|| BY BILL MARTIN
As an anonymous KFMB voice announced, "B100 is history." One of B100's first DJs portrays the original FM station as fun but innocent. It was February 1975, a few days before B100 was to debut on the air. "Your job is to have fun."
Those were our marching orders uttered in unison by B100 program director Bobby Rich and KFMB AM/FM general manager Paul Palmer. The newly hired air staff heard similar, upbeat rhetoric from other radio executives.
However, in dysfunctional radio families across the land, management's cheerleading often rang hollow, given the usual stress, zero job security and even backstabbing endured behind the scenes. (Recently, David Letterman described broadcast executives as "weasels," except CBS execs whom he dubbed "a higher form of weasel.") Nevertheless, we ignored our skepticism because we were "radio freaks" ( those who were "into" radio 24 hours a day). We wanted the attractive major market assignment.
Jimi Fox, Dave Conley and I were locals who had worked for the competition KCBQ-AM. Newsperson Terry Lynn and morning DJ Rob Landree came from Northern California. Bobby Rich ( a.k.a. Dr. Boogie) was from KHJ in Los Angeles. Rocket Man dropped down from Minneapolis and Willie B. Goode moved from El Paso. Phil Flowers, a native San Diegan, most recently worked for a Miami Top 40 station.
|San Diego radio was different in
were located downtown. The KFMB stations (KFMB AM, FM and TV
one of those ride-at-your-own risk elevators that I can remember
headily sharing with the likes of Doug Oliver, Harold Keane,
Frank Thompson and Bob Dale. These KFMBers graciously welcomed
the new B100 FM air personalities. Others were also very nice,
like my college buddy, TV 8 newsperson Jessie Macias.
However, overall, this was a pretty starchy company. There was an element that didn't care for the arrival of the young (a couple of the DJs were only 19), long-haired, rock 'n' roll FM characters. Besides, up until then, the FM was not very important in the big picture. KFMB-FM had been an automated, beautiful music format called "music only for a woman." Yes, such a format actually existed, complete with Rod McKuen-like poetry read by male announcers. The automated FM didn't make a lot of demands on company resources. The situation suited some within the KFMB stations just fine as it allowed them to focus on TV and AM (in that order). Now they needed to reprioritize, turning their attention to the FM and the young B100 punks who had just come aboard. We were like the disgusting thing they found in their salad.
A couple of days before going on the air, we began rehearsing, doing practice shows in the studio. Most of the equipment was old and unsuitable for our purpose. We played 45s, many of which became scratchy with "cue burn," on turntables that might or might not start when one hit the switch. Folklore has it that gnomes speeded up the turntables to about 46 1/2 rpm to make the music more exciting. We played the biggest hits in very heavy rotation, repeating them every two and a half hours or so.
Everything was built around a "boogie" theme: "B100, All Boogie, All the Time" and "B100 Boogies On." The program director instructed the disc jockeys to call themselves "boogie brothers," except female news personality Terry Lynn, who was, of course, a "boogie sister." Was the "boogie" thing a good idea or not? We were tentative about that. Some of us even winced.
The jocks found out that B100 would get a small promotion budget at first. The company wanted an effective billboard campaign, which was expensive. We were told to give out B100 dollar bills, T-shirts and bumper stickers, but certainly not freely. The odds looked as though they were against us.
Despite the odds, B100 hit the airwaves in March 1975 with more exciting, "bubblegum," screaming energy than any teen Top 40 station had delivered before in the San Diego market. The human chemistry was just right, and that made up for our financial and technical shortcomings. We had youth; we had energy; and boy, did we have fun! Paul and Bobby stuck to their word; they made B100 a pleasant place to work. They ran interference for us with those in the company who were a bit uptight. They gave us a lot of recognition in the form of "traded-out" meals, parties and free concert tickets. Paul and Bobby turned out to be great motivators and communicators in the personnel sense. It became increasingly obvious that they too were radio freaks.
Part of our job at B100 was to make a lot of public appearances. The station sent us out as an ensemble and mostly postured us as a group to the public rather than as individuals. We showed up at high schools; we rode circus elephants; and we even gave away a motorcycle during Padre baseball in front of thousands at the Murph. KFMB assigned us a talented photographer, Bob Gardner, who took the group out around town for record survey pictures and other publicity shots. For the sake of a photo, we had close calls with supposedly tame animals at the zoo; caused scenes in a couple of shopping malls; and risked life and limb climbing a rickety billboard.
The audience began to build. Teen-agers, especially girls, would show up in bigger and bigger numbers wherever we went. The request lines at the station were always jammed. There was a lot of talk about B100 in the street. When the fall Arbitron ratings numbers came out in December 1975, we tied with the other Top 40 station KCBQ-AM in teen listening overall. B100 was No.1 in the teen category for nights and weekends. The adult numbers soared as well. In those days, Top 40 programmers started with teens as a base and built station listenership from there. After only nine months, B100 was big - really big!
In radio success stories there are always a number of contributing factors. The fact that people all across the country were discovering FM gave B100 a big boost. Prior to the 1970s, meaningful numbers of people listened to AM but not to FM. The big stations, in terms of ratings and revenues, in practically all cases, were AM. FM was a place for classical music or jazz.
