The Legend of KZAP
by Alex Cosper

The history of freeform radio (before 1968)
Early KZAP History (late sixties/early seventies)
The Peak of Radio Anarchy (early seventies)
Transition from Freeform to Album Rock (early to mid-seventies)
The Emerging FM Audience (late seventies)
KZAP Rules the Market (early eighties)
The Greatest Rock Battle...(mid-eighties to early nineties)
Reflecting on the Legend


1. Jeff Hughson Interview #1: The Dawn of Freeform Radio
2. Jeff Hughson Interview #2: The Birth of KZAP
3. Dennis Newhall Interview: 70s Freeform Radio
4. Robert Williams Interview #1: KZAP Programming
5. Robert Williams Interview #2: 70s Rock Scene


A revolution was going on everywhere when freeform rocker KZAP signed on the 98.5 FM dial position in 1968 with "Revolution" by the Beatles. Sacramento's top 40 battle on the AM dial was between
1240 KROY, 1470 KXOA and San Francisco AM stations 610 KFRC and 1260 KYA. KROY had become the market leader but not every young person wanted to hear top 40 radio. Progressive music fans called the mainstream "bubble gum" and wanted more experimental music that reached in new directions hosted by music authorities who had something more to say than upbeat one-liners over short song intros. KZAP brought them the freeform station of their dreams on November 8, 1968.

For nearly a quarter century the call letters KZAP would come to be synonymous with "rock" in Sacramento. The station began as a wild freefrom experimental alternative to the structured fast-paced jingly sound of top 40. Freeform stations had been popping up in America since the middle of the decade when the FCC made a decision to reduce the number of AM/FM simulcasts as a way to create new radio programming. FMs were mostly just extensions of the more popular AM properties at the time, but stations like KZAP changed that.

Several of KZAP's early personalities came from Sac State University's KERS (90.7 FM), where creative minds developed and went on to shape the sound of Sacramento radio and beyond. Charlie Weiss and Paul Merriam had been students at the station, which introduced many Sacramentans to progressive rock. Another KERS student at this time was Rick Carroll, who went on to work at crosstown KXOA and eventually crafted a national radio format known as "rock of the eighties" at KROQ in Los Angeles.

Jeff Hughson was a sixteen year old high school student doing the 2a-6a show on station KXRQ at 98.5 on the FM dial. Jeff made one dollar per hour but as he puts it, "radio money didn't get good until radio got bad." The station played lite pop from 6a-6p and then jazz the rest of the time. In the Spring of 1968 the FCC ordered the owner to sell the station due to poor management. It went dark for several months and ended up in the hands of the California Talking Machine and Wireless Company, which was founded and owned by Princeton University Class of '67 graduate Lee Gahagan, who was originally from New York City. He had studied engineering but majored in architecture and was involved with the campus station WPRB. The first person Lee hired was General Manager Ed Fitzgerald. Then Ed started putting a team together that would help build the new station. The first three people he hired were J.B. Winans, who was supposed to be the first Program Director, along with musicologist/announcers Fred Gaines and Jeff Hughson.

"I heard the station was being sold and I pursued that," remembers Jeff. "I said what's going on? So I got a hold of Ed and he came to my house and interviewed me and I had a big record collection. So I was hired as Music Director and put the library together. I graduated from (Sacramento) High School in June of '68 and I went to work for KZAP at the end of July." Another early hire before the sign-on was Charlie Weiss. All of the early staff members, along with a few carpenters, physically built the station that would become KZAP throughout the summer and autumn of 1968. Until the station was built Downtown in the Elk's Temple, station meetings were held at Ed's home in Rancho Cordova.

Charlie remembers it this way: "I was a student at Sac State majoring in speech and journalism. At that time, there was a student operated station, KERS. It was part of the broadcasting curriculum. A fellow student and I started a program that ran on Friday nights from midnight to six. It was a cross between KMPX in San Francisco and Berkeley's KPFA where we played albums - everything from Cream to Eastern music to Firesign Theatre - and invited guests to the studio. One day, I got a call from a guy named J.B. Winans who told me that he and a few other people were trying to convince the new owner of a station that was playing jazz on the 13th floor of the Elks Building (pictured left), to switch to an underground radio format. He apparently was inclined to go with classical music. Winans and his friend Fred Gaines came up to the KERS studios and I said I might be interested.

"I was headed to Seattle for the summer where my parents had moved and told them I would check with them when I returned in September. When I returned in September, sure enough, things were beginning to happen. I, along with some other interested folks, met with the new GM (Ed Fitzgerald) at his home and things got underway. I remember our transmitters came from a transmitter site near the town of El Dorado. We loaded them on a flatbed one cool fall night and drove them to 11th and J where we took them up the elevator. As we began to install the transmitters, I'll never forget Fitzgerald grabbing a hold of the coax cable outside on the crows nest and sliding down the roof to the 13th floor. Anyway, we painted the place - I chose the paint and frankly picked an ugly green color - thank god for posters."

