October 31, 2005

Manna For Susquehanna: Cumulus Buys In

Cumulus Media, in partnership with private investment groups, announced this morning that it is the buyer of Susquehanna Radio's 33 stations in a deal worth about $1.2-billion.

Locally, Susquehanna owns KNBR/680 and KFOG/104.5 in San Francisco, KSAN/107.7 and KTCT/1050 in San Mateo, and KFFG/97.7 in Los Altos. Cumulus MediaKTCT is co-branded as "KNBR/1050," while KFFG simulcasts with KFOG.

Cumulus, the fourth-largest revenue earner among U.S. radio owners, joined with Bain Capital, Blackstone Group and Thomas H. Lee Partners in making the successful bid. Cumulus will combine the Susquehanna stations, located in eight markets, with four of its own FM radio stations in Houston and Kansas City to create Cumulus Media Partners LLC, which will be led by current Cumulus CEO Lew Dickey.

The deal is expected to gain FCC and close early in 2006.

Complete details at Bloomberg News.

Radio Dots & DashesFred Fox, who began his entertainment career at San Francisco's KSFO and KYA in the late 1930s and went on to become a leading writer for stars such as Bob Hope as well as on countless radio and television comedies, died on October 23 in Encino. He was 90 years old.

His "Freddie The Fox" show on KSFO was a top hit, but was taken off the air when parents complained that his character's trademark stutter was being imitated by their children.

He worked in the Office of War Information during World War II, after which he moved to Hollywood and immediately became a top writer for Burns and Allen, Rosemary Clooney, Jack Carson, Bill Goodwin, Spike Jones, Doris Day and Bing Crosby. In 1944, he joined Bob Hope's writing team, working on Hope's show, sponsored by Pepsodent Toothpaste. Mr. Fox's working relationship with Hope continued for forty years.

October 28, 2005

RIP: Bwana Johnny (1946-2005)

It seems like we've been doing this a lot lately.

Bwana Johnny (1970)Word came from Sam Lee today that Bwana Johnny, who had been battling congestive heart failure for the past several months, died in Seattle at age 59.

Bwana, whose real name was Richard Johnson, had been a popular disc jockey at the old 1260/KYA back in the late 1960s. Most recently, he had worked in production with Jones Radio Networks in Seattle before his illness forced him into a care facility.

Before coming to the Bay Area in 1969, "Beautiful Bwana" worked at KLOG/Kelso, Wash., WUBE/Cincinnati and KJR/Seattle. He moved on to WWDJ/New York as music director and afternoon-drive jock (1971-1973) and spun records for a year at WFUN/Miami before returning to his hometown, Portland, Ore., as "Crazy Dick Simms" on the Rose City's legendary KISN in 1975.

The Bwana was the first radio "star" that I met, and was the subject of the first article I ever wrote about radio: my sixth-grade class at Blacow Elementary School in Fremont played another neighborhood school in a "Banana Day" baseball game sponsored by Chiquita Bananas, and Bwana came out to emcee the event. I got to interview him for about ten minutes and became a fan for life.

Knowing that he wasn't doing well, I dedicated the first "Archive Feature" on the Bay Area Radio Museum website to him back when it was first launched. If you've never heard him — or heard of him — give the Mighty Bwana a listen at:


October 26, 2005

RIP: Michael Spears

Michael Hagerty sent along word today that Michael Spears, program director at 610/KFRC from 1973 to 1977, died Tuesday (October 25) after a five-year battle with cancer. He was 58.

Michael SpearsDuring his tenure at The Big 610, Spears brought in an array of talent unmatched elsewhere in Top 40 radio during the Seventies, including Beau Weaver, John Mack Flanagan, Dave Sholin, Chuck Buell, Marvelous Mark McKay, Don Sainte-Johnn, Shana, Rick Shaw, Mucho Morales and Big Tom Parker. While Spears didn't hire Dr. Don Rose for KFRC — RKO General National PD masterminded that move — it was Spears who created the environment that allowed "Dr. Don to be Dr. Don," according to Hagerty.

"A lot of other PDs would have found subtle ways to sabotage a controversial morning show that wasn't their idea," Hagerty said, "but Michael gave the support and freedom to DDR that allowed him to become an outright legend in the market and in the industry."

Spears also kept listeners involved with an amazing array of promotions, Hagerty noted.

