The Game - Glenn Lambert
The Rolling Stone Radio Show - Bob Simmons
Setting The Stage - Phil Dirt
The Xavius Chronicles - Xavian
Life After The Jive - Jay Hansen remembers
It's All Over Now - Glenn Lambert
When KSAN Broke The Radio Mold - Ben Fong Torres
Becoming Jive - Norman Davis
Fire In The Hole - the not-so-great KSAN fire - Norman Davis
The Clio Award Nomination - Rick Sadle
The Budd Stuntt Saga - Joe Lerer
The Jimmy Reed Interview 1976 - Norman Davis
The KSAN listeners - Vicky Cunningham
Ace of the Airwaves - Norman Davis
The Strange Saga of the Bizarro Sisters
Carol Bizarro (Bastoky)
Four in the morning is an in between time, not night, not yet day-a time of transformation that is very elusive. Magical things can happen in this pre-dawn environment, if you’re there for it. Back in 1974 I was working in the Wells Fargo building in downtown Berkeley. We were on 5th floor and when you looked out the windows you could see San Francisco and the bay. I was between things, deciding to return to college or not and I was 23 years old. My family has lived in San Francisco for generations and I lived and breathed KMPX, especially Tom Donahue, when I was still a girl.
My co-worker and I had the 12-7:00 am shift and we operated a room full of switch boards, some message lines and some more important things like hospital to hospital connections. It wasn’t always easy but the radio kept us company. KSAN in San Francisco was the one and only station we ever listened to and at 2:00 am a special man came on the air whose name was Norman Davis. We loved Norman’s show but wanted to make some suggestions so we called him to ask for particular music. He sometimes listened, sometimes not but he always had something to say. One night I was talking to him and he put me on the air without letting me know. Well, I came from a show biz family and to us that is considered a challenge! I told him, “Next time you do that I’ll sing”, and Carol and Nancy, two hard working, hard living young chicks decided to create something new for 4:00 am.
Our creation was a joke. We wrote jingles for KSAN, station id’s that were meant to be weird and off the wall. We named ourselves the “Bizarro Sisters” and made every effort to live up to our creation! In between our shenanigans we were connecting sick people to hospitals and doctors and doing other serious business but for Norman and KSAN we became the fools.
The id spots on KSAN were an art form in themselves and we thought 4:00 am could use some new stuff, especially bizarre because by that time, if you were still awake you were either partying heavy or working or both! Either way you could use a jolt of something besides what you had already had to keep you going. Nancy and I decided to rewrite simple tunes and turn them into little promos.
We were usually alone in that small room with the wires but our friends could come up and the janitor for the building used to come in for a few hands of black jack. He was an older black man that I never saw do much of anything but once he stood up, pushed his mop back and forth and sat back down. I asked him “what was that?” and he replied, “spot moppin.”
Even the hospital business sometimes slowed down that early before picking up again as the world seemed to take a deep breath. This is when Nancy and I could work on our little KSAN promos, play cards and still jump up to answer the lines. Some musicians had their phones there too because that was the only technology available. The customers included Taj Mahal and John Lee Hooker as well as about 400 others, people and businesses. Nancy & Carol "Bizarro"
Our little songs became a ritual and we got to know some of the people at KSAN.
Norman Davis and Phil Charles were my buddies and when we visited KSAN it was a great, creative, chaotic atmosphere. I found it totally amazing that so much good music was coming out of that place in the middle of what seemed like one big party sometimes. Other times it was really mellow and focused. A place full of talent that was open to new approaches to life and truly good music.
By playing the Bizarro twins we tried to capture a little part of it and the feeling of 4:00 a.m., which will always be a fleeting, strange time in the morning. If only for a second we made it sit down, talk to us and lend us some of its self before moving on.
on the air
by Glenn Lambert
October 2, 1978. Monday. Groucho
Marx’s birthday. My dad’s birthday. For me, a regular day at the office.
Lucky for me, the office was the
KSAN studio, in the old bank building at Sansome & Sacramento in San
Francisco, where I was holding down the daily 10am-2pm air shift to keep it from
Not so lucky for me, October 2,
1978 was also the date of one of the classic games in baseball history: the
unprecedented one-game playoff between the Yankees and the Red Sox, a day game
at Fenway Park. The teams had ended up tied in the standings, after the Yanks
staged an unbelievable comeback from 17 or 18 games behind in August to pull
even at the finish. The regular playoffs were supposed to start in two days, but
first Boston and New York had to fight another round of their ancient rivalry.
And lo, the Commissioner of Baseball decreed for that one open day there would
be a one-game pre-playoffs playoff. It would be a tremendous climax to one of
the greatest pennant races ever. It was the only game that day, and it was on
national TV. Every fan in the world (especially a fanatically hardcore New York
native-born Yankee fan like me) would be glued to the TV (some of them
literally, but to me that’s a little too
fanatical) if they possibly could.
Only I couldn’t, because the
game was during my air shift! So there I was in the studio, as ever,
broadcasting to San Francisco and beyond on the legendary KSAN. The best job in
the world, bar none. But did it have to be during the game?
I don’t know what I played on the show that day —I’d guess something like Clash Elvis Kinks Blondie Dylan Ramones Miles Beatles Eno Bowie Pretenders Satchmo Bruce Nick Patti Marvin Otis Curtis Devo Sex Pistols Talking Heads Modern Lovers Roxy Music Monty Python Jefferson Airplane Grateful Dead and of course, Minnie Moore. But I’m sure must have played a lot of long songs— because whenever I could, I’d bolt from the studio (knocking over interns like bowling pins) and run to the back of the building, where the game was on the TV in the newsroom.
The gnus guys were somehow still
churning out copy as ever while watching the game at the same time. Meanwhile,
an ever-changing group of people who were getting very little done that day
crowded the doorway to get updates — including, of course, me. During one
7-minute song or another, somebody asked me “Aren’t you supposed to be on
Ah, but I was, flying back
behind the console just as the song ended to segue to the next one, on the next
turntable. Or, if it was the end of a set, turning on the mike and trying to not
sound out of breath from running back down the hall...
This went on for several
innings. Then... I had a fiendishly brilliant idea! (It was easy to have a
fiendishly brilliant idea in the studio, since it resembled the set of a mad
scientist movie, with all the meters, switches, knobs, and lights on the console
and on the row of equipment racks full of gizmos from floor to ceiling.
One of those gizmos, in the rack right behind the dj chair, was the Emergency Broadcast System control panel. The EBS test was a regular, really annoying, feature of radio back then. First you had to read, word for word, the official announcement: “This is a test. For the next sixty seconds, this station will conduct a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. This is ONLY a test.” (I tried putting ridiculous music under the announcement for a while, but that was deemed not kosher), Then the really really annoying part: a long, long, long beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep, a dissonant mixture of screechy tones, going on and on and on and on, the kind of thing that made you want to run to the radio and turn it off. Which I’m sure people were doing, by the thousands, in houses, offices, stores, and cars all around the bay area.
Besides warning (and annoying) the public, it was every radio station’s duty to have a special EBS receiver, tuned to certain FCC-specified frequencies on the radio dial. This is where we would get our warning of the end of the world — which we would then genially pass on to you, the listener.
It was of course our duty as citizens and broadcasters to follow the dictates of the authorities. One must never, never alter the frequency on the EBS receiver. So of course, I did. I found the AM station that was carrying the game, switched on the little tinny speaker, and eureka! It’s alive!
For the rest of the game, I kept wheeling the swivel chair between the console, where I was doing my show, and the rack, where I could turn on the game while something was playing on the air. (I wish I could say that a record got stuck in the groove and I didn’t notice it, because that would be funny, but I don’t remember.) I’m guessing my back announces and clever comments were unusually short that day, so I wouldn’t miss a big moment in the game.
Yes, a fiendishly brilliant idea
— unless, of course, the end of the world happened to come during the game. Of
course, if it did, who would be there to scold me?
Instead, Bucky Dent hit his
famous homer over the green monster, Reggie Jackson added a stupendous blast out
of the park (he said “It was an insurance run, so I hit it to the Prudential
building.”) and the Yanks ended up winning 5-4, leaving the Yankee fans (me)
deliriously happy, and the Boston fans inconsolable, as they would remain for
another 26 miserable years.
(Ironic foreshadowing) Meanwhile, unbeknownst to us innocent broadcasting babes, KSAN (and the EBS too) were soon destined to vanish into the foggy foggy mists of history (that is, if we have the budget for the dry ice).
On the bright side... if you’re reading this, the end of the world probably hasn’t happened yet.
Bucky Dent crosses the plate with the winning run
The Rolling Stone Radio Show
cloudy mists of time…when was it? Maybe 1971 or 1972? Ben Fong-Torres
would know, perhaps more accurately than I, but even Beverly Hertzler-Wilshire
is not certain, and she too was there for the production. I am happy just
to get the decade right.
I think it was one of those periods when I was working weekends and production at KSAN. Under Willis Duff’s watch? Tom Donahue was busy in L.A. Paul Boucher was still sort of Production Director. I think Stefan Ponek had just been let go. It was before Rick Sadle, and maybe Thom O’Hair had just come to town?…Whatever…but for some reason, surely one he came to question, Ben Fong-Torres told me that Jann Wenner over at Rolling Stone was looking to start a Rolling Stone Radio show. I jumped at this, and I offered to do a demo as an application for the job.
