by Alex Cosper
Take a virtual tour of Sacramento at SacTV.com
see also American Radio History
see also KZAP, KROY, KSFM, KWOD, KRXQ, KNDE, K108, index
KWOD plays with modern rock in the early nineties
KWOD began experimenting with modern rock under Operations Manager Gerry Cagle and Program Director Adam Smasher in April 1991 after a consistently losing battle with FM 102. KWOD remained at the bottom of the ratings (despite a brief initial surge in the Spring 1991 Arbitron ratings) until the station officially switched to alternative in 1993 then dominated all the rock stations in the ratings for the next few years. This is my story about how I took over programming of a dark horse independent station with limited resources and we were able to take the market by surprise in the ratings. Read my story called The Rise of Alternative Radio. The line-up in which KWOD had its best success ever as an alternative station included Shawn and Jeff in mornings, yours truly Alex Cosper ("A.C.") in middays, Giles Hendriksen in afternoons and Ally Storm in evenings.
Ally left in 1996 to do middays at KOME in San Jose, which in 1998 turned into the midday show at Live 105 in San Francisco. She remained there through the mid 2000s. Another KWOD personality who ended up on Bay Area radio was Morris B, who was my original co-host of the local show The Sound of Sacramento. Now he goes by Morris Knight on Bay Area urban station KISQ (98.1 Kiss FM) in afternoon drive. Giles, who demonstrated incredible creative energy especially when doing bits with the market's traffic goddess Julie Ryan, left in 1997 to pursue web design and teaching. I left KWOD in 1996 and went on to do radio in Milwaukee, San Francisco and Palm Springs. In 1995 KWOD was among the highest rated alternative stations across the nation. That was the alternative rock format's heyday, when it looked as though it might become the new mainstream.
What's the Point?
A few weeks after the disappearance of KZAP came a new adult alternative album rock station. KQPT (100.5 FM), which had been a jazz/pop hybrid station since 1988 after decades as religious station KEBR, continued to call themselves "The Point" but began to shift toward an obscure wide-open playlist for adults under the ownership of Brown Broadcasting. However, it would be years before the station would rise again in the ratings. At one point the station had billboards all over town proclaiming "bands you've never heard of" and "songs you don't know" but the marketing scheme didn't connect with the underground or whoever they were trying to reach. The station's main bright spot was air personality Monica Lowe, who has been one of the few mainstays at the station for years, even through the mid-2000s. Another eclectic rock station, but with a little more edge, was KRFD (99.9 FM) in Marysville. It was programmed by Pamela Roberts but had a short life. Despite not showing up in the Sacramento radio ratings, it was cherished by diehard music fans until new owners flipped it to Spanish in March 1994. The Point, of course, became The Zone.
The overlapping rock sounds of KWOD, 93 Rock and The Zone
In September 1995, while KWOD was at its ratings peak as an alternative station and leading all rock-oriented stations in the market, The Point changed their name to The Zone and eventually took on the call letters KZZO two years later. They also began playing the most pop-sounding alternative hits in high rotation and began to challenge KWOD for the alternative audience. The Zone, however, went for adult females. While this was going on, 93 Rock began playing more music from KWOD's playlist to the point where you could hear the same song on all three stations at the same time. The Sacramento Bee even did a piece on how the three stations sounded similar in February 1996.
Jim Trapp was programming the Point and then the Zone, but left in early 1997 and ended up programming a very successful alternative station in Houston, KTBZ ("The Buzz"). Carmy Ferreri became the new Zone PD and made the station even more like a CHR station with high rotations and fast-paced energy from the jocks. This was different from how KWOD had been for many years, which was very conversational with minimal hype. With the return of night jock Nick Monroe to KWOD in late 1996 and new PD Ron Bunce in early 1997, KWOD shifted to a more energetic presentation. Read more about how the KWOD-KRXQ-Point/Zone battle developed in The Rise of Alternative Radio.
