KYA Radio 1260:
The Top 40 Collection
Part One: The Fifties & Sixties
San Francisco, California

Russ The Moose Syracuse (1968)

Chris Edwards (1970) Gene Nelson - KYA (c. 1965) Johnny Holliday (1966)

Russ "The Moose" Syracuse

Chris Edwards

Emperor Gene Nelson

Johnny Holliday

A Belated Valentine
To Early '60s KYA

By Gene Sculatti

KYA 1260 Logo (Circa 1958)As most visitors to this site will freely acknowledge, the Bay Area has been home to some innovative, historically significant and just plain fun radio. In the early '60s, that meant broadcasters like Al Collins, spinning jazz and surreal raps from inside the imaginary Purple Grotto, and Don Sherwood, inventing an insane repertory of characters and bits every weekday morning – both of these shows on KSFO. It also meant Top-40 KYA, 1260 AM, "the Boss of the Bay."

KYA San Francisco, which became the region's second rock 'n' roll station in 1960 (following KOBY), always seemed to be in battle with Oakland's KEWB. Where I grew up (Napa Valley), most of my schoolmates listened to the latter, if only because its signal penetrated further into the North Bay. But, really, there was no contest. While I've since come to deeply respect Chuck Blore's programming of Color Radio 91 and the talent of jocks like Gary Owens and Casey Kasem, KEWB was, no pun intended, square. It was high on silly, with cute ID's (a station mascot, Little Diane, squeaking "My mommy listens to KEWB!"), sound effects, jocks reading canned jokes and — worst of all — conveying little empathy with the sides they were spinning. It was almost as if the delicious seven-inchers that comprised their Fabulous 40 Survey were interruptions, necessary digressions from their endless patter and shtick.

Big Daddy Tom Donahue (c. 1962)

Tom Donahue

Bobby Mitchell at KYA (1962)

Bob Mitchell

By contrast, KYA sold the music first. Under program director Les Crane, who arrived in 1961, it jettisoned the jingles, reduced the number of contests (DJ Norman Davis recalled when it had a dozen or so running at once) and expanded its playlist from the standard 40 to a Swingin' 60 Survey. This plus a nightly Battle of the New Sounds (listeners voted for one of five contenders — 25 debut discs a week), a Radio KYAce of the Week and assorted Coming Attraction singles. The station broke or re-started innumerable records (most notably the Byrds' "Mr. Tambourine Man," but also the second go-rounds of the Isley Bros.' "Shout" and the Shirelles' "Dedicated to the One I Love").

And, just as importantly, the best jocks, namely Bob Mitchell and "Big Daddy" Tom Donahue, two refugees from WIBG Philly's 1959 payola scandals, sounded like they meant it when they intro'ed or outro'ed a record. A vintage aircheck finds Mitchell creeping up to the post on those solitary guitar notes that kick off the Miracles' "What's So Good About Goodbye": "Brand new… the Ace of the Week…by the Miracles…Dig it!" just as Smokey croons the first syllable, or following the slow fade of the Shirelles' "Baby It's You": "Somethin' else, isn't it, that one by the Shirelles? Fierce record, man…fierce." It was all you could do to not stand up and salute, so commanding and convincing was Mitchell, even doing spots for H-I-S A-1 Racer slacks or a special hamburger deal at San Jose's Starlight Drive-in.

The sense of being leveled with and not being talked down to was likewise present when these jocks didn't like something. Donahue on a dance fad of the period: "Of the 100 or so records we get here at the station every week, I'd say maybe 50% of them are Twist records... most of them bad." And when there were jokes, they were subtle, sometimes flying over the heads of their adolescent audience. There were obtuse call-outs to local promotion men and jockeys at Bay Meadows racetrack, asides about record-label salesmen getting hernias from carrying so many free goods out of their warehouses. But even if you didn't know to whom or what Mitchell and Donahue were referring, their straightforward, eminently hip manner seemed to imply inclusiveness, to say "You're in on this, too." When they announced a record hop at the American Legion Hall in Redwood City or Spanish Hall in Hayward, it didn't matter that the bill was stacked with non-hit local acts or that the "free 45" promised to the first 100 people in the door was likely a stiff. You wanted to be there.

There were other jocks too, though Donahue and Mitchell, who'd of course leave KYA to found Autumn Records, discover Sly Stone and have hits with Bobby Freeman and the Beau Brummels, were the best. Young Norman Davis did the enormously popular dedication-and-request show (a phone-company audit logged 30,000 calls to the station one night), affable ex-Atlantan Johnny Hayes handled midnight to six, and Les Crane (as "Johnny Raven") and later KHJ/KFRC wunder-programmer Bill Drake did mornings. Tony Tremayne counted down the fresh Swingin' 60 on weekends. (I recall anxiously rushing home from school a couple of lunchtimes to try and catch Peter Tripp playing the Drifters' "Sweets for My Sweet." When my folks and I left for the Seattle World's Fair in August of '62, my great fear was never again hearing a boss soul side Donahue had previewed only a week earlier, "Do You Love Me" by the Contours.)

