Norman Davis

KMPX Big Band 99
San Francisco

Sunday, July 25, 1982

122As KMPX meandered into its final few weeks before becoming The Quake (KQAK), Norman Davis piloted Big Band 99 through this Sunday evening of swing music.

Norman arrived in the Bay Area from stops in Boise, Pocatello and Spokane, appearing on the local airwaves first at Top 40 KOBY (as “Al Knight”) in 1958 before moving over to 1260/KYA a year later (originally as “Lucky Logan” before eventually being allowed to work under his own name).

Leaving KYA in 1965, he made stops at KLZ/Denver and KCMO/Kansas City before returning to San Francisco in 1970 for a weekend job at KSFO. After spending 1971-72 at underground KZEL-FM in Eugene, Ore., he followed the station’s program director, Thom O’Hair, to San Francisco’s KSAN, “The Jive 95” at the apex of its glory. Six years later, Norman departed KSAN due to restrictions placed on the jocks and was hired by rocker 92/KSJO in San Jose.

From there, it was on to KKSN in Portland in 1980 as Creative Director. (Also on the staff were several former or future Bay Area radio personalities, including Sully Roddy, Michael Knight and Steve O’Shea.)

Norman Davis (1981 Photo)
Norman Davis at Marin’s KTIM in 1981

Norman arrived at KMPX as its days dwindled down to a precious few. Having once belonged to Leon Crosby while located at 106.9 FM — in the late 1960s, it served as the proving ground for the staff that would move on to create “The Jive 95” — KMPX switched to Big Band music from the Thirties and Forties in March 1972 under new owners who expected the format to be only temporary.

Following the station’s move from 106.9 (“107” in common radio rounding-up parlance) to 98.9 (“99”) on the FM dial as part of an odd three-way frequency swap in September 1978, KMPX was rebranded as “Big Band 99” by its latest owners, Golden Gate Radio, which included Gene Chenault and Bill Drake, with the former controlling 40% of the shares in the new ownership group.

(Chenault, a longtime owner of stations on the West Coast, had partnered with then-KYA program director Drake in 1962 to create the Drake-Chenault consulting juggernaut that swept over Top 40 radio in the Sixties and early Seventies.)

On July 9, 1982, Golden Gate Radio sold KMPX for $5.5-million, a nice profit over the $850,000 the group spent to acquire it just four years earlier.

Norman Davis, who was hired for fill-in work as KMPX took its final few breaths, picks up the narrative:

KMPX did well with its big band format until the nemesis of creative radio, Bill Drake, stuck his red Georgia nose into it. He immediately started cutting out all the interesting parts of the format, just as he had at KYA twenty years earlier.

Out went the old comedy carts, most made from old 78s or live radio shows. Out went the jazz, out went the historical elements — the old radio shows. Drake replaced them with syrupy ballads from the ’50s and ’60s, and cut out any big band tracks that weren’t genuine hits.

The resulting glop was unlistenable. The big band audience did NOT want to hear Johnny Mathis sing “It’s Not For Me To Say” every hour or two. And any Johnny Mathis fans listening sure did not want to hear Stan Kenton. The station’s numbers crashed and Drake had to bail out a year or so later.

In the meantime, as one ownership was moving out and another waiting, it was pretty loose around the station. There was seldom any office staff around during the evening and weekend shifts. There was some kind of “one of these and one of those” formats the jocks were supposed to be running, but nobody was really paying any attention.

On Monday, August 23, 1982, less than a month after the broadcast heard here was made, KMPX disappeared from the airwaves, becoming The Quake with Alex Bennett in the morning and classic rock all day long.

On The Air Sign (Image)

Norman Davis on KMPX
July 25, 1982


Special thanks to Norman Davis and for background information included in this exhibit.

The broadcast recording presented with this exhibit was generously provided by Mike Schweizer from his personal collection.

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Ben Thum
Ben Thum
3 May 2023 8:45 PM

KMPX was a San Francisco treasure. I was a DJ and Program Director from the late 70’s until the station changed hands in July of 1982. The best thing I ever did was to hire Norman Davis for weekends and fill-in work. Norman was an extremely knowledgeable musicologist and a truly gifted broadcaster. Loved working with him. I hope he’s still on the air somewhere. Last I heard he was back in Idaho.

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