By 1997 the stations had moved in separate directions as 93 Rock returned to its heavier rock roots, KWOD played the top hits on the alternative charts and the Zone went after females. The Zone skyrocketed to number two in the market behind KFBK in 1997 under PD Carmy Ferreri, who had programming experience in Sacramento in the eighties and Los Angeles in the nineties. Around 1998 KWOD began aiming at a younger 12-24 male audience as it started taking on a punchier and crunchier alternative rap/rock sound similar to 93 Rock, who dominated the competition. After the departure of the Rise Guys in 1999 from KRXQ, the new morning team became Rob Williams, Arnie States and Dawn Rossi. Known as Rob, Arnie & Dawn, the show has been syndicated in some other markets including Seattle, WA. Night jock and local music scene leader Laura Ingle was replaced by Kylee Brooks in 1995. She held the position through the late nineties and then went to work at rocker KISW in Seattle until October 2003.
The Zone only stayed near the top of the ratings for a few years and began its descent back toward the bottom after the departure of Ferreri in April 1999. Part of the decline may have been that the station started expanding its musical selection criteria to be less-defined and more leaning toward whatever the mainstream adult contemporary hits were - something already being overdone in the market. During its run the Zone was the top rated "modern AC" station in the country, but by the early 2000's the format suffered across the country as many modern AC stations went pure adult contemporary, like the Zone.
Another possibility to the Zone ratings decline, was the lack of consistency with frequent line-up changes. One short stint was Rick Chase in afternoons in 2000. Chase had been a popular San Francisco radio personality for years (afternoons at KMEL 1986-1999). He tried to stir up controversy as a conservative shock jock (which seems like an oxymoron, but became an actual trend thanks to Morton Downey Jr. then Rush Limbaugh), but he inevitably was forced out by complaints, particularly from the gay community. In 2002 Chase went to do mornings for KWIN in Stockton, CA but died unexpectedly at the age of 45 that December.
Names like Monica Lowe, Marshall Phillips, Carlos Campos and Jay Walker shuffled around the clock in the late nineties and early 2000s at the Zone. Marshall Phillips has provided the news at the station since 1995. He had worked at legendary stations in Los Angeles and San Francisco over the years. In the seventies he did an all night talk show and afternoons at KLOS. He also worked at KMET, KWEST and KLSX. He was part of the final crew that worked at KSAN in San Francisco before it flipped from rock to country in the early eighties. Other Bay Area stations where Marshall did news included KOME, KFOG and KNBR.
Jim Matthews stayed at the 100.5 frequency for over a decade in middays, which is the typical shift that an Assistant Program Director takes in order to deal with the industry and carry out station responsibilities during normal business hours. Matthews finally left the station in 2003 and moved into radio sales. Kim Kaplan was a great sounding female jock who ended up starting her own production company Kim Kaplan Productions.
The end of K108 and the beginning of The End
For years it seemed the station least likely to change was K108. It was a top-rated station in town for most of the eighties, although ratings began to decline slightly in 1988. But by 1992 the ratings began to decline sharply. In May 1993 the station began to gamble with a new identity, "Xtra 107.9" in which the format turned more upbeat adult contemporary pop and started playing artists like Madonna under Operations Manager Don Daniels. Just 18 months earlier K108 was the leader among adult-oriented music stations, but began to lose audience to Y92 and Mix 96. The XTRA idea didn't work, as the "Hot AC" market had already been cornered. In March 1994 the format flipped to "Arrow 108," which meant "all rock and roll oldies" featuring mostly sixties through eighties pop/rock hits. Jim Carmichael had done mornings since 1993 but was replaced on the Arrow for four weeks in May and June of 1994 by Mark S. Allen. After the short stint, Allen then went back to FM 102 for mornings in June. After another round of musical chairs, the Arrow morning show became Sander Walker.
Brown Broadcasting, which had held the 107.9 frequency since the early seventies, finally sold the station in 1996 to Entercom. In July 1998 Entercom made some changes at a few of its stations. The Arrow and its call letters KXOA moved to 93.7 FM while a new contemporary hits station called "The End" debuted at 107.9 FM with the call letters KDND. They found it difficult to compete against FM 102, but in 1999 The End actually briefly took the lead. In 2000 The End's morning host was Dave Skyler, who had just completed a short-lived morning stint at KHYL with Crystal McKenzie, who had worked with Sander Walker mornings on Arrow. Skyler had also worked at FM 102, KWOD, KPOP and KAER in the eighties. He also worked on several stations in Los Angeles. This time at The End he just went by "Skyler." Crystal moved on to a programming position at XM Satellite Radio in Washington D.C. before returning to radio in her home state Indiana.