According to Sacramento musician Mick Martin, "Jeff Hughson and I set up the initial KZAP library when Ed Fitzgerald first came to town." Both Martin, who worked at Tower Records, and Hughson had huge record collections. Jeff remembers, "I called up Tom Donahue and said 'We're starting this station in Sacramento and I'd like to have you show me how to do a record library for a radio station. I had been a fan of Tom since the KMPX days when he first did progressive radio in San Francisco. What I really got from him was service from the labels. Tom helped put me in touch with the (record) reps to help me get service. I stayed in touch with Donahue and he was an advisor and a mentor."

The KZAP call letters had once been used by a top 40 station in Houston in the fifties, but made the list of available names in 1968. Jeff says that the staff had put together a wish list of call letters for the station and then submitted it to attorneys, who checked with the FCC for available possibilities. "There must have been about 30 or 40 suggested call letters like KDMT and stuff," Jeff recalls. "And we submit this whole list and our attorney calls us. I remember we were working at the station that day sawing and hammering. And he calls and says 'hey I got the response from the FCC and I picked the call letters. Out of the whole list there were only two: KPOT and KZAP and I told them you want KPOT.' We said 'NO! NO! We don't want KPOT. Come on, that is so trite and obvious. Tell them we want KZAP.' "

Lee Gahagan also owned classical station KPEN in Los Altos and another FM station in the Monterey-Seaside area. Ed had actually worked for Lee since he put KPEN on the air in 1965. Lee was described by friends as quiet and from a wealthy family. By the time the station was ready to go on the air, Winans had been replaced by Paul Merriam as Program Director. Paul had also worked at KERS and had graduated, went to Europe and had returned to Sacramento. The term "freeform radio" was preferred to "underground" by the owner, the GM and the original staff because "freeform" sounded more accessible, according to Charlie Weiss. Because it was before the digital age, the frequency was referred to as "98 and a half."

Jeff and Ed came up with the idea for the first pre-produced tape that introduced KZAP to the audience. "We went on the air November 8, 1968 at 6am," says Jeff. "The first thing that went over the air at KZAP was Jose Feliciano doing the 'Star Spangled Banner,' which was a single because he had done it at a sporting event and it became controversial because he did it J ose Feliciano style. Then it segued into 'Revolution' by the Beatles." Ed Fitzgerald cracked the microphone as "Uncle Ed" and was the first voice to be heard on the new station. He became the morning jock partly to keep overhead costs down. After Ed got off the air the first morning he and Jeff went to the airport to pick up an electronic part as they listened to Paul Merriam's show. Paul began naming off all the station announcers. When he got to Jeff's 10p-2a shift he billed Jeff as "The Flower Pig," which was a nickname for someone Paul knew in England. "I accepted the nickname," says Jeff, "only because Sacramento's Tony Bigg (who was a popular night jock on KROY) had become Tony Pigg when he went to FM radio. I thought that both were funny names." He used the name Flower Pig for about three months. For about that same stretch of time, Jeff signed the station off the air at 2am overnight to keep costs down. Ed opened his show every morning with the song "Cristo Redemptor" by Harvey Mandel as he would sign the station on the air at 6am.

"We could play anything - and I mean anything," says Charlie, who was the initial afternoon jock. "Segues were what we were about. From Olatunji into Oye Como Va, from Segovia into the Doors. The Beatles were constantly being played - all of their albums. But in addition to Hendrix, one would play a set of blues that could include the Mississippi Delta players to the Chicago guys. A Motown set was always fun. The mood of the music could move through several genres in an hour's time. There were message sets as well that could pass through folk protest, Dylan, Jefferson Airplane and CS&N, for example. We also took turns producing a daily news program that included collages of music reflecting our general opinions on the events of the day. By then, a KZAP house at 23rd and N had a sunroom where a tape recorder, mike and turntable were set up. You would produce your news show and then drive it to the station. This wasn't the first KZAP house. The first one was on Yale Street between X Street and Broadway but was short lived - but quite a bit of fun. I had a 15 year old runaway girlfriend named Claudia for awhile - it never even crossed my mind that I could have been arrested."