"The station was also just incredible promotionally in those days," he said. "Spears' first promotion was giving away Mick Jagger's Morgan Plus 8 roadster. Then there was the 'Grand A Day Giveaway' ... and 'Car A Day' ... and "Hawaii A Day"... and nobody else was doing them yet. He took charity promotions to a new level with KFRC's involvement in the March of Dimes Walkathons, and reinvented concert tie-ins with Bill Graham's 'Day On The Green' series."

"Michael plucked me out of overnights in Jacksonville at the age of 21 to do 6-10 p.m. at KFRC," Marvelous Mark posted on Radio-Info.com. "He gave me my career and a new name. Michael also encouraged me to learn voice imaging from Bobby Ocean and John Mack Flanagan. Eventually, when they left I took over that job, and it's how I earn my living to this day."

A native of Texas, Spears (born Hal Martin) won the state's Champion Magician competition at age 15. In 2004, he was inducted into the Texas Radio Hall of Fame. For the past several years, he had operated his own production company, Beam, Inc.

After bringing Billboard Station of the Year honors to KFRC, Spears departed for 93/KHJ in Los Angeles as the era of Top 40 radio on the AM dial began its decline.

"His arrival at KFRC coincided with the exact moment that sister KHJ starting declining into 'just another radio station,'" Hagerty noted. "And, were it not for a couple of missteps that probably weren't his fault, I believe he could have saved KHJ, too."

October 25, 2005

Born Free: 106.9 Free FM Launching Today

FLASH! The Doghouse made its debut on 106.9 Free FM at 9 o'clock this morning. The station's lineup is expected to include Darian O'Toole (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.) and John London (3 p.m. to 7 p.m.).

The up again, down again 106.9 Free FM (KIFR)website is back up again today, and is showing Tom Leykis on the schedule from 3 PM to 8 PM and KIFR 106.9 Free FMJohn & Jeff from 11 PM to 3 AM (along with their Southern California phone-in numbers), with Adam Carolla and Penn Jillette coming in January.

Does this mean that we'll hear Leykis as early as today? Perhaps, according to a CBS/Infinity press release issued bright and early this morning:

Beginning today, KIFR, WYSP and KPLN will convert to FREE FM programming offering listeners a combination of powerhouse local and national personalities (see separate releases for complete lineups). WXRK, the flagship station for the David Lee Roth Show, will debut FREE FM on the station in conjunction with Roth's premiere in January 2006. Current Infinity stations in Los Angeles (KLSX-FM), Chicago (WCKG-FM), Dallas (KLLI-FM), Washington, D.C. (WJFK-FM), Detroit (WKRK-FM) and Baltimore (WHFS-FM) have all been rebranded FREE FM as of today.

And why, if she's already signed, isn't Darian O'Toole listed on the site?

I also wonder how they plan to fill the gaps in programming until January — Don Imus in the morning? Bill O'Reilly's "Radio Factor"? (Wow! Didn't know my gag reflex would kick in so easily.)

Note that if you click on the "Coming Jan.: Adam Carolla - Penn Jillette" logo, you go directly to CBS/Infinity's website, which includes a map that shows what stations will be "Free" and who will be on them. For example, "New York - WXRK FM 92.3 - David Lee Roth, Penn Jillette."

Jillette's show, according to CBS/Infinity, will be only one hour long.

With the post-Howard Era almost upon it, Live 105 (KITS/105.3) has announced that it will go back to music in the morning with live, local host(s) beginning January 3, 2006, meaning no Roth or other syndicated talent, according to the CBS/Infinity press release:

KITS-FM in San Francisco will launch the MORNING MUSIC CO-OP, an entertainment-based program featuring alternative music with unprecedented listener involvement/interaction and minimal commercial interruption. The station's on-air programming attributes will include music-oriented town halls, sponsorship of "locals-only" concerts, monthly music and movie listener correspondents, frequent auditions for permanent positions on the show, listener advisory reports, and Q&A sessions with station executives.

One rampant rumor: Sarah & No Name, currently at co-owned Alice@97.3 (KLLC), will be shuffled over to Live 105 come the new year.

