KSAN 95 FM, San Francisco
Tuesday, September 30, 1980
“Mama, don’t let your children grow up to be deejays. Unless you want them to wake up one day realizing that what they do for a living is sit in a padded room speaking into a lead pipe.”
— Stephen Capen
Stephen Capen, a brilliant broadcaster and writer who piloted some of the brightest and funniest morning shows ever heard in
these parts, died on September 12, 2005, after fighting lung cancer for two years. He was 59 years old.
“Cape” was best known in the Bay Area as morning host at KSAN and KFOG, but his voice was also heard on numerous other stations locally, in one
capacity or another, including KFRC, KSFX/KGO-FM, KMEL, KRQR and KDBK/KDBQ (“Double 99”), all in San Francisco, as well as at KTID in San Rafael and KVON/KVYN in Napa.
In the mid-1990s, Capen created, produced and hosted the Futurist Radio Hour on KUSF. He also appeared on the “Jive Radio” retrospective series, conceived by Ben Fong-Torres and heard on KUSF, featuring various and sundry KSAN alumni.
Capen began his nearly forty years in radio at WCSB/Boston — the campus station at the Cambridge School — in 1964. From there, he made stops at WFST/Caribou, Me.; WBZA/Glens Falls, N.Y.; WAAB/Worcester and WHYN/Springfield, Mass.; WDRC and WCCC/Hartford, Conn.; WBCN/Boston; WGLD and WDAI/Chicago; WNCR/Cleveland; CJOM/Windsor, Ont.; KPRI and KGB/San Diego; back to Hartford at WHCN; then WINZ/Miami; back to Boston at WCOZ, WCOP and WEEI; and New York, where he worked at WPIX and WCBS-FM.
In 1980, it was on to KSAN, in its final year as San Francisco’s legendary “Jive 95,” followed by a news anchor gig at Top 40 KFRC. After making the rounds at several other radio stations in the Bay Area, he returned to New York for one final go-round, working briefly at WXRK (“K-Rock”) as the afternoon man shortly after Howard Stern arrived at the station.
“I went to K-Rock in afternoon drive where I made the agreement with Howard Stern that I’d take the audience from the waist up and he’d have them from the waist down,” Capen told Ed Brouder for the WDRC tribute site, WDRCOBG.com. “Eventually it got too political for them, meaning the Republicans at Infinity, and we, meaning Hank Rosenfeld, my longtime producer, and I, were history.”
“My track record in radio and writing is the greatest argument against career evolution ever waged,” he told Brouder. “I went from working behind the counter at a newsstand in San Francisco to the biggest market in the country. I was promoted by at least two radio stations as joining them imminently, and then never showed. I left San Francisco radio to study Jungian psychology and ultimately landed in the rural outskirts doing hog reports and working the Latino gang beat. I was privileged to interview some of the finest and most original authors, revolutionary thinkers, and talented performers in the world but it was a bust freelancing at a few hundred dollars a pop. It was a really hard dollar.”
Paul “The Lobster” Wells, a Capen teammate at KSAN, called him “one of the most inventive, creative wits to ever grace the airwaves.”
“Stephen Capen’s ability to entertain by unleashing his personality went beyond the capacity and boundaries of most in radio,” Lobster said. “A friend, who’s only connection to Stephen was on the other side of the radio, said this to me upon reading of his passing: ′Stephen Capen was responsible for my missing many a first period class.′ The fact that listeners felt compelled to stay tuned to his morning show even after they reached their destinations is one of the ultimate compliments Stephen can be paid for his wild audio antics.”
“R.I.P. ′Step On Cake Pan,′ and thank you for showing me how to climb over the record library room wall at KSAN that the DJs had been locked out of when we worked together there in 1980.”
After being diagnosed with cancer, Capen said, “The Grim Reaper decided he wanted to open talks with me, and chose a lung tumor to convince,” according to the Jive95.com website. He had recently returned to his New England roots, taking up residence in Scituate, Mass. His family was gathered at his bedside when he passed away.
According to Hank Rosenfeld, Capen’s ashes were to be scattered at sea near Scituate Harbor by his family. “Sadly, Cape is heading for that broadcast net wide as heaven — either there or somewhere else,” Rosenfeld said. A memorial service was also planned in San Francisco for late September 2005.
The edited broadcast recording accompanying this exhibit dates back nearly 25 years from the day Stephen Capen shuffled off this mortal coil, and includes a KSAN newscast with Jack Popejoy, direct from “The Stephen Capen Building.” It begins with an amusing review of “What’s Happening” around the Bay Area, voiced by Dan Carlisle.
FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE…
Special thanks to Ed Brouder of Man From Mars Productions for biographical information and the photographs of Stephen Capen included here. Ed’s interview with Stephen was also essential to the creation of this exhibit. The Bay Area Radio Museum gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Norman Davis and Jive95.com for permission to present the broadcast recording featured here.