Sacramento Radio History
by Alex Cosper

KROY van and staff in 1977. Courtesy of Tony Cox

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Sacramento Radio Dial


See Sacramento Radio History Interviews on Video

Sacramento has an incredible radio history. Several national media celebrities rose to fame after doing radio in the "River City." The legendary Los Angeles alternative station KROQ owes a piece of their history to a Sac State graduate named Rick Carroll, who is considered to be the main architect of the alternative radio format. Although he worked on air in Sacramento at KERS and KPOP in the sixties then programmed KXOA in the early seventies, he is more remembered in the radio industry for his work in Southern California, in which he was the first radio consultant to spread modern rock around American radio with a format he called "rock of the eighties." One of the stations he consulted was KPOP, which later became 93 Rock, the ancestor of 98 Rock.

One of Sacramento's most legendary stations was KZAP, which was freeform from 1968 to 1978 and album-oriented rock 1979 to 1992. Voices heard on KZAP included Cary Nosler, Charlie Weiss, Kevin "Boom Boom" Anderson, Bob Galli "The Godfather," Mick Martin, Bob Keller, Bill Prescott and Jon Russell. The Legend of KZAP is a report that covers the station throughout its entire history and includes video interviews with KZAP's first Music Director Jeff Hughson, 1970s Program Director Robert Williams and Dennis Newhall, who went from KZAP jock to a rival Program Director at Earth Radio.

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

The latest radio star from Sacramento to emerge nationally is former KRXQ jock Laura Ingle, who became a television reporter for Fox News in the early 2000s. As far as Sacramento radio entrepreneurs who have made a national impact, one need look no further than Amador Bustos, who created the Z-Spanish Network in 1992 in Sacramento for under a million dollars and sold the chain of 33 stations to Entravision in 2000 for $475 million.

There have been quite a few stories of Sacramento radio talent beyond Rush Limbaugh, Don Imus and Morton Downey Jr. rising to national exposure. Christine Craft had been a television figure as a reporter for CBS-TV long before hitting the Sacramento airwaves. She also made national news in the eighties as a plaintiff in a federal case that challenged sexist practices in the television news industry.

Mark S. Allen, who was a popular jock on FM 102 in the eighties and nineties, hosted Comedy Central's Short Attention Span Theater in the nineties. Since 1996 he has been the morning anchor at KMAX-TV in Sacramento. Tina Macuha started out on the FM 102 morning show in the early nineties and then advanced to doing traffic reports on several stations before joining KMAX TV's "Good Day Sacramento" in 1995 as morning commute traffic reporter. One of Sacramento's most successful television anchors, KXTV Channel 10's Cristina Mendonsa, did news at FM 102, KZAP and K108 in the late eighties before moving on to television.

Mick Martin, who did movie reviews on KZAP from the late seventies through the early nineties, became co-author of the popular book The DVD Movie Guide. Another KZAP personality from the glory days, Cary Nosler, wrote books on nutrition and hosted a national television show called PM Magazine. KZAP also employed the news team of Richard Beban and Judith Nielsen in the seventies, who both went on to be writers for television shows, including the series Barney Miller. Another news person at KZAP in the seventies was Jok Church, who went on to be creator of the national comic strip Beakman & Jax.

The Billboard book Echoes of the Sixties was written by early seventies KROY production man Jeff March, who now runs a communications firm at Perhaps the metropolitan area's best kept secret about several local radio personalities who talked to a national audience was Concept Productions out of Roseville from the mid-seventies through the nineties. Another national voice that rose out of Sacramento was Tony Pigg, who went on to become the announcer for the Live with Regis and Kelly national television show.

Early Radio in Sacramento

The first AM radio station to be heard in Sacramento was what became KFBK, lighting store owner J.C. Hobrecht, who handed the station over to the Kimball-Upson Company. The license was issued on Dec. 9, 1921 by the Department of Commerce. The station signed on as KVQ at 833 AM on Feb. 2, 1922. Kimball-Upson partnered with the Sacramento Union to create programming for three years. Then Kimball-Upson teamed up with sponsor McClatchy Newspaers, who then took over the station. McClatchy was able to increase the power to 10,000 watts in 1939 then 50,000 watts in 1948. An early voice heard on KFBK was a mystery baritone singer called "The Blackbird." His real name was Mario Gomes. Rose Maddox, who later became a national country music star, began broadcasting on KFBK in 1939 at age 11 with her group Maddox Brothers and Rose after winning a contest at the State Fair.

KROY, named after owner Royal Miller, arrived in 1937 at 1210 AM and then moved to 1240 AM four years later. A deep look at the history of KROY in the 60s, 70s and 80s can be found at In 1945 Sacramento added two stations to the dial: KCRA and KXOA. KCRA started as a day-only station at 1340 AM then day and night at 1320 AM. KXOA was first heard at 1490 AM then increased power at 1470 AM. Those first four stations in town were affiliates of the four big national radio networks at the time: KCRA (NBC), KFBK (ABC), KROY (CBS) and KXOA (Mutual).
In 1946 the history of radio changed when the FCC, for the first time, oversaw a bidding war for a radio property, as Royal Miller sold KROY.

FMs begin to appear in the 40s/50s/60s

The first fpur FMs in Sacramento were sister stations of the four AM properties: KROY-FM (94.5), KCRA-FM (96.1), KFBK-FM (96.9) and KXOA-FM (107.9). In the fifties KGMS-FM (95.1) and KJML (106.5) were added to the dial while the 94.5 and 96.9 frequencies went dark for awhile. In the sixties the 100.5 frequency was added and became religious station KEBR. KXRQ (98.5) came on in the sixties playing lite pop in the day and jazz at night. In 1968 it changed ownership and format to freeform rock as KZAP (98.5).