Ben handed me a tape of his recent interview with Bill Gavin. The quality of the recording was pretty bad, but after being EQ’d in a graphic equalizer to take out the hiss and to boost the mids, you could hear Bill pretty well. I did most of the editing work on the interview in the Sutter St. production studio, and then I took the 1/4 “ tape copies over to Luther Greene’s and Dusty Street’s “Street Studio” on Mission Street, where I edited, scribbled, and added the V/O’s.
I gave the finished Bill Gavin Show to Ben, and wonder of wonders, he
liked it. BFT took the show over to Wenner who then asked me to come
in for an interview, which I did. Jann was jolly, standing around in his office in his socks and acting crafty. He said, well, let’s do a pilot and see what we can come up with. He also told me that he wanted to build a radio production studio so that he wouldn’t have to pay for studio time someplace. He asked me to price what that would cost. I was hired, for the munificent sum of $150 a week or so. I was given an office that had formerly been a storeroom for bound issues of RS. A chair, a table, a room. OK, so now what? Do I have a budget? Do I have any editorial instruction? To whom do I report, etc. etc?
I recall that Ben and I discussed it a bit, and we decided that we would just try to get a program together to present to advertisers in hopes of getting some underwriting for the whole show. This was in the days before Norm Pattis had scored with Westwood One, and nobody knew how big the radio syndication thing could get. All we wanted were a few stations to like it, and to have an advertiser who believed in the idea. In other words, get out of Jann’s dwindling disposable cash drawer.
I didn’t get a lot of help until I was introduced, (or had we met?) to Beverly Hertzler. Beverly was actually living with Willis Duff at the time, and somehow Ben had wangled her into our midst to assist the project. Her pay was even less than mine. At least now I had someone to talk to about the project.
We didn’t know whether the show was to be a long form, or a short form, but we decided that it should be a one hour show to be called the Rolling Stone Radio Hour. It would be kind of like the National Lampoon’s radio show, except it was to be about rock music and politics (and not satirical). Swell. We even got to sit in on some of the RS editorial meetings…which were amusing as people like Grover Lewis, Paul Scanlon, and David Felton would make digs at Jann’s more preposterous ideas, and Jann would in turn pick on Tim Crouse or Charlie Perry just because he could. None of it was much help to Beverly and me. They going to send US to talk to John Lennon? I don't think so.
So, ok. No equipment. No editorial direction, no budget. How do we do this thing?
I went scrounging. I knew that a friend of mine, one Dan McCloskey from KPFA had just done a good job of interviewing Van Morrison. I called him up and asked for the rights to re-use the interview tape, at least for the pilot. Chop chop chop. Out came Dan. In went the editorial V/O’s and the music from various records and a KSAN live show. Bingo, a hot twenty-two minutes with Van Morrison. His fine version of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” was a showstopper. OK, what next? Hmmm. I asked Ben what he had as audio from a story RS had just done on New Orleans. Ben came up with some funky audio cassettes of the transcript interview with Lee Dorsey, Cosmo Matassa, and Alan Toussaint. We cut a few segments out of this tape and glued in the music. It wasn’t Nick Spitzer’s “American Routes”, but it was OK, given what we had to work with. Allright, another 13 minutes done. Can we include the Bill Gavin portion? Sure, why not. OK, now, what about politics? Jann still wants politics, right? Is that right, Jann? Hello?
The Miami Democratic Convention of 1972 was coming up (Aha!, now we know we are talking Spring of 1972, since the Democratic Convention was in July of 1972.) and they did a feature story on the upcoming convention in Florida. "Hey Jann, can we get on a plane and go interview some people?" Sorry Beverly and Bob. No money. "Hey Jann, can we build this studio yet?" “No, not right now, we have some money problems.” The Miami piece was perhaps the weakest portion of the program. We had started out with a jumpin' rock and roll tape and suddenly we were having to talk about George McGovern, possible police oppression, and we didn’t have Hunter Thompson to come in and do color for us. Had we only known that we could have grabbed Hunter and given him a cap of meth/mescaline ‘party mix’ and sat him in front of a mic, we would really have had some fun, but noooo, we just cut up copy, faked some ‘actualities’ (after all, it was just a DEMO) on the phone, and we did a standard NPR style bit about the showdown
between the radicals and the Nixon inspired police department of Miami. Yawn. Ray Charles sang "Moon Over Miami" in the background.
After all that, we added some record reviews, of Randy Newman, David Peel and the Lower East Side and finally polished it off with some silly shit that was supposed to mimic Random Notes. Beverly, Thom O’Hair, and I clowned around in the KSAN Sutter Street 'production sump' reading rock gossip and even making up stuff. I think we made fun of Grace Slick and hippies in general. The bloom was sure off that rose even by 72.
We packaged all of this up and sent it over to Jann with bated breath. Jann got back to me with a memo and then a meeting. He didn’t like it. He liked some of it though. I explained that it is tough to make chicken soup out of chicken shit. It coulda been a lot better with a little attention and support from the main guy. We needed some microphones, a couple of decent tape decks, a budget to get down to talk to the people we wanted to have on the program, etc. Jann said he would think about it.
The next thing I knew, Jann said he was canning the project. He said he was having financial issues and he had to cut the budget, and that maybe we could start it up again when there was some money. Right. Well, it had been an interesting 6 weeks. Beverly and I were back to part time at KSAN, but we had some tape to show for it.
And that's the rest of the story.
The Stage for KMPX & KSAN
by Phil Dirt
(KFJC DJ, Publisher/Webmaster of Reverb Central, Surf Instrumental Producer)
The evolution of rock radio was radically redirected when Tom Donahue and his friends took over KMPX. It could only have happened in the Bay Area, with its rich and varied rock radio history. In fact, it's worth noting that the whole concept of pop music radio began in San Jose with Doc Herrold's radio station established in 1909. By 1912, his wife Sibyl was hosting a weekly program wherein she played the latest records for young people, took requests, read advertisements for local businesses, and obtained records for use on air through trade-out with a local record retailer. She was not just the first female DJ, she was the first DJ anywhere. Everything that broadcasting and music radio are started right there. This little station became KQW, which became KCBS in 1947.
KQW first identified itself simply as "This is San Jose calling", or, "This is the wireless telephone of the Garden City Bank Building of San Jose." The Wireless Act of 1912 required licenses for the first time, and Herrold claimed his was the first to be issued for any voice transmission. He applied for his license December 4, 1912. The new regulations required some form of call letter identification for all stations, although the station could choose its own, and Herrold chose "FN", which was said to be backwards for "National Fone", referring to the National Wireless Telephone and Telegraph Company. Subsequent experimental call letters assigned to Herrold were 6XE (portable) and 6XF. His satellite Fairmont Hotel station was 6XG. Call letters used in later years were SJN, until he was assigned KQW in 1921.
As a youngster, I got my first exposure to radio at home where my parents listened to really boring stuff, but around 1957, my dad and I built me a little crystal set, and my life changed forever. Suddenly, I discovered rock and roll radio. In those days, it was KOBY, the first station in the Bay Area to play the "new music," and KEEN, which dabbled in southern rock 'n' roll along side its country programming, plus KYA.
KGO even went top 40 for a brief stint, ending their experiment with a major failure of a promotion. They were trying to boost listenership through a contest wherein listeners were asked to send in postcards with the name of their favorite singer. This must have been around 1959. The artist with the most votes would be played all weekend. They kept hoping Ricky Nelson or someone like that would get the most votes, but a fraternity at Stanford flooded them with postcards for Enrico Caruso. After a weekend of those golden tones, it was all over.
Eventually, I got a real radio, and discovered the wonders of KDIA Oakland's mainstream R&B, and the eclectic R&B of KSAN AM, then 1450 on the dial. By this time, KEWB was rockin' out as well, and in the South Bay, it was KLIV. Each station targeted their audience with different mixes of sounds.
KDIA 1310 played a mix of more polished R&B and a smattering of the gutsier sounds from the likes of James Brown, Jimmy Reed, and G. L. Crocket. Motown was big there. I remember many hours of listening to the sophisticated sounds of "Old GO" George Oxford, and the funny rhymes and jive of Rosco from 9 to midnight, who used to exclaim in long drawn out tones "E. to the T!" I never did figure out what that stood for, but there was no doubt that it was celebrative. KDIA was the epitome of top forty R&B.
Over at KSAN 1450, the whole scope was different. If there was a precursor to KMPX, I suppose you could say this was it. KSAN played more of the hard-edged R&B and blues, and by 1965, they were mixing in a few choice nuggets from British blues bands like the Rolling Stones. Sly Stone particularly enjoyed doing this. There was a very funny DJ named Charlie "Baby" Brown, who was just a total kick to listen to. I once had an opportunity to tour the facility with a friend of mine. Most of the staff was black and very friendly. This really skinny white kid goes running past us, and the PD (sorry, but his name escapes me now) introduced him as Charlie Brown. The look on every ones faces told the story of the shocked look on our faces. They relished dropping that one on unsuspecting visitors, a priceless event. KSAN AM was as experimental as R&B stations got in those days, much more so than LA's KGFJ.
