Interview with Radio Legend Dave Sholin

by Alex Cosper

Conducted June-September 2015 via email

Dave Sholin has had an incredible career in the radio and music industries. He is currently on the air throughout Central Oregon on KSJJ doing the afternoon show. We'll talk about his career, which includes the legendary KFRC in San Francisco, working as a promotion executive for some major labels, hosting nationally syndicated shows, the final interview he conducted with John Lennon and Yoko Ono and more. Dave, thanks for joining me today.

Dave: Good to connect with you Alex and thanks for inviting me to share a few thoughts.

Alex: Dave, before we get into your career, you are well known to many radio listeners across the nation and many people are aware you did the final interview with John Lennon hours before his death. We'll talk later how you secured that interview, but first I'm curious what kind of impact in retrospect that conversation has had on you emotionally.

Dave: At the time everything happened in such rapid succession, interviews with media, getting the special voiced and produced (could not have done it without Laurie Kaye's spot on script writing skills and brilliant production from Ron Hummel). The following Sunday the world stopped for a moment of silence and KFRC went silent as well. I took a walk to a nearby park and at that hour is when I was overcome with emotion and the true scope of all that transpired. All these years later there is still that surreal feeling of the hours and weeks that followed. As to impact? Never take one day for granted and appreciate the time we all have with family and friends.

Alex: You've actually interviewed many other famous musical celebrities. Who have been some of the main ones that have stood out?

Dave: At the risk of omitting someone I'd include Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart, Mariah Carey, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Bette Midler. And in the non-musical category two standouts during the Gavin days at our seminars .. Clive Davis and Ahmet Ertegun!

Alex: Dave, I understand the roots of your radio career began at San Francisco State University. Tell us how that shaped your early radio career.

Dave: It's not by accident that so many TV and radio personalities are SF State grads. The broadcasting department boasted a faculty (and still does) of professors with experience both in the classroom and the real world. We also had our own Top 40 station that could be heard on campus, in nearby neighborhoods and in the dorms. As PD and being on air I had the chance to experiment and learn what works and the pitfalls to avoid.

Alex: What were some highlights of San Jose station KLIV where you were the Music Director and what was its importance in the Bay Area back in the sixties?

Dave: My time at KLIV was mostly 70s but in the 60s they were the "Surf Station" and super involved in the community. As for highlights as MD .. it was big fun breaking songs and hearing them on our competition .. KFRC and KYA weeks later. First gold record was "Eighteen" but two standouts were playing "B" sides and forcing labels to make 'em "A" sides .. most memorable .. "Crazy Mama" by JJ Cale and "Do You Know What I Mean" by Lee Michaels. And blowing up the phones when I got Donny Osmond to call in on his 16th birthday!! Crazy afternoon.

Alex: You're considered to be a pioneer of the "Hot AC" format in the radio industry based on what you did at KARA (105.7 FM) in San Jose. How was that different than what had been known as the MOR (middle of the road) adult format?

Dave: When owner Bob Kieve bought the station it was an automated "big band" format. Great signal .. no audience. We wanted to super-serve adult females. Bob, myself, John McLeod sat in the production room at KLIV for weeks going through dozens of songs to come up with a playlist .. mixture of recurrents and gold with a few currents. Women loved it but so did the guys as the numbers kept growing.

Alex: How did you get the job as Music Director at the legendary RKO-owned 610 KFRC in San Francisco, the top 40 station that influenced so many stations across the country?

Dave: Actually Paul Drew .. then PD of KFRC had called me a few years before to offer me a position at KFRC, but I declined since I really didn't think I was ready. Then when Michael Spears became PD and Paul was the National PD for RKO he brought my name up to Michael who called and simply said .. "We have to meet. The San Jose market is growing fast and you are kicking our ass so we want to "buy you" and bring you to KFRC." It was actually a very tough decision since I really did not want to leave KLIV, Bob Kieve and our staff. But in the end just too big of an opportunity to pass up. If I could've kept both jobs I would have!

(left) KFRC van, (right) Harry Nelson with Dave Sholin

Alex: You were named Music Director of the Year by Billboard. What do you consider to be some of your other great achievements at KFRC leading up to being named RKO's National Music Director?

Dave: One of the awards I'm most proud of is the Gavin Award as Music Director Of The Year especially since I had only been at the station for about a year. We broke a lot of songs .. Three Degrees, George McCrae, "Beach Baby," "Radar Love" and one I'll always be especially proud of since I was questioned about its pop accessibility .. Dorothy Moore and "Misty Blue," which ended up being a number one song in the Bay Area .. nothing more fun than walking a new song into the studio with listeners and jocks going ape sh*t over it.

