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


For its first three or four years KZAP certainly wasn't yet profitable but the idealism of freeform was starting to be at odds with the reality of paying the bills. At the same time the staff was fighting to keep KZAP from "selling out." For awhile KZAP had no Program Director at all and the jocks ran the station, which was a period when the station was at its most freeform presentation and least concern for commercialism. But as Phil puts it, "Deciding things in a true democratic fashion took its toll - there was one infamous meeting up at the studio that caused a number of staffers to nearly resign, after nearly two hours was spent debating who would be responsible for purchasing toilet paper."

The economics of radio also took its toll on KZAP's owner. "Lee was a quiet guy whose aunt was apparently wealthy and got him started in radio by buying him a station in Los Gatos," Charlie Weiss recalls. "There were times when checks were late but we were always paid - I made something like $75 or $80 a week. But remember, you could rent a three-bedroom flat in midtown for $90 a month. My first wife and I rented a two-story flat at 17th and H in which Fred Gaines and another staff member, John Button resided. Part of this was due to decisions by the KZAP family when there was no PD and everything was done by consensus."

Paychecks actually had a tendency to bounce for those employees late getting to the bank. Robert Williams recalls, "There were times in the early seventies on pay day we'd get our checks but we literally had to run to the bank to cash them because the first people there would get the money. The later people there might not get the money if the sales people hadn't hit up enough of the people that owed us some money to put it in the bank."

During the no-PD phase, the air staff had control of advertising. Jeff Hughson says, "We turned down Bank of America and Ed said okay. That says a lot to turn down the first big corporate account. Both Ed and Lee were very gracious." But after serving as GM for a few years, Ed made his exit from the station. "I was voted out for being the straight guy," he says, despite having participated in counter-culture activities with other staff members.

Charlie points out, "We frustrated the hell out of sales managers because we would refuse to run spots if it was deemed the companies helped finance the Vietnam War." The weekly air staff meetings held at an old farm dubbed
"Big Deal Farm" out in the north area would go on for hours. One particular meeting went on for hours because some refused to run Standard Oil spots, Charlie recalls. "At that time, we also did a very strange thing and set the week on end. We decided to work four days on and four days off, thus we destroyed the typical seven day week. That also, of course, increased the number of people on air. But we had special programs as well like a Dylan show and even for awhile a children's lib show that ran on Saturday mornings."

But the music and the idealism began to tighten up in 1971 with stricter policies. One of the factors came down to money. The station needed $7000 a month to pay the bills but in 1971 it only reached that quota in three different months. Average monthly billing was about $6100.

Jeff Hughson had quit KZAP four times and got fired three times, but left for good in 1971 to work at a new progressive rock station in town on the AM dial. It was KNDE (1470 AM), which briefly experimented with the same kind of music that KZAP was playing, but in the context of a top 40-like presentation. KNDE during that time was actually consulted by a Sac State graduate and local radio personality named Rick Carroll, who went on to program KROQ in Los Angeles and became known as the architect of the modern rock format. Ultimately KNDE flipped back to top 40 and Jeff bounced around at a few stations.

One might actually pinpoint the end of KZAP's pure freeform era as May 5, 1972 when tragedy struck the station. Lee Gahagan (full name: Lawrence de Peyster Gahagan) died unexpectedly at age 27. He was found dead at his home in Woodside by the sales manager and the cause of death was an overdose of pills. "I recall that he committed suicide over the break up with a female," says Charlie. Jeff Hughson also says it was about a girlfriend. Dennis Newhall, however, says "Shortly after he asked us to pass on our paychecks one more time, we all said 'no, we want to get paid' ... he killed himself." Cary Nosler doesn't quite remember what happened but says "I had heard he had a history of depression." According to an online posting in the nineties by a Gahagan college friend Robert Orban, Gahagan killed himself over "financial reverses." The Princeton Alumni Weekly simply reported he died "suddenly and unexpectedly."