On the rock 'n' roll side of the aisle, top forty was king, but in the Bay Area, there were three major stations to pick from, and all three approached the music differently.
Crowell-Collier owned KEWB 910, along with KFWB 980 in LA, and KDWB in Minneapolis. KEWB was home to Gary Owens, Buck Herring ("you're hearing Herring"), and Johnny G. (Gonzales, shortened to "G" in a day when they were worried about Latino names on air). They focused on Motown, the British Invasion sounds of the Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers, etc., and a little top forty country. It was a pretty clean sound, very fun to listen to, and generally safe. KEWB was the embodiment of American top forty. Polished, well staffed with great air talent, and they had a great signal.
Over at KYA, the focus was a little different. Bob Mitchell, Peter Tripp, Tom Donahue, Norman Davis, Bill Drake and others held sway. They brought a more reverent way of song things – reverent to the history of the music. KYA was big on oldies mixed in. they called them "Golden Gate Greats," and they were very picky about which oldies they played. With a focus on Motown, the pop side of the British Invasion, and R&B oldies, KYA was the greasers' station of choice when they weren't glued to KDIA. KYA was what top forty became. Their air staff was top notch, and their air sound very tight. KYA made good use of special features, like a nightly new release showcase with listener voting. KYA had a "Swingin' Sixty," which was a rotation of 60 instead of the usual 40, and they had another twenty "bubbling under," plus great oldies.
In the South Bay, KLIV 1590 ruled. They ignored ratings completely, relying on listener registrations to prove their audience to advertisers. They organized cool events like their summer Surfin' Safaris to the Beach Boardwalk in Santa Cruz where they hosted a battle of the bands among some of the primo South bay bands of the day.
This was a time when the real scene was down this way. I recall a great battle with the Jaguars and the E-Types among others. The E-Types won a single deal with Ed Cobb that day, resulting in the release of "I Can't Do It." Other great local bands back then included the Count Five, the Chocolate Watchband, Stained Glass, the Brogues (evolved into Quicksilver Messenger Service), and the Syndicate of Sound.
KLIV was really different, with heavy rotation of British Invasion's rougher side from bands like the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds, lots of American garage bands, including the local faves, some surf instros and vocals, some R&B, and some tamer top forty. KLIV was the suburban perfection of top forty, with low riders, surfers, and high schoolers addicted and dedicated. They borrwed some from KFXM San Bernardino and KAFY Bakersfield, as well as KSTN Stockton for staff and music inspiration, but where others played with it, they perfected the whole idea of suburban rock 'n' roll radio.
These five stations defined Bay Area rock 'n' roll radio differently than other market stations did, and they laid a foundation for a broad spectrum of sound acceptance by the audience. As the San Francisco scene began to evolve, and the focus shifted from San Jose to the little clubs in the city, the stage was set for something new. KYA was still big on shows by Ron Holden and Wally Cox, and Sly Stone, but with new bands in the city like the impeccable Beau Brummels, and up-and-comers like the Harbinger Complex, it was clear something new was afoot. The Great Society, the Charlatans, the Flamin' Groovies, and the Warlocks were causing a stir. Big Brother and the Holding Company were signed to mainstream, who also had the Harbinger Complex, and things were hopping.
The poppier side of this was easy enough for KYA and others to deal with, but as the sounds diverged more from the mainstream, AM struggled to make them all work together. Bill Drake went off to form the first programming service company, which is where the consolidation of station formats began. Until then, every radio station had a local music director that shaped the air sound. Different markets played different records. It was exciting. Drake initiated the end of all that.
At about the same time, I recall hearing rumors that Tom Donahue had hijacked the failing KMPX with a different way of doing things. It was really quite shocking to hear the Grateful Dead between Pete Seger and the Valentinos. Suddenly, an unpredictability was afoot. This was really something, yet it was also a throwback to a decade earlier.
At the dawn of rock 'n' roll, DJ's picked their own records to play. They rose and fell by their talents at picking the hits. As there was more money to be made in radio revenue, and in response to payola problems, radio stations created music directors who controlled the play lists and created the rotations for their markets. What Donahue did was go back to the freedom of those early days.
Once again, what you heard depended on who was on. I recall listening for hours just to hear what they would do next. Where AM listening was dominated by punching buttons to go from station to station to hear the songs you liked, FM was becoming the tune-it-and-leave place to be. Part of that was cars only had AM radios, and that leant itself to station swapping, where FM was a listen at home proposition, and you were much less likely to get up and change the dial every few minutes.
The obvious “things are changing” significance at the time had quite an impact on me, on the music business, and on the radio dial. I had long been off the beaten path with my rock music tastes, and there was a solid attraction to this new aural panorama. While I was less enamored with much of the musical content than I was with its shear audacity, I found it hard not to check on them whenever an FM radio was available to me. They were playing music AM radio was unable to cope with, and presenting in ways that would have killed AM’s conceptual basis.
There was such a sparkle to the new way that I somehow missed the passing of much grittier AM and the South Bay scene in favor of leftist news and folk blues underpinned San Francisco psychedlia. Gone were the great bands like the Seeds, the Count V, the Music Machine, the amazing Beau Brummels, and fledgling bands like Harbinger Complex, the Rising Sons, the Other Side, Rain, Stained Glass, the Mojo Men, Terry and the Pirates, the Oxford Circle, the Other Half, the Sons of Adam, the Hangmen, and the Golliwogs, to be replaced by a completely different sound idea. Suddenly there were the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Great Society, Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, and the completely out of step Flamin’ Groovies and Blue Cheer, along with a string of less successful Bay Area and LA bands like Indian Puddin’ and Pipe, Black Swan, Frumious Bandersnatch, Tripsichord Music Box, and the Ace of Cups.
Instead of the great bands coming between Motown, Neil Diamond, and Frank Sinatra, they were now book-ended by Charles Lloyd and Taj Mahal. The revolution that two in a row was to AM just a couple of years earlier seemed so passé. The pumped up deliveries of DJ’s like William F. Williams, Buck Herring, Squeaky Martin, Peter Tripp, Bob Mitchell, and Johnny G. were abruptly replaced by a relaxed late night laid back sound 24/7.
KMPX was a brief experiment, with Donahue and company shifting over to KSAN. Quickly on their heals were other FM’s vying for a piece of the free form pie. Within just a few years, KGO-FM, KSFX, and a plethora of others tried to imitate. Most passed fairly quickly, but some carried on. In later years, after the new wave burst onto the scene, the same concept reinvented became the Quake (KQAK), and others as well. In the South Bay, KOME and KSJO realized that suburban listeners were less hippy and more rock ‘n’ roll, and they programmed to them well for a long time, successfully competing against the big city sounds.
KSAN also was the king of live performance radio, carrying quality live shows from studios and venues for a very long time. In partnership with the Record Plant and several San Francisco venues, many fine live shows dominated the airwaves. KOME in the South Bay dabbled, but few others really embraced live music. KGO-FM did do a whole weekend of anti drug live music with the Youngbloods, Jeffrey Cane, and others, but the mix was atrocious most of the time.
One of the characteristics of KSAN’s sound was that the DJ’s actually liked what they played. After all, it was their choice. You could hear it in their voice. For that matter, they were much less DJ’s than they were part of the family to many of their listeners. They were simply personable.
On the AM dial, many of the stalwart stations completely lost their way, either because they failed to change, or because they changed in ways that were out of sync with the times. KLIV met this fate. KYA and KFRC struggled to be FM cool while remaining AM strident. All of them stopped being purveyors of new music, moving to oldies formats or abandoning music altogether. It just didn’t work.
AM tried and tried to compete, but just never did. Top forty became synonymous with shallow listeners, and FM with serious music fans. I recall how odd it was to hear Blue Cheer debut on KYA, and how normal it seemed on KMPX and later KSAN.
Ironically, what drew us to KSAN in the beginning was what killed it in the end. Once established, their audience became stuck on their sound. When the music changed again in the late seventies with the advent of punk, KSAN added some in, but their old listeners hated it. They never figured out how to make it all work together, and eventually lost old listeners while failing to pick up new ones. What goes around comes around.
What is interesting to me is that it took me so long to realize how the importance of Donahue’s radio revolution was offset by its “main stream of a different color” way of doing things. After all, their spots sounded different, but they were still spots. Their logos were homie and campy, but they were still logos programmed in the same places for the same reasons. New clothes on a tried and true body.
Because KSAN was essentially a reflection of the Haight Ashbury, it is held in high regard among city dwellers. Because it upset the business so much, yet in such a human-faced way, it is honored by the industry. KSAN will remain legendary, a status it earned in the street. Like many legends, some who relish its memory never really heard it. KSAN was larger than life then, and seems all the more important and conspicuous in its absence.
THE XAVIUS CHRONICLES
by Norman Davis
One night in the middle of my
show—say 3:30 or 4 o’clock in the morning, I got one of the strangest phone
calls any DJ ever answered. I was interested in UFOs at the time and had just
played an obscure track by Dennis Linde, a keyboardist from Detroit. The song
was titled “Under The Eye,” and it was about humans being observed by beings
from other worlds.