In some markets, background beautiful music stations fared well on FM. In San Diego, the Rabell family successfully operated beautiful music KITT-FM in the 1960s. In the late '60s, KGB-style stations (or underground/progressive rock stations, as they were known at that time) were starting to appear. Locally, KPRI was doing very well with this format while KSEA-FM had tried ABC's "Love" format for a while with mixed results. A couple of FM stations failed with Top 40 in San Diego prior to 1975. But B100 had the timing right. We went on the air just when the Top 40 audience in San Diego was ready to take a listen to FM. That audience moved over to FM entirely over the next few years and never returned to AM again.
Another factor in B100's success was the youthful energy projected on and off the air. Upon meeting the rest of the air staff in February before B100 went on the air, I couldn't help but notice a certain look and attitude we all had in common. It was as if someone in management had been watching too much of "The Monkees" on TV.
One of the jocks, Willie B. Goode, a friendly, handsome, almost androgynous-looking 19-year-old, had a lot of fans (and dates). He had a good set of pipes and was pretty clever. He had teen appeal, but the adults also liked him. As Willie's car broke down often, he rented a studio apartment in Cabrillo Square, a high-rise complex on 9th, a few blocks away from the station. Willie's place became a place to go.
The nicest pad, a little house on Mission Bay, belonged to Jimi Fox. His place became an important hangout during the summer of '75. As radio freaks, we thrived on any kind of radio material. We wanted to be up-to-date on what was happening at stations, especially other Top 40s like KHJ. Phil Flowers owned tons of tape of DJs from across the country. We'd congregate at Jimi's and listen for hours to Larry Lujack, Robert W. Morgan or the Real Don Steele.
Rocket Man left B100 in mid-'75, and management replaced him with Glen McCartney. In 1976, I decided to leave B100. My autocratic father, rest his soul, an apartment builder here in town, never supported my desire to be in radio. He wanted me to devote full-time to the family business (I actually had been working for his company and B100 during 1975). At that time I thought it was important to please him. Also, in those days union (AFTRA) scale at B100 was very low. Bobby, Paul and I got into a hassle about money. I wanted more than scale, but they had a certain budget. I remember Bobby wrote a memo to the staff stating that Billy Martin was leaving B100 to devote full time to an "administrative" job. Ugh! I hated that word. It sounded so administrative.
In the months that followed, one by one, the rest of the original air staff left B100 to climb another rung on their respective radio career ladders ( or for other reasons). Phil Flowers is in America's Finest City at KCBQ playing "modern oldies." Bobby "Dr. Boogie" Rich became a very successful program director in various markets and returned to B100 in the '80s with the Rich Brothers and the "B" Morning Zoo. Today, Bobby is at KKLD in Tucson. Dave Conley is in between program director gigs in Texas somewhere. Willie B. Goode, I believe, is also in Texas at a station. Terry Lynn, the last anyone heard, was working for ABC on the technical side. Rocket Man got into the record business as a promoter. Jimi Fox is an educator and consultant to radio stations. Rob Landree? Whereabouts unknown. My own radio retirement lasted only a few years, and I was back in the biz again. But today my involvement takes a different form than those early B100 days.
We had no idea back in 1975 that we were the beginnings of a major radio legend that would last nearly 20 years. As B100's success snowballed, the salaries increased; the equipment improved; and promotion budgets grew. B100 earned a place of respect within the KFMB stations, and the company became less uptight over the years. Programmers dropped the beloved "boogie" term and the station became more adult-sounding. At times during its history, B100 turned more uptempo, and other times it became mellow. In the later years, B100 had a pretty consistent hot adult contemporary sound.
Many talented people passed through B100 since the early days. Radio pros Gene Knight and Gary Kelley each worked there for more than a decade. Danny Wilde was the afternoon-drive man in the late '70s. He departed for medical school and is now a physician. Ellen Thomas, an important part of B100 for several years, left to join Rick Dees and the morning show at KIIS-FM in LA. "Shotgun Tom" Kelly did mornings on B100 for four years, and now he's at KCBQ-FM, the KUSI Kids Club, and everywhere else, it seems. Jeff and Jer were the B100 morning team until a year or so ago. Special guest DJs like the legendary Rich "Brother" Robbin made appearances. DJ's DJ the "Chucker," the late Chuck Browning, performed a few weekends. Beaver Cleaver (a.k.a. Ken Levine) went from DJ to famous TV sitcom writer. His credits include "MASH," "Cheers" and, most recently, "Dave." Billy Pearl from KHJ DJ'd for fun on B100 from time to time. Now he's an attorney for broadcasters.
But a special salute needs to go out to that first group of air personalities, the pioneers: Rob, Terry, Dave, Jimi, Rocket, Willie, Dr. Boogie, Phil and Humbly Yours Truly, Billy.
Change is part of radio's nature. People in the industry greatly respect Tracy Johnson and the other current decision-makers at KFMB. But it saddened this radio freak to hear that KFMB-FM dropped the B100 moniker. B100 will never "boogie" again. We must "boogie on" to other things. But it's fun to remember.
Bill Martin, M.A. is an adjunct faculty with the Communications Studies Department of Point Loma Nazarene College. Students from his radio class operate the campus station KPLR AM 620. His disc jockey career included stints with San Diego's KCBQ, B100, KSON, KBBW, KDIG, KPRI and Channel 51. Today, besides teaching, he is a partner in BLT Productions and a psychotherapist with Clairemont Emmanuel Counseling Center. One of his goals is to blend his psychology and broadcasting expertise.
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