KGB returns to America’s Finest City
There was some big news down in San Diego last week: The return of KGB to the AM band, with the former KFMB (760 AM) picking up the legendary calls.
The original KGB (now KLSD, 1360 AM) was among America’s Finest City’s first radio stations, first signing on in 1922. It was the area’s “Boss Radio” station in the mid 1960s; in 1972 it was “recycled” to become a progressive rock station — and one of the few on the AM band — under the direction of former KHJ “Boss” programmer Ron Jacobs. In the later 1970s the station returned to top-40 as 13-K and for a time beat out KGB-FM (101.5) in the ratings. Formats that followed, including news, talk and the current sports format are uninspiring and low-rated, but like KHJ here, the calls have special meaning to this who grew up on AM radio.
KFMB was a full-service station from 1964 to 1974, playing middle of the road music along with news and information. In 1975 the station added sports and talk programming, and was fully news/talk/sports by 1994. It was KFMB’s sister FM – popularly known as B-100 — that set the area on fire as San Diego’s first top-40 FM in the mid 1970s.
So how do legendary music call letters end up on another station’s talk format frequency? The complicated world of radio consolidation and station sales. Last December, then-owner Tegna agreed to sell KFMB AM and FM to Local Media San Diego, but the sale did not include the call letters which are staying with KFMB-TV, which Tegna still owns.
Local Media turned around and sold KFMB (AM) to iHeart Media, which happens to already own KGB-FM; rather than placing the calls back on 1360 — which it also still owns — management decided to assign them to 760.
Normally, three-letter calls do not return to stations once lost — the FCC stopped assigning them decades ago. But they are allowed to be easily assigned when a co-owned station still uses them, as is the case with KGB-FM.
Personally, I’m kind of excited that iHeart actually recognizes the historical significance of the call letters, though I would rather see them tied to 1360. What would be even more exciting is if iHeart allowed the station to return to a music format playing either ‘60s and ‘70s oldies, or an “adult top-40” format that I think could attract listeners back to the AM band. I can already hear the 76-KGB jingle in my head…
They probably won’t do that, and will most likely stick with a lame, low-rated, cheap, forgettable talk format, but I continue to dream.
Ratings seem to be settling down a bit and becoming a bit more normal. KRTH (101.1 FM) was back in the top spot for both the second and third week of June, according to ratings service Nielsen. KFI (640 AM) was still doing well at the number 5 spot in the third week, and KNX (1070 AM) was right behind in 6th.
KABC (790 AM) has held on to its COVID-19 boost, tied for 32nd but maintaining a share of the audience above 1.1, compared with the pre-COVID-days in which it was closer to 0.3 or so. One of the reasons for the station working itself out of the cellar is John Phillips, heard weekdays noon to 3 p.m…. I will be talking with him soon to get his perspective on news, talk, radio, and more.
“I read with interest your column on John & Ken, and it confirmed something I had long suspected: In approx. 1989 or so I was in New Jersey on business, and while driving I heard on the car radio these two guys discussing some local issue. They were funny and in agreement with some of my own ideas.
“Then in about 1993, I was listening to KFI (back in Los Angeles) and heard J & K talking about those two guys convicted of murdering their parents, and they reminded me of the New Jersey guys, and I have always suspected that K & J were them. Good to have my suspicions confirmed.
“Now for some really ancient radio stuff. While in high school, I used to listen to two disc jockeys who were pretty much the only ones playing modern jazz on local AM radio. One was Bill Sampson, on the obscure station KWKW during late hours (around midnight), and around noon, Joey Adams (who, if I remember correctly had a British accent), on a station whose letters I can’t remember. Both, incidentally, were black guys.
“Finally, there used to be a guy named Phil Hendrie who was one of the funniest guys I ever heard, and He was on KFI back in the early ’90s or so, so I’m pretty much a confirmed KFI guy. Whatever happened to Hendrie anyway?” — Robert Schwartz
Great questions. Sampson was one of LA’s first black DJs, and was indeed heard on KWKW (then at 1300 AM; now at 1330 AM). He also owned The Scamm Sound record label based in Los Angeles. He’s before my time, though, so I know very little about him … so I am asking you to help fill in the details.
A little more is known about Joe Adams, also among LA’s first Black DJs, and I believe even earlier than Sampson. Adams was heard on KOWL (later to become KDAY and currently KBLA, 1580 AM) in the 1940s, and had the most popular program on the station … in fact, he was among the most popular music DJs in Los Angeles. At the time, KOWL was a daytime-only station, and had to sign off to protect other signals on the same frequency at disk.
According to an obituary on Adams in the LA Sentinel, “During an era when deejays were required to solicit their own sponsors, Adams attracted an incredible 56 paid advertisers to pay for airtime on KOWL, marking the beginning of an auspicious radio career that eventually spanned twenty years.”
In addition to radio, Adams was an actor on television and movies … he was Frank Sinatra’s psychiatrist in The Manchurian Candidate and won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Husky Miller in Carmen Jones.
He was one of the Tuskegee Airmen, an elite fighter and bomber pilot group during World War 2, leading to his becoming qualified to fly planes commercially. In addition, he was a professional photographer, worked for a long time as Ray Charles’ road manager, and even headed the Ray Charles Corporation until he retired in 2008.
Can you say “Renaissance Man?” And I’m not even covering all of his talents and accomplishments… that would take a book. Adams passed away in July, 2018 at the age of 94.
Finally, Phil Hendrie is still around, but online now. You can find him at philhendrieshow.com, where you can listen online or via iTunes.