The Gahagan mystery may never be solved, but perhaps the KZAP employee closest to him was Ed Fitzgerald. He believes the suicide was due to a failed romance. "He didn't have money problems, hell no," says Ed. "He came from money, used his IBM stock to put KZAP on the air. He put very little into KZAP. Socially, he was backwards."

Jeff Hughson remembers Lee this way: "Lee was pretty cool. There were times of friction more in '71. In the early days he was really cool. I think they put KZAP on the air for $35,000 - staff, equipment. He thought it would make money, he thought it was a good investment. But he was very laissez faire. He said 'you guys are the artistic, the talent. You just do what you need to do and let me know what's going on.' And we didn't have to fight very much. We did pretty much carte blanche what we wanted to do."

Lee's aunt briefly took control of the estate and then sold the station to "two researchers from Procter & Gamble who didn't know the radio business very well but were willing to learn from the employees," says Dennis Newhall, who adds that the station was sold for about $100,000. The name of the new company was New Day Broadcasting. The two market researchers were Ed Beimfohr from the Midwest and Don Platt. Beimfohr's wife Gordy had wealthy parents who put up the money for the purchase. She became the station's office manager and handled the books. Don Early was recruited as Sales Manager and also invested in the company. With the new owners the pay scale for employees increased. This also marked the beginning of the station's on-air anarchy gradually transforming into more structured programming. At the same time, according to Jok Church, "Ed liked that we were a community of artists. It wasn't about money, it was about making art."

Robert Williams says of Ed Beimfohr, "He married into money (Gordy's parents) and talked his parents-in-law into buying a radio station. They were just not traditional radio owners at all. They knew about marketing and knew what they liked musically. They liked the spirit of KZAP. When New Day Broadcasting took over Beimfohr was on the programming side and Platt was on the sales side. They both worked together on both of these areas but that's one of the distinctions between the two of them. He (Beimfohr) set himself up immediately as General Manager, Operations Manager and Program Director."

The jocks still hung on to a degree of control throughout most of the seventies. According to Dennis Newhall, "You were hired on the basis of what you knew about music. It was encouraged to mix things up and to have the ability to move from folk to jazz to rock to country/rock to blues. Not everybody could keep up with that as a listener. But I think you had people then who were far deeper into music who wanted to listen for long periods of time, not just 15 minutes at a time."

Part of the magic of the era was that the jocks were allowed to program their own music from the wall of albums in the control room. Newhall says, "People knew about segues. You'd put a record on not knowing what you were going to play next and just frantically have about four or five minutes going around the control room trying things out until you found one that would flow right out of it. The best segues were the ones where you couldn't tell where one ended and the other began." Segues were based on a wide range of parameters inluding music key and lyrical themes.

Shortly before Gahagan's death, the station filled the PD position, which had been vacant for awhile. Bruce "Jet" Riordan had briefly served as PD from late 1971 to early 1972. Then with the arrival of Station Manager/Program Director John Williams in early 1972, a certain degree of structure was creeping in. Charlie says, "He's the guy who fired me on March 15, 1972 because I refused to stop playing jazz. That's the point where the staff started changing because John Williams was there to turn the station more commercial like the station he was from in the Midwest somewhere. By commercial, it was a long shot from what it sounded like in 1991 but some would say the real KZAP ended then."

It was John Williams who issued the crushing memo to jocks dated April 12, 1972 that clearly demanded a more commercially-minded direction for the station. Jocks were informed they needed to visit each and every one of the station's sponsors. They were also told that Arbitron ratings would be a critical factor in the station's survival. It warned drastic economic cutbacks might happen if the station did not attract more advertising. Effective April 15 the station's national sales rep became ABC-FM Spot Sales, Inc., which was beginning to represent other progressive stations around the country. The memo also called for jocks to identify the station's call letters at least four times an hour, cross-promote other jocks and to contribute more to producing commercials. And as far as sick pay, forget it, the station couldn't afford it.