Right after the song ended
and I segued into something else, the telephone started flashing. When I
answered, a hesitant voice on the other end asked about the UFO record and then
said, “I know you may find this hard to believe but I am not human. I come
from a planet far away in the Pleiades. It is called ‘Xavius,’ and my name
I had been taking calls from
whackos for quite a few years at KSAN, so I wasn’t particularly astonished by
the call, but I was intrigued and kept talking to the caller. I asked him a few
questions and he answered them in a way that kept me curious.
He said that he was part of a
vanguard of beings from his planet, who had come to Earth to prevent humans from
destroying it and to teach them solutions to their problems. He explained that
he was not human but had entered a human body and had taken over its functions.
He explained that his mission was to find and enlist humans, who would function
in groups of three to achieve the goals of peace and prosperity on Earth.
I stayed on the phone for at
least 15 minutes, wanting desperately to believe that I was hearing the real
thing, but knowing that the odds of that happening were about as good as seeing
Elvis walk into the studio. Still, the hairs on the back of my neck were
standing when I eventually rang off on Xavian, after inviting him to call me
I went home that morning with
a little extra glow inside. The conversation had left me with a tiny possibility
that I had actually talked to someone not of this earth. I was pretty high on
the idea for several days.
Xavian called back a few days
later and I listened to more of his plans and ideas. He claimed to have
knowledge that would provide free energy for the entire planet and described the
utopian world we would soon enjoy. He was vague on details but said he would
like to meet with me to present his plans and we arranged a time.
I took my girlfriend Kim
along to meet Xavian. She was a honey-blonde with so much sexual charisma that
nearly every man she met immediately fell in love. This had made her an
experienced and astute observer of human traits and I figured if Xavian could convince her,
he would have to be the genuine article. We found Xavian’s address in San
Mateo, a small shack in the backyard of an older home.
When we walked in, we were
struck by the extraordinary chaos of his one-room domicile. Stuff was piled
everywhere, stacks of newspapers, magazines, books and other detritus filled
almost every inch of floor space. There was just enough room for a narrow path
through the piles into a small space with three chairs where we joined Xavian
for a chat. He was not anything special to look at—this alien from another
world. In fact he looked like an old hippie, long hair, thin, in his thirties or
Across from his easy chair
was a star map tacked to the wall. On it, he had marked “his” planet in the
Pleiades. In the tiny bathroom he had a drawn with lipstick a map of the
universe on a large mirror. He told us how difficult it had been for him to
enter our atmosphere and that he had tried many times before he was able to
inhabit the body of the man in front of us. He mentioned that the human had some
mental problems and that had been helpful in his accomplishment. Frequently he
seemed to lose control of the human who would mutter incoherently until Xavian regained power.
From the first moment he had
opened the door and invited us in, Xavian seemed to be very taken by my
girlfriend. He directed most of his attention and conversation to her. This was
fairly normal with men and I was used to it, but a little surprised that an
“alien” would be similarly affected.
During my previous talks with
Xavian, he had stated that he was going to share his universal knowledge with me
so that I could pass it on to others. I tried to press him for specifics, but he
seemed to have difficulty explaining. He asked if we’d like to share a joint
and with shaking hands, attempted to roll one over a newspaper in his lap. But
he kept getting distracted—spilling the weed, tearing the paper, etc., and
after a half-hour or so, Kim offered to do the job.
The longer we stayed, the
more obvious it became that the man in front of us was not in full command of
his facilities. Still, I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe
anybody with an alien inside would be screwed up. After numerous failed attempts
to get Xavian to give us some hard information, we decided to call it a night
and made to leave.
Xavian invited us to come
back, but made it fairly obvious that he really only wanted Kim to pay him
another visit. He promised to send me all the information on free energy and his
other Earth-solutions. There were numerous hugs and squeezes (from Xavian to a
reluctant Kim) and then we slithered our way out through the stacks of junk and
made our getaway.
I drove back to the City
slightly amused but also a little depressed. What had seemed at least possible after our
first conversation, now seemed highly improbable. Xavian, or at least the human he had
“invaded”, was quite observably incapable of solving much of anything.
Still, I couldn’t prove that his story was bogus, so there remained a tiny chance that he was what he claimed to be. It was enough to keep me hoping for a
I never heard from Xavian again. Apparently none of his ideas to create a utopian world ever came to fruition. I sometimes envision him still sitting in his chair, trying to roll a joint and pondering all the knowledge of the universe in his tiny, human head.
AFTER THE JIVE - JAY HANSEN REMEMBERS
I left San Francisco in 1980 and moved to Pittsburgh to become part of a morning show on WDVE. From that point on--and it gets a bit confusing here—I’ve been in Miami at WSHE, back to Pittsburgh, off to Minneapolis and KFAI, back to Pittsburgh at 3WS, out in San Francisco at KFRC and back to Pittsburgh again, where I’m currently the PD at the world’s original radio station, News Talk KDKA (which also produced Terry McGovern many years ago). There’s been no discernible upward arc to my career and my first foray into deep management follows by two decades my last sort-of office gig, which was as temporary music director at KSAN. The bad thing about talk radio is the conservative discourse (you wouldn’t like it much, Mercy Tondre). The good thing is that it’s a big canvas with no records to fall back on. That means that we’re limited only by creativity and actually get to “play radio” if we choose. It’s like a 24-hour a day morning show. The learning curve has been steep but fun.
I wrote a
Francisco guidebook before I left the City, and still have all of my
KSAN t-shirts (though I can’t believe how small they are). The first date I
had with my wife was at Fred Greene’s Pittsburgh Pirates Fantasy Play-By-Play
set up (for which I hold him personally accountable). I kick myself to this day
for not using my ticket for the Sex Pistols’ final show at Winterland,
‘got’ the Grateful Dead exactly once (at the Winterland farewell bash), bow
my head in respect every time I pass 345 Sansome and never fail to get a laugh
when I tell people that you could always find enough grass to roll an emergency
joint by lifting up the air studio console. And I still wonder what’s so funny
about peace, love and understanding.
It's All Over Now
by Glenn Lambert
I first encountered KSAN-FM when I made my Deadhead pilgrimage from New York to San Francisco in 1970. On my first day in town, I saw Garcia play a club date at the Matrix — and I heard KSAN everywhere.
From 1966 (starting at KMPX) to the end of the 70s, it was the hip radio station of the Bay Area — and arguably the greatest station ever, the one that set the standard for free-form, progressive FM radio everywhere. You could spend a day going from store to store, from one friend’s house to another’s, and never miss a song.
The founder, Tom Donahue, and the KSAN DJs were as eclectic in their way as the Dead were in theirs. Rubbing up against the mainstream of rock, you’d hear jazz, blues, Bach, country, Indonesian ketjak dance, or whatever the DJs felt like stirring into the mix. (The air people were too numerous to mention here — you can get all the history at http://www.jive95.com.) Then there were the brilliant “gnus” guys, including Scoop Nisker with his signoff, “If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own.”
Listening to KSAN made me want to go out and make some radio of my own, which I subsequently did as a DJ and program director back east. And then, a few years and a few simple twists of fate later, I was a KSAN DJ myself.
I was incredibly lucky to be there, and to add my own musical tastes to the stew. In the late 70s, we were in the vanguard of a new musical revolution: the first station in the country to jump on the sounds of Elvis Costello, the Clash, Sex Pistols, Ramones, Talking Heads, Police, and on and on.
Oddly, though, KSAN didn’t play much Dead. (They kind of took the home team for granted.) So I got to be the resident Deadhead, playing the fellas every day. I also jumped at the opportunity to host our Dead broadcasts — including the great one on this DVD, the night Bill Graham shut down Winterland forever.
I’d seen my first Winterland Dead shows right after my arrival in the Bay Area, in 1970 — including that year’s epic New Year’s show. Back in the day of more intimate venues and smaller crowds, Winterland felt like a vast space, with a long reverb time that resonated with the most majestic elements in the Dead’s music.
Winterland was the scene of many of my greatest Dead experiences of the 70s — and this final one (despite the Dead’s low opinion of some of their New Year’s shows) was one of the best.
Unfortunately, as ’78 ended, KSAN was rapidly approaching its own demise as a progressive station. The corporate owners were tightening the screws, uneasy with the freewheeling music and radical newscasts. There were heavy-handed memos, lists of new rules, and ultimately, the literal locking up of 90% of the thousands of records in KSAN’s incomparable library — followed by the kicking out of most of the air staff, and the end of the station as we’d known it. But that was still a few months in the future.
In the middle of the clampdown, I was asked to host this broadcast with my fellow DJ and close pal Norm Winer. This show would be different: a TV/radio simulcast on KQED, the local PBS station, and on KSAN. (In those days before stereo television, you’d turn down the sound on your TV set and listen on your FM radio.)
Rock on TV was still rare in 1978 — and a live concert broadcast was unheard of. (You can get a hint of the state of the art from the flashy “Happy New Year” graphics at the start of the Dead’s set.) Backstage, there were lots of self-styled “producers,” but not a lot of planning. As a result, during the long breaks in the concert, Norm and I were on camera for an eternity. I’ve done plenty of incoherent babbling at Dead shows, but this was of a different kind altogether. With 45 minutes to fill at a clip, we nattered on, madly semaphoring off camera for somebody among the multitude of producers to steer an interview our way.