In the summer of 2001 KXOA dropped the Arrow format and shifted to the slogan "The Talk That Rocks" with Howard Stern in the mornings and another controversial syndicated show called Opie & Anthony in afternoons. Opie & Anthony were dropped from syndication in 2002 over a sexual stunt in a religious facility. The new "spicy" talk station, as Program Director Steve Garland called it, also carried NFL games of the Oakland Raiders. Another controversial show that only lasted a year was KiddChris.
In late 2002 after a year of low ratings and controversy that led to minuses, "93.7 KXOA" repositioned its format as "Sacramento's Hard Rock." The station still carried Howard Stern in mornings, but for the rest of the day Infinity was challenging Entercom for the town's hardest rocking audience. Entercom, which had cornered the rock market in Sacramento with active rocker 98 Rock (KRXQ 98.5) and classic rocker The Eagle (KSEG 96.9), won the contest easily, perhaps from inheriting so much heritage.
The KXOA call letters disappeared from the market in 2004 when 93.7 FM became KHWD known as "Howard" at a time when Howard Stern's show came under intense FCC observation for possible indecency. Irony struck later in the year when Stern announced he would be moving on to Sirius Satellite Radio in a few years. The KXOA call letters had been among the four earliest in Sacramento, lasting from 1945 through the new millennium. Brown Broadcasting turned out to be the company that made the call letters work simply by focusing on the dial position instead, as K108 was the all-time champion of the various KXOA incarnations.
KFBK rides at the top through the nineties
KFBK was number one (12+) in every Arbitron book throughout the nineties except one. The news/talk station began hitting the top regularly in 1987 after the demise of competitor KGNR (1320 AM). Even with new competition in the nineties from KHTK (1140 AM) and KSTE (650 AM), KFBK remained unbeaten as a news station throughout the entire decade. In fact, the only station to top KFBK throughout the whole decade was KRAK-FM in the Fall of 1990, but just by a hair. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned that the oldest call letters in the market remain the strongest. KFBK is without a doubt, the most successful radio station in Sacramento history, just as KGO is for San Francisco.
Joe Bayliss was Market Manager for Clear Channel's Sacramento cluster of stations including KFBK in 2000 after moving up in sales at KFBK and Y92. He went on to hold a similar position for Infinity in San Francisco before purchasing his own Bay Area station with other investors in 2004, under the name Flying Bear Media. The station was formerly KJAZ, then a Spanish station, then KPTI, then KBTB in a constant merry-go-round of ownership and format changes. It became KNGY "Energy 92.7," an electronic dance/hits format, in October 2004.
Once part of McClatchy Broadcasting for decades, KFBK switched owners to Group W in the eighties. KFBK's long-time sister station was KAER, which was previously KFBK-FM, playing classical music. KAER started as a country station then flipped to "love songs" and ultimately became KGBY ("Y92") in 1991. Gina Miles had an acclaimed talk show at night that dealt with relationships. In 1994 the combo was sold to Chancellor Media, which marked the beginning of what would become the world's biggest radio empire.
The rise of big corporate radio
For several decades the FCC mandated strict ownership rules for radio and other media, in order to keep programming diverse. These rules began to loosen during the Reagan Administration in the 1980s as part of an overall deregulation policy. Then in 1992 a new law gave radio owners, for the first time, the opportunity to own two AMs and two FMs in a market. Four years later, the Telecom Act further loosened ownership limits to eight stations per market.
The race among radio owners to start buying up as many stations as possible began immediately after the signing of the Telecom Act in February 1996. By the end of the year Jacor suddenly rose to be a top 3 radio empire with 95 stations across America after the billion dollar purchase of stations owned by Citicasters and Regent Communications. Jacor grew even bigger the next year with the purchase of several syndicated shows including Rush Limbaugh, who had the most listened to show in the country. By 1998 Jacor owned over 200 stations. The following year Clear Channel purchased Jacor for $6.5 billion and became the second biggest radio chain at that point. What put Clear Channel over the top was the 2000 purchase of AMFM, previously known as Chancellor Media.
