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Forward into the past

2.09.14 

A phenomenon conquered its biggest frontier tonight, fifty years ago.

Although its jargon had the sharp tang of Northern England, its substance was awash in familiar words and rhythms, with lyrical themes as old as the roots of rock and roll.

We could already comprehend the dialect of Britain's great gift to pop music, but seeing the music in motion, on television, was the true revelation of that night.

You may remember how it first happened to you, whatever your age, whatever your country of origin: the first glimpse of their startling new look, the first fair notes of their songs. You needn't have seen it on Ed Sullivan's variety show, as many of us did tonight, to understand what happened. But if you do remember that night, maybe, like me, you have some way of commemorating that evening.

Tonight's the night to sit down with a DVD or a video of the whole show, start to finish, in real time, at eight o'clock in the evening on February ninth. It's better than time travel.

Some of us already knew who they were. Thanks to KRLA and stations like it, we'd already heard their first official release "I Want To Hold Your Hand" for well over a month. Some of us may have sneaked a look at these odd lads in national magazines. Some journalists, alas, were clueless. The January 31, 1964 issue of Life Magazine didn't quite get what they were all about, dismissing them as just another fad. They couldn't have been more wrong.

Tonight fifty years ago the future was newborn. In the maelstrom of their own freshly-minted fame The Beatles themselves were in a sort of netherworld where reality had not yet reached them. Even then they discussed among themselves what would be the next big musical thing.

As they flew across the Atlantic to the United States, the Beatles wondered why America would want them. This despite the fact that "I Want To Hold Your Hand" was number one on the U.S. charts and had been for three weeks when the group stepped in front of the camera for their first live show on American soil. Funny! I think we knew what was happening before they did.

The Beatles changed our world that night, with the help of their own musical heritage as well as the one they admittedly borrowed from us; backed by family, compatriots, soulmates; by a manager who believed in them and a producer who brought out the best in them; and bolstered by the desire to share their musical joy with us.

For a short little while, this Beatlemania in all its facets was only Britain's lustrous artistic gem. Fifty years ago tonight it became ours too, and the world's.

Tune in to the Tunedex

1.11.14 

With the launch of this new feature, I can't help but think about the poor typesetters at Studio City Advertising out on Pico Boulevard who had to type up the KRLA Tunedex every week. What a task! All those song titles, band names, record labels to typeset and proofread, bits of history slipping through fingers in an endless list of ever-changing songs.

It's remarkable that these varicolored sheets of history have survived at all...or perhaps more unexpected, that they've survived the years mostly intact.

For those who'd like more context for the progression of pop music from 1959 - 1966 in Los Angeles as well as other radio markets such as Chicago, Minneapolis, and Albany NY, please do visit this treasure of transcribed radio surveys at Oldiesloon.

Catch a wave

12.17.13 

By this date fifty years ago, one radio station had already seen the wave of the future. It wasn't KRLA, not quite yet.

Carroll James of WWDC in Washington DC was just the kind of deejay listeners loved: sensitive to the radio audience, always looking for a way to go the extra mile for his fans. So when he received a request from listener Marsha Albert, he paid attention. Marsha had watched the CBS Evening News on December 10, 1963 when the network's London correspondent Alexander MacKenrick filed a story on the Beatles. Why, asked Marsha, can't WWDC play their music?

James put into gear his wheels of influence, procuring a single from England on the Parlophone label (it wasn't yet available in any format in the USA) by this group, The Beatles. On December 17, James asked Marsha to come into the studio to announce it on the air: the first documented airplay of "I Want To Hold Your Hand" in the United States. James promoted it as a WWDC exclusive...which it was, for a few short days.

Capitol Records, which as early as December 7, 1963 had agreed to release the single in January 1964, was flummoxed and demanded a halt to WWDC's airplay. They were too late. A tape made its way to Chicago, where listeners warmed to it just as they had in D.C. Then it made its way to St. Louis. By about the third week in December the tape had reached the airwaves in Los Angeles. Did KRLA know what it had on its hands?

Ironically KRLA was one of the few stations that had actually given the Beatles an early American debut, long before WWDC. WLS-AM in Chicago had scooped everybody, with Dick Biondi giving "Please Please Me" a push in February and March 1963. There's some speculation that Biondi, who came to KRLA in mid-1963, encouraged his compatriots to put the British group's follow-up, "From Me To You," on the air in July 1963, where it charted modestly. The song showed up on San Bernardino's KFXM and KMEN too. A trend?

Alas, no. America wasn't quite ready for a sea change. And KRLA had problems more formidable than recognizing the next big musical tsunami. They were scrambling for their very livelihood.

Their FFC license renewal had been denied in 1962, the result of shenanigans involving a rigged on-air promotional game in 1960. Several appeals in 1962 and 1963, the latest in November 1963 to the U.S. Supreme Court, went down to defeat. Things must have seemed pretty bleak in late December, the holidays notwithstanding.

Then there was this new song...and a certain station in Pasadena was about to find a new lease on life.

"At last -- A real teen newspaper!"

12.12.13 

Thanks to Scott at Northern Sky Archive, we have what's close to a mission statement from the KRLA Beat...via its new Bay Area spin-off, the KYA Beat. It's an interesting clue to the new direction. The KYA Beat was just being launched in the San Francisco are, so they had to tell their readership why they were different from all other U.S. music publications. Read the editorial by clicking the image at left.

"The 'news' in newspaper should be emphasized, because that's what the KYA Beat will be in every sense. Not a magazine whose fanciful stories were prepared months in advance. Not a throw-away sheet whose function is to promote KYA's popularity, but a real honest-to-goodness weekly newspaper...."

In the Southern California market the KRLA Beat had already demonstrated this commitment, distancing itself from its "throw-away" predecessor by going to newsprint in February 1965, organizing itself into a real music publication with newly hired reporters and feature writers. KRLA's radio news director Cecil Tuck was clearly a driving force, but so were two new voices joining the Beat community around that time, whose experience with the British pop music scene -- and journalism -- made them particularly authentic additions to the team: journalists Tony Barrow and Derek Taylor.

Both Barrow and Taylor were familiar with British music newspapers such as Melody Maker and New Musical Express, weeklies that also treated music news as serious business. Is it any wonder that the Beat veered towards that more professional model, down to the British-press-inspired red masthead and page layout?

Barrow, originally a Decca Records employee who wrote liner notes for LPs, had written pseudonymous music reviews under the name Disker for the Liverpool Echo, Merseyside's primary newspaper. From 1962 to 1968 he was also employed by Beatles' manager Brian Epstein as the group's press officer. Barrow contributed a weekly column for the KRLA and KYA Beat, focusing on happenings in the British music scene, with occasional special reports on the latest Beatles' recording session.

Taylor's conversion came about when he was assigned by the Manchester Guardian to cover a May 1963 Beatles concert at the Mancester Odeon. Instead of the negative piece his editors expected, Taylor sang their praises. By early 1964 Taylor was ghostwriting a regular newspaper column ostensibly by George Harrison, as well as acting as media liaison for Brian Epstein. Epstein's demanding nature led to Taylor's departure after the Beatles' North American tour in September 1964, which left him a free agent just around the time the KRLA Beat was in its infancy. How lucky for the Beat!

Cecil Tuck's Beat newspaper never quite realized its dream of national pop-music news coverage, but the issues that survive provide a unique window into the evolution of mid-sixties rock and roll, and were the first of their kind in the USA. Not such a bad legacy, really.

For those with a particular interest: the Manchester Guardian was almost the only mainstream British press entity writing about the Beatles in mid-1963 with anything remotely like an intelligent view. Here's a June 3, 1963 article by Stanley Reynolds called "Big Time". In most browsers you can click the jpeg image to enlarge.

Something new

11.21.13 

Once the KRLA Beat was being published, readers always had a copy of the Tunedex at hand.

KRLA's chart listings of the top thirty songs of the week was a great way to keep track of what was being played on the station, as well as reading sneak peeks at new musical trends.

But before the Beat was published regularly starting in late 1964, the only option that KRLA listeners had was to pick up a mimeographed copy of the Tunedex at their local record store or other purveyor of fine musical news.