Alex: I consider Dr. Don Rose to be a major part of KFRC's heyday, as I listened to his morning show in the late 70s growing up in Sacramento. KFRC's signal covered a lot of Northern California. Describe KFRC's influence on the radio industry in its heyday.

Dave: No doubt that when Dr. Don arrived from Philadelphia in late 1973 the entire landscape of Bay Area changed. Lots of skeptics said his act was way too corny for the ultra hip Bay Area. Everyone quickly found out the dark truth .. the Bay Area ain't that hip and ratings soared in his first book and just got bigger. And you'd be hard pressed to find a classier, humble family man than the late Dr. Don. But it was the staff at KFRC that made it so successful. General Manager Pat Norman gave the programmers the freedom and the budget to win. Every element .. the jocks, programming, news, promotion/marketing, sales, public affairs, production, engineering and of course music, were all vitally important and each of those departments accepted nothing but the best. It was giving 110% all the time. Randy Michaels once told me the best audio he ever heard came out of KFRC and if anyone knows that world of engineering it's Randy.

Alex: Music executive Bob Catania, who I've interviewed, says you have an interesting story to tell about the first time you saw The Knack, who had the biggest hit of 1979, "My Sharona."

Dave: It was a crazy day for sure. At the time our corporate office was on the corner of Sunset & Vine just a few blocks from the Capitol Tower. As it turned out I was racing out the door to catch a flight to London to interview Paul McCartney who, after years on Capitol had just released his first album on Columbia. I get a call from then head of Promotion Bruce Wendell and VP Promo Steve Meyer that they have a song I have to hear and they'll be right over to play it (no mp3s back then) so please hang on .. they're rushing over. That was the first time hearing "My Sharona" and it only took about 30 seconds before I blurted out .. "THAT is going on all our stations when I get back .. what a smash." Next thing I know our production whiz Ron Hummel (who puts together and records all our RKO radio specials) is walking down a street in London and we decide to check out some of the clubs. We walk into the first one .. climb down some steps and who is on stage? The Knack singing "My Sharona" surrounded by a few hundred kids jumping up and down and screaming. Later on in the club I see A&R chief Don Zimmerman who is floored that I'm there and just walked in by chance. Guess it was meant to happen.

Alex: RKO eventually promoted you to the position of National Music Director. What were your responsibilities and what did that mean to you?

Dave: I was truly honored when then RKO President Dwight Case, VP of Programming Paul Drew and KFRC GM Pat Norman informed me that I was the person chosen for that esteemed postion. I met with all the label heads each week on new releases, interfaced with all our PDs and MDs around the country, traveled to the various markets and reviewed their music libraries offering suggestions on various categories. Also oversaw our artist music specials (doing interviews with artists and getting them to Ron Hummel at KFRC who produced each special) reported all weekly playlists to the various trades (no music tracking back then) checked with a network of key stations outside of RKO and trade information, tracked single and album sales, organized PD meetings/getways at various locations around the country and made sure the profile of the company was kept front and center for the industry. For the first year and half I actually commuted between SF and LA since I had an agreement that allowed me to stay in SF four days a week .. (Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday) and then I'd jump on a flight to LA Tuesday morning and head back to SF late Thursday. Finally I relented and moved to LA fulltime.

Alex: What was the impact on the radio industry of RKO launching a satellite network in 1979?

Dave: Some incredibly talented folks providing stations with content and talent that would have been out of reach at the time. It opened the door and proved the possibilities available on "the bird."

Alex: How were you able to get the interview with John Lennon in 1980? It was his first radio interview in five years and sadly would be his last. Had you met him before?

Dave: I will always be grateful to David Geffen for inviting me to his office in late summer of 1980 to hear a "new song" .. Didn't tell me who I was listening to but the song he played was "Starting Over" and it floored me. Then David revealed it was John and this was the first single from a new album that would be released later in the year. Of course I was beyond thrilled and honored when he asked if I'd be interested in interviewing John and Yoko and putting together a radio special. Some months later I received a call at the Gavin Magazine office and it was from Yoko who wanted to set a date for the interview. We settled on December 8th.

Hear more David Sholin interviews with John Lennon

Alex: Tell us about your role overseeing the audio production of "The Beatles: From Liverpool to Legend."

