroll, who crafted the modern rock format at KROQ in Los Angeles. The Quake's morning show was Alex Bennett & Joe Regelski. Other Quake personalities included Beth Nolan, Tim Bedore, Rob Francis, Oscar "Oz" Medina, Paul "The Lobster" Wells, Rick Stuart and Jed the Fish. It changed to KKCY "The City" in 1985, but only lasted two years as an adult freeform station. The surreal segue-oriented KKCY was programmed by Tom Yates, who had previously worked as a jock on KSAN. Yates went on to own KOZT/Fort Bragg on the Northern California coast. In 1987 Olympic Broadcasting switched The City to big bands. Then it became KOFY and eventually KSOL.
RKO General sold oldies/soft hits station "K106" KFRC-FM (106.1) in 1977. At that point through the mid-eighties KMEL played rock music as Camel 106, and for awhile was programmed by Bobby Cole, who had been Music Director at KSAN from 1970 to 1976 and MD at KMPX prior to that. Morning man Alex Bennett jumped from KMEL to mornings at KQAK with the launch of The Quake in 1982. By the mid-eighties Camel had switched to "All Hits." After the Quake's demise in 1985, KITS switched from "Hot Hits" to Live 105 in October 1986. For the first few months the transition was a cross between top 40 and "rock of the eighties," but eventually Janet Jackson and other pop idols were completely dropped in favor of music you couldn't hear anywhere else in the market.
Big Rick Stuart, who did afternoons at Live 105 from 1986 to 2000, moved to afternoon/evenings (4-11p) at KFOG in 2000. He recalls on his website BigRick.fm, "Alex Bennett had been doing his morning show at a top 40 station in town, Hot Hits KITS. While it was a pretty awful top 40 music station, Alex was doing his show with comics and guests and was sounding great. I bugged Alex a little about putting in a good word for me and he said he would and not to worry because soon the station was going to change format to a Quake rock of the 80s sound. It couldn't happen soon enough."
Live 105 was programmed by Richard Sands, who was assisted by Music Director Steve Masters. At that time there were only about a dozen such stations in the top major markets around the country. Live 105 became a launching ground for many artists who came to define the format, partly driven by Steve's love for the music and ability to find unique songs that appealed to a large young adult audience. Owner Entercom sold the station to the bigger company Infinity in the late nineties. For a few years in the nineties Live 105 competed with San Jose station KOME, which had been historically rock music before shifting in a more alternative rock direction. Richard Sands moved on as a radio industry writer for The Gavin Report and now for his own internet newsletter The Sands Report, an alternative radio resource.
The original Live 105 line-up was Alex Bennett (mornings), Mark Van Gelder (middays), Big Rick Stuart (afternoons), Steve Masters (nights) and Roland West (late nights). Later Mark Hamilton did middays. Hamilton and Masters put together a modern rock countdown show that was syndicated nationally. Masters also briefly served as an MTV Video Jock in which he would fly to L.A. every week to cut the shows. Masters left the station in 1995 to work for an MCA label. He resurfaced on a few stations in the late nineties and wound up at Live 105 again in 2002 for a couple years doing a retro lunch show. These days he runs Gottgame.com, which is a service that promotes video games on over one hundred radio stations throughout America. Alex Bennett can now be heard on Sirius Satellite Radio (Channel 143). Mark Hamilton moved to Portland, Oregon to program alternative station KNRK.
During the 1995-1998 period Jay Taylor programmed KOME to top five ratings in San Jose and created intense competition for KSJO PD Dana Jang, who prevailed at times with a more 80s-based hair band approach to rock. But eventually Taylor's mix of mostly 90s guitar music flavored with occasional hip hop and dance music in the alternative realm won out. By the time Infinity bought and changed the station to classic rock in 1998, KOME had not only moved ahead of KSJO in the San Jose Arbitron, but in the San Francisco book as well, ahead of Live 105. Jay Taylor and other staff members, along with the syndicated Howard Stern show, then moved to Live 105. Ally Storm remained in middays following Howard Stern. She had previously done nights at KWOD 106.5 in Sacramento.