Thus the rise of Beatlemania on KRLA would have been lost...without the steady appearance of the 1964 chart listings, capturing wave after wave of new and old-guard music from across the pond as well as from our own shores. But there's something new coming to the KRLA Beat blog.

Starting January 11, 2014, we'll post a Tunedex once a week, for every week (well, except one, we're missing the first week in January) that KRLA issued its chart during the whole of 1964. Fifty years to the day, you can relive the progress of popular music as the songs of the Beatles changed everything in that most auspicious year.

Check back with us starting January 11, 2014 for our new feature!

Dick Biondi, now and forever

09.21.13 

Speaking of important deejays, just this morning National Public Radio had a delightful interview with Dick Biondi, which, if you didn't tune in this morning, you can hear here.

His voice is almost the same, not quite as frenetic, not as high-pitched, but still the same vim and vigor.

He has some wonderful stories about working at WLS-AM in Chicago, playing for the first time in the U.S. a record by a curious group from England called the Beatles, and coming to Los Angeles to a radio station we may have heard about before.

His contribution to American radio is incomparable and at 81...well, we should all be so tuned in.

Fifty years of the Fabs

08.11.13 

KRLA wasn't the first to play a Beatles song on the radio, but fifty years ago a Beatles song did grace its airwaves...months ahead of the arrival of Beatlemania on our shores.

Likely as not we had then-new KRLA deejay Dick Biondi to thank for it. Biondi was fired from Chicago powerhouse WLS-AM in May 1963 and came to work for KRLA in June 1963. While at WLS he was the first U.S. deejay we can document who played "Please Please Me" in February and March 1963.

Something about that band must have resonated with him, and he may well have been the person to suggest that the band with the odd-sounding name might make it big on KRLA. Or perhaps KRLA, in its inimitable way, was looking for the source band of Del Shannon's cover of "From Me To You."

On the KRLA Tunedex of August 11, 1963 we can see (click the image to enlarge) the Beatles' third single, "From Me To You," lodged comfortably at number 32, up from number 33 the previous week. But it was too early. The airwaves were still awash with the sounds of surf and pop favorites like "It's Judy's Turn to Cry" by Leslie Gore and novelties like "Martian Hop" and "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah."

"From Me To You" didn't quite catch with Southern California audiences, and as far as anyone knows there was no more Beatles presence at KRLA until December 1963, when radio listeners began to catch a wave from across the pond...a much bigger wave than anything home-grown.

Oldies but goodies

11.26.12 

Yes, it's true that the blog has been a little quiet this past year. Real-life work-related tasks intervened, but things are quieting down now and there's breathing room at last for more KRLA updates.

Local NPR affiliate KPCC -- coincidentally located in Pasadena -- posted a nice article online about Art Laboe, long-time Southern California deejay who has had a significant involvement with various radio stations in and around town, not the least of which was KRLA itself.

For the interview, slideshow, and sound clip, please follow this link to KPCC's article on the indefatigable Art Laboe.

KRLA's big three deejays

10.31.11 

Thanks to a tip from a KRLA fan and regular reader, this tiny gem was uncovered. It's just a small portion of a 14-minute pastiche of various Beatles interviews from 1963 and 1964. Beginning at about the 32 second mark KRLA's Bob Hudson, Dave Hull, and Reb Foster discuss the phenomenon known as the Beatles. Click the photo at left or this link to reach the YouTube interview. KRLA deejays continue discussing the group till the 1:15 minute mark.

"They have an unusual appearance," admits Reb Foster, "and a lot of it is the haircuts." Dave helpfully and erroneously explains that the British word for "beatnik" is, in fact, "Beatle." Emperor Bob Hudson demonstrates his keen ear by successfully pronouncing the word "Beatles" with a Northern English glottal stop.

The collection isn't professionally edited and jumps around from snippets of Granada TV's 1963 documentary on Liverpool musicians, "The Mersey Sound," plus British and American newsreel coverage of the band's departure for the States and arrival in New York in February 1964, as well as some other Beatles interviews from the time.

A second brief clip of Dave Hull discsussing the Fabs is embeded in this KABC-TV news story that was aired during the time of "The Beatles Anthology" in November 1995, starting at about the 1:40 mark. The 1964 Dave and the 1995 Dave appear in the same interview discussing the group's importance.

Some of the beautiful people

09.23.11 

Regular reader Timmy sent in a brief audio snippet in mp3 format of Bob Dayton's evening show from Tuesday December 5, 1967 where KRLA was busy promoting its latest edition of the KRLA Beat. Thanks, Timmy!

That current issue, with a publish date of December 2, relied more than usual on headline hyperbole. C'mon, the Beatles and Stones as partners? But hey, it was Tony Barrow, the Beatles' publicist, and if he said the two biggest rock-and-roll groups in the universe were exploring joint ownership of a recording studio, who were we to argue? Click the cover of the Beat to read up on life in the pop-music fast lane at the time.

Speaking of L.A. radio history, I can highly recommend this profile on Hunter Hancock by journalist Dave Allen of the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. Without Hancock, I think it's safe to say that rhythm-and-blues music might not have been such a large part of our daily listening diet as it was in the fifties and sixties. Hancock, alas, was never one of KRLA's Eleven-Ten men but his influence was widely felt in Southern California radio. He was a unique on-air presence at a time when music was ripe for change.

More voices from the past, now online

08.30.11 

You may have noticed some new airchecks online. Someone with a cache of old tape recordings donated them for transfer from reel-to-reel, so we're up and running with a few new selections.

Not everything is pristine, coming as they do from a variety of sources, but all are chock-full of interesting historical tidbits. I like the jingles package in particular, though there are some I swear I never heard on the air at the time.

There's more material to come during June and July, including several unscoped airchecks (i.e. full of music) from the 1981 KRLA reunion. If you were one of those intrepid KRLA fans who recorded broadcasts for posterity, and if you'd like to share something from your collection that we don't already have online (or that you have in better quality), please let us know.

New airchecks are listed at the top right of the airchecks page, and are also included in the main column describing and linking to each one. If you have any trouble navigating or hearing them, please get in touch and we'll try to help out. Have fun!

Update August 2011: There are more airchecks coming in September. It's been a busy summer, sorry about that. Patience is a virtue, or so I was told by someone at one point.

John Gilliland's 'Pop Chronicles'

05.24.11 

KRLA's news director (and Beat publisher) Cecil Tuck wasn't one to mince words. When he liked someone he was effusive. Radio historian Don Barrett talked to Tuck soon after John Gilliland's death in 1998. "If I could have cloned John Gilliland," said Tuck, "I would have had an entire station made up of John Gillilands!"

Gilliland came to KRLA as a newsman in 1965 where he quickly became one of the station's shining stars, known on the air at first as John Land. While contributing to the newly-inaugurated Credibility Gap, KRLA's signature news-and-satire show, Gilliland also focused on a pet project of his, eventually titled the Pop Chronicles. The concept had been inspired by the KRLA-sponsored Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, whose success convinced Gilliland to develop a wide-ranging history of pop music, the first such radio documentary of its type. He spent two years researching and interviewing singers, songwriters, managers, and producers. The show's range was broad, including R&B artists who had contributed to the birth of rock-and-roll as well as then-contemporary music makers in rock and folk-rock.

The documentary eventually comprised 55 hours of rare interviews and musical illustrations, broadcast on KRLA in one-hour segments from 1969-1970, with a selection of those shows rebroadcast out of sequence in 1984. At Gilliland's death the taped collection was donated by his sister to the University of North Texas to be housed in its digital library, which has recently made portions of it available online. This excerpt, from show number 34, includes an interview with erstwhile KRLA Beat reporter/editor and former Beatles associate Derek Taylor. Other chapters of the collection can be heard on the UNT Digital Library website.

Thanks to Bill Earl, KRLA historian, for updates about Gilliland's career at KRLA.

Heart and soul

04.12.11 

To some Southern California listeners, legendary disc-jockey Art Laboe was Mr. KRLA. His tenure as program director in the 1970s and his stint on the air in the 1980s with call-ins and dedications revived the station and made it relevant to several generations of listeners.

True, he wasn't a part of KRLA's initial golden age but he had a special gift in reaching out to music fans and building listener loyalty. This wasn't surprising. Laboe had lived and breathed radio since he was a teenager. And he had a connection to 1110 that predated the existence of KRLA itself, though it's not widely known.