Though 1978 was well past psychedelia’s prime time, there was a revival going on that night among some of the celebrities. In stark contrast, Norm and I had been threatened with instant firing if we breathed one word about KSAN’s turmoil — or, if we breathed anything else suspicious. (Now, there was a first in my Dead show experience.) As a result, some of our interviews that night found the questions and the answers coming from very different universes.
We had some pretty twisted conversations that night… with Ken Kesey, Bill Murray, Wavy Gravy, the columnist Herb Caen (who looked like he was visiting from 1958) and probably others I’ve forgotten. I do faintly remember talking with Bobby and Mickey, as documented here. I’m the guy with the deer-in-the-headlights expression, calling Mickey “Phil” by mistake.
The show actually started hours before these DVDs begin —with NRPS, then the Blues Brothers (who brought their own circus, including half the cast of Saturday Night Live, plus Steve Cropper and the Stax-Volt pantheon). There were the nutty and marvelous Flying Karamazov Brothers (who came on camera during a break and speed-rapped as they juggled knives an inch from my ashen face).
At a few minutes after midnight (following the law “it’s New Year when Bill says it’s New Year”), the giant rocket joint sputtered overhead, carrying Father Time (aka Uncle Bobo)... pandemonium erupted... and the Dead kicked into that killer Sugar Magnolia. Then they kept right on playing until six-thirty in the morning, the longest Dead show in years — four-and-a-half hours of music, plus two hours of break time, during which Norm and I desperately filled.
For me, it was a crazy night from beginning to end — and for the Dead, it was a great one. There’s one peak after another, including the ecstatic moment when they hit the intro to Dark Star, knocking all those “1535 days since last SF Dark Star” signs into atoms, and rendering the crowd totally bananas.
(note: Glenn wrote these
liner notes for the recent DVD release of this historic show.)
When KSAN Broke The Radio Mode
Station rocked out 25 years ago and album radio was born
By Ben Fong-Torres
Special to The Chronicle
May 20, 1993
To most radio listeners, KSAN is an achy-breaky country station.
But it wasn't always so. Back in the early '70s, KSAN ("Jive 95") was .the hippest of all stations and,, among young listeners, the only spot on the dial worth tuning in. It was free-form, free-for-all radio; intensely personal and political; outrageous and unpredictable, much like the '60s scene that inspired its birth.
"It was underground radio," said Wes (Scoop) Nisker, whose newscasts were interpretative collages of news and opinions.
"We were filling the heads of American youth with a call to sex, drugs and rock and roll -- and revolution."
KSAN switched from classical music to rock 25 years ago tomorrow, pioneering album-oriented rock radio, a format that continues to dominate the airwaves today, albeit with much tighter play lists.
The station switched to country music in 1981, but remains legendary in local music circles. Meanwhile, a new radio format -- Billboard Magazine dubs it "album alternative" -- has sprung up that recalls some of KSAN's eclectic nature.
Tomorrow from 9 p.m. to midnight, college radio station KUSF (90.3 FM) will salute the KSAN of old with a show hosted by Richard Gossett, a KSAN DJ who now brews beer at Anchor Steam.
Throughout the summer, the station's "Jive Radio" program (Sunday afternoon from 2 to 4 p.m.) - hosted by former announcers from KSAN and its successors -- will feature former KSAN disc jockeys Bonnie Simmons, Bob McClay, Edward Bear, Tony Kilbert, Thom O'Hair, Norman Davis, and Buzzy Donahue, daughter of KSAN's original program director, "Big Daddy" Tom Donahue. (This writer was a weekend DJ from 1970 -1979.)
The former staffers will recall the KSAN where a DJ got busted on the air after police spotted some marijuana in his illegally parked car; where a DJ was fired for repeating a Black Panthers member's suggestion that President Nixon be killed.
In 1970, the station's news department scooped the world on the U.S. invasion of Cambodia with a simple phone call to a Vietnamese negotiator in Paris. Later, the entire office became headquarters for a bird-saving and clean-up operation after a collision of oil tankers caused a massive oil spill from Bolinas to Tiburon.
It was at KSAN that Margo St. James, an activist for prostitutes, demonstrated oral sex on a talk show host -- on the air -- and described sex acts and women's anatomical features in graphic enough language that the station's FCC license was jeopardized -- and not for the first time.
That KSAN is a classic case of gone but not forgotten.
"Everywhere I go," said Bonnie Simmons, who rose from record librarian to program director, "people remember me and what the station meant to them."
It was Tom Donahue, a charismatic, deep-voiced, 400-pound hipster, who gave birth to KSAN. He had escaped life as a Top 40 DJ on KYA in the mid-60s and, the legend goes, conceived free-form radio while high on LSD.
He found a home for his idea at KMPX, a struggling foreign-language station, in 1967. An all-night DJ there, Larry Miller, was already playing a wide variety of music and drawing a following of Haight-Ashbury and Berkeley types. But it was Donahue who turned the station into a cultural phenomenon.
But in spring of 1968, tiring of management's low pay and increasing interference in programming, Donahue and his staff went out on strike, and on May 21, most
of them moved into KSAN, whose owner, Metromedia, happily gave up its classical format to adopt the popular KMPX crew.
The station was an instant hit, and by the early 70s was the top rated station among listeners aged 18 to 34, beating out the Top 40 powerhouse, KFRC. To celebrate, several of the KSAN staff indulged the 70s phenomenon of "streaking," stripping naked and running through KFRC's offices and studios.
"We were a big boon to record companies," Gossett recalled. "Suddenly, stations were playing album cuts, not just the Top 40. It helped the consumer to hear all the music; it helped the artists, and it helped nightclubs. It had an impact on the music industry as a whole."
KSAN, said Simmons, gave many artists their first consistent airplay, including Bonnie Raitt, Boz Scaggs, Tom Petty, Elvis Costello and Randy Newman.
"When I started there in 1969, we already had such a great reputation that we drew all kinds of performers," said Gossett. "David Bowie would drop in. Elton John would be sitting with you talking about his first album. Jose Feliciano would be in the record library with his guide dog."
But as FM rock became a money-maker, KSAN drew increasingly powerful competition, and as the booming record industry began to fragment into disco, punk, funk, and other responses to what was called "corporate rock," KSAN's policy of letting DJs choose the music began to backfire. The sound, to put it simply, became inconsistent.
By 1975, when Donahue died of heart failure, KSAN was fighting off several competing stations that were playing similar music.
As it faltered, Metromedia installed management from Los Angeles, and the station adopted a crude, heavy-metal sound that enraged its few remaining listeners. The owners finally gave up, switching to country music in November 1981.
Other stations tried to pick up the free-form banner, but the attempts -- by KQAK ("The Quake") and KKCY ("The City") --failed to attract enough listeners to survive for long.
The closest thing to the old KSAN is "Jive Radio," conceived by former KSAN music director Kate Ingram, now program director of KUSF. But "Jive Radio" airs only two hours a week. On commercial radio, KITS ("Live 105") allows DJ's the most leeway, while KFOG's range of music sounds most like the old KSAN.
KFOG is one of several dozen stations around the country aligning themselves under the Album Alternative format. The Gavin Report, a San Francisco-based trade magazine, terms it Album Adult Alternative. This week, the Gavin Report will introduce a new AAAchart -- its first No. 1 single is by San Francisco heartthrob Chris Isaak.
"The idea," says Gavin executive Kent Zimmerman, "is that adults are hip and still want to hear new things. There's life after `Stairway to Heaven.’"
AAA stations play mainstream rock, but also include singer/songwriters such as Nanci Griffith, Lyle Lovett, Leonard Cohen, and alternative bands such as Widespread Panic and Phish.
But while AAA stations may sound more progressive than most, the music will still be programmed primarily by computers, not individual jocks.
Free-form, like the KSAN of "Jive 95" days, is history.
Where They Are Now(1993)
KSAN disc jockeys were stars in their own right during the station's glory days. Here's a look at what some of them are doing today.
• KFOG (104.5 FM) employs several KSAN alumni, including Wes (Scoop) Nisker, newscaster Marshall Phillips, and announcer Dan Carlisle.
• Bonnie Simmons is creative director at the Scintilla Co., a music management and publishing company in Sausalito. She is also a DJ on KPFA and at Slim's nightclub.
• Tony Pigg is the announcer on "Live with Regis and Kathie Lee" as well as a DJ in New York.
• Terry McGovern is morning DJ on KYA (93.3 FM).
• Norm Winer became a successful program director in Chicago.
• After years away from radio, Stefan Ponek has surfaced as general manager of KNBA (1190 AM), a country station in Vallejo.
• Edward Bear is on a classical music station in Santa Barbara.
• Raechel Donahue and Dusty Street are DJs - and housemates - in Los Angeles.
• Norman Davis hosts a syndicated blues show in Los Angeles.
• Dave McQueen is news director for at KKSF (103.7 FM); Larry Bensky is a news anchor on KPFA and for Pacifica Radio.
• Tony Kilbert works at KOFY (Channel 20).
• Jerry Graham, who succeeded Tom Donahue as KSAN's general manager, joined KRON (Channel 4), where he became host of "Bay Area Backroads."