Bay Area radio veteran Paul "The Lobster" Wells, who worked at several Bay Area stations including KSAN, KQAK, KOME and KSJO says, "KSJO's impact on rock history is often overlooked, being in the shadow of its more celebrated North Bay neighbor KSAN. KSJO survived so long because it was strong. Its dedication to the style of 4/4 time rock music set the mold for what (XM Satellite Radio's) Lee Abrams termed modal programming as a consultant in the late 70s and the 'classic rock that really rocks' stations of today. In my tenure as Music Director and Assistant PD from 1976-1980, we were instrumental in breaking new acts including AC/DC, The Ramones, The Police, Tom Petty and many others. KSJO continued to mix new and old, rock until its untimely death at age 36." Lobster went on to host a popular morning show from 1988 to 1992 on KRQR called "The Lobster Breakfast." Lobster has since been involved with the nationally syndicated radio show Lobster's Rock Box.
KSAN, which called itself Jive 95, briefly faced competion when a disco station flipped to rock. KGO-FM had briefly tried from 1978 to 1980 to capitalize on disco's dominance of the pop charts. ABC then flipped to station to an adult-leaning rocker with new call letters, KSFX. But both rockers soon disappeared, which opened the door for KFOG to assume the heritage rock position in the market.
One of the most legendary radio stations in the market does not show up in the ratings simply because Arbitron does not include public stations in its published reports to commercial stations. That legendary public station is KPFA in Berkeley, which became the first station in the country to operate as freeform radio with the birth of the Pacifica Radio Network in 1949 founded by journalist Lewis Hill. In the fifties the station put Bay Area beat poets such as Alan Ginsberg in the spotlight. Shortly before Ginsberg's death in 1997, Ginsberg was featured as a spoken word performaer with a band at Live 105's December 1996 "Winter Ball."
Bands of the Bay
The Beat poets and the subsequent "love generation" created national awareness of the "Haight-Ashbury" scene in San Francisco and the anti-war protest rallies of university students in Berkeley during the sixties and seventies. Due to the widespread popularity of that movement, San Francisco came to be known as a center of "peace and love." Bands that reflected this spirit which culminated in 1967 with the "Summer of Love" included the Grateful Dead, Santana, Big Brother & The Holding Company (with Janis Joplin), Jefferson Airplane, Creedence Clearwater Revival and many others who came to define album rock. In the seventies and eighties Bay Area bands continued to dominate the national scene with acts like the Doobie Brothers, Journey, Steve Miller Band, Tower of Power, Huey Lewis and the News, Boz Scaggs, Pablo Cruise and many others. Since the nineties the Bay Area's leading rock bands have been Metallica (originally from Los Angeles) and Green Day.
Music fans move to the FM dial
KFRC's dominance in the sixties and seventies delivering national hits to popular music fans was followed by the technological advances of FM transmission such as better reception in the late seventies. Clean sounding stereo signals had become more enjoyable than the static-driven properties of AM waves. While this was happening, disco music flooded the charts and San Francisco became a key market in the disco music explosion. Following the lead of WKTU/New York, ABC station KSFX (103.7) became San Francisco's first all disco station in 1978. KFRC-AM then moved to an all dance format in the early eighties under the programming of Gerry Cagle, who had previously delivered the hits at KHJ in Los Angeles. The popularity of dance music and beat mixing grew throughout the eighties. From the mid-seventies through 1977, KFRC's sister FM station was 106.1 KFRC-FM.
KMEL rose to claim the hit music crown in the late eighties. Two very successful programmers who were instrumental in bringing KMEL to its market leadership were Program Director Keith Naftaly and Music Director Hosh Gurelli. Both later became A&R personnel at Arista Records under Clive Davis. As disco-oriented crossover dance music began to overshadow most other music on the charts from the late seventies on, due to format splintering, KFRC moved to dance music in the early eighties. In 1986, after a failed game show format and a brief return to CHR, flipped to Sinatra-type artists while KMEL, once a rock station, emerged as the top 40 leader. Around the same time KITS gave up the top 40 battle to became Live 105.