Laboe himself remembers being at KXLA, KRLA's predecessor, in 1955, but he was actually doing an on-air show as early as 1951. At that time KXLA had ten thousand kilowatts of western-swing power, but time slots were open to anyone who wanted to pay for an hour or two of alternative entertainment. In and around Cliffie Stone, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and "Squeakin'" Deacon Moore, KXLA provided a home for religious shows, cooking hours, farm reports...whatever might pique listeners' interest. A forum was ready and Laboe convinced his sponsors to pay for his airtime.

Laboe's career had begun in 1943 at KSAN-AM in San Francisco. He had years of experience feeling comfortable in front of the microphone, even without the classic radio-announcer voice, and he had a knack for marketing his format. In the early 1950s at KXLA he took his broadcast on the road, roaming the city with his "Queen of Cuisine" contest where local car-hops talked about the drive-in food they served. Punctuated with contemporary R&B, Laboe hosted shows broadcast remotely from Scrivner's Drive-In on Wilshire and Western and Bob's Big Boy hamburger restaurants. Swing-shift workers came by at all hours to grab a meal and a bit of on-air entertainment. Sometimes there'd be an impromptu dance, courtesy of Laboe's portable dance floor.

This was pre-rock-and-roll, a genre that technically didn't yet exist. Another popular deejay, Hunter Hancock, also played rhythm-n-blues at KVFD, a station on south Western Avenue, but Laboe's audience seemed to prefer catchy releases by the Penguins and Chuck Berry. KXLA 1110 fans heard songs that Laboe would later call "oldies but goodies" years before the station left behind its "hillbilly" format and became KRLA in late 1959.

Laboe wandered among various L.A.-area stations in the 1950s as a contract deejay, calling his format the "Original Roving D.J Show," sometimes broadcasting from two or three stations a day. He had gigs at KXLA and KGFJ at the same time, then landed at the now-defunct KPOP. Laboe returned to 1110 as program director in the mid-1970s and by 1977 KRLA had trounced KHJ in Arbitron ratings...a rivalry just like the old days. Laboe remained with KRLA off and on through the 1990s as programming consultant. Not suprisingly his show is still in syndication and airs on a variety of stations and on the Internet.

Who are those guys?

03.08.11 

As late as 1967, when rival KFWB was about to change to an all-news format, a young and upcoming band like The Strawberry Alarm Clock could still gain focus with an ad like this one. Their song "Incense and Peppermints" was racing up the charts of all three Los Angeles top-forty stations, and the group wanted you, the music executive reading Billboard, to know the facts and plan your record sales accordingly.

Billboard covered station rivalry with some enthusiasm all during the nineteen-sixties. The scramble for the toppermost of the poppermost was never predictable. KFWB reigned supreme in the early part of the decade with its "Color Radio" format originated by Chuck Blore at KELP in Texas. When Blore brought the format to Los Angeles in 1958, KFWB was for a time the only local purveyor of rock-and-roll, and it's safe to say that KRLA would never have been reborn from the ashes of country-western KXLA without KFWB's initial success in top-forty programming. Envy is occasionally a great catalyst.

And then there were three. KHJ's "Boss Radio" format was launched in April 1965 and had to play catch-up to both KFWB (then losing ground to KRLA) and L.A.'s number one pop-music outlet at Eleven-Ten on the radio dial. The threesome struggled for a few years for top ratings, but KRLA came out on top consistently from 1964 - 1966. What was its secret? Maybe it was simply that KRLA had more than a playlist, a passel of talented on-air personalities, and a pop-music newspaper to offer. It had intrigue!

The December 11, 1965 issue of Billboard detailed a favorite tale. One night, two mystery men approached KRLA's studio in the Carriage House of the Huntington Hotel on Oak Knoll Avenue in Pasadena. One of them had a copy of a Beatles record...one that had yet to be released in the USA. He offered to sell it to the deejay on-duty that night, who turned it down. But a sharp-eyed teenager working as a volunteer at the station called program director Mel Hall, who in turn called Dave Hull, both of whom begged the deejay to buy the record. The deejay couldn't meet the price, so Dave himself drove to the station with $70 in his pocket to buy the disc. As a courtesy, Dick Biondi invited Dave to be a guest on his show the following night to host the exclusive premiere of a Beatles record no other station in L.A. had managed to find.

Billboard asked Mel Hall about the transaction. Didn't the station have an agreement with Capitol Records to honor a record's official release date and not jump the gun with pre-release airplay? Hall neatly sidestepped the question and agreed with Billboard that no one really knew who was selling the record: "Capitol Records tried to find out who they were, but all we could tell them is that the guy outside may have been called Oscar."

And perhaps, after all, the record wasn't even Capitol's. Note Louise Criscione's "On The Beat" column from the April 14, 1965 issue of the KRLA Beat. She refers to two rare Beatles tracks played by Dave Hull on the air. "Cara Bella" must be "Clarabella", sung by Paul McCartney, and "Soldier of Love" by John Lennon, both at that time unavailable on official vinyl. They must have come from the Beatles' BBC radio show, not from 1961, not pre-Epstein, as Criscione claimed, but from 1963. Someone must have had good connections to deliver a copy to the KRLA listening audience...someone, perchance, named Oscar?

Out of the ether into TV

02.06.11 

Normally KRLA had very little to do with local broadcast television, but in early 1967 the station came to the aid of football fans throughout the Los Angeles basin. Every time the Super Bowl comes around it comes to mind.

The first Super Bowl game was subject to a broadcast blackout on Los Angeles TV, something having to do with the proximity of the event being held in nearby San Diego. TV and football aficionados in the region were up in arms. At this point, KRLA stepped into the fray and offered something that might help: an "amazing do-it-yourself electronic marvel."

With a narrow wooden board or a broomstick and some coat hanger wire (similar to the photo at left, which you can click to enlarge), plus a suitable lead-in to connect it to the TV of your choice, KRLA offered a schematic to listeners that told them in great detail how to build a VHF TV antenna that could pull in either of the two San Diego TV stations broadcasting the game. It was dubbed the "KRLA Simple S-B Antenna."

KRLA engineers built a prototype and tested it before printing up schematics, which were free to all who might inquire. KRLA Beat publisher Cecil Tuck built one himself and told the Pasadena Star-News that KRLA had received 15,000 requests for the antenna plans. Click the headline above to read the full article from January 12, 1967.

Page 8 of the February 11, 1967 issue of the KRLA Beat had a story about the antenna's success, for those who'd like more details of the project. Where I come from, antenna-building trumps football-watching any day of the week.

Clash of the Titans

01.25.11 

I don't want to say bad things about other stations.

But other than KRLA, where was their a radio station in Los Angeles where an on-air drive-time personality could also be a print and a broadcast journalist?

I suspect it was news director Cecil Tuck's influence, or perhaps something that wafted from KRLA's newsroom, or maybe something intertwined with the KRLA Beat's sense of musical journalism. It's hard to pinpoint just one source.

Dave Hull, whose field was not focused on news, wrote articles for the early KRLA Beat, and this photo from early 1965 shows KRLA's number one deejay Dave Hull with number one Beatles manager Brian Epstein. Brian was visiting Los Angeles to hammer out details of the Fabs' second Hollywood Bowl concert later that year. Dave took the opportunity to record an interview.

Snippets of interviews like these (most involving music groups traipsing through Los Angeles) were broadcast as teasers on Dave's afternoon show, to the delight of his listeners. I still remember a notable afternoon when Dave introduced an "exclusive" interview with George Harrison of the Beatles. The totality of George's interchange: "Hello, goodbye."

Where have the porch people gone?

01.09.11 

Or more precisely, where have all the pictures of KRLA's front porch gone?

It was a popular place in the 1960s, where all sorts of KRLA fans would gather to meet and greet their favorite deejays. Musicians who visited the station were always given a friendly welcome by the Porch People too.

The tradition goes back much further than the 1960s. Deejay Dave Hull, who grew up in Arcadia, recalled hanging out on the porch in the late 1940s, when the station was called KXLA, hoping to say hello to Jim Hawthorne, KXLA's wacky artiste of the airwaves. But for some reason, photos of the famed porch are few and far between.

