Radio AM to FM: March 18, 2005
Selling off History
Eighty-one years of San Francisco broadcast history are about to be thrown out as Infinity Broadcasting sells off the legendary 610 KFRC to Family Radio, with a call-letter change mandated by the sale along with a change in format to religious.
The KFRC calls go back to 1924, and are San Francisco's second-oldest call letters. The oldest by about six months belong to KYA.
KFRC was the Bay Area's Boss Radio station, with a twist: due to the hills of San Francisco wrecking havoc with signals from almost all FM stations, the Amazing AM was able to remain the top hit music station until well after most other AM giants across the country had fallen. KFRC's 5000 watts cover the city better than any other station in the area.
In fact, KFRC won numerous Best Station awards as late as the 1980s, and it took Walter Sabo to kill the station with game shows before forcing a format switch in August of 1986.
You may be asking why I care. Why do I give a darn about a station hundreds of miles away? Actually, I don't really know. I think it has to do with the fact that KFRC -- and KHJ and others like them -- represent what was so good about radio. KFRC was programmed so well, that it would sound better at 4 AM than most stations sound today in prime time.
Every element of the station, from the personalities to the music to the promotions to the commercials, were designed to work well together and make the station sound good.
And KFRC sounded good. Damn good. Legendary. For a sample, head over to www.reelradio.com; they have numerous recordings of KFRC available.
Of course that was a long time ago. The last decade or so has found the Big 610 -- like many Infinity radio stations -- a shell of its former self, playing second fiddle on an AM-FM simulcast with KFRC-FM. In its infinite wisdom, the legendary 610 was barely mentioned on the air, replaced on air predominantly with FM frequency announcements.
But as long as the Big 610 KFRC was still around, I held out hope -- unlikely as it was -- that the station could someday return to its glory as a top-40 station. The way it should be. The way I continue to hope KHJ will mark a return to the format.
In the case of KHJ, current owners Liberman Broadcasting fought to get the legendary call letters back after former owner RKO (stupidly) let them go. They obviously understand radio history.
Infinity, as it has proven time and time again, has absolutely no appreciation for local radio history, and that is why they are forcing the new owners of KFRC to obtain new call letters. According to reliable sources, Infinity dumped rare and irreplaceable audio recordings of KRLA, KLSX and even material from KMETthey had for safekeeping, when they decided they just didn't need them any more. Documented radio history dating back to 1959, thrown in the trash, just as they are doing to KFRC.
There will remain a KFRC-FM, but no one really cares. My hunch? Infinity will find that far more people listened to the AM signal than they realized, the oldies format will decline dramatically in the ratings, and Infinity will wonder what hit them.
Copyright © 2005 Richard Wagoner and The Copley Press.
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