Sacramento Radio in the 1950s

The fifties marked the popularization of television, which forced radio to reinvent itself. Radio was saved partly by the new technology of the transistor, which miniaturized electronics. The transistor radio became popular after Sony issued the TR-63 in 1957, although there had been earlier transistor radios that had not caught on. The baby boom generation became a target for marketers, particularly the radio and music industries as rock and roll created excitement for youth. The sound of 1950s radio shifted from variety to adult and teen formats. KGMS was a rock station in the 1950s and helped ushed in rock and roll while big band music lived on with Bill Rase at KCRA.

Sacramento Radio in the 1960s

Even with the growth of FM, KROY (1240 AM) topped the Sacramento ratings from the late sixties through the early seventies after years of a see-saw battle with KXOA (1470 AM). Other highlights included the arrival of country station KRAK (1140 AM), soul station KJAY (1430 AM) and KPOP (1110 AM) which started as middle of the road then moved to soul. FCC rules changed in 1965 that forced AM/FM combo owners to limit simulcasting of AM programming on FM, to create more diversity on the dial. A result was KHIQ (105.1 FM) which experimented with freeform before switching to soft instrumentals as KEWT. A longer lasting experimental station was KZAP.

Sacramento Radio in the 1970s

KROY continued to dominate in the 70s until FM technology improved as described by Tony Cox in the late 70s, in which listeners began migrating to FM. Another thing that distinguished the 70s from previous decades was the rise of radio radio consultants such as Drake-Chenault. KXOA AM changed call letters to KNDE as Rock KANDIE to compete with KROY as the FM dial became populated with musical alternatives such as Earth Radio and K108. Johnny Hyde, who had led KROY to the top of the ratings, moved on to KCRA AM, an MOR station that mixed music and talk. Several stations began to transform in the late 70s from freeform beginnings to sounding just as commercial as AM. Earth Radio also dumped their eclectic rock format in September 1979 in favor of dance hits as FM 102. KJML (106.5) had been an elevator music station since the late 50s, but in the late 70s started playing jazz before flipping to contemporary hits.

Sacramento Radio in the 1980s

KZAP's rise to the top of the ratings followed the streamlining of the rock format. Ultimately the station would be challenged by KRXQ. By the early 80s the only stations left standing on the AM dial were KFBK, KRAK and KCRA, which changed call letters to KGNR and became all talk. Rush Limbaugh arrived at KFBK in 1984, three years before going into national syndication. KFBK's rise to dominance was triggered when KGNR's morning team of Dave Williams and Bob Nathan moved over to morning drive at KFBK in early 1985, after the two talk stations had drawn even in the ratings by late 1984.

Dave Williams had worked at both KROY and KNDE. KHYL (101.1) became a haven for oldies fans while K108 offered mellow rock for adults. The top 40 rivalry of the 80s was mainly FM 102 and KWOD with challenges from KPOP and the return of KROY. The most popular morning show thoroughout the decade was the Morning Zoo's Chris Collins and Mike Reynolds on hit music leader FM 102. Elevator music had once made it to the top of the market by KEWT, and then with KCTC, but by the end of the eighties it is was replaced by vocals as The Mix.

Sacramento Radio in the 1990s

The Sacramento dial changed dramatically in the 1990s as KZAP flipped to country and K108 disappeared. KWOD went alternative, and KROY flipped to classic rock as The Eagle. Alternative music spread across the dial as The Point became The Zone. The Telecom Act of 1996 loosened the rules for corporate ownership as a series of mergers changed the face of radio. KFBK was the market leader throughout the decade, hitting number one on Arbitron nearly every quarter as KSFM/FM 102 and KRXQ were top music stations throughout the decade. Tina Macuha's voice was heard on several stations as a traffic reporter before she joined Mark S. Allen (who had worked on air at KSFM) and the Good Day Sacramento local morning television team on CW 31 (KMAX).

Sacramento Radio in the 2000s

The radio industry was met with many new challenges in the 2000s as the internet and gadgets like the iPod changed the way people consumed media. For most of the decade corporate ownership stabilized across the dial although formatting went through many changes. For awhile Howard Stern was heard on a station called Howard, which played alternative music the rest of the day. Air America ushered in liberal talk radio, but it didn't compete well in the market. Another station that disappeared despite being successful was KSSJ at 94.7, which in early 2011 flipped to the alternative format as "Radio 94.7." KSSJ was a successful station since the late nineties when 94.7 became a new frequency on the local dial. One of its hosts, Lynda Clayton, started a non profit concert series for Autism treatment called Rock'in the Vineyard. The smooth jazz format was dropped despite great ratings. Lynda started her career at 93 Rock, then she did middays at Y92 for six years before a long stint at KSSJ.

The ownership of KWOD, one of the last independent stations in town, was battled in court and was awarded to Entercom. Amador Bustos created the Z-Spanish Network, which turned out to be a multi-million dollar empire.
In January 2007 tragedy struck when a radio contest at 107.9 The End led to a contestant's death, which became a national story and a wake-up call for the radio industry.

Pat Martin and Radio Longevity
Popular Morning Shows
Where have all the call letters gone?
Local personalities gone national
Sacramento Radio Dial 2012

Please note that this history report is focused more on the on-air content that led to significant radio followings in Sacramento. It does not attempt to explore people who worked behind the scenes, except in some cases, prominent Program Directors who were in charge of on-air content and influential owners who made acquisitions that affected the market.

For more information visit Valley Broadcast Legends

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