• Bob McClay is now a dealer in collectibles
• Phil Buchanan is manager of the Bolinas utilities district.
by Norman Davis
I arrived at KSAN, in the Fall of 1972, things were already pretty swingin’ if
you know what I mean. The studios, up on the fourth floor on Sutter Street were
not that impressive--just a big office suite really. The furniture and equipment
was ratty, the carpet had seen much better days -- in terms of nap anyway, maybe
not in terms of illicit powders, dropped by nervous or over-amped visitors --
there was quite a lot of that really, and I remember a couple of evenings when
the joint was jumpin’ and the chicks were bumpin’ and there were people down
on their knees with straws to the carpet, snorting up what somebody had dumped
But I’m getting ahead of
myself. I was fresh off the farm when I arrived at the Jive 95. Although I’d
put in quite a few years on other San Francisco radio stations, I had dropped
out for about a year and a half and taken a job with “underground” upstart
KZEL in Eugene. Underground meant freedom and I eagerly gave up a half-decent
salary and weekends on KSFO to do afternoon drive on KZEL. Although it was a
unique experience that I loved, I was broke the whole time I was in Eugene (I
was getting paid $50 a week plus rent and
utilities) and I wound up calling O’Hair after a year or so of extreme poverty,
to see what my chances were at KSAN.
O’Hair and I had been good
friends from day one at KZEL and when he left to take the P.D. job at KSAN, he
told me that he’d like to get me on the station. So when I expressed an
interest, he went to bat for me with Tom and others. One of the first things he
did was devise a way to get me down to do a test show. That’s how the
“Oldies” weekend came about in the Fall of ‘72. I came down and hosted a
shift. Response was positive and I eventually got the late, late show. Getting
rid of a popular host like Ed Bear must have been difficult--I don’t know the
dirty details, but Thom worked it out and I came to work in November, too late
for the group Xmas photo that year, and barely in time to get my face on the
Norman Orr poster. (Norman was quite busy towards the end of that project,
erasing former employees he had drawn and inking in their replacements.)
The scene at KSAN was much
different than the one at KZEL. Sure we had sex, drugs and rock & roll in
Eugene, but it was minor league in comparison. For one thing, I never saw any
cocaine around KZEL. At KSAN, it was all over the place (literally). The first
night I came in, I was shown around, then handed over to Chief Engineer How
Wachspress who whispered something to me in the studio about meter readings
while Dusty was reading a commercial and then split. I couldn’t hear a word he
said and had to get the skinny on keeping transmitter logs later. Then
someone showed me the "Lizard Lounge".
Then someone showed me the "Lizard Lounge".
At night, everyone not working
seemed to end up in the “Lizard Lounge,” sitting on the floor--there was no
furniture as I recall. Someone passed around a huge bag of the white stuff.
Everyone took a snort so I did too and was hammered to the ceiling in no time
flat. In fact, I didn’t really enjoy the rush--too much for a beginner no
doubt, and I asked Tom later, just what was it about coke that people liked so
much. He paused for a few moments and then said, “There’s a place you get
behind it after a while,” words I would later discover to be true.
KSAN was a partyer’s paradise
then. In fact, after the office staff went home in the evening and sometimes
before, it was one big ball with all the accoutrements one could expect. If on
some rare occasion there were no “accouterments” around, a quick phone call
to any number of Jive acquaintances would soon remedy the situation, day or
night. It’s amazing anything got done at all really and perhaps a testament to
the spirit of Jive 95 that we accomplished what we did.
Dusty Street (who preceded me on
the air) and I hit it off right away. I used to come in early just to hang with
her for a while towards the end of her show. We discovered we had similar
tastes. One of the first was Mateus Wine. We really got into the old Mateus for
a while, and used to polish off a bottle almost every night. There was a shelf
on the front wall of the old studio between the two big monitor speakers and we
proudly stacked our Mateus bottles there until the shelf was full. Someone
eventually suggested we should get rid of the collection before it crashed and
Dusty was into black music big
time then. Some nights her show consisted of almost no rock and roll, but
wall-to-wall Rhythm & Blues and Soul. Her influence extended throughout the
station and for quite a while, artists like Marvin Gaye, James Brown, The
Persuasions, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and others filled the KSAN air
waves, played enthusiastically by Dusty and most of the other deejays. Tom had
to remind Dusty now and then to play some rock ‘n roll.
One night Dusty learned that
Aretha Franklin, one of her biggest heroines, was in town and might be available
for an interview. Dusty was thrilled at the possibility and went all out to make
it happen. She convinced Tom that we had to have a piano at the station and not
just any old piano. It had to be a grand piano and the only way to get it in our
fourth-floor studios was to hoist it up the outside of the building and through
a bay window.
The cost of this must have been
excessive but Tom worked it out somehow (probably a trade-out) and on the day
Aretha was scheduled for the interview, the piano was hoisted up and in. Then of
course it had to be tuned and finally we were ready for Aretha.
I came in early that night,
expecting to get a close encounter with the Queen of Soul. Dusty was really
hyped over getting Aretha for the interview. She was hoping to talk her into
playing the piano as well and there was a definite buzz on while we waited for
the Queen to arrive.
We waited and waited. 11
o’clock came and went, then midnight. Dusty was getting more than a little
anxious, but still expected Aretha to show up. By 1 o’clock, she had to accept
the fact that Aretha might not be coming. 2 o’clock came and it was time for
my show. Still no Aretha. Dusty was shattered. She couldn’t believe that
Aretha would stand her up, but after hanging with me for a while still hoping,
she finally gave up and split. Aretha never did show and nobody called either.
Later we learned that she had been too tired to do the interview and had passed
on it. Dusty had some rather unlady-like things to say when she found out.
Most interviewees showed up
however, usually prompted by their record companies, who knew that an appearance
on KSAN would be good for their careers. Roy Buchanan came by one evening. Dusty
didn’t know much about Roy and asked me to sit in for the interview. I
remember the three of us, crammed into the little studio—Dusty and I trying
vainly to get Roy to say something and he responding with monosyllabic answers.
He was a very shy guy.
There were other notable
interviews on the night shift. I’m proud to say I shared a joint with Bill
Withers one night. He was one of the nicest celebrities I ever met. Not all my
interviews turned out as well though. The toughest one I ever did was with
Rahsaan Roland Kirk, a brilliant musician who was blind and black and had the
world’s biggest chip on his shoulder.
Rahsaan came in with a coterie
of handlers and body guards—all black, and proceeded to diss me, the station,
all whites, the government—pretty much everything and everybody but black
folks. I tied vainly to persuade him that perhaps there was some good, even in
white folks, but he and his group ranted on, virtually taking over the station
for a while. I allowed the rant to continue but some listeners were frightened
and reported it to the police. We got a call from the cops, asking if everything
After Rahsaan and his gang left,
I was so depressed and worn out from his non-stop anger and hostility, and my
inability to put even a small dent in it, that I put my head down on the console
and wept. It was the only interview I ever did that left me feeling that low.
(to be continued)
FIRE IN THE HOLE
the not-so-great KSAN fire
When KSAN moved its studios and staff from Sutter Street to Sansome Street in 1976, the new digs were not completely finished. The production room, for one thing, had a number of projects still undone. Chief Engineer George Craig, along with Ed Ely and Earn Morgan plugged away at them when they had time, but too often, they were required for other engineering duties such as repairing items accidentally or intentionally destroyed by over-emotional dee-jays, hooking up remote broadcasts, producing numerous programs, features and commercials, doing paperwork for the FCC, etc.
The production room was small. There was just enough room between the console desk and the tape machines at the back of the room so that one person could sit at the console and someone else could squeeze through on their way to the voice booth. Like the main air studio, Production had been decked out with some superlative gear including Ampex and MCI reel-to-reels, Shure mics, Technics turntables and giant Klipsch-Harrisey speakers. The mixing console was a UREI Mod One, and we had one of the first (if not the first) Optimod, now the industry standard for FM broadcast processing. It was great working in such a fine studio. It made it easy to convert ideas--say one you had on the way to work--into something to play on the air. Much strange and wonderful audio art was thus created.
But as I said, some things in the production studio hadn't been finished. One was the remote-switch box that would sit in the desktop that surrounded the main mixing board. When installed, it would allow the producer to control the tape recorders without turning around. The hole for the switch-box was cut in the desktop. It was about 5 inches square and beneath it were miles and miles of wires and the power amp for the speakers. The hole was there for what seemed like a long time--several months I think, before the inevitable happened.
I was producing a spot for the Record Factory one night before my show. I had a coke with me for some reason. I hardly ever drank coke so I guess it must have been the only thing I could get in the machine. Those were the dry-mouth years as you may recall and it was often imperative to have a drink of some kind close at hand. I guess I put mine a little too close because as I reached for it while glancing elsewhere, I tipped it over into the hole.
The wires below started crackling as the sticky stuff crawled across their
terminals. Smoke started pouring out of the hole and those beautiful Klipsch
speakers burst into flames--all in just a few seconds! I was dumfounded for an
instant as I knew nothing about the wiring in the room. Frantically I dived on
the floor and scrambled under the mixing board. There was a slew of wires as you
might suspect going everywhere. Somehow I located the main outlet and yanked
everything out. The sizzling slowly diminished. Wisps of acrid smoke continued
to rise from "the hole". The speaker fires went out and so did I. I
don't remember much about
the rest of the night. But I know there was no more production done.
