A Brief History Of 106.9
FM In San Francisco
KPUP 106.9 FM (1958-1960)
On January 8, 1958, the Federal Communications Commission granted a construction permit to Franklin Mieuli to build and operate a new San Francisco FM station on 106.9 megacycles with a power of 16,600 watts. Mr. Mieuli had various business interests, including ownership of a sports club in San Francisco, as well as being the producer of San Francisco Giants baseball broadcasts on KSFO and the Golden West Radio Network following the team’s move from New York in Spring 1958.
The estimated construction cost of the new station was $15,500; first-year operating costs were estimated at $35,000; and anticipated advertising revenue were set at $38,000. The call letters KPUP were soon issued. On June 5, 1958, the FCC granted a modification of KPUP’s original construction permit, allowing a power increase to 18,000 watts.
KPUP made its debut on the air on Thursday, December 10, 1959. From the start, it used a power of 39,000 watts — rather than the previously authorized 18,000 watts — with an antenna height of 1,140 feet. Studios of the new independent station were located at 505 Geary Street, San Francisco. In addition to being the station’s owner, Franklin Mieuli also served as KPUP’s first general manager. In mid-July 1960, KPUP changed call letters to KHIP and inaugurated an All Jazz music format. Monty Bancroft became its general manager in early 1961.
On July 1, 1962, Franklin Mieuli sold KHIP to Leon A. (Lee) Crosby. Mr. Crosby had previously owned Hayward’s KHYD (104.9 FM), which later relocated to Fremont as KFMR. The $146,000 sale of KHIP gained FCC approval on June 13. Mr. Crosby then became President and General Manager of KHIP, which changed call letters to KMPX (for “MultiPleX“) in mid-August 1962, concurrent with the beginning of multiplex stereo operation by the station. Also in August, studios were relocated to 1212 Columbus Street.
The station’s corporate licensee name became the Crosby-Pacific Broadcasting Company (Leon A. Crosby, President and 40 percent owner) on September 17, 1962. Also in 1962, KMPX obtained FCC permission to raise power from 39,000 watts to 80,000 watts; the power increase, accompanied by a reduction in antenna height to 1,120 feet, was put into effect in early 1964, with KMPX moving to a new transmitter facility located on Mount Beacon in Marin County, overlooking Sausalito. An FCC license covering the changes was granted April 9, 1964.
By mid-1964, KMPX aired a “middle-of-the-road” music format 24 hours a day. In 1965, studios were moved to the basement of a warehouse located at 50 Green Street, San Francisco.
Ronald C. Hunt was named Station Manager of KMPX in 1966; at this time, the station was broadcasting blocks of brokered programming, generally in foreign languages. In February 1967, Larry Miller, a 26-year-old folk musician and disc jockey who had recently arrived from Detroit, met with Leon Crosby and Ron Hunt in the hope of landing a job at KMPX. He was given the vacant overnight shift — midnight to 6 a.m. — and began what he called a “folk rock” show.
A month later, in March 1967, Tom Donahue — the former KYA disc jockey, fledgling record label owner and teen concert promoter — approached Crosby and Hunt with a proposal to take over KMPX’s programming, replacing the brokered foreign-language shows with album-oriented rock music with an emphasis on San Francisco-based bands, and announcers who took a more laid-back, less frenetic approach to their jobs.
On Friday, April 7, 1967, Donahue went on the air at KMPX for the first time, working from 8 p.m. to midnight, leading into Miller’s show. Over the weeks and months that followed, Donahue fine-tuned the station’s programming, adding several new voices who met his criteria for the evolving format, including Bob McClay, Abe “Voco” Keshishian and Edward Bear, and hiring “chick engineers” as board ops. Among the earliest hires in this latter group was a young woman named Dusty Street, who would go on to greater fame behind the microphone as one of the leading stars of progressive rock radio.
On Sunday, August 6, 1967, the rock music format was heard for all twenty-four hours of the day on KMPX as the last of the foreign-language program contracts expired. On November 6, 1967, Leon Crosby acquired a sister station for KMPX, purchasing KPPC in Pasadena. Donahue immediately began splitting his time between northern and southern California, consulting KPPC and hosting his show on both stations.