From his website, KRLA historian Bill Earl was able to provide a snapshot of the station's famous porch. This photo comes from KRLA's "heart and soul of rock-and-roll" era, about 1985. But there's a dearth of images from earlier times. Can you help us find a few photos from those days of yore?

If you have any pictures of the porch from the 1960s that you'd be willing to share, with or without people, please let us know. We'd like to feature them here in an upcoming post, and it goes without saying that we'd be happy to credit you if you like.

Not-so-beautiful Bob

12.29.10 

Before KRLA was a top-forty clear-channel powerhouse with "Beautiful Bob" Hudson on it deejay roster, it was KPAS, the genteel Pasadena presence on the airwaves, with big-band music, radio travelogues, and inspirational programming. Owner Frank Burke was willing to give a platform to almost anyone who wanted to address the community (and who'd pay for the time to do so), but Robert P. "Fighting Bob" Shuler, pictured at left with hat and valise, was a bit of a handful.

Shuler's brand of evangelism had been part of the Los Angeles airwaves since 1922, when radio first began to attract preachers as well as entertainers. A fundamentalist minister at his own local church, Trinity Methodist, Shuler was no shrinking violet when it came to controversy. He railed against Catholics, Jews, African Americans, alcohol, and newspapers. He caused a stir in the 1920s by insisting that the Ku Klux Klan was just another fraternal organization like the Masons or the Elks. He hated most estabished politicians and ran for office at the head of the Prohibition Party in 1932.

In 1930 Rev. Shuler was released from jail after serving 16 days of a twenty-day sentence for radio attacks on judges. His platform had been his own radio station, KGEF ("God Ever Forward"). Once it was silenced by authorities, Shuler was on the lookout for other radio venues. In 1942 he paid for time on Pasadena's newly inaugurated KPAS at 1110 on the dial.

Suddenly KPAS owner Frank Burke had a first amendment issue on his hands. The FCC contacted Burke and asked for tapes of Shuler's broadcasts, citing wartime concerns that the shows were "detrimental to the war effort of the United States," as the Long Beach Independent put it. Shuler admitted that he'd been critical during his 15-minute Sunday morning broadcasts of President Franklin Roosevelt as well as communists (whom he felt had infiltrated the FCC), racketeers, and New Deal proponents. Shuler understood that the station "got jittery" over his diatribes and cancelled his show. He didn't blame Burke. But Shuler was off the air once again, a move that even his former political opponent, Congressman Jerry Voorhis, deplored as an attack on free speech.

Frank Burke was more blunt. He had not only the FCC to contend with, he had advertisers as well as listeners to serve. Burke told the Los Angeles Times in January 1943, "You know, I'm pretty liberal about free speech and, doggone, I like Bob, but it just seems he's always getting off the deep end."

Many thanks to a sharp-eyed reader who sent in the clipping from the Long Beach Independent. It helped shed a little light on KRLA's ancient history.

We're not much on fancy words...

12.01.10 

KRLA collector Timmy sent along a nice sound clip of Dave Hull opening his afternoon show with a very local hit record. (If I had to guess, I'd say this snippet comes from the 1981 KRLA deejay reunion, but I'd be happy for corroboration).

The band, pictured at left, was made up of Suzie Cappetta and her two younger brothers, Michael and Robert, plus two cousins, Gale and Paula Chodkowski. Dubbed "The Scuzzies" by Hull himself, the quintet recorded their paean to Dave, "Dave Hull the Hullabalooer," in December 1964.

The backing group was The Vibrants, the house band at Bob Eubanks' Cinnamon Cinder nightclub, and one of the producers was Don Wayne, road manager of the Everly Brothers. KRLA listeners loved it. The song made it to number 13 on the KRLA Tunedex for March 1965, but if you were a KFWB-only fan you'd have missed it entirely.

The Scuzzies' mysterious lyrical reference to "your junky float" can be clarified in the January 1, 1965 issue of the KRLA Beat, where photos of the Hullabalooer show Dave riding a float in the Hollywood Christmas parade that was made of...junk, most of which had been provided by fans. All Emperor Hudson got was a gold Rolls Royce, poor fellow.

The Scuzzies gave voice to the affection fans felt for their number one KRLA deejay. Dave remained one of KRLA's most popular personalities throughout his station tenure and was always a heavily-requested favorite at local dances and school events.

Here Dave hosts a concert at Bishop Alemany High School in Mission Hills in 1964, where one-hit-wonder Terry "Suspicion" Stafford headlined. Seated from left, Bishop Alemany students Becci Reynolds, Bev Benefiel, "Spyder" Villalobos, and Eileen Chapman visit with Dave during a break in the show.

If you missed getting your own copy of The Scuzzies' record back in 1965 and have been kicking yourself ever since, rest easy. You can buy a version with extra tracks on eBay.

R.I.P Charlie O'Donnell

11.02.10 

So sorry to hear of the passing of Charlie O'Donnell this past weekend, who was familiar to KRLA fans as "Charlie O" during the station's heyday. O'Donnell had his start in Philadelphia and caught the deejay bug early while still in his teens. Online radio station HyLit Radio recently recorded an interview with O'Donnell, who recounts his varied career from his Philly start-up to Dick Clark and "American Bandstand," a move westward to KHJ for a job that vanished as soon as he arrived, and his three-year stint at KRLA.

Once he moved into the 9am-12 noon time slot at KRLA in September 1964, Charlie was ready to show how valuable he could be to KRLA Beatles fans. As Billboard reported in their Nov. 21, 1964 issue, Charlie helped KRLA obtain an advance copy of the Beatles' latest single, "I Feel Fine," eighteen days before its USA release. How did he do it? An unnamed neighbor of Charlie's had a copy, it seems, and somehow the record made its way to the KRLA studios. It pays to have nice neighbors.

Capitol Records suffered a case of the screaming ab-dabs. "This advance airplay creates a false demand" for the record, a spokesman protested self-righteously...as if anyone could create a false demand for a Beatles record. But it was great publicity for KRLA and gave listeners yet another reason to keep their ears glued to L.A.'s "Official Beatles station." Thanks, Charlie!

Though Charlie O'Donnell left KRLA for KGBS in 1968 and enjoyed his much more renowned TV career, he agreed to join KRLA deejays of yore for the 1981 KRLA reunion of its classic line-up. This photo is from the Orange County Register.

Back row from left: Reb Foster, Ted Quillan, Dick Moreland, newsman Richard Beebe, 1980s program director Jack Roth, and Dave Hull; front row from left, "Emperor" Bob Hudson, Bobby "Boris" Picket of "Monster Mash" fame (who briefly had a Saturday evening show on KRLA in late 1964), Bob Eubanks, Casey Kasem, Charlie O'Donnell, and Johnny Hayes. Hard to believe that almost thirty years have passed since that get-together....

KRLA's optical psychedelic symphonic nerve spasm

10.12.10 

Our good friend Timmy sent along this clipping (click to enlarge), apropos of the season. For a change it's not from the KRLA Beat, rather (apparently) from L.A.'s underground newspaper The Free Press.

But KRLA hosted the event, titled the "Monster Halloween Freak-Off," held Saturday, October 29, 1966 at the now-defunct Great Western Exhibit Center in Commerce, just southeast of downtown Los Angeles.

L.A.'s own The Seeds were clearly headliners, having just enjoyed their first hit "Pushin' Too Hard" that same year. They were also a favorite band on KRLA's playlist and covered in the KRLA Beat during 1967. But the rest of the show's lineup is interesting too.

The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band included Danny and Shaun Harris, sons of classical composers Roy and Johanna Harris and schoolmates of the young Ry Cooder; lawyer-turned-singer Bob Markley; Michael Lloyd, late of the surf band The New Dimensions; plus musician friends Danny Belsky, Dennis Lambert, and John Ware. They incorporated light shows in their act and played with The Mothers of Invention, The Count V, and The Factory. Read up on them in detail, if you like, or give a listen to a song or two on YouTube.

A Hollywood band called Rain had released its latest single, "ESP" backed with a song inspired by Them's "I Can Only Give You Everything," called "Outta My Life," a track I swear I remember hearing on KRLA's playlist. The Fabs from Fullerton, California had recently covered a Fred Neil song, "That's The Bag I'm In," while The New Generation was fortunate enough to record for Capitol Records and play local Sunset Strip clubs...but Capitol never released their music during their heyday, alas.