Chancellor started in Sacramento, although owner Thomas Hicks operated out of Texas. The company expanded nationally and went on to become AMFM, which became the largest radio chain in the nation by the end of the nineties. In 2000 Hicks sold his empire so that he could acquire George W. Bush's percentage of the Texas Rangers Major League Baseball team. AMFM's buyer was a company that had been around for years called Clear Channel. Upon purchasing the biggest radio chain, Clear Channel thus became America's biggest radio chain. By the early 2000s, Clear Channel owned Sacramento stations KFBK, KGBY, KHYL and KSTE and a few others that were sold off.
Infinity had also become a huge company through mergers and opened the decade owning KSFM, KMYX, KNCI, KHTK, KZZO, KRAK and KXOA. The other giant in Sacramento at the turn of the century was Entercom, which owned KSSJ, KSEG, KDND, KRXQ and KCTC. The year 1998 saw radical changes on the dial that affected Infinity and Entercom. In March KRAK-FM and KRXQ swapped dial positions, resulting in 93 Rock becoming 98 Rock. Then later that year Entercom debuted a new top 40 station called "The End" while KXOA ("The Arrow") moved from 107.9 to 93.7 and the KRAK call letters were picked up by Infinity at 1470 AM as "Gold Country." But it only lasted a few years as it was sold to Disney who debuted its "Radio Disney" format for children and teens as KIID in 2000. In 2003 Entercom added KWOD to their list after a long legal dispute with Ed Stolz, who unsuccessfully tried to back out of a sale initiated in 1996.
Frequent ownership changes in the nineties
Group W owned KFBK and KGBY since the eighties through 1994 when the combo was acquired by Chancellor. Chancellor later became AMFM then merged with Clear Channel in 2000. Genesis Broadcasting owned FM 102 and the 1380 AM frequency (KSMJ Magic 1380, a Motown-based oldies station) from the eighties through 1994 when Secret Communications acquired FM 102. Once the Telecom Act was in effect, the first big company to buy a lot of stations in Sacramento was American Radio Systems (ARS). By the end of 1996 ARS owned FM 102, KRAK-FM (105.1), KMYX (96.1), KSSJ (101.9), KCTC (1320 AM) and Hot Talk (KHTK 1140 AM). In 1997 the Justice Department allowed ARS to merge with EZ Communications as long as ARS sold KSSJ and a station in another market because the company had too much market share of advertising revenue. All Sacramento ARS stations were bought by CBS Radio in September 1997. Note: In 1995 CBS had been purchased by Westinghouse, which bought Infinity in 1996. In 1997 Westinghouse sold all their non-broadcast properties and became CBS, which was acquired by Viacom for $37 billion in 2000. When the merger was complete CBS Radio became Infinity Broadcasting. Then in January 2006 Viacom and CBS became separate companies and Infinity changed its name back to CBS Radio.
KRXQ had been owned by Fuller-Jeffrey since the eighties through 1994 when the station sold to Citicasters, who also acquired The Eagle (KSEG 96.9) that year from Great American. The rock combo then was briefly owned by a rising radio group in 1996 called Jacor. Then it was purchased by Entercom in 1996. When Fuller-Jeffrey sold KRXQ in 1994, they acquired the new 650 AM frequency and launched it as KSTE. In 1996 this AM news/talk station was sold to its competitor, Chancellor, who already owned news/talk KFBK. KSTE ultimately became a Clear Channel station.
The Point (KQPT 100.5 until 1996) was owned by the same company who owned legendary Washington D.C. alternative station WHFS, which was Duchossois Communications (pronounced Duchess swa) through 1993 when it was acquired by Brown Broadcasting, who already had owned the 107.9 frequency as KXOA since the early seventies. The Point became the Zone in 1995 and was aquired the next year by ARS and was part of the cluster that wound up with Infinity. KZAP was owned by Nationwide since the eighties and was acquired by EZ Communications in 1993, a year after it had become KRAK-FM (98.5). EZ also owned KRAK-AM (1140), which it turned into Hot Talk (KHTK) in 1994. Both EZ stations were gobbled up by ARS in 1996 and then sold to CBS Radio the next year and became Infinity stations by 2000.
