By Ben Fong-Torres
Ten years after the Summer of Love, in 1977, KSAN-FM, “Jive 95,” produced a documentary, entitled “Suddenly Lost Summer: What Was That?” On June 4th and 5th, three events celebrated that pioneer free-form station and its induction into the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame, as “Legendary Station of the Year”. The last was a storytelling session at the Monkey House in Berkeley, under the title, “That Really Happened???”
The induction triggered the biggest KSAN reunion since 1992, when staffers gathered at KUSF, then home of a Sunday series, “Jive Radio,” featuring former free-form DJs. It began at Yoshi’s, with a concert and auction to benefit the California Historical Radio Society and the radio Hall of Fame.
The music came from Big Brother, Cold Blood (with Lydia Pense and guest Rick Stevens, from Tower of Power), Dan Hicks, Country Joe McDonald, Sal Valentino, Annie Sampson, and, introduced by Paul Kantner, the Imperial Messenger Service, with Linda Imperial and David Freiberg on vocals.
Joining the musicians onstage were KSAN alumni Dusty Street, Richard Gossett, Terry McGovern, Norman Davis, Wes “Scoop” Nisker, and current KSAN (“The Bone”) DJ Tim Jeffreys. Former PD Bonnie Simmons and I co-hosted. (I did weekends for a decade, beginning in 1970.)
KSAN fans also got to meet other familiar old voices, including Edward Bear, Peter Laufer, Eugene “Dr. Hip” Schoenfeld, Beverley Wilshire, and Paul “Lobster” Wells. Kenny Wardell produced the concert, while CHRS’s Steve Kushman and Len Shapiro helped raise additional funds through a live auction.
The next day, the reunion continued at Spenger’s Grotto in Berkeley, where the Broadcast Legends’ luncheon was devoted to KSAN. Alumni came from as far away as Cleveland (Street) and Port Townsend, Washington, home of Buzzy Donahue, daughter of Tom Donahue, the late godfather and guru of KSAN and its predecessor, KMPX. “I’d rather be in a group hug than be sending flowers to a funeral,” she reasoned.
After Simmons accepted the Hall of Fame plaque, honoring its free-form years, from 1968 to about 1978, she sat on a panel with Street, Gossett, McGovern, Davis, and Nisker. I served as moderator.
To the question, “What was that?” Nisker ventured, “It was a mixture of events and moments in history. There was a counter-culture that was unified in opposition to the war, and there was this music that united that … young revolution. All those things came together and created KSAN.” Davis spoke about magic. “When you take the shackles off, and are given freedom…an immense amount of energy comes with that.”
Asked about the DJs’ laid-back announcing style, Gossett said, “It was anti-Top 40.” Street recalled the late and wonderful Bobby Dale. “I got it from Bobby that you were talking to your best friends in your living room. That’s how we communicated.”
As for the origin of “What was that?” as a program title, Simmons said Tom Donahue’s business partner and fellow KYA DJ, Bobby Mitchell, was dying in 1968. She recalls Donahue saying, “He sat up in bed moments before he went and said, ‘What was that?’”
“Words to die by!” McGovern quipped.
The reunion closed out that evening with the storytelling session, produced by Susie Davis, daughter of Norman Davis. All events were captured by Jesse Block for CHRS, which plans to produce a documentary about KSAN. (Another crew, led by Jeff Hughson, chronicled portions of the reunion for its own film, about free-form radio, including KZAP in Sacramento.)