Deejays have been fired for less damage but to the credit of the engineering department, they never blamed me for the accident. I told Ed what had happened and he opined that the remote switch box should have been installed long before. He explained that the coke had oozed down through the wiring, shorted something out and sent a huge surge into the speaker amp. The speaker coils couldn’t handle it, heated up and burst into flames.
Ed, Earn and George spent a couple of days repairing the damage. Because I
had managed to pull the plug out before the sound-deadening material in the
speakers caught fire, the damage was minimal and before long the KSAN production
studio was back in business again--this time with remote switches installed.
No-one ever scolded me for my faux pas but later Ed did pass along a piece of advice to all budding DJs and production geeks. “don't ever put your drink anywhere near your equipment -- sugary liquids and electronics just don't mix,” he said, wagging his finger.
Then there was the time Richard threw a Jack Daniels bottle through the air studio window
. . . but that's another story.
ADDENDUM by Hank London
As I was reading about the fire incident, I recalled a not so
incendiary moment in that same space. While in the Sansome St. production studio
one Saturday morning working on stuff for McGovern's show, I noticed a gap in
the console in front of the fancy recording timer that was part of the remote
switch box. Was it just the timer that was installed and the auto start/record/stopfunctions
not yet running, I can't recall. Hovering over the reel to reel to do some
splicing and editing, I turned back around to the console and out of the hole in
the desk came quite unexpectedly, a rather large mouse. Admittedly I was
completely startled by this uninvited guest, and believe the rodent was quite
surprised to find me there too.
While the mouse hovered near the hole and nosed around I quickly searched for something to capture the critter. On the console was a silver, glass bottomed, beer stein - that may or may not have ever seen a drop of beer, I can't say for sure - perfect to temporarily trap my surprise guest. Hovering the stein over the mouse I was able to keep him from further exploration. I slid the stein to the edge of the desk, and used a handy clipboard to keep mouse closed in. McClay was in the main studio and I introduced him to the stowaway radio fan.
Not quite sure where would be the best place to release the critter - there were few options for green pastures in that part of the SF Financial District; and if left to roam the studios there were concerns of it noshing on wiring, or scaring the crap out of an unsuspecting staffer - I thought letting it go near a street drain would be its best chance for survival. So out to the corner of Sansome & Sacramento I escorted my visitor, and chose to let him enter the drain in front of the Financial Corner Restauran/bar across Sacramento St. from the studios, thinking there'd be a great volume of sustenance in their pipes.
A few days later, in the basement with McQueen and others, we became aware of a rather large population of mice, who loved KSAN's music. The louder the monitors were turned up, the more brazen the mice became in making themselves known to us. They just liked to hang out with the folks in the basement "lab", with the "cool" gang.
But we never quite figured out how or where they got their little, tiny sunglasses.
THE CLIO AWARD NOMINATION
(and how it messed up our scam)
by Rick Sadle
We at KSAN were pretty clear that we shouldn't and
couldn't sound like other radio stations. We weren't into hype and hard sell in anything
we did, including commercials. One of Tom Donahue's guiding principles of our new kind of
radio was that we didn't preach or yell or take ourselves, our sponsors or anyone else too
seriously. We really couldn't take a stand like that and then take a commercial break and
have some top-forty hype-master start yelling about a greedy corporate giant's latest,
greatest, hottest products. We turned down some advertisers flat. Others, we accepted the
advertising on the condition that we could make our own commercials in our own style.
Occasionally, if the advertiser, agency and buyer were all out of town, we took matters into our own hands. We simply produced a commercial that would work for the client and not offend our audience. Not exactly kosher, but really, everybody won. We knew our station and our audience so we could sell the products. We just didn't do it their way.
All was well and KSAN was a ratings and commercial success without offending anyone. Until, that is, the CLIO awards people sent us an application for their national advertising awards. We submitted several commercials and were notified that two of them (one we created for Binaca,) were among the five finalists for produced commercials. Great! Except that the CLIO presenters notified the agency that produced the offensive national campaign for Binaca, that their commercial was a finalist.
Wow, were they excited! The agency called Binaca and patted themselves on the back while they tried to figure out who had submitted their commercials. Nobody at the agency or Binaca seemed to know. So, they started digging around and finally got a copy of our commercial. What a surprise. Instead of the fake ballsy doctor extolling the chemical ingredients in Binaca, they heard a group called Fresh singing an edgy song with the chorus "You scare me to death with your horrible breath," while a raunchy voiced female talked about eating pepperoni pizza and limburger cheese.
Well, they were all incensed to put
it mildly. They threatened to sue KSAN, Metromedia and anyone else associated with them or
the homemade commercial. Metromedia was very perturbed and the shit storm took several
months to pass. Finally after running a huge schedule of free commercials for the agency
(their spots this time) and making lots of promises to our chiefs at Metromedia, I got to
keep my job and we were a little more careful for the next few months. As I remember it
though, we didn't totally mend our ways. There were some things that mattered more to us
than keeping our jobs.
I'll try to find the Binaca commercial we made on the reels of tape that I have stored.
(Edit. note: We'll post it in our audio when found.)
The Budd Stuntt Saga
by Joe Lerer
I came to KSAN on the heels of Tom's departure and went
into sales with Nemo's return. After a year or two I started on the air as Budd
Stuntt, the morning traffic reporter with McGovern, and happily schticked it up
for the following 2 years and nine months if memory serves me well. I worked
with McClay, Beaver, and anyone else who held a drivetime slot. I also did the
morning show 3 or 4 times when Terry moved to LA.
Imagine the foolishness we created covering the morning and soon afternoon commutes with just 2 daily reports. Instead of zipping helicopters and multiple fixed- wing aircraft, KSAN boasted of a singular and sloth-paced command post hosted by a hard of hearing wise cracker in the KSAN Blimp.....LTA 95.
I was finally silenced as the Moorhead moments began. I actually saw letters from Metro Media lawyers telling us that we were "misleading" our listeners because there really was no Budd Stuntt, no Bennett the English-understanding dog and no BLIMP!!! I wonder how many people actually thought that KSAN had an old guy and his dog in a blimp telling the bay area where to go twice a day? I think they could have fit on a Vespa.
I am happy to add my bit to your efforts and am easily found in the city, still in the Haight after all these years.
The Jimmy Reed Interview 1976
by Norman Davis
I was in the production room at KSAN one evening, putting together a spot for an album before my show, when I got a phone call from Wild Bill, a crazy DJ and good friend who worked at KTIM. "Hey, youll never guess whos in town!" He yelled. As we were in San Francisco, the international crossroad for music and entertainment, my chances of guessing right were about as good as my chances of getting on The Wheel. "Who could it be?" I wondered. "Jimmy Reed!" Bill screamed delightedly.
There was a short pause in my brain function. "Jimmy Reeds alive?" I asked incredulously. "Yeah, hes in town to play at the Savoy-Tivoli and Ive set it up for you to do an interview," Bill bragged.
I was blown away. For years I and quite a few others had assumed that Jimmy Reed was dead. It was 1976 and nobody had heard much about Jimmy for a decade or so. A couple of weak albums had come out in the early 70s, but Jimmy had been out of the news for quite a while. I thanked Bill profusely for the opportunity to meet one of my musical heroes and arranged for the interview.
The production room was already booked when Jimmy showed up at the station, so I took him down to the basement where we talked for about an hour, surrounded by racks of old records and radio equipment. Jimmys deep Delta dialect had me leaning forward in my chair most of the time to hear every word. Jimmy talked about growing up in Mississippi; How he went to work in the cotton fields as soon as he was big enough to handle a hoe, how he snuck up to the house at lunch time to hear the King Biscuit Show with Sonny Boy Williamson on the radio and how he built his first guitar.
He recalled hopping a freight to ride the rails to Chicago, and how he was inspired to write such songs as "Big Boss Man" and "Bright Lights, Big City." He discussed his problems with alcohol and illness that led to several years when he was unable to perform, and his success in quitting drinking and getting back to his music again. His honest accounting of his life was very interesting. I was thrilled to hear him tell it in person.
That night I went to see Jimmy play. I stayed through both sets and Jimmy sounded great. When he came back to the Savoy-Tivoli a couple of months later I went to see him again. He remembered me and greeted me warmly.
Jimmy played that night and the following night. Then he went across the bridge to Oakland where he was staying with a friend, and died in his sleep.
I will always treasure my time with Jimmy Reed. He was the genuine article. "What you sees, is what you gets," he said. It was an experience I will never forget. I still enjoy listening to the tape of that conversation and hear Jimmy talk about his music and his life. And I remember the lyrics of a song he recorded in 1968 called "Life Is Funny."
"If you just stop and think, Baby,
Honey, love is a funny thing.
Whatever you put in,
you expect to gain."
