San Francisco Bay Area Radio History: 1980s
by Alex Cosper

Introduction 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s

see also American Radio History

see also Freeform Radio, KSAN, KMPX, Tom Donahue Story

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, reflected in 2005 for this history project: "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.

Evolution of Rock Radio

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, "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 Delivers Modern Rock

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, 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."

KMEL Becomes the New Sound of Top 40

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.

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.

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.

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.

Introduction 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s

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