Radio Waves: May 21, 2021

And you thought you knew radio trivia …

Ever wonder why certain things are the way they are in radio? Ever want to use little-known radio trivia in casual conversation to impress your friends or at parties to meet the person of your dreams? You’ve come to the right place.

I got the idea for this subject matter by talking with friends and realizing … a lot of what people think they know about radio isn’t necessarily right. As but one example:

• You may have heard — I’ve even written it here — that the iconic jingles used in the Boss Radio era were sans music because of the musicians strike of 1965.  This is even mentioned in Boss programmer Ron Jacob’s book, Inside Boss Radio, in which he quotes Johnny Mann — whose famous singers voiced the jingles. 

“The musicians union is on strike,” he remembers telling Don Otis, who Jacobs replaced at the launch of the format. After a short discussion, Mann asked Otis, “Why don’t you do ‘em a cappella?” The rest, as they say, is history.

But it’s wrong. Oh, sure, the musicians may have been on strike, but it doesn’t appear to have been a major factor. “KHJ consultant Bill Drake used a cappella jingles at a few of his stations prior to his arrival at KHJ,” Ken Levine (aka Beaver Cleaver on KTNQ and himself as a movie, television and play writer) told me. And he’s right: even KGB in San Diego used a cappella jingles, and they were on the air a year before KHJ’s switch.

Want proof? Head to; there you’ll hear KGB from December, 1964 … only the long-form jingles include music; KHJ had no long-form jingles. And there is a produced jingle from KHJ’s early Boss days that did have music (and only music). So the musician’s strike theory appears to be false.

But there are a lot of other tidbits floating around that can make for an interesting conversation about radio. Such as:

• There’s much talk of what would have happened had KHJ’s top-40 format been on FM. Well, it was … the only problem being that few had FM radios at the time. For most of KHJ-FM’s life until 1967 when the FCC said they couldn’t do it any more, the FM simulcast the dominant AM signal’s programming. “You’re listening to the much more music station, AM and FM” says Bill Drake before the jingle “KHJ, Los Angeles.” That was heard through 1967. No one cared about FM back then. No one.

• The forces that made top-40 a dominant format for so long are what led to the rise of some of the FM formats, once they adopted the same principles. Explains former Sound (now KKLQ, 100.3 FM) programmer Dave Beasing, “If you’re playing a song that isn’t familiar, the chances are strong that people will hit the button for another station,” he told me recently. So even if people say they want new music and variety, a station that sways too far from the familiar will have generally lower ratings than the station that plays more mainstream. And this affects all formats from top-40 to rock to country … even classical. 

And it’s why stations that may start out playing something different generally evolve into a more mainstream format. 

• You may think that KFI stood for “Farm Information,” that KHJ was for “Kindness, Happiness and Joy,” but almost all three-letter call-letter combinations were mere coincidence – random assignment from the precursor to the FCC. It wasn’t until the four-letter calls were launched that stations could easily request a certain combination.

• KROQ (106.7 FM) is a legendary alternative-rock station. But it actually got its start on AM. Ever listen to San Diego’s KGB-FM (101.5)? It also started as an AM, originally playing progressive rock on 1360 when they dropped top-40 in 1972. KIIS-FM? It was KIIS (AM) long before but was “married” to the FM, forming KIIS AM/FM in late 1975. KIIS-FM’s prior calls? KKDJ, programmed at one time by the same guy who truly put KROQ on the map, Rick Carroll.

• KIIS wasn’t “kiss” originally. It was “k-double i-s,” with the letters chosen because the IIS most closely resembled the numbers 115, the AM station’s frequency (1150 AM). And that great KIIS-FM jingle that the station doesn’t play enough? It’s actually the jingle from Chicago’s WLS of the 1960s and ‘70s.

• It may stand for Kindness, Joy, Love, and Happiness now, but KJLH (102.3 FM) was actually named for it’s one-time owner John Lamar Hill. Hill bought the station in 1965 and sold it to Stevie Wonder in 1979.

• There is no direct connection to the original, but KDAY (93.5 FM) was once an AM station that — like a handful of stations across the country — had to sign off at sunset to protect the signals of stations elsewhere. From sign on in 1949 using the ironic calls KOWL, the station could only broadcast during the day, so in 1956 it picked up the K-DAY call letters … get it? It finally got permission to operate at night — with a very narrow coverage pattern — in 1968, though it kept the KDAY calls until 1991.

• Orange County once had the great top-40 station KEZY (now KGBN, 1190 AM) to call its own. The station was synonymous with top-40 programming throughout the 1970s, and on former sister station KEZY-FM (now KFSH, 95.9) during the 1980s and ‘90s. But the call-letters actually were chosen to represent its original easy-listening format it had at launch in 1959 as K-Easy. The cool thing about KEZY aside from it’s great sound when it was top-40? The station address was the same as its frequency … 1190 East Ball Road.

Have some trivia of your own or want me to expand on these or related stories? Drop me a line – I would love to talk radio with you.