Dave: That began with a phone call from then RKO VP Programming Paul Drew. He said to meet him at the airport lounge at SFO. Over lunch we discussed the dozens and dozens of taped interviews Paul had collected over the years with not only John, Paul, George and Ringo, but many of the key players like George Martin who worked alongside them. Paul met the band in the early days when he worked in Atlanta and both he and his wife Ann remained close with them for many years. He had a vision of turning all this material into a comprehensive radio special and basically said .. "You'll be executive producer. Put together a team and get me a completed show." Soon after, boxes of tapes were arriving at the station and I'm thinking .. "oh boy .. this is going to be some task." Just going through the tapes (many not ID'd) took a great deal of time and effort. Luckily I was surrounded by amazing talent at KFRC, so I enlisted Ron Hummel (now at i-Heart San Francisco) to produce and engineer the project, Laurie Kaye, who is in our newsroom at KFRC to write the script and the great John Mack Flanagan to voice. After months (and most weekends spent in the production studio at KFRC) we had a completed program that we're all very proud of to this day.

Alex: Your radio experience led to you becoming a partner and editor in the radio/music trade magazine the Gavin Report from 1984 through 1993. I remember talking with you on the phone frequently about music while I was KWOD/Sacramento PD in the 90s. Tell us about the Gavin experience, which included awesome annual radio conventions in San Francisco.

Dave: I was honored when the late Bill Gavin, founder of The Gavin Report and GM Ron Fell called me in LA and asked if I was interested in moving back to San Francisco and joining Gavin as Top 40 Editor. Everyone there was like family and no one in the industry was respected more than Bill Gavin. Several years later Bill offered some of us working there a chance to purchase the publication. He knew that we would not allow anything to diminish the high standards he set since beginning "the sheet" in 1958. And for years it was several blue sheets, then small stapled pamphlet-like issues each week and eventually we turned into a full fledged weekly glossy magazine. Re-launching the Gavin Conventions in the mid 80s was so rewarding, from starting with around 500 attendees at the Fairmont Hotel and a few years later over 2,000 at the St.Francis Hotel. Very gratifying and hopefully we made a difference and helped both members of the radio and music community by shaking things up a bit with speakers from outside the realm of our industry and honoring top professionals both past, present and future.

Alex: While working at Gavin, you actually returned to KFRC in 1984 as an on-air PD. How were you able to balance those two incredibly high profile jobs at the same time?

Dave: Made for long days that's for sure but the daily radio experience gave me a much better insight to the issues facing programmers and on air talent and I brought that with me each day to Gavin in conversations with all my radio pals. Just had to plan out each day and draw a line between the two .. and after a month or so figured out a routine that worked. A juggling act for sure and boredom was not one of the things that ever concerned me!

Alex: Another result of your radio background led to hosting nationally syndicated radio shows such as Countdown USA for Westwood One and The Insider for Premiere Radio. What are some fond memories of those shows?

Dave: Well along with those there was also a show called Fast Track, which also aired in Japan. Always loved getting mail or back in the day, a fax, from a listener in a town I'd never heard of, writing to say how much they enjoy hearing the countdown, keeping track of the songs and requesting a photo. Gotta love those pre-internet website and streaming days. And of course getting to something in the script that would crack us all up and about 10 takes later finally getting it done. Best part was the team of awesome pros .. folks like Jo Interrante, Rob Sisco, Ron Hummel, Sully Roddy, Tim Kelly, Steve Lehman and Ray De La Garza.

Alex: What was your reaction to being recognized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995?

Dave: Total surprise but think I owe my pals Raechel Donahue, Bonnie Simmons and Ben Fong-Torres for helping to make that happen. But about 10 years ago took my family to the Hall in Cleveland and it was a proud moment when they heard and saw me in the section devoted to radio.

Alex: What prompted you to shift your attention to working for labels in 1998, in which you were a VP of Promotion for both Island and Capitol Records?

Dave: Anyone who has visited me at a station or at Gavin usually came to expect me playing some new song or songs I was excited for them to hear. I was doing the same thing as far back as grammar school. So guess I was born to do promotion and always wanted the opportunity to sit on the other side of the desk and bring great new songs and artists to programmers. Often can be frustrating but so rewarding to hear those songs run up the chart and get on the air.

Alex: I understand you were the first personality to be hired by CBS for the return of KFRC in the Bay when it landed on the FM dial at 106.9 in 2007. What are some highlights of that era when you were the morning show host?

Dave: Along with bringing back those call letters and giving exposure to great classic hits that hadn't been played in a long time it was working with an awesome team .. as we said more than a few times "putting the band back together." Getting to work with my longtime pals Mike Preston, Tim Jordan, Sue Hall, Jay Coffey, Steve Moore, Mark Nieto was beyond big fun. And a highlight for me will always be getting to know and work with my co-host, the truly talented Celeste Perry. Very proud of the morning radio we brought to the Bay Area.