KCTC-FM, the "beautiful music" station playing instrumental pop standards, in the winter of 1990 became Mix 96 under Tribune, who owned the frequency from the eighties through 1996 when it was acquired by ARS, then by 2000 it was an Infinity station. Cool 101 (KHYL 101.1) was owned by Parker Communications from the eighties through 1992 when it was acquired by American Media, who sold it to Chancellor in 1995, therefore, it became a Clear Channel station in 2000. KWOD held the record for longest independent ownership at the start of the new millennium, under Ed Stolz's Royce International Broadcasting. He had owned the license for 106.5 since 1977, but had to give it up to Entercom in 2003 after a long court battle about a signed deal made in 1996. Stolz then concentrated on his other radio property, KRCK in Palm Springs, CA. However, he continued to appear in radio trade headlines, by challenging the licenses of Entercom stations around the country in petitions to the FCC.
New stations in the 90s/00s
The FCC gave Sacramento some new frequencies in the nineties. One was KSSJ, which debuted at 101.9 FM in 1995 as jazz station "The City" but moved to another new frequency, 94.7 FM, on Feb. 18, 1998. Entercom was granted the new 94.7 frequency licensed to Fair Oaks. The station came on strongly in the ratings as a Smooth Jazz station. In 1996 a new station debuted at 103.5 as KRYR, the first Spanish station to cover the entire market, carrying the network feed of the quickly rising Z-Spanish Network. The next year Paula Nelson, head of Diamond Broadcasting, dropped the feed and flipped from Spanish to hip hop as KBMB "The Bomb." One of the first moves the station made was hiring five year FM 102 jock Ibrahim Jamile (aka E-Bro) as the Bomb's afternoon host. The station skyrocketed in the ratings in its second book and became a leading player throughout the 2000s. KBMB was placed in receivership in October 2003 as Entravision was allowed to acquire the station.
With KSSJ moving to Entercom's new frequency, the 101.9 position went Spanish for awhile as KRRE ("Radio Romantica") under the ownership of Entravision, but the company took advantage of the name "Cool" after Clear Channel changed the successful KHYL from "Cool 101" to "Magic 101." KHYL dropped the "Cool" name in 1999 and Entravision picked it up a year later with call letters KCCL as the format changed to oldies. While KHYL shifted to R&B oldies, the new Cool 101.9, brought back the wider variety of sixties oldies that had made the original Cool a winner. KCCL quickly moved ahead of KHYL in the ratings and stayed ahead for years. Several jocks on KCCL had been familiar voices on Sacramento radio including Joey Mitchell and Rick Shannon. Tony Cox took the morning slot in September 2005 as the station moved away from 50s and 60s oldies and began to play mostly 70s rock under the new station identity "Boss Radio." But the nostalgic experiment only lasted through the next summer, as the format shifted to country and the station began calling itself "The Wolf" with the call letters KNTY.
The Changing Sounds and Owners of Radio
KHYL retained its image as an oldies leader in the Sacramento market for decades. Mark Lennartz worked at KHYL from the summer of 1989 through January 1995. For awhile he was the PD. In 2008 he recalls, "I was there at the transition when Parker Communications took it from a mid-tempo AC station to Oldies. Before that KHYL had a colorful history with some talented players, but it was always considered 'the Auburn station' and few in Sacramento took it seriously until Parker began tweaking it. I was the second PD under Parker, brought aboard to help make the move to Oldies 101. It was a hybrid station. John Parker and I felt we could live with a bigger 70s influence than your average oldies outlet, but after about a year realized what every oldies station needs to realize: concentrate on the 60s."
The air staff of the early nineties included Lennartz in the morning, JR Jackson in middays, Ric Santos in afternoons, Ken Hunter in evenings and Ron West did overnights. John Clark Fourtner did morning news with Lennartz, who says, "Few PDs could find a better group of pros, considering our working conditions. We were 30 miles out of market in a run-down building linked to our transmitter by a fragile microwave beam." Meanwhile, the sales staff worked in Sacramento. When Arbitron numbers came out, the Auburn team would visit the Sacramento office to watch the numbers download and print. In the early 90s Parker moved the entire station to Marconi Avenue in Sacramento.
Other air talent that surfaced later in the decade included Terry Nelson, Bob "The Godfather" Galli, Tony Cox, Bobby Angel, Dean Stevens and newsman Mike Reynolds, who had done mornings with Chris Collins on FM102's Morning Zoo in the eighties. Lennartz says, "The oldies format had been honed to probably 350 to 400 songs with the majority of them in the format's wheelhouse of 1964-1969." The Oldies 101 Super Picnic was a huge summer event that featured oldies mainstays such as Johnny Rivers and Paul Revere & The Raiders.