San Fernando Valley local Davie Allan and his group the Arrows had their biggest success with "Blues Theme," which melded garage-punk and surf instrumental sounds. The group contributed ubiquitously to biker movies such as "The Wild Angels" and "Born Losers". The only non-local band was South Dallas' Les Watson and the Panthers, an all-black soul group who specialized in Motown and soul covers. You can sample their single "Oh Yeah" released on Pompeii Records, a subsidiary of Atco which was owned by Pat Morgan, producer of KRLA's "Freak-Off" show.

No telling what the "optical psychedelic symphonic nerve spasm" advertised on the poster was referring to...the music? A light show? Or maybe the winner of the "wiggiest masked freaker" award? Your guess is as good as mine. Happy Halloween!

I dropped my harmonica, Albert

10.04.10 

Tim Morgon had the unfortunate luck to follow a musical trend that was almost over by the time Los Angeles radio noticed him...and the disinclination to pick up on the imminent dawning of folk-rock, which would invade KRLA's airwaves in early 1965. With a style that was lightly folky, similar to The Kingston Trio or early Smothers Brothers, Morgon was a popular singer at the Balboa nightclub "Prison of Socrates," run by two Greek entrepreneurs, Jerry and Ted Nikas. Balboa teens adored Morgon and he played numerous gigs at Southern California clubs as well as high school assemblies, one of which was hosted by KRLA's own Dick Biondi.

The release of an LP on Fink Records called "Tim Morgon at the Prison of Socrates" (which was a better title, I think, if you didn't know that it referred to a nightclub) sparked a flurry of sales at Wallich's Music City in Hollywood, one of the region's biggest record stores. Morgon fans assumed that radio exposure was next for their fave rave. When it didn't happen, the Nikas brothers helped them organize petitions and picket lines at the two main top-forty stations, KRLA and KFWB. Fink Records was owned by the brothers and clearly they had something to gain from the protest too.

This Billboard article from December 7, 1963 showed how (and how not to) respond to your radio constituency. KFWB's program director Jim Hawthorne didn't get it. "We won't have anything to do with any promotion which coerces us and places us under duress," he declared humorlessly. KRLA's John Barrett was more deft, telling Billboard that his station was "frankly quite flattered that the kids have such a high regard for our station that they wanted to picket us to play the single." Barrett's praise for Morgon's sound was good public relations. But in the end neither KFWB nor KRLA added Morgon to their playlists.

A couple years later the KRLA Beat interviewed Morgon in their December 25, 1965 issue on page 9. Morgon described his music as "folk-like" and expressed his dislike for protest music: "We have enough war, and death, and destruction without this, and I don't think a song here and there is going to do anything about it." On the same page you'll see a small advertisement for the Nikas Brother's quirky 30-minute film about the Tim Morgon phenomenon, "Dirty Feet," premiering at the Cosmos Folk Club in Seal Beach. For those who missed it, YouTube has a copy of "Dirty Feet" online for your viewing pleasure, with Part I here (follow the links on that page for Parts II and III).

Tabloid wars: "Go" vs. the KRLA Beat

09.10.10 

Robin Leach was apaprently well-known for some TV show about rich and famous people...a phenomenon that I was spared for some reason, thankfully. But before he was involved in television he was in print, first as the youngest columnist for England's Daily Mail, then working for a handful of American magazines.

To my surprise, Leach was also involved in the only large-scale rival to the KRLA Beat, a tabloid called "Go Magazine" (not the same "Go" that exists today, it goes without saying). In the April 1, 1967 issue of Billboard (which you can read via Google Books, if you're so moved), Claude Hall reported on the state of teen newspaper coverage in the U.S. Leach claimed that each twelve to sixteen page issue of "Go" had a weekly circulation of 390,000, mostly on the east coast. Issues were personalized to include radio station call letters and top-40 indexes for stations from upper New York to New Orleans, though the content was more promotional than journalistic. Does a complete copy of "Go" exist anymore? I was only able to find a few bits and pieces, such as this one, courtesy of Reel Radio's website.

KRLA Beat's publisher Cecil Tuck was also interviewed for the article, where he gave circulation figures of 200,000 copies per Beat issue, with expansion to other markets planned in the near future. Tuck had already had some luck with the KYA Beat in San Francisco. Adding other cities must have seemed like a good idea at the time. The Beat was a bigger newspaper, arguably more professional than "Go," and had an extensive staff of reporters ("college girls studying journalism," Tuck called them, though they were mostly post-college freelancers by 1967).

Expansion was probably the beginning of the end for the Beat. AM radio was entering a new phase by 1967 when it began to take a back seat to album-oriented rock on the newly popular "underground" FM stations, where promotional newspapers and top-40 lists were less treasured by the listenership. The KRLA Beat limped forward all through 1967, sputtering into insolvency by the following spring. "Go", cheaper to produce, continued to be published until 1969. I don't think it's inaccurate to say that more folks remember the KRLA Beat than "Go," though. There's probably a good reason for it.

Why is this night different from all other nights?

08.23.10 

Nothing important, just the forty-sixth anniversary of the first Hollywood Bowl appearance by some fellows from Liverpool.

They weren't the first rock-and-roll artists to appear at the Bowl. Dick Clark's Caravan of Stars entertained an enthusiastic audience in August 1961 with then-popular stars like Chubby Checker, Freddie Cannon, and Jan & Dean, and the venue played host to jazz artists, folk singers, and other popular performers in the years preceding the Beatles' appearance. It wasn't only a place to hear classical music.

But excitement about the Beatles' first Los Angeles area concert was palpable, especially over the radio airwaves. KRLA deejays shouted reminders in station promos as often as they could. Tickets quickly sold out for the Beatles' show, with prices ranging from $3.50 to $7.00. The most expensive tickets put spectators potentially as close as Row 10...so near and yet so far.

A bit of the magic was captured in this news footage of the event, which I believe has been post-synched to the Capitol Records recording of the concert, hence the slight mismatch. You might say that the KRLA Beat was born this night, if only in the minds of KRLA management. But that was a good place to start.

Listening to Lew's Credibility Gap

08.04.10 

One of KRLA's bright spots in the late 1960s was its innovative news programming in the form of The Credibility Gap. The 15-minute show was developed by newsman Lew Irwin, who had served a stint at KPOL-FM from 1958-1962 and KABC-TV before founding his own news production company in Southern California. KRLA was an ideal avenue for Irwin's talents. Unusual for a pop/rock station, KRLA had assembled a large news staff and took pride in its regular reporting and public affairs programming (no doubt this made the FCC happy, too).

In a commentary published at Don Barrett's "L.A. Radio" website, Irwin offered an open letter to Harry Shearer to correct misinformation about the news show's origins. Its details may be of interest to fans of KRLA's erstwhile devotion to thorough and innovative reporting. You can read a PDF version here of Irwin's open letter.

One of the Credibility Gap originals was folk singer Len Chandler, a friend of Irwin's who was hired in 1968 to provide troubador-like commentary on current events. Billboard magazine reported in its June 15, 1968 issue that Chandler had been hired for a minimum of thirteen weeks. There was no AFTRA payroll title for a "poet-singer" or "singer-poet" in radio, so KRLA designated him a disc jockey, albeit a musical one. The Pasadena Independent ran a feature on Chandler and his contributions to KRLA's news operations in their June 30, 1968 issue.

After leaving KRLA in 1970, Irwin and Chandler went on to Los Angeles PBS outlet KCET-TV, where they presented "The Newiscal Muse," essentially The Credibility Gap for TV viewers. "There'll be a mixture of tragedy and trivia in each show," Irwin told the Pasadena Independent in a July 1970 article. "It will be as likely for Len to sing about a stowaway cockroach aboard a rocket to the moon as it will be for him to sing about the desperation of an unsuccessful moon voyage."

At KRLA The Credibility Gap continued as an occasional news show with new satirists such as Severn Darden, comedians Avery Schreiber and Jack Burns, David L. Lander, and, of course, Harry Shearer.

The extinction of KRLA?