(left to right) James Baker (morning show producer), Sue Hall (middays), Dave Sholin (mornings), Jonathan Cain of Journey, Celeste Perry (morning co-host) and KFRC PD Tim Jordan

Alex: Tell us how you got your nickname "The Duke."

Dave: That was thanks for my very first "serious" high school girlfriend Darlene. She told me more than once that she was determined to make me "never forget her." She was right .. though knowing I was planning to be a DJ her name was "Duke Of The Discs" .. even had some business cards printed up for me. After a short time .. just shortened it and changed it to "The Duke" and "Your Duke."

Alex: Explain your relationship with talk station KGO in San Francisco, where you've been a guest numerous times on the Ronn Owens midday show.

Dave: At one time Ronn's wife Jan Black was in our newsroom at KFRC. I was a huge fan of Ronn's when he was doing nights at KGO and on Friday night would do "Oldies Trivia." In fact then KFRC PD Les Garland and I would hang out and call in trying to stump Ronn and his guests. I told Jan I'd love to get together with her, Ronn and my wife Debbie for a lunch or dinner some time. We did meet up and from that moment in the early 80s Ronn and I became and have remained very close friends. He would have Howie Klein come on as a regular music guest. Howie at the time was owner of 415 Music and when he moved to LA to become President of Reprise, Ronn asked me if I'd be interested in coming on every so often and talking Pop music. We'd count down the week's Top 10, take some calls and talk about new songs, tours coming to town, etc. For the record (no pun intended) no one loves music more than Ronn and he's always turning me onto to new stuff. I'm thrilled for him being inducted into the National Radio Hall Of Fame in November. Truly a well deserved honor.

Alex: What's it like being on the air in Oregon? That's where my original radio mentor Mr. Ed Lambert has worked. He, like myself, is one of your many admirers. It seems like a very peaceful place where people enjoy nature.

Dave: Thanks for the kind words, Alex. Well for starters after being in California with over 36 million people to Oregon with around 3 million is quite a transition. I'm in Central Oregon and the town of Bend has a lot of folks who've moved from Northern California. In fact I've had a few calls, one from the wife of a Jr. High teacher, who asked if I was the same guy who was on the air at KFRC. Told her I was and she said "my husband knew it .. said it had to be you." Mr. Ed (Lambert) is the reason I'm here .. he was PD, hired me for afternoon drive and it was great working with him. We could write a book with all the stories we shared every day. This is outdoor country for sure .. lots of people on bikes, rock climbing, out rafting or kayaking on the river, fishing, hunting, etc. You feel guilty just hanging indoors (well not that guilty .. lol). The thing that struck me immediately is how friendly everyone is in this community. Mellow, friendly and lots of folks smiling! Healthy lifestyle for sure.

Alex: Both the radio and music industries have gone through major changes over the years. What's your perspective on things like the Telecom Act and the downsizing of both industries?

Dave: I will never forget sitting at my desk at Gavin when word came down about the Telecom Bill passing and Bill Clinton signing it. I knew at that moment that things were about to change and not in a good way. It's led to fewer opportunities for those trying to enter the business in any capacity and in too many cases removed that ability of talent and programmers from making local decisions without getting approval from those higher up the food chain. It's been very financially rewarding to some buyers and sellers but that's about the only benefit that I've been able to witness.

Alex: Personally and professionally speaking, what do you love about radio the most?

Dave: Well let's just say in my single days being on the air was akin to having your own! .. But truly radio, whether on air or programming, offers the opportunity to paint on a blank canvas, create something that, whether through humor, information, emotion, excitement, will make a difference in a listener's day. And then there is that rush of being able to turn the audience on to some new, hot track. With so many music outlets that was a bit easier to do back in the day but there remains a whole lot of listeners who still count on radio to expose them to new music. Personally radio has given me the chance to meet and connect with so many unique and special personalities (on air and off). Still pinch myself, counting myself so fortunate to follow a career path I wanted since about the 4th grade!

Alex: Dave, thanks for sharing reflections on your radio, music and publishing career with us. What are your closing thoughts?

Dave: Well you sent along some excellent, thought provoking questions and appreciate the invite to share them with you and your readers. There is something so powerful about communication, whether in words or music. Social media through whatever source allows for additional ways of touching the audience but it's the immediacy of radio, the voice of someone LIVE AND LOCAL behind the mic that is critical to radio's success and keeping the next generation involved and connected. So critical that what comes out of the speakers is compelling, whether information or entertainment.

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