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Airwaves: April 29, 2011

46 Years of Boss Radio

The year was 1965. Has-been radio station KHJ (930 AM), which for the past few years had been running a middle of the road and personality-oriented format, had a new programmer -- Ron Jacobs, a new management team that included consultants Gene Chenault and Bill Drake, and an entirely new set of disc jockeys ready to go on the air with a new format planned to launch May 5th.

The air staff, consisting of youngsters Robert W. Morgan, Roger Christian, Gary Mack, Don Steele, Dave Diamond and Johnny Williams were busy practicing their craft in the production studio when not playing middle of the road music called the Cavalcade of Hits. This was going to be a major launch with what everyone hoped would be the most exciting station to hit the Los Angeles airwaves ever.

But something went wrong. A newsman, who thought he would be let go once the new format was in place, jumped ship and landed a job at KFWB (980 AM) in exchange for giving away KHJ’s secrets. Suddenly KFWB was on the air with announcements for Boss Radio, 20/20 News and more ... all the elements that were supposed to be on KHJ, in a week.

So the decision was made to launch a week early: a Sneak Preview, as it was called, starting April 27th at 3 PM with Don Steele. “The Real” Don Steele, that is.

That start was the beginning of an entirely new sound for Los Angeles top-40 radio. A tight playlist with a focus on presentation. Little chatter, quick -- but very memorable -- jingles, creative contests, and the promise of much more music made in part by limiting the number of commercials and playing more songs back to back. It was a winning combination that brought the station to the top of the ratings within six months.

But not everyone was pleased with the move. Don Page, writing in The Radio Beat for the Los Angeles Times said, “Whether KHJ moves into the hallowed ratings circle is unimportant. It remains that quality, purposeful programming has lost at KHJ.

“On Monday KHJ will unveil its latest format, described as ‘the sound of modern Los Angeles music.’ Look folks, it’s rock ‘n’ roll -- pure and unadulterated. It’s the cheap get-ratings-quick format, no matter what they call it.”

He concluded with “One thing you have to say for RKO-General (the owners). By eliminating personalities such as Michael Jackson, Joe Dolan, Red McIlvaine, Paul Compton, Army Archerd, Steve Allen (plus good music and news) and replacing them with rock ‘n’ roll, it showed class. All third.”

Little did he know that KHJ was about to change the sound of top-40 radio forever. The structured, upbeat, fast-paced, polished and highly promoted sound resonated with listeners throughout its reception area, and the Boss sound quickly spread throughout the entire country. Copies were found from San Francisco to New York, and radio today owes a lot to the format made popular by Jacobs, Drake and Chenault. Radio, literally, was never the same again.

Hear samples of the launch of KHJ including a Beach-Boys-style song written by Christian (yes, the DJ was the same Roger Christian of Beach Boys and Jan and Dean fame) with all the DJs introducing themselves at ReelRadio.Com (search KHJ and look for a songs montage for that one).


You read right last week: after a two-year absence, Rick Dees is returning to the Los Angeles airwaves, this time via Hot 92.3 FM.

Dees came to Los Angeles in 1979 as the star of a rejuvenated KHJ, later moving on to an amazing 23 year run on KIIS-FM (102.7). More recently, he was the morning star of Movin’ 93.9, which much like KHJ finally had its act together only to be killed off by shortsighted management.

It’s been just over two years since Dees has been on the air here; I plan an interview with him soon. In the meantime, look for him to make his big return at 6 AM on May 4th.


Copyright © 2011 Richard Wagoner and Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

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