The Swingin' 60 (Click to enlarge)If the jocks were the gate-keepers and conduit to all these great sounds, the Swingin' 60 Survey, an 8x12 sheet (with "Official" emblazoned across the top) available weekly at record stores, was hard-copy proof of the magic and movement taking place. Records on labels like Atco, End, Legrand, Valiant and Caprice rose, fell, stalled, burned and disappeared, only to be replaced by a new galaxy of discs as weeks passed. The big stars of the day, of course, shone brightest — Sam Cooke, the Drifters, Brenda Lee, Dick & Dee Dee — but so did only-in-Frisco hits like "Candy Apple Red Impala" by Little "E" & the Mellotone Three and Eddie Quinteros' Valens-ized "Come Dance with Me."

And, again largely due to the influence of Donahue and Mitchell but also because KYA presumably commanded a healthy share of black listeners (KDIA and later KSOL were the Top 40 R&B outlets), a lot of black music got heavy rotation. Not just the Ike & Tina Turner and Jackie Wilson hits, but Slim Harpo, Freddie King and Little Willie John and cuts like McKinley Mitchell's proto-soul "The Town I Live In" (a Donahue favorite) and Charles McCullough's stark blues ballad "You Are My Girl" (a Mitchell pick).

And not all of the fun was musical — or intentional. Many archivists have heard the heavily fortified newscast by KYA reporter Lamar Sherlock, in which he struggles, unsuccessfully, to inform on the events of the day (a turbulent integration march, an assassination in the Congo, local happenings). What would you have expected from a newsman who often rode his motor scooter, driving with one arm and a head full of spirits, up the city's steep grades to KYA's Nob Hill studios? Less dramatic but no less comic were newscasters Mark Adams and Terry Sullivan, who intoned every bit they read off the wire service with way too much gravity and sense of purpose.

From 1961 to about 1964, KYA seemed to have it all: much music, a finger on the pulse of the tastes of the Bay Area's growing teen population, and a modern, non-kiddie way of doing Top 40. Times, of course, changed, as did the music and the audience. Tom Donahue went on to start "underground" rock-FM radio, first with KMPX and then KSAN. Mitchell, slowly dying from Hodgkin's disease, moved his family to Los Angeles and jocked as "Bobby Tripp" on Drake's booming RKO flagship, KHJ. Their airchecks survive, as does a deep gratitude on the part of everyone privileged to have heard the Boss of the Bay when it swung like 60.

Thank you, KYA.

Gene Sculatti is the creator of The Catalog Of Cool, and co-hosted and produced "The Cool And The Crazy" radio series with Ronn Spencer over Santa Monica's KCRW-FM from 1984 to 1987. In 1993, St. Martin's Press published Too Cool, his sequel to the Catalog. He also wrote Jazzbo ...On The Radio which appears elsewhere on the museum's website. As Vic Tripp, he currently hosts Atomic Cocktail, which runs from 5 to 6 p.m. every Thursday (California time) on the online radio station Luxuria, playing vintage pop, surf, garage and lounge music in classic 1960s Top 40 style. A Belated Valentine To KYA was reprinted with the generous permission of the author.

FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE...

Presentation includes textAudio presentation— Exhibit includes text and audio. Audio presentation — Exhibit includes audio.

1959

Jolly Rogers on KYA, August 1959 (23 minutes) Audio presentationDB

An aircheck recorded from a line-out source at the KYA studio in late August 1959, featuring John Colon (a/k/a Jolly Rogers and Jackson King) on the midnight to 6 a.m. "Milkman's Matinee" shift. Other voices heard on the presentation include Mike Flynn ("What's New?" promo), Jim Sparrow (Fred Hutchins Plymouth spot) and Mark Adams (news promo), with plenty of Bartell "Family Radio" jingles. Notable in the broadcast is the San Francisco Examiner/KYA Social Security Number contest — identity theft didn't exist back in the 1950s. — Dave Billeci.

1960

Lucky Logan on KYA, May 23, 1960 (30 minutes) Presentation includes textAudio presentationND

1961

Jim Stagg on KYA, April 14, 1961 (1 hour) Audio presentation

Including news with Mark Adams

Bobby Mitchell on KYA, April 14, 1961 (1 hour) Audio presentation

Including news headlines with Tony Tremayne

Tom Donahue on KYA, December 15, 1961 (1 hour) Presentation includes textAudio presentation

Bobby Mitchell on KYA, December 15, 1961 (80 minutes) Presentation includes textAudio presentation

1962

Tom Donahue on KYA, December 1962 (3 minutes) Audio presentationFair-to-poor audio qualityScoped (edited) version

1963

1964

Tom Saunders and Johnny Hayes on KYA, May 22, 1964 (51 minutes) Audio presentation

Including news reported by Norman Davis.