Cary Nosler, a nutrition expert, later went by the name Captain Carrot. Cary actually had done an evening freeform show in 1967 on KJML (106.5 FM) in Sacramento and was sought out by KZAP's management. "KJML had the first underground radio show in town," says Cary. "I had lived in Palo Alto and listened to KMPX and KSAN and decided that was what I wanted to do. The owner of KJML got me a trade out at Jack's House of Music where I bought all the music. My show was called 'Fantasy Machine' which became popular by word of mouth. Then we expanded the show to weekends. We had another guy named Stan Goman who we called 'The Worm.' He worked at Tower Records and brought in music. We had to buy everything. But after awhile the owner got paranoid and didn't want to do it anymore."

During the construction of KZAP Jeff Hughson remembers listening to Cary on KJML (106.5 FM, which became KWOD in 1977). Charlie Weiss and Paul Merriam visited Cary at KJML, took him to an ice cream parlor after the show and asked him if he wanted to work at KZAP. Cary went for it. "My pay was $160 a month," says Cary. "I brought in the first two sponsors. One was Sacramento Real Food Company and the other was a head shop run by a Middle Eastern lady named Jodette." Tower Records owner Russ Solomon also bought time on the station early on for "a dollar a holler," according to Ed Fitzgerald. Other early sponsors were Turntables Unlimited, Merriam Real Estate in Auburn (Paul's dad), and the Yankee Doodle restaurant in Auburn (no cash, but all the health food burgers staff members could eat).

Mick Martin says of KZAP management's attitude about hiring air talent, "They wanted to find out who these people were that had all the music. All of the disc jockeys were great. It was their love of music that created KZAP. They knew the records inside and out. They all had their own style." Mick worked with Stan Goman at Tower Broadway in the late sixties on the night shift. Goman was Tower owner Russ Solomon's nephew who later made millions as head of Tower's record division.

The original class of KZAP personalities consisted of Ed Fitzgerald (6a-10a), Paul Merriam (10a-2p) Cary Nosler (2p-6p), Jim Hilsabeck (6p-10p), Jeff Hughson (10p-2a), Charlie Weiss (various shifts) and Fred Gaines (who was still a student at Rancho Cordova High School and did various shifts). The exact line-up on day one is somewhat of a puzzle because of different accounts. Jeff Hughson says at the thirty year reunion they tried to remember the exact line-up on day one and kept coming up with "one extra guy." One thing is for sure: the crew prior to day one that built the station was: Ed Fitzgerald, Paul Merriam, Charlie Weiss, Fred Gaines and Jeff Hughson.

Other early KZAP personalities included Bob Bartell and News Director Ace Young, who went on to work at KMET in Los Angeles three years later in 1971. Michael Sheehy ('68-'70) was an early part-timer who went on to be heard all over the country as a voice-over talent. Charlie was fired and rehired early on and wound up doing overnights but by late 1969 he was doing mornings with Ace Young. Ken Wardell was a Sac State student from KERS who came to KZAP in 1969 and stayed for three years before entering the record industry. Robert Williams also came from KERS and lasted on KZAP for a decade from 1969-1979.

KZAP personalities to follow included Dennis Newhall (mornings/middays/afternoons '72-'75), Phil Glatz ('70-'72), Jack "Mr. Normal" Androvich ('69-'72), Sherman Renius ('69-'70), Robert Williams, Ken Wardell, Tasha Covington, Jock Taft (late nights then middays, '69-'71) and Zoe Riddle. Later personalities included Zack Boles aka Zacharria (mornings, '73-'74), Helen Meline (middays in the early '70s, then returned in the early '80s), Allen Cherry (News Director in the early '70s), Jok Church (News Director, most of the '70s), William Fuller (Sunday morning talk host, circa '73-'79), Jesse Robinson, Robyn Robinson, Roger Moon, Bruce "Jet" Riordan (nights then mornings, '70-'74), Travus T. Hipp (Sunday night talk host, most of the '70s), Viola Weinberg (mid-seventies co-host with Lindy on women's lib talk show Woman Waves), Richard Dunk (weekends, '74-'75) Bill Slater (mornings, late '70s), Gordo Styler and Edward Fong. The morning show changed frequently throughout the seventies and some other morning people who came and went included Marla, Scott McConnell and Eileen Fields. Alan Beim was a key sales executive throughout the seventies. Ted Longmire was the first African-American to be hired as a full-time jock at KZAP and did afternoons in 1972.

Some early KZAP highlights included Jeff's interview with Frank Zappa around the release of the disguised Mothers of Invention album Cruising with Ruben and the Jets in late 1968 and a dance the station put on at a small club with local acts. "In early '69 we did the first name artist (concert)," says Jeff. "Some of the people were against the idea of going into the concert business. But we did an evening with the Incredible String Band at Freeborn Hall. That was in the days when we actually hired the band, booked the hall. We actually took the risk and produced the show." It was uncharacteristic at the time and for many years to come for the station to also be the concert promoter. Shortly afterward the standard became a trade agreement in which concert promoters such as Bill Graham would take the financial risks and produce concerts in exchange for advertising as stations were allowed to claim that they were the ones presenting shows.