This situation, which caused Donahue to occasionally miss doing his show on one or the other station, began a deterioration in relations between Leon Crosby and the staff of the stations, and led directly to a general strike by the KMPX staff in the early hours of Monday, March 18, 1968, after Donahue was replaced by Bob Prescott as program director the previous Thursday. The KMPX staff, loosely organized as the Amalgamated American Federation of International FM Workers of the World, Ltd. (or, simply, AAFIFMWW), North Beach Local No. 1, began picketing outside the station’s Green Street headquarters, joined by the Grateful Dead, Blue Cheer, Creedence Clearwater Revival and a rag-tag band of supporters. The staff at KPPC, organized as AAFIFMWW, Pasadena Local No. 1, walked out later on the same day.
Unwilling to meet the demands of the strikers, Leon Crosby brought in a replacement staff at KMPX, which included Larry Miller (who had left the station to return to Detroit), Gus Gossert (who hosted a six-hour Sunday night oldies show on KMPX and later became a popular oldies DJ on New York’s WCBS-FM) and a young disc jockey named Larry Ickes, who had been working at KKIS in Pittsburg and KNBA in Vallejo; Ickes worked mornings at KMPX as “Larry The Lion,” crossing the picket lines despite threats (“Wait until we give your name to the Hell’s Angels”), and eventually came to believe that the strikers were ganging up on Crosby. Miller, a victim of adverse press in the local underground papers, returned to Detroit after a short time and became a favorite among rock radio fans there.
The strike at KMPX lasted eight weeks, ending on Monday, May 13, 1968. Despite losing its original staff, as well as many of its advertisers, and with several rock bands — including the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead — insisting that the station not play their music, KMPX continued with its progressive rock format. On Tuesday, May 21, a group of former KMPX strikers, including Tom Donahue, began working at Metromedia’s KSAN (94.9 FM), a station which had only recently begun the transition from classical music to “underground rock.” Under Donahue, KSAN would transform into “The Jive 95.”
Following the Donahue Era at KMPX, Crosby hired Tom Yates (working as “Tom Swift”) as program director, with Bobby Cole serving as music director. Yates would go on to work at KSAN and KKCY, while Cole went on to work at several Bay Area stations, including KSAN, K-101, KKIS, KMEL, KYA-FM and KFAX. On December 31, 1968, Leon Crosby’s interest in the KMPX’s licensee company rose to 50 percent, paying $12,000 to purchase an additional 10 percent interest. He had also recently launched San Francisco’s KEMO-TV (Channel 20).
National Science Network, Inc. (Ludwig W. Frolich, et al.), purchased KMPX for $1,084,000 in November 1969. The purchase price included KPPC AM and FM in Pasadena, also formerly owned by Leon A. Crosby. FCC approval took place October 8. Stan Gurell was NSN Senior Vice President in charge of its broadcasting activities. Ben A. Patch succeeded Mr. Crosby as KMPX General Manager in 1969 following the transfer of ownership. Also in 1969, the station’s power was reduced to 40,000 watts and new studios at 495 Beach Street were opened.
Martin Diamond became Station Manager in 1970. On November 13, 1970, KMPX moved studios to 7 Adelaide Place and revised its Progressive Rock music format. The new studio’s “good karma was assured by a Shinto purification ceremony,” according to press reports and, for a short while, KMPX “played the sounds of the ocean.” Doug Cox, KPPC’s General Manager, added duties as KMPX’s new General Manager in 1972. In late March 1972, KMPX switched to a Big Band/Swing/Nostalgia music format in stereo. Senior Vice President Stan Gurell took over duties as General Manager in 1973. In 1975, power was doubled to 80,000 watts. Also in 1975, John E. Jensen was named General Manager of KMPX. The sale of KMPX to famed motion picture director Francis Ford Coppola for $870,000 was announced on October 31, 1975, but the deal was not consummated. By 1976, NSN, Inc., was owned by the co-executors of the estate of the late Ludwig W. Frolich.