Complete list of Howard Stern markets, replacement talent and station format:

WXRK-FM New York David Lee Roth/FREE FM (*)
KLLI-FM Dallas David Lee Roth/FREE FM
WYSP-FM Philadelphia David Lee Roth/FREE FM (*)
WBCN-FM Boston David Lee Roth/Active Rock
WRKZ-FM Pittsburgh David Lee Roth/Active Rock
WNCX-FM Cleveland David Lee Roth/Classic Rock
WPBZ-FM West Palm Beach David Lee Roth/Alternative Rock

KLSX-FM Los Angeles Adam Carolla/FREE FM
KPLN-FM San Diego Adam Carolla/FREE FM (*)
KZON-FM Phoenix Adam Carolla/Alternative Rock
KUFO-FM Portland Adam Carolla/Active Rock
KXTE-FM Las Vegas Adam Carolla/Alternative Rock

WCKG-FM Chicago Rover/FREE FM
WKRK-FM Detroit Rover/FREE FM
WAQZ-FM Cincinnati Rover/Alternative Rock
WMFS-FM Memphis Rover/Alternative Rock
WZNE-FM Rochester Rover/Alternative Rock

WJFK-FM Washington, D.C. The Junkies/FREE FM
WHFS-FM Baltimore The Junkies/FREE FM/Alternative Rock

KITS-FM San Francisco Morning Music Co-Op/Alternative Rock

KIKK-AM Houston CNN Radio News

WBZZ-AM Tampa Talk (*)

KHWD-FM Sacramento JACK-FM (*)

WOCL-FM Orlando Drew and Mel/Alternative Rock

KXBT-FM Austin Star & Buc Wild/Rhythmic CHR

(*) Format Change

October 24, 2005

Krueger Suing Over KNBR Canning

This morning's Matier & Ross column in the San Francisco Chronicle details "a pair of blistering lawsuits" filed by departed KNBR sportstalk host Larry Krueger and ex-morning show producer Tony Rhein against their former employer.

Krueger and Rhein were dismissed, along with KNBR program director Bob Agnew, in the aftermath of Krueger's "brain-dead Caribbean hitters" comments following an uninspired loss by the San Francisco Giants on August 3.

According to Matier & Ross, the suit includes a reference to KNBR general manager Tony Salvadore prodding Krueger "to go after the Giants on air," quoting Salvadore as saying "Do me a favor, pal, rip the s--- out of the Giants."

The suit also notes that Giants executive vice president Larry Baer demanded that Salvadore fire Krueger and, when that did not happen, Baer put a transcript of Krueger's remarks -- with the offending passages highlighted -- on Giants manager Felipe Alou's desk "to provoke Alou into attacking Krueger."

Baer denied the allegations, according the Matier & Ross column. Salvadore declined to comment on the suit, telling the reporters that it was "news to me. I know nothing of it."

Krueger, meanwhile, is spending his afternoons this week reading the sports report between 4 and 7 p.m. on the KGO/810 Afternoon News.

Complete article at SFGate.com.

October 18, 2005

Bill King: Holy Toledo

I was having a busy day today. The last thing I wanted to do was write a requiem for one of my favorite people in or out of broadcasting.

Bill KingBill King passed away this morning at San Leandro Memorial Hospital. He was in for hip surgery. He died after suffering a pulmonary embolus. He never had the opportunity to enjoy a long, sweet retirement of ballet and opera and great food and travelling the world.

He was only 78 years old.

Bill King was truly the Man For All Sports Seasons. Baseball (first the Giants, then the A's), football (Raiders, Cal), basketball (Warriors, Cal) and even hockey (the old Seals of the WHL, back in the day). He did nightly sports reports on two different stations back in the 1960s. More so than anyone else, he was the voice of sports in the Bay Area. Whomever was in second in this category was a distant second.

Bill King was perhaps the most interesting human being to work in a press box, ever. A beautiful voice, magnificent command of the language, able to make you feel as if you were watching the game with his words.

He had to keep working years beyond the time he wanted to retire because his business manager cleaned him out. He lived on a houseboat in Sausalito. He worked barefoot in the press box. What more would you need to know about him?

The Warriors had to hire Hank Greenwald to do the "stand up" on their telecasts in the early 1960s because Bill King had a Van Dyke beard, and it just wasn't right to unleash such a "horrible vision of beardedness" (Bill's words) on the viewing public.

To this day, so many years after he stopped being the voice of the Warriors and Raiders, I have trouble listening to their games on radio because — no matter how good Tim Roye and Greg Papa may be — without Bill King, it just isn't the same. Listening to him on the air made me a fan of those teams, and I still associate his voice with not only my fondest memories but the best years of the Raiders and Warriors.

