1260/KYA, San Francisco
Featuring Bwana Johnny and Pete McNeal
Friday, May 29, 1970
It’s the Friday morning before the big Memorial Day weekend. Ronald Reagan is governor of California, American Indians have taken over control of Alcatraz from the Federal authorities, and 1260/KYA is a vibrant Top 40 station, battling valiantly to unseat top teen station KFRC (“The Big 610”) and a gaggle of upstart FM stations.
The recordings heard here, taped off-air by Mike Schweizer, begin at 9:30 a.m. with the final thirty minutes of Bwana Johnny‘s morning show, with a brief time-out for a news update from Brad Messer on the nearly six-month-long occupation of Alcatraz by a determined band of American Indians, including KYA newsman Larry Brownell‘s interview with a spokesman for the group. At 10 o’clock, midday DJ Pete McNeal takes over for the first half-hour of his four-hour shift.
In addition to future President Reagan’s “No On Proposition 8” political pitch, the hour features promos for the upcoming funny car races at Fremont Drag Strip and a closed-circuit, pay-per-view broadcast of the Indianapolis 500 at local theaters. A spot for Mike Bloomfield and Blues Image at legendary promoter Bill Graham’s Fillmore West is included, along with promotions for “Woodstock – The Movie” and “Norwood,” a motion picture comedy starring Glen Campbell, Joe Namath and Kim Darby.
Between the ads are a panoply of records that show the sometimes odd diversity of Top 40 radio at the close of the 1960s: Elvis Presley has just entered the charts with “The Wonder Of You,” recorded live in Las Vegas; Paul McCartney, no longer a Beatle, finds his “Maybe I’m Amazed” getting significant airplay despite being released only on his new solo LP; Queens, N.Y., native Melanie (née Melanie Safka) – one of the more obscure performers at the Woodstock festival nearly a year earlier – pays aural homage to her experiences there with “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain),” backed by the Edwin Hawkins Singers on the biggest hit of her career.
As a true paean to pre-feminist women everywhere, however, no song may ever compare to Brooklyn-born Bobbi Martin’s “For The Love Of Him,” a record that includes the memorable refrain “When he opens the door, says ‘I’m home’/Be aware of the look in his eyes/They tell you the mood he’s in/What kind of day it’s been” – lyrics already beginning to sound dated at the dawn of the Women’s Lib era. The song spent two weeks at #1 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart during the Spring of 1970.
KYA’s morning disc jockey at this time, “Beautiful Bwana” Johnny (nom de radieux of Rick Johnson), came to San Francisco in 1969 by way of KLOO and KFLY/Corvallis, Ore., KLOG/Kelso, Wash., WUBE/Cincinnati and KJR/Seattle. He subsequently moved on to the late, lamented WWDJ/New York as music director and afternoon-drive jock (1971-1973) before returning to his hometown, Portland, Ore., as “Crazy Dick Simms” on KISN.
He moved on to WFUN/Miami in the mid-Seventies, then Bwana became “Bronco Johnny,” spinning country records at KUUY/Cheyenne, Wyo., in 1983. He went back to being Bwana at KSND/Eugene, Ore., in 1985. In 2000, he worked mornings at KKBR/Billings, Mont., after which he worked in production for the Seattle branch of Jones Radio Networks before declining health led to his retirement. He passed away on October 28, 2005, at the age of 59.
Brad Messer, heard anchoring the Alcatraz invasion news update (about ten minutes into the broadcast), began his radio career at KILE/Galveston in his native Texas, and later moved on to Gordon McLendon‘s KILT/Houston and KLIF/Dallas before arriving at KYA as news director.
Following successful stints at KGB/San Diego and KMET/Los Angeles — along with writing a column in the influential industry paper Radio & Records — he returned to Texas as a talk host at KTSA/San Antonio.
Named one of radio’s “Heavy Hundred” by Talkers magazine for seven consecutive years, Messer was inducted into the Texas Radio Hall of Fame in 2002 as part of the first group to receive this high honor.
Bay Area listeners will instantly recognize the voice of newsman Larry Brownell (née Larry Buller), who conducts the interview with the spokesman for the Alcatraz Indians. Brownell, who died in 2004 at age 76, came to KYA from WKBW/Buffalo along with Gene Nelson, Tommy Saunders and Russ “The Moose” Syracuse to form the core of the station’s lineup in the mid-Sixties. He remained as a news anchor at the merged KSFO/KYA-FM through the 1980s.
Not much is known about KYA mid-day voice Pete McNeal (sometimes billed by the station as “The Real Pete McNeal”). Following a hitch in the Army, he worked his way up to KYA from WFLB/Fayetteville, N.C., and later went behind the mike at KHJ/Los Angeles. He reportedly left radio to work in the computer industry.
The text for this exhibit was written by David Ferrell Jackson.
Special thanks to Mike Schweizer for the audio included with this presentation.