From MOR to Adult Contemporary
Certain terms, even though they may be commonplace, can become defunct in an industry. In the radio industry the term "top 40" became "contemporary hit radio" while MOR or "middle of the road" became "adult contemporary." The idea of the format is to provide a relaxing background atmosphere with popular songs. Whether it's been MOR, AC or some other soft format, the Bay Area has always had plenty of laid back stations. In the sixties several stations offered this adult targeted programming, including KSFO, KCBS, KFOG. Perhaps Jim Gabbert's KIOI in the seventies can be regarded as the station that transformed MOR into what it became, known as Adult Contemporary. The difference may be thought of this way: MOR was much more based on pop standards flavored with current/recurrent music that fit in with the classics, whereas AC became the other way around as classics were sprinkled in to fit the mold of more contemporary adult hits.
In the fifties and sixties the MOR leader, as well as overall number one station in the market was KSFO. By the seventies the MOR leader was KIOI and KNBR and in the eighties it was KYUU. In 1983 Bonneville purchased 1260 KYA and changed it into KOIT AM, a simulcast of the FM, which has been the AC leader since the eighties. In the seventies and eighties KNBR also participated in the format and featured the popular morning show of Frank Dill, which later became Frank and Mike. In the eighties, one might call KLOK-FM an "experimental adult contemporary" station with its "Yes/No Radio" format from 1984 to 1987. Listeners were invited to call in and vote on the playlist, but it somehow wound up buried in history. In the nineties several fragmented forms of the adult pop format began to appear, including the "modern AC" format at 97.3 Alice. KIOI (formerly known as K-101) became Star 101 in 2000 and has been a hybrid of AC and (eighties) oldies since then.
In October 1978 NBC Radio hired Walter Sabo as Executive VP of their FM radio division, which included stations in New York (WYNY), Chicago (WKQX), Washington DC (WKYS) and San Francisco (KYUU). The 99.7 FM signal had been the home of news station KNAI. Sabo flipped it to adult contemporary station KYUU. What made the station different from the rest of the dial at the time was that the thinking was top 40 for adults, fusing in top 40 elements such as jingles, big promotions and upbeat jocks. Core artists included baby boomer favorites the Beatles and the Beach Boys, mixed in with current pop ballads. From its first Arbitron ratings book on, KYUU was a hit in the Bay and did well throughout the eighties. From 1982 to 1988 Don Bleu did mornings on the station and pulled strong ratings. In 1988 NBC sold the station to Emmis, who changed it to X100, a contemporary hits station that would some day reside with the ghosts of radio's distant past.
The Bay goes soul in the 80s
The mainstream hit stations of the Bay Area in the 1980s turned out to be stations that leaned heavily toward r&b dance music while those that tried to go pop - ended up picking another format. San Francisco was ahead of the national trend to present top 40 hits as a dance format with heavy emphasis on beats. KFRC-AM under Gerry Cagle began the shift toward dance music when he arrived in 1980. By 1983 music stations on AM were completely overshadowed by the FM dial. A top music station in town throughout the decade was urban KSOL (107.7). Only when KMEL began to move toward beats and rap music did KSOL's empire begin its slide. By the end of the eighties KMEL was the top music station in the Bay and KSOL was further down the list. KMEL, like a growing number of stations in America, continued to report to the industry as a "CHR" station, but the sound of the station was mainly hip hop and slow jams.
The Beat Goes On
KMEL has outlived competitors, although it became part of a Clear Channel combo with KYLD (Wild) in 2000. In San Jose KHQT (Hot 97) served as a solid competitor to KMEL during the late eighties and early nineties, although it eventually became a simulcast of KFOG as 97.7 KFFG. Back in the eighties, as hit radio was transforming into dance beats, Hot 97.7 did well in San Jose over the more pop-oriented KWSS (94.5).