Russ "The Moose" Syracuse on KYA, May 24, 1964 (12 minutes) Audio presentationBAR

Bill Keffury on KYA, Saturday, May 28, 1964 (25 minutes) Audio presentationBAR

Keffury is sitting in for Gene Nelson this morning. Broadcast includes news headlines with Tony Tremayne.

Emperor Gene Nelson on KYA, October 1964 (10 minutes) Audio presentationScoped (edited) versionFK

1965

Emperor Gene Nelson on KYA, April 6, 1965 (30 minutes) Audio presentation

Emperor Gene Nelson on KYA, April 14, 1965 (30 minutes) Audio presentation

The Famous Lamar Sherlock Drunken Newscast on KYA, May 11, 1965 (4 minutes) Audio presentationBFT

Larry Mitchell on KYA, July 6, 1965 (19 minutes) Audio presentationScoped (edited) versionLS

Jack Hammer on KYA, July 10, 1965 (19 minutes) Audio presentationScoped (edited) versionLS

Russ "The Moose" Syracuse on KYA, July 13, 1965 (20 minutes) Audio presentationScoped (edited) versionLS

Russ "The Moose" Syracuse on KYA, Summer 1965 (2 minutes) Audio presentationScoped (edited) versionLS

1967

Steve O'Shea on KYA, July 1967 (3 minutes) Audio presentationFair-to-poor audio qualityScoped (edited) versionBAR

Sean O'Callaghan on KYA, September 22, 1967 (1 hour) Presentation includes textAudio presentationMS

Johnny Holliday on KYA, October 21, 1967 (1 hour) Audio presentation

"The Baron of the Bay, the All-American Perfect Guy, Every Teen Queen's Dream" sits in on a Saturday, along with Lamar Sherlock and the news headlines

Tommy Saunders on KYA, October 21, 1967 (20 minutes) Audio presentation

Tony Bigg on KYA, c. November 1967 (7 minutes) Audio presentationMS

Sean O'Callaghan on KYA, November 5, 1967 (45 minutes) Audio presentation

Johnny Holliday on KYA, December 9, 1967 (3 hours) Audio presentationMS

The Baron of the Bay counts down the biggest hits of 1967 in this special year-end show! Includes news with Lamar Sherlock.

1968

Bill Holley on KYA, August 11, 1968 (15 minutes) Audio presentation

Chris Edwards on KYA, August 11, 1968 (2 hours) Audio presentationMS

You may also listen to just the First Hour or only the Second Hour!

Bill Holley on KYA, August 25, 1968 (1 hour) Audio presentationMS

Including news with Tony Tremayne

Tom Campbell on KYA, August 27, 1968 (45 minutes) Audio presentation

Tom Campbell on KYA, September 9, 1968 (3 hours) Presentation includes textAudio presentationMS

Chris Edwards on KYA, November 30, 1968 (95 minutes) Audio presentationMS

1969

Chris Edwards and Tom Campbell on KYA, Feb. 11, 1969 (95 minutes) Audio presentation

Gary Schaffer on KYA, March 31, 1969 (70 minutes) Audio presentationMS

Chris Edwards on KYA, March 31, 1969 (30 minutes) Audio presentationMS

Chris Edwards and Tom Campbell on KYA, March 31, 1969 (40 minutes) Audio presentation

Chris Edwards on KYA, May 1969 (20 minutes) Audio presentationFair-to-poor audio quality MS

KYA Peace Talk with John Lennon, May 29, 1969 (10 minutes) Presentation includes textAudio presentation

Chris Edwards on KYA, September 1969 (10 minutes) Audio presentation

Chris Edwards on KYA, November 4, 1969 (55 minutes) Audio presentation

Bwana Johnny on KYA, November 8, 1969 (40 minutes) Audio presentationFair-to-poor audio quality

Pete McNeal on KYA, December 23, 1969 (85 minutes) Audio presentationMS

 

Presentation includes textAudio presentation — Exhibit includes text and audio. Audio presentation — Exhibit includes audio only.
Scoped (edited) version— Edited/scoped aircheck. Fair-to-poor audio quality — Fair-to-poor audio quality.
BAR — Courtesy of Barry Salberg.
BFT — Courtesy of Ben Fong-Torres.
DB — Courtesy of Dave Billeci.
FK — Courtesy of Fred Krock.
LS — Courtesy of Len Shapiro.
MS — Courtesy of Mike Schweizer.
ND — Courtesy of Norman Davis (a/k/a "Lucky Logan").

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Special thanks to Dave Billeci, Ben Fong-Torres, Norman Davis, Len Shapiro, Gene Sculatti, Nick Whitmer and Barry Salberg for their generous assistance in creating this tribute to The Boss Of The Bay!

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