KSAN GNUS

by Dave McQueen

As the Vietnam war turned more hopeless during the late 1960's, there was a corresponding loss of confidence in the “establishment” news sources, which had provided only the military’s point of view about the war until then. That led to further loss of confidence in the way domestic issues were presented in newspapers, television and radio. Alternative weekly newspapers sprang up like mushrooms in this fertile soil.

So-called “underground” FM radio was created principally as a music vehicle, but when Wes “Scoop” Nisker began doing his news-music “collages” on KSAN they were instantly a smash hit and attracted great attention, and radio stations around the country took notice. Back then, all radio stations were required to do at least a minimum of News and Public Affairs as a condition of licensing, and Rock FM stations were springing up in many cities around the country as a result of KSAN’s success. Many of them also saw a Counter-Culture News presentation as part of their mission.

Thus began the long run of Danny Schecter, the “News Dissector” at WBCN in Boston, “Flash” Ferenc at WMMS in Cleveland, and “Ace” Young at KMET in Los Angeles, among others. The father of them all, so to speak, was Scoop, and he certainly was the most creative. But he paid a high price in long and grueling hours and more or less constant conflict with management, and in mid-1969, after being accused by Berkeley police of “instigating” anti-war demonstrations, Scoop left and went to India to seek spiritual fulfillment.

Larry Bensky, previously an editor at the New York Times Book Review and the Paris Review, took over as KSAN News Director. Larry’s presentation was more straightforward, but no less radical and Counter-Cultural, and that guaranteed continued conflict with management and sales. The Sales Department saw KSAN’s success in programming as the route to more lucrative mainstream advertisers (which was, of course, their job.) But the conflict between daily presentation of News with a “point of view,” often anti-establishment, and the reality of needing a steady stream of high-dollar advertising to pay the bills and satisfy MetroMedia’s profit needs never went away–that conflict continued throughout the course of KSAN’s history.

Despite electrifying scoops, such as the live-on-air first report of the killing of students at Kent State by National Guardsmen (from KSAN stringer Jeff Gerth, now of the New York Times,) Larry soon was fired for “insubordination.” General Manager Willis Duff turned to veteran major market music and news personality Dave McQueen, who despite long hair, Rasputin beard, and previous involvement with Pacifica Radio, seemed a safe choice because of long commercial experience (Willis was impressed that McQueen had been a pioneer helicopter traffic reporter at one time.) 

(to be continued)