07.16.10 

Imagine that this "Twist to Radio KRLA" LP, released in 1961, was KRLA's most notable legacy.

Imagine no Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl, no KRLA Beat, no Radio Free Oz (on AM radio, anyway), no Credibility Gap, no "Pop Chronicles." Had the FCC persevered with its initial plans, come May 1, 1964 the Land of 1110 would have been shrouded by dead air, all future opportunities unrealized.

It could have happened. According to a March 15, 1964 article in the Pasadena Star News the situation was hopeless. KRLA was doomed, haunted by "mourners" and "ghoulish interests" ready to snap up its FCC license the moment it ceased to be. How puzzling, mused the Pasadena newspaper: "Never has a radio station seemed healthier while perishing." And not a word was mentioned on the air to the station's loyal listeners.

Riding high on Beatlemania's first wave, KRLA decided to ignore its predicted fate. In March 1964 the Beatles dominated not only the singles charts but also held the top two positions in the LP charts. Taking its cue from this musical goldmine, KRLA poured all its energy into giving Beatles fans what they wanted -- Beatle double plays, triple plays, album tracks, and rare unreleased songs from their early days in Germany. As a result, KRLA's listenership as well as its market value burgeoned. The station was worth four to seven million dollars (that was a lot in those days), had 43 employees on its payroll, and was challenging KFWB for the number-one position on the airwaves. What, me worry? Read the juicy details of KRLA's demise by clicking on the image below.

A restless, hungry feeling

06.30.10 

By 1966 San Francisco's Beau Brummels were a band with a new mission. Having chosen their name for its British flavor (and the fact that it would place their LPs just behind those of the Beatles in record racks), the Brummels already had two top-twenty hits, "Laugh, Laugh" and "Just A Little." The KRLA Beat had been loyally reporting their progress from its very first newsprint issue and had awarded them the Best New Group award at their Beat Pop Awards Show in 1965 -- then the only pop/rock awards show in existence (it took years before the Grammy Awards caught up with this category).

But the Brummels' later singles failed to crack even the top thirty. Something akin to a relaunch was in order. Louise Criscione was the Beat's top talent interviewer and she does the honors in the April 23, 1966 issue, interviewing the group on pages six and seven of the Beat and introducing a new member in their line-up.

New was Don Irving, who substituted for songwriter and lead guitarist Ron Elliott when Elliott's health didn't permit extended tours. Unmentioned in this article was the departure of rhythm guitarist Declan Mulligan, their only non-American member. Mulligan's attention-grabbing harmonica riff had opened "Laugh, Laugh" but he left the group in 1965 and, in an inventive reinterpretation of the verb "to quit," had just sued the Brummels for wrongful termination. Criscione and her interviewees carefully step around the elephant in the room and move on to the group's possible newest single.

Just dropped by Autumn Records, the Brummels had been picked up by Warner Bros., but Warners had neglected to obtain the rights to their own compositions. As a result the Brummels' upcoming 1966 album consisted of cover songs only. They play for Criscione their version of Bob Dylan's "One Too Many Mornings," and the reporter duly notes that it's great but also that they changed the lyrics. Why? "That's the way we wanted it, the way we arranged it," says Sal Valentino. Maybe the original lyrics were a tad too "adult" for teen audiences? Never mind! In the context of multiple Dylan songs reconfigured with a folk-rock jangle for top-forty radio, the Brummels' new single could have been a contender. You can hear it here until someone takes it down. It reached number 95 on Billboard's charts but went no further. KRLA and other stations gave it airplay but the end of the Brummels' first golden era wasn't far off.

Jim Steck, man of mystery

06.22.10 

If you find any mention of newsman Jim Steck's name these days, it's usually paired with that of KRLA deejay Dave Hull. In one of the most brazen feats of newsgathering during 1964, Hull and Steck waltzed onto a plane carrying the Beatles from Los Angeles to San Francisco and pretended to be passengers.

The boys from Liverpool consented to a taped interview in the few minutes before their plane departed (not surprisingly, since the Fabs were already acquainted with the two radio men). The resulting sound bytes were aired exclusively on KRLA and later provided material for Vee-Jay Records' 1964 release "Hear The Beatles Tell All."

An Australian reader who met Jim Steck in the 1960s emailed me recently to ask what had become of him. There are gaps in Steck's professional biography but here's a start.

Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1935 to telephone electrician James R. Steck Sr. and Dorothy A. John, Jim Steck spent three years at Oxnard's KACY-AM (the same station where Bob Eubanks had gotten his start). Steck was then recruited to become part of KRLA's news department lineup from 1964 through 1967. He's listed (as James R. Steck Jr.) in the Radio and Television News Directory Association bulletin, Volume 23, with news director Cecil Tuck and compatriots Jere Laird, Bill MacMillan, and Richard Beebe. In 1966 and 1967 Jim Steck branched out and combined his radio work with a stint on "Teen Scope", a public affairs show aimed at the Los Angeles teen audience and aired on KCOP-TV. After 1967, Steck disappeared from the L.A. market. Where did he go?

The advertisement above (click to enlarge) represents San Francisco's premier AM radio news outles, KCBS. Steck was the station's sports reporter from 1967 through 1974. He had a simultaneous gig at CBS' KPIX-TV, where he also handled sports. He was part of the station line-up at least until October 1974. After that date there are no further sightings in the local press.

Steck, a Korean War veteran, died on September 27, 1990 and was buried at the San Francisco National Cemetery. If anyone knows anything about Steck's career from 1974 to 1990, or prior to KACY, I'd be happy to fill in the blanks. He deserves a proper history.

KRLA off the air? Not so fast....

05.24.10 

Imagine the unthinkable: the biggest radio station in the Los Angeles area, generating $150,000 to $200,000 revenue per year, faced with the sound of silence. That's exactly what the FCC had threatened in early 1964, just as the early height of Beatlemania was unfurling in full glory over the airwaves.

KRLA's youthful indescretions with its log book (agricultural shows were logged that actually hadn't aired) and a game show that was techically unwinnable contributed to the FCC's wrath. Once the charges were investigated and evaluated a series of temporary license renewals were granted, each for a year while more weighty sanctions were considered. A most serious solution was reported in the Pasadena Star News on April 23, 1964 (click the article above left to enlarge). Just a week later KRLA was scheduled to go off the air.

But for reasons not made public, a one month reprieve was granted, extending the pull-the-plug date to June 1, 1964. It was the first in a series of extensions to indicate that someone, somewhere had a broader view of KRLA's economic (or cultural?) potential. The news was all over the local press, including the Los Angeles Times, though nary a word was mentioned on KRLA itself. Deejays continued to spin records (mostly by the Beatles, whose popularity inspired double and triple plays of the same hit record), commercials continued to air, and KRLA's management continued to hope that a long-term solution would be found. The situation was not fully resolved for another three years.

Not such a bad-looking chap, really

05.07.10 

He billed himself as the "Wild Eyetralian" and "the world's ugliest disc jockey." He was the biggest personality on the airwaves in Chicago during the early sixties. At WLS, so it was said, Dick Biondi "owned" everyone under the age of thirty, and had the legendary distinction of playing the first Beatles record on U.S. airwaves, "Please Please Me," which charted on the WLS Silver Dollar Survey at number 35 in March 1963, then dropped away into oblivion. America wasn't quite ready for the Beatles.

Three months later Biondi and WLS were on the outs, allegedly over a dispute about how many public service commercials were required during his airtime. Biondi spent a few months with KRLA in the summer of 1963, then went on to the Mutual Network as a coast-to-coast deejay via their subscription service. He was signed by KRLA in February 1965 to take over the late evening time slot, which had been vacated by Dave Hull. Dave went to the afternoon drive-time shift, dislodging Reb Foster (who shortly was on his way to KFWB). Some kind soul has uploaded a ten-minute clip of Biondi on WLS in 1962 to YouTube. Contrast with Biondi's KRLA style.