KXXX (X100) first appeared in 1989 after Emmis bought KYUU from NBC. X100 was easily knocked off by KMEL in the early nineties. X100 was more pop-oriented than the more soulful KMEL. X100's Music Director at the time was Gene "Bean" Baxter, who would go on to be part of the "Kevin & Bean" morning show on KROQ in Los Angeles. Don Bleu, who had done mornings at KYUU for six years, remained in mornings at the new station for awhile and was later replaced briefly by Peter B. Collins and Michael Knight, who were succeeded by KWSS morning team Kelly & Kline - all within the same year. They also faced changes at the PD position in a short time frame, first Bill Richards, then Dan O'Toole.
One of X100's biggest problems may have been that listeners couldn't find them, especially since the dial position was 99.7 FM. Another example of something the station did that made no sense was at KMEL's Summer Jam concert festival in 1989 at the outdoor Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View. X100 hired a plane to fly over the crowd with the banner "Congratulations, KMEL - Your friends at X-100." The ratings stayed flat around 2.5 for X100. The frequency inevitably became KFRC-FM. Don Bleu moved on to mornings at KIOI.
In the mid-nineties the battle for the hits became interesting as KSOL changed owners to Evergreen Media, who flipped the format from Spanish to contemporary hit radio. The new hit station in 1994 was KYLD, known as Wild 107. By the end of the decade, after a few ownership changes, not only was Wild beating KMEL, but both stations were owned by the same company. AMFM was the leading radio company at the time and in 2000 became Clear Channel, which continued to be the top radio company through the middle of the decade, owning KMEL and KYLD. Also appearing in the late nineties CHR battle was Bonneville's KZQZ (Z95), which flipped to classic rock as "The Drive" in 2002 (they tried mixing marginal pop with Led Zeppelin and it didn't work then they changed to country, which also got low ratings, so it became "Max" in 2005).
KMEL's morning show throughout the nineties consisted of (MC) Sway and (DJ) King Tech. It all started in 1991 when they won a DJ battle that rewarded them with a 15 minute live mix on KMEL. After that, the station kept asking them back until they finally became the regular morning show. The show gained such a massive following that it went into national syndication beginning in July 1994. In the 2000s they are now heard in about twenty markets, with an estimated audience of 11 million listeners. The Wake Up Show, is a syndicated dance mix featuring Sway, King Tech, DJ Revolution and Carmelita, which began national syndication in 1996. They've added to their notoriety by issuing a series of mix shows on CD called Sway & King Tech Wake Up Show Freestyles. As of 2005 the series is up to volume eight.
In the early nineties Mancow Muller was Wild's morning host and made headlines with a Bay Bridge stunt meant to mock a Bill Clinton incident that backed up traffic because the President demanded a haircut. Mancow moved on to Chicago radio and after landing mornings at Q101 his show went into national syndication. Z95's morning show was Gene and Julie, who became the morning show at KIOI (Star) in the 2000s. KMEL claimed a new morning show in 2001 with the Baka Boys, which only lasted six months into 2002, succeeded by Chuy Gomez.
Wild's morning show since 1995 had been the Doghouse through April 2005, created by Jeff Vandergrift aka JV at Hot 97.7/San Jose in 1994. After Hot 97.7 sold, the Doghouse moved to Wild. The Doghouse was JV, Elvis and Hollywood.
Considered by fans and critics to be shock jocks, the Doghouse shook up a San Jose school district by encouraging a student "sick out" as reported by the San Jose Mercury News on March 23, 2005, the day after about 900 students in the school district actually skipped class. It was a protest against the district issuing warning notices to teachers that more jobs would be lost than expected due to a projected ten million dollar deficit. After Wild's management was warned by the school district that they were losing more money due to the walkout, management attempted to discourage the morning show from taking it further. The show only lasted one more month after the incident.
Despite the great ratings among young listeners, the Doghouse show did not return to Wild after Friday, April 22, 2005. The following week the San Jose Mercury News reported that the Doghouse had featured on their show members of the San Francisco Renegades Drum and Bugle Corps on Thursday, April 21 (the day prior to their final show). From that on-air visit a complaint was filed by the organization against the morning show, claiming that they were subjected to verbal abuse by the Doghouse while trying to promote an annual fundraiser. A few days later Wild PD Dennis Martinez issued a statement that the station "decided to go in a new direction" and the morning team's contract was not renewed. In the wake of several other stations across the stations being facing heavy five figure indecency fines ordered by the FCC, the path of least resistance has been a taming of the airwaves.
