KWUN Radio, Concord:
By David Kaye
I worked at KWUN in 1973 and ’74 and then again in 1975 and ’76, and have very fond memories of the place as the best all-around experience
anyone could have in radio.
During this time the station was owned by Bill Adler, a remarkable salesman who could sell anything. At the time, KWUN signed off at sunset and Bill had actually sold the sign-off. It went like this: “This concludes the broadcast day at KWUN, but the evening is just beginning at John Jawad’s Pioneer Inn in Clayton…”
Bill’s idea of programming was to build a block around an advertiser. He sold some time to a new game arcade, so he suddenly built a block on Saturday afternoons where high schoolers came in and did newscasts and played records.
Sundays were Classical, with sponsors typically high-end car dealers such as Jefferson Motors (owned by Carl Jefferson, who began the Concord Summer Jazz Festival and went on the build the Concord Pavilion). I did both the Saturday and Sunday shifts and some of the weekday shifts. The Sunday morning DJ, Andre St. George, voicetracked the afternoon for me as I was hopeless with pronunciation of foreign composers. We always made it sound live, though, and he’d leave holes in the tracks so I could jump in conversationally.
Most of the week was an MOR format with a strong emphasis on Jazz. It was remarkably popular, given the 500-watt directional signal.
KWUN under Bill Adler was building a strong reputation for local news. News directors included Steve Kalman (who later went into law), Don DeFesi (from KFRC), and Lou Davis (who provided a news service to KABL as well). The slogan was “KWUN Total Coverage News,” which augmented the local reports with AP wire service and Mutual news hourly.
Adler had apparently inherited a station in disarray from the previous owners because he refused to have us refer to the station as “K-Wun”; we always had to spell out the callsign. This was to differentiate his operation from that of the previous owner.
During this time several notables came through the station such as Jim Hall, who later went on to fame as a Sacramento Country personality (on KRAK) and the voice of Yardbird’s Home Centers; Tom Benner (Officer Vic on KSFO); and John Hawkins of KNEW (and now publisher of the “Advisor” network of technical magazines).
During my time at KWUN, the station was a Mutual affiliate. We fed several stories to Mutual at this time, including one by sports producer Art Dlugach (longtime KPIX sports producer) covering a swim meet featuring swimmers from East Germany. Due to the Cold War sanctions against the Soviet Bloc countries, the certification for the swim meet was pulled at the last minute, but KWUN managed to produce a very nice report for Mutual.
I was promoted to music director and attempted to streamline the format and talk Adler out of changing format for each new advertiser. At that time I was being paid $2.10 an hour for a First Class license (down from the $3 an hour I’d made at KSOL in San Mateo). So, I was given a 40 cent increase. Even with that, the money wasn’t quite enough, so I jumped ship in 1974 to work in TV in Sacramento at the brand new KMUV (Channel 31).
John Hawkins replaced me as PD, turning the format to Oldies, and making it an instant success. This was some months after his previous station, KNEW had abandoned oldies for Country. The time had been ripe for oldies in Contra Costa.
After I left Sacramento, I came back to KWUN and DJed under Hawkins’ strict music rotation system. Songs were selected based on whether they were hits or non-hits, what time span (1960-65, 1965-70, etc.) and so forth. The record selection required digging randomly into a file box and pulling out a card for a song that fit the format. Good for those primitive times.
Technically, KWUN had a 5-tower in-line teardrop array. The signal was strongly curtailed to protect nearby stations that were on the same frequency: KYOS in Merced (just 70 miles away), KRED in Eureka (the dominant station on the channel) and KWIZ in Santa Ana. It also had to protect KNDE (KXOA; 1470 AM) in Sacramento and KTOB (1490 AM) in Petaluma, both of which had come on the air prior to KWUN. One engineer said that KWUN should have never been built in the first place, and indeed it had taken nearly three years from the date of authorization to get the pattern to work properly and get the station on the air.
When it was functioning properly, the KWUN teardrop beamed out southwest along Ygnacio Valley Road toward Walnut Creek. It could put a decent signal into Oakland, too. I could actually pull it in in Half Moon Bay. But, drive just two miles behind the transmitter on the way to Pittsburg and you couldn’t get it at all. That’s how critical the signal was.