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).
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."
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.