Hear the edited interview
KSAN: Where the Listeners Are (At Least) Half the Show
by Vicky Cunningham 1974
"Dear Sirs," the letter began, "I am writing this letter to you in concern with what has been happening with the weather, sea and fire." I passed the letter along to Tom (My boss, Tom Donahue, KSANs General Manager). He put it in his "out" box with "Bonnie, please take care of this" written in the corner. That afternoon, I found the letter in my mailbox with Bonnies name crossed out, my name written in and an arrow pointing from my name to "Please take care of this."
Now, Im not saying the writer of this letter is your typical KSAN listener, although we do have a fairly thick file labelled "1974 Crank." (My personal favorite was from a woman who claimed that Norman Davis, our late night DJ, had entered her apartment during the night and changed the frequency on her radio. She demanded that Tom "punish" Norman for this action. This same unfortunate woman called a couple of months later demanding to speak to the manager and threatening to report us to the FCC. Tom told me several days later, when I thought to ask, that she had called because she was going out of town for a while and wanted Tom to take care of her dog.
Im just trying to give you a taste of what life is like at the worlds craziest radio station and to illustrate the fact that what makes KSAN such a delightfully crazy place, in addition to a staff straight out of National Lampoon, is its listeners. They are very much a part of the station and, although there are times when we wish they would all go away, we function with them in a very special kind of love/hate relationship. Just how important they are was brought home to me one day about six months ago when I visited another local radio station.
It was a great station, very successful, with an excellent staff and the finest equipment available. There was lots of activity, teletype machines clattering away, people running back and forth. Compared to KSAN with its small staff and ancient equipment, it was all very impressive. Then I stepped out into the lobby . . . and everything went dead. It seemed like something was missing and suddenly it hit me . . . where were the listeners? There was no one hanging out in the lobby, writing graffiti on the walls. There was no one driving the receptionist crazy with requests for free movie tickets, a tour of the station, or a referral to the local VD clinic. (A KSAN receptionist, the unflappable Hadwig Stadleman, one day received an urgent request for the telephone number of the local sex clinic, but apparently no one was answering that day. The man was desperate, he said he needed information right away. So Hadwig asked him what the problem was. He told her he had to know how to use a condom. She explained in calm, explicit detail.)
No one at the other station was tacking up posters or using the bathroom with the door left open. There were no stupified bodies staring at the wall. (The KSAN "lobby," a 5X8-foot redwood monstrosity constructed by a slow-moving hippie and affectionately known as the "sauna bath," frequently contains a seeming catatonic or two), no one bringing in home-baked bread or bean sprout cookies, no little girls pleading, "Please, please can I wait here til Richard comes in? Will he come in this door--this door right here? Is there any other door he could come in?"
There was no one bringing in ads, ride requests or entertainment notices. The lobby of this other radio station seemed kind of lonely. At KSAN, there are listeners all over the place. They relate to us on a very personal level and stay in constant touch through phone calls, letters and personal appearances. They feel that KSAN is "their" radio station and perhaps the only thing that remains intact from the flower-child days--well, fairly intact.
KSANs success has come with a certain amount of change, however, somthing bitterly resented by some long-time listeners. The complaints of these listeners fall, basically, into two categories: 1) KSAN has too many commercials and they sound too plastic. And 2) Tom fired someone they liked and/or hired someone they dont like.
Tom personally answers most of the listener mail and Im sure some of his replies are not at all what the writer might have expected. (A favorite reply goes: "I think you should know that some hysterical nut is writing ridiculous letters to radio stations and signing your name.") Tom loves to decimate uninformed letter-writers and some of his replies are classics in skewering. Answering a complaint about firing a DJ, he inscribed, "He was a bore and a fraud and he will not be back."
There was a great controversy, for example, when Tom brought Terry McGovern over from KSFO. The mail was the heaviest since Ed Bear was fired and was pretty much divided between those who liked, and those who didnt like Terry. Terry, making a difficult transition from AM to FM radio, was subjected to a constant barrage of rude, insulting phone calls from listeners who hate AM Djs just on principle. We could have protected him from some of this, but thats not the way it works at KSAN. They just throw you in to sink or swim. Terry read all the latters, good and bad. Bonnie twisted her ring and bit her fingernails. When his first ratings came out, Terry showed a gain of 62% in adults 18-34, 70% in adults 18-49, and 122% in adults 25-49. His women listeners increased 150%. "There is a God," he told me. Tom sent him a dozen roses.
Raechel also dealt with some flak when Tom chose her to do the mid-morning show. City magazine carped that she had little experience and inferred that she got the job because she was Toms wife. This was not the case as Raechel had helped Tom start KMPX. She set up the music library, trained the Djs and for at least six years, assisted Tom with his Saturday night show, often doing the last three hours herself. Ralph J. Gleason said Raechel has "the best ears on the West Coast" and he wrote Tom saying she is "the best thing that has happened to the station since you took it over." (Tom replied: "I consider her another one of my amazing discoveries.") Raes first ratings proved Tom right with a healthy increase in audience including a 27% gain in women listeners. Tom sent her a dozen coral roses. She was also voted "Best KSAN Disc Jockey" in our First Annual Rock Poll.
The addition of younger teenage listeners to KSANs audience was not welcomed by everyone at the station. A former program director called them "the kiss of death" and warned that we would be deluged with pimple cream ads, etc. But we like the kids, theyre fun and they bring new enthusiasm into the station. I remember one day taking some students into the broadcast booth, where Norman Davis was filling in for Bob McClay. "Wow!" one boy said, gazing around in awe, "The Mother Ship!" "Yeah!" said Norman in an equally reverent tone.
Perhaps our relationship with our listeners can best be seen in the "Talkies." Hosted by Bonnie Simmons and Larry Lee, The Talkies gives listeners access to the air Sundays from about 9 a.m. to noon. Usually there are one or two guests who answer unscreened (with a 3-second delay) phone calls from the audience. The Talkies audience is an interesting, far-ranging one. It includes blue collar workers, intellectuals, teenagers, old people, rednecks, gays; a good cross-section of San Francisco. You meet a man who has just written a book on how to avoid bill-collectors, then hear from a bill-collector how he feels about people who dont pay their bills. You find out from former New Yorkers what its like to drop out and move to the country, and from subsequent phone calls, how the original residents of these rural communities feel about the city folks moving in. Sometimes listeners have jokes or poems. And you can bet that, in the middle of some highly intellectual discussion, at least one person who hasnt been listening will call and ask, "Is there any free music in the park today?"
Listener letters are saved in the Public File and make a very funny afternoons reading. Although we do not save all the dead cats, dope and multi-colored pills that are showered upon us, I doubt if any other radio station has a Public File or an audience like ours. They are the most demanding, most appreciative, most abusive, most complimentary, most frustrating, most rewarding, most beautiful part of the station. And it sure would be dull around here without them.
ACE OF THE AIRWAVES
I think I can take credit for being the inspiration behind KSANs slogan, "Ace of the Airwaves," which was used for print ads, t-shirts and on the air for a few years at the Jive 95. I think the slogan was also connected in some mysterious way to the birth of Budd Stuntt, the Jive 95s intrepid flying traffic reporter as portrayed by Joe Lerer.
The slogan was not original. As far as I know, it was first used on a kids radio show back in the 40s. I used to listen to some of the kids shows back then when I could. The problem was my mom, who was a strict Seventh Day Adventist and believed that fiction, in any form, was just lies and thus, from the devil. So my listening to fantasy was limited to times when mom was working in the garden or out of the house for another reason and I could turn on the radio, wait for the tubes to warm up and the green eye to start glowing, and then I might be able to catch another exciting 15-minute chapter in the never-ending sagas of: Sky King, Superman, Tom Mix and his Ralston Straight Shooters, Chandu The Magician, Captain Midnight, The Lone Ranger, Terry and the Pirates, Jack Armstrong, "The All-American Boy," Sgt. Preston of the Yukon with his Wonder Dog King, or some of the dozens of other pubescent potboilers that aired during the afternoon on weekdays and dominated the dial on Saturday morning.
For several years one of the shows that kept kids glued to their speakers was "Hop Harrigan, Ace of the Airwaves!" Hop was a hot pilot who was, nonetheless, always in dire trouble. A tense announcer's voice opened the show; "Presenting Hop Harrigan, Americas Ace of the Airwaves!" he roared. The sound of a fighter plane faded in with Hop trying to contact the tower. "CX4 calling control tower, CX4 calling control tower," he radioed. "Control tower to CX4, wind is southeast, ceiling 1200, all clear," came the response. Hop came back on, "Okay, this is Hop Harrigan coming in!" Varrooooooom! The plane went into a steep dive which faded into the first commercial. Then we were off on another hair-raising episode of Hops never-ending adventures.
I ran across the opening to this show in 1972 when Warner Bros Records released a double album of old radio themes, produced by Gary Owens. We were in the habit of creating clever little station IDs then, and had quite a rack of them in the air studio. So I concocted an ID, using Hops opening. It became very popular for a while and was played frequently at station break time. Nobody ever told me but I have to believe that this ID was the motivation for the promotional campaign KSAN developed later, using the Ace of the Airwaves theme. And if Joe Lerer didn't get his inspiration for Budd Stuntt from the "Fly With Hop" ID, I'd like to know where.
(If anyone would like a copy of an original "Hop Harrigan - Ace of the Airwaves" radio show, gimme an e.)