Dance music fans have experienced a series of format and ownership changes at the 92.7 dial position, which originally was jazz station KJAZ since the fifties. It had been a simulcast frequency in the nineties for San Jose's KSJO, owned by Clear Channel, which allowed the rock station to cover San Francisco. It became KPTI "The Party" in 2002 and then went hip hop for six months in 2004 as "Power 92.7" under the ownership of Three Point Media. It was acquired later in the year by a new independent company called Flying Bear Media, which changed the station identity on October 2, 2004 to "Energy 92.7," being the Bay Area's exclusive station dedicated to electronic dance music. Within weeks the call letters changed to KNGY.
Energy 92.7 is run by Joe Bayliss, son of John Bayliss, who was President of the radio divisions of both Gannett Broadcasting and Charter Communications in the seventies and eighties. Joe had been a market manager for Clear Channel and Infinity before venturing into his own station. Prior to the arrival of John Peake, Chris Shebel served as the initial Program Director. Shebel formerly worked at legendary hit station WLS in Chicago during the eighties. He also programmed a Chicago dance station called "Energy" from 2001 to 2003. Energy's morning host Fernando Ventura, who started in March 2005, formerly worked at crosstown Z95 when it played contemporary hits. From 1997 to 1998 he did nights at Z95 and then mornings from 1998 to 1999 before moving to Dallas radio to work at KHKS, where he worked with Joey V and Greg the Gay Sportscaster, who joined "Fernando in the Morning" a few months after the new show's launch. Joey V arrived in 2005 as well.
The independent dance station went through a period of accelerated evolution throughout 2005. In June the station completely abandoned its studios in Oakland and moved to Downtown San Francisco. The new location, at Harrison and 2nd Street, was previously occupied by Bonneville. So in a sense, Fernando "came home" to the same studios where he worked at Z95 in the late nineties. KNGY's tower was on Russian Hill and delivered a signal that could only cover San Francisco and parts of the North Bay and East Bay. In the summer the engineers moved the tower to Mount Sutro, the highest point in San Francisco to experiment with increasing coverage. For those who could not get the signal, it was broadcast online at Energy927fm.com and on Comcast cable channel 964. Comcast also delivers most of the popular Bay Area FM stations.
Several voices came and went throughout the year, with the very notable Brandon, who worked evenings 7-11p before Trevor Simpson the Late Night Freak's show. Brandon progammed a similar dance station in Toledo, Ohio, as well as being part of a short-lived Los Angeles dance station, Mega 100. Brandon became closely involved with Energy's programming on an interim basis throughout the second half of 2005. Consultant Don Parker, of Parker Communications, has overseen the programming of several dance stations around the country, including stations in Houston, Phoenix and Las Vegas. By the end of the year Alice @ 97.3's head of programming, John Peake, who also had experience in programming the dance format, was named Energy's Program Director.
Bay Area radio stations beginning with KMEL in the late eighties have offered dance mixes during specialty shows. Cameron Paul was KMEL's early guru of mixes and remixes that set the station apart from everyone else in the market. The concept of airing dance mixes on radio had its origins in New York's WKTU and San Francisco's KSFX in the late seventies during the eruption of the disco era. It was a short-lived station called Disco 104 that inevitably became smooth jazz station KKSF. KMEL has had several hip hip mix shows in the 2000s by DJs such as Jay Plus, Mind Motion, Rick "Dragon-Style" Lee, Scott Fox, Ol Dirty Chan and Chris the Rebel.
Independent Radio Owners
KNGY was one of the last independently owned stations in the Bay when it sold to another independent owner in 2009. The new owner, Golden State Broadcasting, headed by Ed Stolz, who lost KWOD in Sacramento to Entercom in a legal dispute, immediately dropped the dance format and flipped the format to straight top 40. Call letters became KREV and the station called its "The Revolution." The format flip came on September 13, 2009, which created outrage among electronic dance fans and the gay community, as reported by the San Francisco Examiner.