Biondi arrived at KRLA at a fortuitous time. The station was then the top-rated contemporary music station in Los Angeles and was just about to launch its newspaper-format version of the KRLA Beat, further enhancing its presence in the market. KRLA general manager John Barrett reformatted the station's news programming, moving five-minute bulletins to 15 minutes and 45 minutes after the hour rather than at the top of the hour in an apparent bid to cater to news-hungry listeners. According to a Billboard Magazine article from February 20, 1965, Barrett was also careful to warn his staff "to stay clear of teen-age or hippy expressions," citing a growing adult listenership. Wishful thinking? At least he didn't stop deejays like Biondi from being silly on the air...that's what the listeners wanted at this stage of the game.

These days Biondi is back in Chicago at WLS-FM where he hosts an oldies show. Just a week ago Illinois celebrated Dick Biondi Day. It couldn't have happened to a more deserving fellow!

Olden days on the radio dial

04.30.10 

Those of us who grew up with top forty formats in the 1960s were used to the Los Angeles market roiling from competition between the Big Two (initially KFWB and KRLA) and starting in 1965 the Big Three, with a third contender, KHJ, added into the mix. But decades earlier the airwaves were filled with a different sort of sublime noise.

In 1922 when the flying god of the airwaves first cavorted through L.A.'s skies, all stations shared approximately the same place on the radio dial, 485 meters (about 620 kilocycles in in later terminology). This led to problems, not surprisingly.

Stations were supposed to play nice with each other and broadcast their programs for only a portion of the day, then graciously sign off and let the next station step up to the plate. Angry letters to the editor of the Los Angeles Times suggest that the listening public was not well served by this strategy. One listener complained that when he settled down to tune in Frances St. George on her ukelele at her assigned time, her recital was overrun not five minutes later by another station tuning up early with The Tooth Paste Troubadors and their dance-music program. Separate frequencies were inevitable.

Both KHJ and KFWB, KRLA's future rivals, were part of the early radio scene in Los Angeles. KHJ, originally around 740 on the dial, went on the air in 1922 and was at first owned by the Los Angeles Times. Warner Brothers' station KFWB debuted in 1925 at about 1200 kilocycles, broadcasting from towers situated at Warner Brothers' Studios. Gradual frequency adjustments placed KFWB at 980 and KHJ at 930, where the stations aired variety shows and news programs through the decades.

So who was at 1110 while the local airwaves were percolating with sound? No one, at least not in the Los Angeles market. The radio dial looked like this in 1940. KFWB and KHJ were not quite situated at their eventual frequencies. Look carefully: KMPC is not in two places at once.

In 1942 KPAS appeared at 1110 on the dial with its on-air compatriots. KFWB and KHJ are now at 980 and 930. The latest reference I can find to KPAS is November 3, 1945 from a Los Angeles Times advertisement for a church service it aired every Sunday. Change was in the air.

KXLA popped up at 1110 in the January 5, 1946 radio guide and remained so until September 1959, when as KRLA it began delivering the same top forty tunes as KFWB, a format described by the Pasadena Independent newspaper as "inane popular songs, frantic news bulletins, twist dance tunes and light-headed disc-jockey chatter." Good enough for rock-and-roll!

Happy birthday Casey Kasem

04.27.10 

Casey Kasem (whose 78th birthday is today) is known for the phenomenal success of his syndicated show "American Top 40," which was launched in 1970 after his KRLA days. But he honed that format at several West Coast radio stations: KYA in San Francisco, KEWB in Oakland, and finally at KRLA 1110.

Kasem's standard countdown through the week's top ten records included what he used to call "teaser/bio" material, snippets of information about each singer or group. At KRLA the format was big with the early afternoon crowd and resulted in Kasem being named best disc jockey for that time slot by Billboard Magazine.

In the photo at left, Kasem was interviewed by reigning local pop-music TV host Lloyd Thaxton. The subject was Kasem's own record, "Letter From Elaina," released on Warner Bros. Records and published by Unart/Maclen in September 1964 (hmmm...Maclen...where have I run across that label before?).

Billboard had a brief review of the disc in their September 19, 1964 issue: "KRLA disk jockey Kasem effectively relates the story of a gal who experiences one of the more important moments of her life when she gets to hug a Beatle. Schmaltzy enough to register real strong with Beatle set." Now wait a minute, it was better than that! At least it was sincere.

The single originated from an on-air reading Kasem did earlier that month of a real letter from twelve year old Elaina Kaye Tribble, who had indeed manage to hug George Harrison after The Beatles' 1964 Cow Palace performance and wrote to tell Casey about it. KRLA audiences loved hearing Kasem's recitation and a recording followed in short order.

There's a riot goin' on....

04.22.10 

In more halcyon days one could wax rhapsodic about the innocent pastime of grunion hunting, a favorite sport in Southern California where grunion -- little silver fish about the size of smelt -- would launch themselves onto local beaches to lay their eggs, then return to the surf...if they could! Grunion were so preoccupied with their procreative task that they didn't consider people patrolling the beach with baskets, buckets, and all manner of carriers to harvest little fishes for the dinner table.

Grunion had an unfortunate connection with KRLA in 1961, a time when the station was still under investigation by the FCC for license irregularities. This time KRLA was entirely innocent and was merely a victim of bad planning. But it wasn't the sort of publicity a station necessarily enjoyed.

KRLA deejays hyped a "beachcomber's ball and grunion hunt" at Zuma Beach, set for June 3, 1961, with pop stars like Fabian set to sing and other local pop acts providing dance music for the teens who were expected to attend. KRLA had estimated a crowd of 2,000 people, at most 10,000. Instead, 25,000 people showed up at Zuma Beach, not all teens, not all well-behaved. Newspapers referred to it as a fully-fledged riot. Local constabulary and lifeguards were attacked with sand-packed beer cans. Restrooms were trashed, lifeguard stands dismantled, and illegal fireworks tossed into the crowd with mad abandon.

The June 6, 1961 issue of the Valley News summed up the basic story, while the Los Angeles Times insisted that things had been calm as long as deejays entertained the crowd. But as the situation grew out of hand the deejays and entertainers fled the scene, leaving thousands on the beach to revel through the evening. Eventually there were eleven arrests. One injured girl filed a lawsuit against KRLA, as well as Los Angeles County for issuing the permits in the first place (the lawsuit was tossed out of court two years later).

None of the news stories mentioned how the grunion fared that evening. They probably made out better than KRLA did.

Dave Hull the Hullabalooer fired...again?

04.16.10 

It was nothing personal, just business as usual, as you can see from this memo, altering the entire staff that they'd no longer be needed. For the full story click the picture of Dave Hull at left to read the March 2, 1985 L.A. Times interview.

KRLA was ready to reinvent itself yet again, this time in new studios in Los Angeles where Art Laboe would hold court over a reconfigured oldies format. Bert West's "Heart and Soul of Rock and Roll" was sold to Greater Media in February 1985 and with that change Dave Hull the Hullabaloer was out the door once more. He'd first been fired by KRLA in 1967, then brought back within hours after great fan uproar, remaining with KRLA for another couple of years.

After bouncing around various L.A. stations from 1969 to 1980 (KFI, KGBS, KMPC), Hull had been brought back to KRLA in 1981 for a reunion of the mid-sixties deejay lineup, which proved to be so popular that the station made room for Hull on a regular shift. But the format was running out of steam just four years later. Technically Hull could have stayed at KRLA but at a 35% pay cut, not exactly an attractive option. Perhaps, too, playing fourth fiddle to The Real Don Steele and "Emperor" Bob Hudson, tapped by Greater Media to join Laboe, held little allure.

Interesting to note in this article that Dave described himself as a member of KRLA's "porch people," the folks who hung out at the Huntington Sheraton's Carriage House studio hoping to get a glimpse of on-air personalities. Of course it wasn't KRLA in the 1940s, it was KXLA, but the idea that Hull's career was inspired by Jim Hawthorne's antics provides a nice bridge to KRLA's past.

Hull joined KWXY in Palm Springs in 1997 and until February 2010 was still on the air...until a format change left him once again without a radio home. Perhaps he'll find something else soon!

Hawthorne on 1110...before KRLA

04.13.10 

In 1959 KRLA's new Eleven-Ten men had to contend with a well established disc-jockey presence at rival station KFWB. Among KFWB's stars was Jim Hawthorne, whose reputation had been made during his previous fourteen years on Los Angeles radio and television.