Even though the various jocks programmed their own music, Charlie Weiss served as Music Director under PD Paul Merriam from 1968 to 1969. Charlie says, "The original record library was provided by the staff but we had contacts at Tower Broadway as well. One day, early on, I drove up in my '56 Ford sedan and we loaded up a trunk load of LP's from rock to Gregorian chants. I drove them to the station and the GM said, 'I don't even want to know where you got them.' Also, I would drive down to San Francisco with a guy name Dave Turner in a VW hatchback (sales guy and later on air person as well) and we would hit all the record warehouses where they were still quite skeptical about who the hell we were. I also contacted record companies who started sending us product. Blue Thumb Records was the first company that called me. A guy named Jeff Trager who sent me albums including by a group called Southwind and Cajun accordionist Clifton Chenier. Later, they signed Dave Mason and Bob Bartell and I got to go on junket to LA to see him."

Being an hour and a half drive from San Francisco, where artists and fans were moving to in droves, Sacramento in many ways was closely connected to the Bay Area concert scene. KZAP personality Phil Glatz says, "We had an arrangement with Bill Graham in the 1969-1971 period where we were all on the free pass list at the old Fillmore and the later Fillmore West. We saw a lot of incredible shows there and learned about a lot of emerging artists. Graham was very daring in those days and had such a great love of music. It was also very freeform. He would have Miles Davis open for the Dead - stuff like that - turning on a lot of hippies to a much wider range of music."

KZAP developed its own concert scene in Sacramento at the Sound Factory and William Land Park. Unfortunately, the William Land Park shows ended in a Kent State-like ordeal one day when police broke up a show with tear gas because of suspicion that minors were drinking wine. There was also a period of a few years where KZAP did live broadcasts from the fourteenth floor of the Elk's Building where bands played. Phil says, "It had been a 'Top of the Mark' kind of nightclub in the old days, but unused for decades. Great views, windows all around. A lot of great groups played up there: Stoneground, Youngbloods and many more."

The Grateful Dead were the main attraction at the station's first anniversary party in November 1969, in which Mick Martin introduced them onstage. Meanwhile, Robert Williams, a KERS student who had hung out at the station for a year, saw this as his opportunity to get on the air. "The first time I was on the air at KZAP was the night of the first anniversary party, which was the Grateful Dead at Cal Expo. Nobody wanted to be on the air, everybody wanted to go to the show. Well, I wanted to go to the show, too. But I like to think I was smart enough to realize this is my opportunity, so I took it ... You were judged by your musical knowledge and your ability to put it together. Whether you spoke in complete sentences was far less important."

KZAP developed quite a cult following that was starting to shake up the market. But the jocks were not even trying to compete with other stations. They cared more about the art they were crafting. Cary Nosler says, "One day in the early seventies (KROY PD) Johnny Hyde called and said 'I want to congratulate you. You're number three in the book.' I didn't know what he was talking about. I got off the phone and said to Ed (Fitzgerald) 'what's a book?' Then Johnny tried to hire me at KROY. I ended up working there for one night but we weren't even on the air and I kept getting calls for all these songs I didn't want to play. They wanted me to play 45s but the songs would go by too fast and I was used to playing LPs. It was the most depressing night of my life. I told myself 'I cannot live in this world.' So I quit and asked Ed if I could have my job back."

Continue to next chapter: The Peak of Radio Anarchy (early seventies)

Other KZAP Stories

KZAP's Freeform Return to KDVS in November 2012
Interview with KZAP Cat Logo Designer Bill Styler
KZAP Returns as LPFM at on July 4, 2015
KZAP Returns on KDVS Part 1: Michael Taber
KZAP Returns on KDVS Part 2: Freeform Era
KZAP Returns on KDVS Part 3: College Freeform
KZAP Returns on KDVS Part 4: The 60s
Freeform Radio Survives
Captain Carrot at Sac Music Fest 2015

Legend of KZAP Table of Contents

The history of freeform radio (before 1968)
Early KZAP History (late sixties/early seventies)
The Peak of Radio Anarchy (early seventies)
Transition from Freeform to Album Rock (early to mid-seventies)
The Emerging FM Audience (late seventies)
KZAP Rules the Market (early eighties)
The Greatest Rock Battle...(mid-eighties to early nineties)
Reflecting on the Legend

May the music and memories live on forever because it's still o.k. to rock and roll !!!

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