Radio's involvement with corporate ownership or affiliation has been around since the beginning (as General Electric and Westinghouse were early pioneers in radio ownership). However, in the past there were many stories of local businesses and entrepreneurs owning radio stations in the Bay. By the 1960s and 1970s, corporate ownership was the norm but there were still independents. Since FCC deregulation in the 1980s and 1990s, independents have become very rare in the Bay - a region driven by innovation and independence from national norms.
One independent owner who made a mark in Bay Area media was Jim Gabbert, a Stanford University engineering major who launched KPEN (101.3 FM) as a pop station in 1957 with two partners. It had been the market's first new FM in eight years. The reason it was so groundbreaking was that it was not only the first licensed stereo station in America, it also became the first FM in the country to hit the top five in the ratings (prior to Arbitron's dominance when Hooper and Pulse provided radio ratings). KPEN's technological innovation was recognized by not only the Electronic Industry Association and the FCC, but also President John F. Kennedy, as KPEN was presented a prestigious award in 1962 by the National Press Club for making FM stereo a success.
Since the Bay Area sold more FM receivers than any other market in the country, it was the perfect place for Gabbert to experiment. KPEN consistently appeared in the Bay's top five in the late sixties, which put the station in the national spotlight among industry observers. Even at the peak of KMPX and KSAN, neither station ever beat Gabbert's station during the late sixties and early seventies.
As KFRC began to dominate the market for those who craved popular hits, Gabbert eventually changed the format from pop to classical. Then on December 1, 1968, in an effort to avoid confusion with the KEEN call letters, Gabbert changed the call letters to KIOI. At first the station mixed in more rock music to compete with KMPX and KSAN, neither of which were able to beat KIOI. Gabbert aggressively began promoting the call letters on busboards, another first for the market. The format then shifted toward catering to adult tastes. With this new identity, "K-101" was perhaps the first station in America to develop the Adult Contemporary format for adults in the 25-54 age group and it became number one in the demographic.
In the seventies Gabbert revolutionized the entire radio industry again as his station was the first in the country to develop circular polarization, which marked the key to FM reception in automobiles. Prior to this innovation, FM signals were very hard to pick up in moving vehicles, so without it, FM radio listening in cars would have never happened.
In 1979 Gabbert purchased KSAY (1010 AM) and changed the call letters to KIOI-AM, making the station a simulcast of the FM. Later the AM flipped to Spanish and became KIQI after he sold it to Rene de la Rosa. In 1979 Gabbert also bought KPIG-FM, a Honolulu station, not to be confused with the Monterey station. He sold all four stations to buy KEMO-TV (Channel 20) in San Francisco, which became WB 20. After further transactions, in 1998 he sold KOFY (1050 AM) and KDIA (1310 AM) along with WB 20.
Going beyond industry headlines in September 1980, Gabbert sold K-101 to Charter Communications, for the highest price paid in history at that time for an FM station. The station sold for $12.5 million, which was far ahead of the previous record of $5 million earlier that year in New York. The sale made headlines in The Wall Street Journal. It was a pretty lucrative turnaround, considering the initial investment of the station for Gabbert and each of his partners was $2000.
Gabbert was known for buying stations, upgrading them and selling them for a profit. For example, when he purchased KOFY from Doug Pledger, it was a 1 kw daytimer. It became the dominant Spanish station in the market from 1992 to 1998, during which time he upgraded the power to 50,000 watts day and night. Gabbert, the founder of the National Radio Broadcasters Association, is now Chairman of the Emergency Alert System (in which the FCC requires all stations to be dialed into for emergency purposes) and does occasional fill-in work on KGO. Considering the audience he reached with his stations and his daring innovations, there is no question that Gabbert and his associates can easily be thought of as representing the pinnacle of independent ownership in American radio history.