Parker sold KHYL to American Media in 1993. New ownership, meant new management. Brian Chase, a successful oldies programmer from Arizona, took the PD job while Mark Lennartz moved to middays and Production Director. Around that time Oldies 101 changed into Cool 101. Another innovative move was to carry San Francisco 49er games. Chase left after a year and Jon Brent aka Johnny B came in as the new PD while Lennartz went to mornings for awhile until Joey Mitchell arrived in early 1995. In 1994 the station sold to Chancellor, who also picked up KFBK and Y92.
Two weeks after Lennartz was let go in early 1995, Arbitron numbers for the quarter were released that showed Chancellor had the top three stations in town: KFBK, Y92 and Cool 101. "The station worked because we were blue-collar guys in a demo-rich format," explains Lennartz. "We were personalities that all truly loved the music. It wasn't a job for us, it was a way of life. That's what we tried to get across each and every day."
The station became a strong force in the ratings for many years. One of the most memorable and entertaining talents on the station was singer John Young, who would bring his guitar in on the morning show in the nineties and perform cover songs of classic hits. Young eventually became a regular figure on the show along with Jennifer Cooper Steele. After the station went through its ill-advised late nineties facelift that ended its rein as oldies leader in the market, Young moved on to do mornings on the "John and Jen Show" in nearby Vacaville at KUIC-FM, which bleeds into the Bay Area. After Clear Channel dropped the "Cool 101" handle in 1999, it opened the door for a slightly different frequency to call themselves "Cool 101.9."
Jennifer Cooper Steele has worked at various stations in Sacramento. Prior to working as the evening host of "101.5 KHITS" (KCCL) in Woodland, she did "News at Noon" with Rick Stewart on KFBK in the 90s. She also became KFBK's first full-time female lead afternoon traffic anchor for Tom Sullivan and Kitty O'Neal and the same position for V101 and Y92.5. She also worked at New Country 105.1.
The New Era: Radio must face barrage of challenges from new media
In the 2000s the radio industry and the music industry both face uphill challenges from various new media. One can clearly see, by studying the history of media, patterns that have shaped the current media landscape. AM radio dominated people's lives until the fifties when television became the dominant medium. Then the new technology of the transistor made radio an appealing portable companion from the fifties on. AM radio then faced major competition when FM technology was improved in the late seventies. The mad rush for FM receivers transformed FM into being the desired band for music fans by the early eighties. The computer revolution that followed has led us to where we are today. We are at an empowering vantage point with an unbelievable amount of choices to consume information and entertainment besides radio: cable, the internet, satellite radio and now something called "podcasting."
The combination of corporate consolidation and new competition from new media has changed the music and radio industries from what they were prior to the mid-nineties. In some cases radio owners have gained huge advantages because of conditions of the Telecom Act. Examples include cornering a market, increasing radio property value and increasing spot rates. Disadvantages to industry consolidation have been less localization and a decline in the "human element" of broadcasting as computer automation systems have taken over to ensure "no dead air" or jocks accidentally playing an unscheduled song. The role of the air personality at several music stations has been further diminished to liner-cards, time and temperature, artist and title, and occasional tidbits thrown in.
The radio stations that survive the contest that lies ahead in the new millennium will likely be the ones that merge with - instead of compete with new technology. Those that take their local programming to an international audience will likely do better than those that try to offer national programming for just a local audience.
There is no question Sacramento radio was most exciting prior to the 21st century, which is indicated by Arbitron ratings that fell to lower levels in the 2000s. Chris Collins, who topped Sacramento ratings at FM 102 in the 80s and 90s, says in 2010: "You see, the Zoo primarily made it to #1 because we were funny, worked hard and always timely YET we were always one of three presets in most 12-54 persons car listening to the radio. The new jackasses that have ruined radio wouldn't understand this concept if Jesus walked through the clouds and hit them over the head with it!"
Asked where radio is today, one of Sacramento radio's all time favorite radio personalities, Kevin "Boom Boom" Anderson says in 2010: "It's already right where it belongs - in the toilet. Ownership consolidation, increased spot loads to pay off debt, homogenization - radio ate itself, and it got what it deserved. The end."
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