The memo also boasted that a new computerized system would soon be in place. It described a computer terminal as a "strange looking machine." It would mark the station's first use of computerized program logs, traffic, billing, sales and more. The memo stated that KZAP was "perhaps the first station to use such an advanced method of handling all paper work." The system was launched the following weekend.

Robert Williams (no relation to John Williams) became Music Director in May 1972 when Ken Wardell left the position to take on record promotion at RCA Records in San Francisco. Robert was also doing the 7p-12m shift at the time as well. During the next few years he would be directly involved with transforming KZAP into a more structured station, a direction that would be a cross between the early freeform era and more mass appeal rock.

Although John Williams would briefly appear in the original Grateful Dead Movie, he was not considered a star at KZAP. "John Williams was universally despised by the staff," confirms Phil. "He was considered a poseur with no love of music." As it turned out, the programming days for John Williams were short-lived and he was replaced for awhile by Ed Beimfohr. The 1973-1975 period saw a lot of personnel shifts including at the PD position. Fred Gaines briefly served as PD then Robert Williams took over in the mid-seventies and would remain in that position until early 1979 - shortly after another ownership change. Charlie returned in 1975 after a three year absence.

Ed Beimfohr represented the station frequently in press coverage of KZAP. According to Robert, "He always had a say in major programming decisions or direction changes, but left much of that development and execution to me. By the time I became PD, we'd worked so closely together that we trusted each other to make the right moves. He'd sometimes come into announcer (programming/music) meetings if he had any points he wanted to make, but did not dominate the staff."

"It started becoming a more focused radio station," says Robert. "It still had a lot of room for creativity and was still a lot of fun and still daring and innovative but started getting more of a focus because a goal was taking shape that aimed for a larger audience ... We knew we had a big audience because there were indicators out there: sales for concerts, sales of certain albums that we knew we were playing and nobody else was, word of mouth response to promotions. As kind of small time as they were at the beginning, we'd get thousands of pieces of mail. There was some evidence. We knew we were being paid attention to also from advertisers."

During Robert's tenure as Music Director and then Program Director he worked with other programming people at formatting the station. Instead of anything goes, they began to implement a format based on a sequence of categories. "It was color-coded so it was kind of psychedelic," says Robert. In other words, jocks had to plan out shows as every song slot became a song category. They were free to mix up the sequence of categories as long as they played a song from each category. "It evolved to a color-coded A-B-C-D-E kind of thing," Robert continues, "with A's being things out of the new box and E's being oldies, which at that point was anything that came before KZAP went on the air. You could play a whole string of oldies that would satisfy your hourly quota of oldies. You could do a little oldies set. Or you could put something new together with something old and relate it somehow, whether lyrically, thematically or the same key. So the freedom was still there to create. To me it was always about the segue and I was always a sucker for an obvious segue.

"At the time, we felt we 'invented' that color/coded/category format since we didn't know of any other station using it. We did develop it, tweak it, and put in into play. Later, I learned that other stations were using a similar kind of approach to help focus the stations to get a larger audience. At the time, it seemed a pretty obvious and easy way to insure any given hour contained enough 'familiar' music," says Robert. They also loosened the format up at night, which was a concept they thought they invented as well, but turned out to already be a broadcast standard. Robert admits, "These concepts are pretty much common sense, but the details for KZAP were top secret!...I think we were developing that approach within the first year of their (New Day) ownership, and by their second anniversary it was as sophisticated as it got ... but was always being worked on."

It was a new era for KZAP as New Day Broadcasting tried to balance between art and commerce. "They really were working at holding an audience," says Robert. "The neat thing for me luckily was that I was interested in that as well. I thought it was too diverse. Of course, what I thought was too tight was still so much looser than anything going on." As far as executing the format, New Day successfully got jocks to comply as Robert says, "it never needed to get to the point where somebody's fined or punished because we were all working for the same thing."