The scramble to save terrestrial radio
In the 2000s terrestrial (traditional AM and FM) radio faces huge challenges from new media. Radio listening no longer seems as important to culture as it did in the past up until the mid-nineties. Now consumers of music and information have an expanded amount of choices compared with the past. The two satellite radio channels XM and Sirius are rapidly growing in subscriber base. Apple's iPod has become a monster hit for people who want to store 10,000 songs on a handheld unit and create their own playlists. Podcasting - the audio version of blogging - is becoming its own culture, so much that Infinity Broadcasting decided to launch a station (KYCY 1550 AM) in May 2005 devoted completely to "open source" podcasts from the public called "KYOU Radio."
Apple's iTunes Music Store has also dominated legal online music downloading, with Napster, Real Networks and other websites offering similar downloading services. Emmis Broadcasting President Jeff Smulyan told the industry in early 2005 that he was more concerned about the iPod than satellite radio as a threat to terrestrial radio. A few months later Sirius announced it would devote a channel to podcasting. In 2006 Sirius becomes the home of Howard Stern, whose syndicated morning show is carried on Live 105.
Radio has also been hurt by corporate greed. Prior to the Telecom Act of 1996 there were limits as to how many commercials could be run per hour on a radio station, but deregulation left the decision on spots per hour up to the station. Many stations went overboard. The Telecom Act also relaxed ownership limits, allowing radio companies to grow beyond 40 stations per chain nationally and up to 7 stations in a market. In some cases, big chains were able to exceed maximum limits through loopholes (as in marketing agreements or under different business names). The previous limit had been two FMs and two AMs per owner in any market. The result was the arrival of a few big players - who bought out a lot of smaller players - and went on to dominate the industry.
The two big radio groups who both have several stations in the biggest markets are Clear Channel and Infinity. Clear Channel became the biggest radio group after acquiring AMFM in 2000, as the company grew to 1200 stations, representing about a tenth of the entire U.S. radio industry. In 2004 Clear Channel decided to cut back on commercials with a "less is more" campaign. This led partly to the company's year to year first quarter profits falling in half, as reported in April 2005. Clear Channel responded by restructuring the company. Even before these changes, Clear Channel initiated a cost-cutting business model of replacing jocks (especially in the non-rated overnight hours) with automation. In many cases the company had one person cut voice tracks for several stations in the chain in order to eliminate high paid personalities.
Many radio fans and critics say that corporate consolidation has ruined what radio used to be, which was local, community-minded and personality-oriented. The idea that the public owned the airwaves and that radio was a community service, as historically defined by the FCC, became overshadowed by the effects of the Telecom Act. Corporate leaders began putting the pressure on their market executives to emphasize sales and marketing over programming at their stations. Commercial stopsets then began to grow, as playlists shrank and became more reflective of record promoters who engineered high budget promotion deals with stations, despite a decline in music industry sales, leading to the airwaves being flooded with recordings that are less mass appeal than hits in previous decades.
In an effort to save a sinking industry, there has been a mad rush in the 2004-2005 period to create new formats based on unpredictability. The "Jack format" has been spreading across the United States (from Canada) during this period. Several stations are now calling themselves "Jack," "Bob," "Dave," among other names, and playing a wider variety of hits, particularly from the seventies and eighties. Radio formats splintered considerably in the eighties and nineties to the point where stations began playing a lot of marginal records that simply fit a sound or genre as opposed to meeting a demand. Record sales have also slumped since the late nineties (which labels blame mostly on illegal downloading off the internet).
Jack, which has performed well in some markets such as Dallas, rolls over format barriers and has an image of a rule-breaker. As early as the fall of 2004 rumors began spreading that Jack (or something like it) would be coming to the Bay Area. In May 2005 Bonneville dropped country for "Max," another spinoff of the Jack idea, which was trying to break established radio industry rules to combat the criticism that radio had become too stale and predictable.
Meanwhile, internet radio stations are popping up all the time and podcasting is growing. The "iPod Shuffle" which is a mini version of the iPod, but with a button that shuffles the playlist, pretty much sums up where consumer tastes are at the moment. People want more and more to listen to their own programming, as the shuffle button gives people control to change the mix. By early 2006 Apple had sold over 42 million iPods, far exceeding the combined total of XM and Sirius subscribers. In other words, the iPod has been the clear winner of capturing the hearts and minds of people looking for alternative listening streams. So where does that leave terrestrial radio?