Hawthorne actually established his "crazy show" (as he called it) format at 1110 on the dial when the KRLA was called KXLA, its call sign from 1945 to 1959. Hawthorne broadcast his free-form comedy in the midst of what was otherwise a Western Swing format, sandwiched between shows like Cliffie Stone's "Barn Dance", "Harmony Homestead", and "Hometown Jamboree."

To put it mildly, Jim Hawthorne was ahead of his time. Always unpredictable, he might play a song backwards, at the wrong speed, or overdubbed with his own lyrical accompaniment. Sometimes he read the station logs aloud. He lampooned advertisers. He had a cast of imaginary characters, most of which he voiced himself, and mixed bad puns with surreal sketches, including a plan to build an underground three-lane tunnel from Pomona to Pismo Beach...and maybe back the other way, if there was enough interest in it.

Airchecks of Hawthorne on 1110 actually exist. Airchexx.com has a twelve-minute sample of Jim Hawthorne's hilarious nonsense from June 9, 1947. If you're hooked after hearing it, WFMU-FM offers an hour-long compilation of Hawthorne's KXLA show in RealPlayer format. Nothing this wacky would be heard again on 1110 until the debut of The Firesign Theater and The Credibility Gap on KRLA in the mid-1960s, though their brand of comedy had a sharper edge.

Middle of the road?

04.10.10 

Even up to its last days as an oldies station in Los Angeles, KRLA liked to refer to itself as a continuous presence in rock-and-roll music. When it debuted as a top-forty station in September 1959 the industry term for the station's format was "teen beat". By 1967 KRLA's format -- still top-forty -- was "contemporary."

But it had a brief couple of years as an MOR (middle-of-the-road) station starting in 1975. Claude Hall of Billboard reported that the station, which had languished for a couple of years with just two on-air deejays and lots of taped rock, acquired a new format and new talent. Click the article to enlarge.

Johnny Magnus and Paul Compton were serious MOR powerhouses for previous Southland incarnations. Lee "Baby" Simms had worked at KRLA briefly in 1971. Johnny Hayes managed to hang on to his KRLA hat no matter what upheavals rumbled through the station landscape. Program director Roy Elwell was a surprise, though, a voice from the past. He'd been one of the original Eleven-Ten Men in 1959.

It wasn't a long-lived change and KRLA was back to playing oldies a few years later.

Dick Moreland: not just another pretty face

04.07.10 

Dick Moreland had a voice less suited to the excitable shouting of top-forty radio than some of his fellow deejays at KRLA. I always felt he seemed more akin to Ted Quillan than, say, the Hollywood slick delivery of Jimmy O'Neill. But he played an important part in KRLA's maturing playlist once KRLA had slipped to the number-two-rated station in its market, an inevitable outcome of the format switch to all-request in late 1965.

By 1966 Moreland was program director at the station and Billboard Magazine rated him "most co-operative in exposing new records" in their March 25, 1967 issue. While the weekly tunedexes continued to be printed in the KRLA Beat, they didn't always reflect some of the rarities and album tracks being played on the station.

You might have to stay up late to hear the late evening deejay play the Rolling Stones' eleven-minute track "Going Home" from their "Aftermath" LP, or Chad & Jeremy's "Rest In Peace" from their Sgt.-Pepperesque "Of Cabbages and Kings", but it was worth a little lost sleep. After midnight you might well be rewarded with an album played in its entirety, something that local FM radio had yet to promote.

Billboard also noted that KRLA set a quota for ten new singles per week to be played on the air. Rival KHJ may have played more songs per hour but they were the same top-forty songs over and over. KRLA's listenership was evolving, and Moreland's picks for airtime might well come from anyone with a new record to push, not just the big labels.

After leaving KRLA, Moreland briefly became program director at the infamous, beloved KPPC-AM and FM shortly after the great purge of on-air talent in October 1971. Don Barrett's "L.A. Radio" website hosts an article by Jim Hilliker about KPPC's remarkable history, for those interested.

Thanks to KRLA historian Bill Earl for the illustration of Dick Moreland.

1959: New kid on the block

04.05.10 

It's not the best quality, but it's perhaps the earliest assembly of photos for KRLA disc jockeys in December 1959, shortly after KXLA changed its Western Swing format and went to top-forty airplay on September 3, 1959.

Perry Allen had been recruited by station owner Jack Cooke from WKBW in Buffalo, New York, and was to figure inadvertantly but prominently in KRLA's licensing problems in the early 1960s. He was the innocent party in a "Find Perry Allen" promotion in the Southland, a KRLA contest that was (for various reasons) unwinnable by any local contestants. Perry Allen tells the story best himself.

At this point KRLA was referring to itself as "Radio One-One-Wonderful," a slogan that proved to be short-lived. L.A. Times radio reviewer Don Page was less than amused at the appearance of one more rock-and-roll station in the market, joining KFWB. He extended his holiday wishes with predictable cynicism: "'Twas the night before Xmas, and Santa's gondola -- was loaded for disc-jockeys with bags of payola."

The Payola Scandal, oddly enough, was not what almost conquered the Land of Eleven-Ten.

Tunedex tales

04.03.10 

WLS in Chicago called it the Silver Dollar Survey. CHUM in Toronto called it the Hit Parade. KRLA was not the only radio station to use the term Tunedex for its index of hits, but it was the most prominent.

Even though a nicer typeset version of the Tunedex was available every week in the KRLA Beat, some uncelebrated secretary at KRLA still had to type out the Tunedex every week, which was then duplicated and distributed for free at the station as well as at local record stores.

Timothy Warden runs ARSA ("The Airheads Radio Survey Archive") and collects radio surveys, airchecks, and provides a number of documents and databases of interest to radio historians. KRLA is one of the stations represented. Click on any file to see a transcription of the tunedex for that particular week, with a scan of the actual tunedex where available. Someone clearly doesn't yet know how to spell "Simon & Garfunkel".

March 2, 1942: Mark you calendar!

04.01.10 

Sharp-eyed readers of this particular issue of the Los Angeles times might have noted history being made. Nestled next to a reminder to obey your air-raid warden ("So if the guy next door is a warden, you'd better be nice to him") was a small advertisement for a new radio station.

Even in those days the station that would become KRLA had a devotion to news, and station owner J. Frank Burke had his own commentary each evening at 8:00pm. But KPAS had competition from its compatriots on the dial. 1960s nemesis KHJ "at 930 on your dial" had the Raymond Gram Swing Show scheduled from 7:00 to 7:15pm, KECA (later KABC) offered Erskine Johnson's "Hollywood Spotlight", and on KMPC the Native Sons sponsored Frank Watanabe's talk on "The Japanese Menace."

But KPAS had a roster of inviting shows of its own, including "Meet Priscilla Alden" at 10:30am (sounds like a soap opera), "Let's Play Bridge" with Ray Noll at 2:45pm, J. Newton Yates at the organ at 10:30pm (poor fellow was probably in studio every week night for this, audiotape not yet being widely available), and "Problem Clinic" with Don Wilkie on Sunday nights at 8:45pm.

Kilocycles was the term used before kilohertz (kHz) to measure the exact point on the radio dial where your favorite station could be found. Before kilcycles came into use in the 1920s the preferred term was wavelength (KPAS was at 270.1 meters on older radio dials). Was there a station in Los Angeles at 1110 kilocycles before KPAS? The closest one I've been able to find was KPLA, operating at 1100 kilocycles, changed to 1040 in 1928. On 1110 kilocycles exactly was the thousand-watt KOAC in Corvallis, Oregon, which you could probably pick up with a decent loop antenna in those days. By January 1946, with no apparent fanfare, KPAS changed to KXLA but was still located (as KRLA was to be) in the Pasadena Huntington Sheraton hotel on Oak Knoll Boulevard. Here's what the Los Angeles radio dial looked like (sort of) in early 1946.

Thanks very much to Dana Shima for newspaper clippings on KPAS.

Looking for specific issues of the KRLA Beat?

Individual issues are listed in the Archive section in chronological order, starting with the first known issue of the KRLA Beat on October 9, 1964 through May 4, 1968, the last date of publication.

The Archive also includes an indexed list of the entire collection for your reading enjoyment.

To start, click on the Archive tab above, scroll down the page, and click on any image to open that particular issue in your PDF reader of choice. If you run into any problems, please contact the webmaster for assistance.