With the ownership change KZAP took on a completely new identity. In 1973 KZAP moved from the Elk's Building to the third floor of a building at 9th and J bearing the sign "Patricia Stevens' Finishing School," which overlooked what is now called Chavez Park. At the time people called it "Wino Park." Also in 1973 the station introduced its unforgettable logo and bumper sticker featuring the cartoon of an orange cat, originally designed for a coupon book by Roger Shepherd and then adapted by Bill Styler. "Roger Shepherd did a lot of great graphic art for the station and a very memorable poster for the fitth anniversary concert that featured the Beach Boys," says Phil. It's interesting that the introduction of this lovable image of a peaceful laid back "Cheshire Cat" inspired by Alice in Wonderland, was a time marker that paralleled the beginning of KZAP's overall rise in the ratings. KROY had been the market champion from 1968-1973, hitting number one in Sacramento every single quarter during that period. But radio listening began to change as FM stations started to become competitive, as KZAP's notoriety attracted a few more rock stations.

First came KSFM at 102.5 FM, calling itself Earth Radio, which started out as freeform in April 1974. It was first programmed by former KZAP sales executive Don Wright, who had just passed on KZAP's offer to do mornings for $650 per month upon the departure of Zack Boles. Earth Radio's initial music library was personal collections of Don and early KZAP jock Michael Sheehy. Another early KZAP employee, Jeff Hughson, became Earth Radio's first Music Director and Promotions Director. Also in 1974 another rock competitor emerged, which was KXOA-FM, calling itself K-108, with a mellow rock presentation and a mascot called "The Mellow Beaver." By that point KZAP was already reacting as jock Richard Dunk recalls, "the management was promoting playing popular rock and roll. It was no longer freeform." Dennis Newhall left KZAP in 1975 for a gig at rock station KSJO in San Jose, but returned to Sacramento in 1976 to work on the air at Earth Radio. The following year he became Program Director, a position he would hold for the next two years.

When Robert became Program Director shortly after the rock competition began he was sent by New Day to Washington DC to examine Arbitron diaries and read what surveyed listeners had written about the station. He said it was "like the CIA," who were located next door. It was at this point in the mid-seventies that KZAP started to pay close attention to ratings.

Even with this stepped-up game plan of ratings analysis, industry secrets and increased competition, KZAP still catered to the fringe elements of society. Some KZAP listeners were downright radical. Manson Family members Squeaky Fromme and Sandra Good paid a visit one day to the station to get Robert to send a message to their imprisoned leader. "They came up to the radio station," recalls Robert, "handed me a tape and said 'you must play this on the radio, it's a matter of life and death.' Well, at the time I didn't recognize them as Manson women, although I did see the cross carved in their foreheads. So they gave me this tape to play. I didn't realize that the motive for giving it to me was that Charles Manson could hear it at Folsom (Prison). I unfortunately never listened to the tape. I kind of have a feeling it may not have made any sense. A week or two later they came back, demanded that I give them back the tape. And so I did and I never listened to it." A couple weeks later Squeaky Fromme tried to shoot President Ford at the state capitol in Sacramento.

In 1975 and 1976 KZAP booked summer shows at the Cal Expo State Fair and broadcast the middle bands. Many were regional acts. The biggest names included Pablo Cruise and Greg Kihn. Robert says, "I booked this thing for months ahead of time. We did it for two years. The first year ran completely successfully. The second year I had completely booked the whole run of the fair. There was some kind of riot that didn't have to do with us but we got blamed for it because rock and roll gets blamed for everything if there's no obvious cause for things. So the second year we only did a few shows and had to shut it down. The state fair people said its attracting the wrong element or whatever their argument was."

KZAP got perhaps its most positive press on May 1, 1978 when the Sacramento Bee featured KZAP as the top story on the front page. It was mostly a huge photograph of a kite flying contest sponsored by KZAP. The kite that made it in the picture was that of a cheshire cat. The event was held at Elk Grove County Park and was a benefit for the Humane Society.

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


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

© Playlist Research. All rights reserved.