In a unique three-way transfer, the sale of KMPX by National Science Network, Inc., was closed in the second week of September 1978 to Family Stations, Inc., for $1-million. Concurrently, Family Stations Inc. sold its KEAR (97.3 FM) to CBS Inc. for $2-million, while CBS Inc. sold its KCBS-FM (98.9 FM) to a new minority-owned entity, Golden Gate Radio, for $850,000. Golden Gate Radio was to take over the former KMPX Big Band format, at least temporarily, at 98.9 FM, while the new KCBS-FM (at 97.3) switched to a “Mellow Sound” light rock format as “97K.” With the sale of KMPX, NSN Inc. was out of the broadcasting business.
The main offices of Family Stations, Inc. — the new owners of the 106.9 FM facility — were at 290 Hegenberger Road, Oakland, which was also the headquarters of the Camping Construction Company. In mid-September 1978, the KEAR call letters were moved to the new frequency and a Religious Talk/Ethnic/Inspirational Music programming format — which had been heard on 97.3 FM since 1959 — debuted on its new frequency from the Family Radio studios located at 1234 Mariposa Street, San Francisco. KEAR’s general manager was Clyde Castro, who had joined the station the previous December. In late November 1978, Thad McKinney — who had served as KEAR general manager from 1975 to 1977 — took on that role once again, replacing Mr. Castro, who retired from broadcasting.
In 1988, General Manager Thad McKinney resigned, with no replacement named. Matthew Pearce was promoted to KEAR Station Manager in 1991. Also in 1991, studios were relocated from 1234 Mariposa Street, San Francisco, to Family Radio headquarters at 290 Hegenberger Road in Oakland. In December 1997, the station was granted FCC authorization to decrease antenna height to 1,000 feet and change transmitting location from Mount Beacon to nearby Wolfback Ridge, overlooking Sausalito. Those technical changes were carried out in August 1999. Station Manager Matthew Pearce resigned in 2001 with no replacement named.
Late in 2004, in order to meet an FCC requirement that would allow the company to acquire KOVR-TV (Channel 13) in Sacramento, Infinity Broadcasting (owner of KFRC/610) and Family Stations (owner of KEAR/106.9) entered into a deal to “trade” the two facilities. At midnight on April 29, 2005, the legendary “Big 610,” KFRC (AM) began simulcasting Family Radio programming on 610 AM under the ownership of Family Stations.
Under a marketing agreement, Family Stations was required to continue carrying Oakland Athletics baseball broadcasts on 610 AM through the end of the team’s 2005 season, during which time the station remained KFRC. With the A’s season concluded, the KEAR call letters were transferred to the AM station at noon on Monday, October 17, 2005, while Infinity simultaneously took over ownership of the 106.9 facility which became branded as “Free FM 106.9” with new KIFR call letters.
The Free FM format, which was rolled out at CBS/Infinity-owned stations across the country as a counter move following the loss of syndicated morning legend Howard Stern to the Sirius satellite service, placed Adam Carolla in AM drive on KIFR and other West Coast affiliates, while David Lee Roth took the wake-up role at several East Coast CBS stations. Following Carolla on KIFR were Darian O’Toole, John London’s Inferno and Tom Leykis.
The Free FM format faltered immediately, failed to establish a significant audience, and was put to rest on May 17, 2007, when CBS Radio revived the historic KFRC call letters and relaunched the station with a Classic Hits format, playing popular music from the 1960s through the 1980s under the guidance of former KWSS programmer Mike Preston.
Today, KFRC operates on 106.9 MHz. from offices and studios located at 835 Battery Street, San Francisco, with a power of 80,000 watts (at an antenna height of 1,000 feet). CBS Radio is licensee of the station, which simulcasts the all-news programming of sister station KCBS (740 AM).
SOURCES: Jan D. Lowry and Broadcast Pro-File; “Hip Capitalism” by Susan Krieger; John Hawkins.