On May 15, 2005 Infinity Broadcasting, which later went back to calling itself CBS Radio, made radio history by introducing the first podcast station based on public submissions. They coined the new format "open source" and named the station "KYOU Radio" at 1550 AM. The overall sound is a stream of unsigned or under-played music mixed with a wide spectrum of subject matter that includes art, technology, philosophy and social commentary. The station's quality control over programming while allowing public input brings a breath of fresh air to the Bay Area airwaves, that a radio station actually trusts its audience to create a compelling sound. Who would have thought that the return of freeform would be on AM instead of FM? This time, however, the audience has taken over the airwaves. In that sense, freeform seems more futuristic than nostalgic.
One can only guess the future of any industry. A calculated guess based on the growing evidence suggests that the survivors of this decade will be the stations that merge and don't try to compete with new technology. Interactivity (which talk radio already embraces), portability, convertibility, personalization and on-demand are keys to where the new thinking is headed in the expanding field of popular media. Some radio groups have already prepared themselves for the road that lies ahead. Others will learn where they went wrong by reading about themselves in this report, which will continue to document radio's developments as time goes on.
San Francisco FM Dial 1990
San Francisco AM Dial 1995
San Francisco FM Dial 1995
San Francisco AM Dial 2000
San Francisco FM Dial 2000
Where have all the call letters gone?
Here's a look at where classic San Francisco call letters ended up as of 2005:
KBCD - nowhere in radio
KBGG - Des Moines, IA
KDN - nowhere in radio
KEWB - Anderson, CA (covering Redding)
KFAT - Anchorage, AL
KHQT - Las Cruces, NM
KJAZ - Thorndale, TX
KJBS - nowhere in radio
KKCY - Colusa, CA
KLS - nowhere in radio
KLX - nowhere in radio
KMPX - nowhere in radio
KNAI - Phoenix, AZ
KNBC - Los Angeles TV station
KOBY - nowhere in radio
KPO - nowhere in radio
KQAK - Bend, OR
KQW - nowhere in radio
KPEN - Soldotna, AK
KPUP - Patagonia, AZ
KRE - nowhere in radio
KROW - nowhere in radio but resurfaced in WB series "Smallville"
KRPM - Houston, AK
KSFR - Santa Fe, NM
KRQR - Orland, CA (covering Chico)
KSFX - Roswell, NM
KTAB - nowhere in radio
KWSS - Scottsdale, AZ
KXXX - Colby, KS (covering Witchita)
KYA - used by "Oldies Radio" KYAA (1200 AM) in Soquel, CA (covering central coast)
KYUU - Liberal, KS
KZQZ - nowhere in radio
San Francisco Bay Area AM & FM Radio Dial
Note: if you were part of Bay Area radio history as a pro or a listener and you think something needs to be added to this ever-growing page, please feel free to send info.
- My own experience, growing up visiting the Bay Area and working in Sacramento radio and radio research from writing for industry trade publications - Alex Cosper
- Federal Communications Commission
- San Francisco Chronicle
- Oakland Tribune
- San Jose Mercury News
- Raechel Donahue
- Jim Gabbert
- Big Rick Stuart: bigrick.fm
- Paul "The Lobster" Wells: flowstream.com, lobstersrockbox.com
- radio discussion groups
- Robert Young, classical radio listener
- Richard Sands, The Sands Report
- MtAltra (TangentSunset.com)
- Gerry Cagle, MusicBiz.com
- The Hits Just Keep Coming by Ben Fong-Torres, Miller Freeman Books, 1998.
- "Voices From the Fog - A History of Broadcasting in the San Francisco Bay Area" by John Schneider - http://users.adams.net/~jfs/
- "A Chronology of AM Radio Broadcasting" - demajo.net/radio/timeline.htm
- "United States Early Radio History" by Thomas H. White - http://earlyradiohistory.us
- Warner Bros.com
- Bob Sherwood
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