Warriors president Robert Rowell had this to say today about Bill King:
"Bill King was an icon in this market and established himself as one of the greatest broadcasters in the history of sports, not just the NBA. Those of us who had the pleasure to enjoy his distinctive work — ranging from the Warriors' 1975 championship team to one of the A's or Raiders title-winning squads — will be forever spoiled. He was talented, versatile, enthusiastic and, most importantly, a class act and a great man. He will be sorely missed by everyone he touched, including those who never had the opportunity to meet him, but still benefited from his presence in their homes."

Oakland A's President Michael Crowley:
"He was arguably the most recognizable voice in the history of Bay Area broadcasting. One would be hard-pressed to find an announcer who served as the lead play-by-play voice for three major sports franchises for as long as Bill. He was a broadcasting icon and true renaissance man in every sense of the word whose loss will be felt in many circles."

Al Davis, Raiders managing general partner:
"I and the Davis family are deeply saddened by the news of Bill's passing. Bill was a great friend, a brilliant performer and an exceptional man. I say this with great admiration and love that Bill becomes one of the people that I give the CLOAK OF IMMORTALITY - Time never stops for the great ones. To his children Kathleen and John, we'll always be there. The Raiders were proud to have Bill as their radio play-by-play man for four decades and he was the voice for many of the greatest games played in the history of professional football. His Commitment to Excellence was unparalleled. Bill will be sorely missed."

One of the best examples of Bill King at his absolute finest was his call of the Raiders "Holy Roller" play against the Chargers back in 1978:


"Madden is out on the field. He wants to know if it's real ... they said yes -- get your big butt out of here! ... There's no time left ... there's nothing real in the world any more! ... A man would be a fool to ever try and write a drama and make you believe it!"

Donations in memory of Bill King may be made through the Smuin Ballet, 300 Brannan Street, Suite 407, San Francisco, CA 94107 or the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, P.O. Box 809, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956.

October 14, 2005

610, 106.9 Changes Expected Sunday At Midnight

If you put any faith in the rumors going down on the radio message boards the past few days — and why shouldn't you? — it looks like this Sunday night (October 16) at midnight will mark the disappearance of the KFRC call letters from 610 AM, which will become KEAR.

Radio MutinyAt the same time, the KEAR calls will be removed from 106.9 in San Francisco and will reappear on Family Radio's current KEDR (88.1) in Sacramento, which will become KEAR-FM as the main distribution hub of Family's network of low-power translator outlets up and down the West Coast.

Meanwhile, CBS Broadcasting — newly renamed after years as Infinity — may launch its new talk programming on 106.9 as early as noon on Monday (October 17). As noted here previously, the station is rumored to have Darian O'Toole pencilled in for the 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. slot, with Adam Carolla doing mornings once CBS settles contract details that will put the current Lovelines and former Man Show host also on CBS-owned radio stations in Los Angeles, San Diego and Portland.

The spies have noted that CBS has set up a makeshift website at 1069FreeFM.com, along with a "Radio Mutiny" Flash movie (still image above) that shows a skull and crossbones waving above the Golden Gate Bridge. An indication, perhaps, that the new talker will be called 106.9 Free FM ... or just a clever ruse?

New call letters for 106.9 have been assigned to CBS by the FCC, but the station may be briefly operated as KIFR (a kit-bashing of "I" for Infinity and "FR" for Family Radio?) beginning at midnight on Sunday. The station will be working from new — and, from all reports, spectacular — studios at the company's 865 Battery Street complex.

UPDATE: At noon on Monday (Oct. 17), Family Stations handed off 106.9 to CBS/Infinity, and the station became KIFR as expected. The station began stunting with an audio montage (well-known sound bites mixed with music). You may download the final few moments of KEAR and the first hour of KIFR in glorious MP3 Monaural by clicking right about here.
Radio Dots & Dashes -- Newstalk KGO 810 will present its big All Star broadcast featuring its lineup of heavy hitters on November 10 at the Marin Civic Center. Details at www.KGOAM810.com ... Meanwhile, Ronn Owens celebrates his thirtieth anniversary at KGO on October 27. Production director Mike Amatori tells me that he has put together some funny stuff about Ronn — most of it made up — that he says "will either get me fired or win me another Addy"...

Wave farewell to Gretchen, who had been evening voice at Alice (KLLC 97.3) until this week ... I realize that Uncle Al Davis has to keep him employed somewhere, but perhaps Al could invest a few bucks and get Flores, Flores, Tom Flores, um, um, um some lessons, some um diction lessons so he, so he can be under, understood on the uh Raider broadcasts it would uh be um a good thing ...