One of the most talented jocks in the city was Sylvester Stewart, also known as "Sly Stone," working at KSOL (K-Soul") a 1000 watts day/250 watts night station. KSOL programmed to the city's black audience. I'd listen to Sly with guests like Billy Preston who'd drop by and jam with him on the air. Sly had a great set of pipes and a soothing radio style. It was Sly's idea to add tunes by the Beatles and Bob Dylan to the KSOL play list.
After I became friendly with him, we cooked up an idea to put a television show together. Sly would be the "black guy" and I'd be the "white guy," and we'd call our show "Salt and Pepper."
We met at the Mark Hopkins coffee shop on afternoon to brainstorm the plan. Sly was in his flamboyant hippie clothes and we were both aware of the heads turning as we entered the hotel shop. We got a kick out of guessing what other people might have thought we were doing together.
"Salt and Pepper" would be a variety show with audience participation and guest musicians from the Bay Area. I think Sly was looking to create a show that would be equally popular with black and white audiences. The show never got off the ground, but we had fun dreaming it up.
Sly was a compelling DJ and a really good guy. Although
he later got involved with drugs, he was pretty sharp when I knew him.
Sly produced Bobby Freeman's hit "C'mon and Swim" and later
songs by local bands, the Beau Brummels and the Mojo Men. By February of
1967, he was performing locally with his own group, The Family Stone. A
benefit show at Bill Graham's Fillmore for the Council for Civic Unity
was one of their first gigs, but it took only a year before "Dance to
the Music" was a Top 10 single in the USA. By 1969, Sly and the Family
Stone was world famous.
Every year, Bill Gavin would name his Radiomen of the Year awards. I had been an honorable mention since 1962 against folks like B. Mitchel Reed, Dan Ingram, Joe Niagara, and The Real Don Steele. I was absolutely blown away when Gavin named me as America's Number One Top 40 DJ in 1965. In no way did I think I was in the same league as my competitors for that honor.
Sometimes I've joked, "What a coincidence! Both Gavin and I lived in San Francisco, and Bill's daughters babysat for my young girls." However, Gavin's credentials and integrity were impeccable and he played no favorites. Nobody could convince or sway him to do anything that he didn't want to do. Clare's reaction to my winning this award was sort of "Big deal; when is your next basketball game?"
During my four years at KYA, we experienced a fundamental, historic change in radio programming. I had started in Top 40 AM personality radio, and next came "flower power" music, the underground movement of the newly emerging FM format, pioneered by Tom Donahue at station KMPX. (Donahue had worked at Washington D.C.'s WINX in the very early '60s.)
San Francisco quickly became the heart of the new hippie music movement in America. Local promoter Bill Graham took over managing the Carousel Ballroom, renaming it the Fillmore West. Neighborhood bands like Sopwith Camel, Blue Cheer, Moby Grape, Jook Savages, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and the Warlocks played their mix of pop and blues, there and throughout the city. The Warlocks changed their name to The Grateful Dead and slowly began to build a devout following.
As the FM format began to attract listeners, KYA tried to adapt. Our new format became less structured. We had more freedom to try new things. The spirit was to talk more and express our personalities. The regimentation that I had experienced in Cleveland and New York eventually evaporated at KYA.
Billboard Magazine profiled my own changing approach to radio programming on July 29, 1967:
Does anyone remember "Oogum Boogum"?
Our AM station had a 24-hour open-door policy for the local musicians in an effort to compete with the new FM format of our competitor, KMPX. I came to expect musicians like the Lovin' Spoonful, the Beau Brummels, and other up-and-coming groups joining us in the studio, or to see members of the Grateful Dead fan club hanging out in the lobby.
Another big change for me came in '67 when Churchill sold KYA to AVCO Broadcasting. Personnel changes would soon follow. Tony Bigg joined the on-air staff, doing nights. Tony later changed his name to Tony Pigg and is now Regis Philbin's TV announcer. Ed Hider came on board from New York. Mike Cleary (who recently retired with a brilliant radio career resume as one of the top morning men), Tom Campbell, Gary Schaefer, and Chris Edwards rounded out the new team. It was almost a complete personnel change. Gene "The Emperor" Nelson, and yours truly, the "Baron of the Bay," were the only talent they kept after the ownership change.
Our new KYA general manager, Howard Kester, was noticeably different from the other radio staff. Many of us at the time wondered what Kester had done — what his background had been — to earn this plum job at KYA. Some of us still wonder. He had to have done something good to become the new KYA boss. After KYA, he went on to be the executive director of the Northern California Broadcasters Association. He passed away in 1989.
Kester was an immaculate dresser, but he had two annoying features: a constant blink and a nose sniffle. He'd say, "Hi, Johnny," followed by a blink and a sniff. I'd look at this guy and want to laugh.
Kester added "Program Director" to my duties. Immediately, I disliked the pressure of being the KYA PD. I tried to refuse the job, but he was a big imposing figure and the boss.
When I moved to mornings, Kester would often call first thing at 6:05 a.m.
"KYA," I'd answer.
"Who is this?"
"It's Johnny Holliday."
"Yes, Johnny, this is Howard (sniff). I'd like to talk with you when I come in this morning. I have a few ideas."
"Sure, Howard, no problem."
Then I'd get another call at 6:20.
Howard would ask, "Who is this?"
"It's still me. It's Johnny Holliday."
These repeated calls would go on until my shift ended. Kester would usually have an urgent need to read me something he'd written, or share a contest idea. His mind was always running — just like his nose.
Copyright © 2002 by Johnny Holliday
and Stephen Moore. All