Bay Area Radio
Hall of Fame
Class of 2006
If you listened to Bill Moen doing the morning shift on San Francisco’s KABL (960 AM and 98.1 FM) from shortly after its launch in 1959 until well into its second decade, you’d hear him – with his signature rich, mellifluous voice – intoning the station’s poetic breaks between musical selections, or on its live commercial spots, or simply saying “KABL Music … very San Francisco.”
What wouldn’t you hear?
While disc jockeys at other radio stations across the nation and around the world identified themselves on the air by name, and although announcers at other stations in the stable of KABL’s owners, McLendon Broadcasting, built huge followings with shouts and jingles proclaiming their names, that wasn’t standard operating practice at KABL … which actually broadcasted from Oakland – which you also probably wouldn’t have known either by casually listening in.
Despite the handicap of building a devoted following with few (if any) of your listeners knowing who you were by name, Bill Moen managed to do just that – using just the sound of his voice.
After KABL changed hands but continued to attract a vast audience in the mid-1970s, the station’s owners eventually relented and granted its air corps permission to identify themselves in the first person, paving the way for Bill Moen to attain the local fame he so richly deserved. It had only taken fourteen years for them to relent.
Bill Moen came to KABL by way of another McLendon-owned station, the nattily-callsigned KILT in Houston, where he, naturally, wasn’t permitted to say his own name on the air. Instead, he was “Bill Scott,” spinning Top 40 platters for the rock’n’roll teenyboppers on the overnight shift in the soon-to-be Space City.
Alas, but Bill Scott’s days in a KILT studio were numbered. Gordon McLendon, the “Old Scotchman” and major domo of the McLendon radio empire (who claimed on the radio to be 87 years old, but was only about 40 years old in real life), had set his sights on owning a new outlet in San Francisco. His sights landed on the Oakland-based KROW, an also-ran station in the city’s downtown district that had a signal strong enough to blanket the entire Bay region.
After contemplating a shift to Top 40 pop, McLendon threw a major-league curveball and turned KROW to KABL, massaging its FCC-mandated legal ID from “KROW, Oakland” to the much more trickily-worded “This is KABL, Oakland, 960 on your radio dial, in the air everywhere, from San Francisco” – making certain that the announcer all but buried the word “Oakland” will putting significant emphasis on “San Francisco.”
In Houston, meanwhile, Bill Scott – erudite and more in tune with a more sophisticated grown-up style of music (read: anything but this new-fangled rock’n’roll) – was all but begging to get out of town. His prayers were answered with a swift transfer to the Bay Area, where Bill Scott disappeared, replaced by a nameless entity with the same voice at the morning microphone at recently-born KABL.
Before arriving at KABL, Bill Moen, of stout Norwegian stock by way of Minnesota – which also provided the Bay Area with Hall of Famers Jim Lange, Al Hart, Don Bleu and Bobby Dale – attended broadcasting school in Hollywood, then went in search of a way to get his foot in the radio door.
Biding his time with a brief turn as a teller at a local Bank of America branch gained him a bride, but left him still in search of a career. Reflecting on his Facebook page in February 2022, he wrote:
When I was young, I wanted to be an actor but I never had the guts to go on stage, so I aspired to radio acting, right at the time that radio drama died, so … what was left?
KFGO in Fargo, N.D., as Lemuel Q. Hawkins, announcer on his shit-kicking morning show. Lem was a nice guy, an old jail-bird (I never knew why) who encouraged me to follow the usual radio path from market to market to major market, back to market and then to reflective retirement … “sans eyes, sans ears, sans taste, sans everything.”
Finally, his foot managed to get wedged in at KFGO in Fargo, N.D., in 1954, followed by quick jumps to KDAL in Duluth, Minn., and WDSM, Duluth, Minn., in the subsequent two years.
A few years at WDSM resulted in an audition tape on the desk of Gordon McLendon, and then a trip to Houston, and then to the unexpected joy of success and stability in San Francisco.
While never attaining the same “name brand” stardom as his morning man contemporaries Don Sherwood, Frank Dill, Dr. Don Rose or Gene Nelson, his success at KABL led Bill Moen to recognition as one of the best in the business, with a legion of devoted listeners and the unabashed respect and admiration of his peers.
Reflecting on Moen’s popularity in 1993, columnist Bill Mann wrote in the Oakland Tribune:
This was evident in the Oakland Tribune’s Top Jock contest that used to be held annually. Moen was the perennial winner, with listeners deluging the newspaper with votes for him. When the Tribune ended the contest in 1982, one newspaper marketing person told me the reason was “because we all know Bill Moen’s going to win.”
In 1983, the local Evening Magazine program, broadcast on KPIX (Channel 5), presented Bill Moen with the “Bay Area’s Most Popular Radio Personality Award” following a vote by its viewers, keeping his string of victories alive. With no ballots to be sent in from copies of the Tribune, he quipped, “I didn’t have to buy any newspapers for this one. I paid cash.”
It’s interesting to also note that while his morning-show colleagues at other San Francisco stations toiled from high-end studios in the City’s downtown, KABL kept only a sales and business office on Maiden Lane near Union Square. When Bill Moen drove to work in the pre-dawn hours, he didn’t cross the Bay Bridge to arrive at the station. Instead, he turned off on an access road adjacent to the Bay Bridge Toll Plaza and went to work in a bunker-like studio under the station’s transmitter towers on the marshy edge of the Bay.
After departing KABL early in 1993 following a regime change and rebranding of the venerable station, Bill retired to Lake County – only to be lured back behind the microphone at Lakeport’s KXBX (1270 AM) for a twenty-year run in the morning before finally calling it a career.
He did make one side trip back into broadcasting, however, in his twilight years: in 2009, Bill Moen was approached by David Jackson of the Bay Area Radio Museum and was asked if he’d consider contributing his voice to an online tribute to his former home on the airwaves.
Dubbed “Classic KABL 960,” the station combined music of the original KABL era, snippets from the original station, and newly-written and recorded vocal vignettes by Bill. The station became a worldwide success, and remains “in the air, everywhere” – courtesy of the internet.
A beloved and welcomed presence to his friends, followers and colleagues on Facebook over his final years, Bill posted one last reminiscence to his audience on the evening of April 11, 2022:
Well, tempus does indeed fugit and, as I quaff the last drafts of my obligatory, second glass of Cakebread Chardonnay, and submit my final snarky observation of the day, I wish you relief from the day’s news, couched in euphoric dreams and undisturbed slumber.
Bill Moen was inducted into the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame in 2006 as a member of the first class to be enshrined. He passed away in Lakeport, Calif., on April 17, 2022, at the age of 93.
Time, You Old Gypsy Man
Will you not stay,
Fold up your caravan
Just for one day?
Bill Moen: “Time, You Old Gypsy Man…”
A vignette written and recorded by Bill Moen for the Classic KABL tribute station in January 2009, opening with a line from Ralph Hodgson’s epic poem.
Bill Moen: The Best Damn Rum Cake Recipe
Bill provides the perfect recipe for a holiday crumb rake … errrr, rum cake. Do not forget to check the rum!