Radio Days

Considering how visually oriented I am, I am amazed to have developed a deeper emotional connection to radio. It used to comfort me at night while in my bed in the dark. Philadelphia radio was vibrant with rock'n'roll in the fifties, though I was too conservative to really appreciate it. I mostly parroted my older brother's tastes. He loved the Everly Brothers and Sam Cook. We bought 45 singles at the local record store. I had a friend who was a big fan of Elvis Presley and Dion and the Belmonts. WIBG was the big Top 40 station in Philadelphia.

There were a number of great radio personalities on Philadelphia radio. The most unique I remember was the Man in the Black Sombrero. My brother Joe and I loved to listen because he taught us Spanish words. The only one I really learned from the show was dinero.

When we moved to San Diego, radio was mostly dominated by the Los Angeles market. While LA TV did not come in very well, their AM stations, came down the coast loud in clear. The first all news station I heard was XTRA (Extra News.) The transmitter and license were really in Tijuana. The news was basically rip and read from the wire services, but it was a great source of information-perfect for a news junkie like me.

The first all Talk format I heard was KLAC. It started with Joe Pyne's morning show which was quite successful. My mother Anna listened every morning drove me crazy listening to his right wing rants as I tried to eat breakfast and get ready for school. Pyne was so popular, the station ditched music it was playing the rest of the day. Disc Jockeys became talk show hosts. Other were replaced with new talk show hosts. Some of them, like Bob Arbogast, Jack Margolis, and Joel Spivak were quite liberal. Others like Bob Grant were as far to the right as Pyne.

San Diego's biggest stations were the Top 40 KGB and KCBQ. Some good FM rock stations developed in the late sixties. There was KPRI and KGB-FM. My favorite station was the KOGO-FM which played classical music.

Moving to Berkeley, I became a KPFA addict. Pacifica's LA station (KPFK-FM) was too weak to reach San Diego, so it was a treat to have full access to left-wing radio and diverse choices of music. It was a real lifesaver during the time I worked in a contact lenses factory in Point Richmond. I had a cheap portable radio that I bought for a quarter at the Ashby Flea Market that I set up at my work bench.
My favorite music show was Tom Mazzolini's Blues by the Bay, which was then on Monday afternoon. The opening theme was Fats Domino's Blue Monday. It was the first time I heard Zydeco music. I checked out Queen Ida and her Bon Temps Zydeco Band at La Pena Cultural Center and was hooked on this great dance music.

The first year I attended Mazzolini's Blues Festival, Clarence Gatemouth Brown was one of the headliners. I returned to work that Monday to tell my co-workers of all the great music I heard. Later that morning, I was summoned to the examination room by a co-worker who knew there was someone there I would want to me. She was right. There, waiting for an eye check was Clarence Gatemouth Brown. His touring RV was in the parking lot. Brown wore contacts but never took them out once in the seven years after he was fitted. Then one fell out and got lost. He stopped at our lab for a replacement. It was a pleasure to meet him.

My co-workers generally did not share my taste in radio. Their transistors were generally set to light rock. Then one morning, I heard one playing Alex Bennett's morning show on KMEL. I found it very funny, but couldn't listen on my radio because my lathe was putting out static on that part of the dial. When Bennett went to KQAK, I gave the show another chance and found he had a live audience in the studio every morning.

One of the nice things about my job then was having a four-day work week. We worked ten-hour days, Monday to Thursday. I decided to use my Friday off to check of the Quake. Catching the first BART train to San Francisco from Berkeley, I got off with my bicycle downtown and rode to the studio located at Sutter and Van Ness. When I got there, it was jammed with people. There were standup comedians being outrageously funny. It was the best party one could find at seven in the morning. I would return many Fridays by the same method, pedaling my bicycle up Sutter Street from BART.

After awhile the studio wasn't so crowded when I arrived just after 6 AM. I would bring my newspapers and read during the commercial and music breaks. If I found an item that was odd and amusing, I would hand it to newsman Joe Regelski. If he liked it, he would read it during one of the morning bits.

I was able to contribute on days I had to work, too. Bennett read listener's letters on the air. I started sending him jokes and other silly stuff. I knew the competition was too stiff to make Herb Caen's column, but I had a lot of success getting on the Letters segment. I continued to send letters when the program moved to KITS FM (Live 105.)

I have gotten to know Alex through the years and found out his first wife was one of Joe Pyne's producers. It turns out Pyne's right wing rants were just an act and that he was really a nice and generous guy. Alex is back in New York, where he had worked during the seventies. His program is now on Sirius Satellite Radio. I contributed a few posts to his blog. When he was inducted into the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame, I was able to attend the ceremony along with some other local fans.


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