December 3rd, 1999
Included with this regular issue of Network 40 is a special edition that salutes Crossover radio and music. The Crossover issue has great significance to all of us at Network 40 and particularly to me, personally. The past 20 years have seen the development of Crossover from what was once considered a “niche” format into a format that stands alone. In the past year, with the increased sucess of Top 40, Crossover has broken more records into the Mainstream than any time since the 1980’s.
I would know.
As mentioned in the Crossover issue, I was lucky enough to program what many consider to be the first Crossover station in history: KFRC in San Francisco. When I arrived in KFRC in 1980, the station had been trending down for nearly two years. A former AM heritage Top 40, KFRC’s audience had been badly eroded by the FM onslaught. The station had drifted to a more AOR stance without any success. FM stations of all formats had gained bits and pieces, but no FM had gained a position of dominance, due in part to San Francisco’s hilly terrain. Few in the industry gave KFRC any chance of success. I was just ignorant enough to believe the opposite. Besides, I didn’t have a choice. I had just run for Congress in Mississippi. (My supporters said it was more like a walk.) Shortly after losing the election, I ran for the border!
After arriving in San Francisco and studying the market, it became apparent to me that there was only one way to go. The only station in the city with positive ratings over the last two years was Urban KSOL. Their upward trend seemed to coincide with KFRC’s decline. When General Manager Pat Norman asked me what we should do, I said “the only way I know how to program is uptempo Top 40 with a heavy emphasis on R&B. We’ll either win that way or drive this pig into the bay at 100 miles an hour!”
He agreed. Then again, he didn’t have a choice. Few people wanted to be the programmer in charge when KFRC went belly-up.
And away we went.
I would like to say I was a genius for what happened over the next four years , but it was more like a living example of the old adage. “Necessity is the mother of all invention.”
And KFRC was a mutha!
We began adding a ton of R&B and pure Urban music to the mix and KFRC took off. The station became the powerhouse of the early 80’s. This was also another one of those times when everyone was predicting the death of Top 40. When “The Big 610 KFRC” began playing “Crossover” music, there wasn’t a Top 40 station in New York or Los Angeles. All the trades screamed, “Top 40 is dead.” Fortunately for us, few San Francisco listeners could read.
KFRC began playing “unknown” artists like The Gap Band, Lakeside, Rick James, Kool and the Gang, Dazz Band, The Time, Junior, Frankie Smith and many more, including the the first rap song “Rappers Delight, “ by the Sugarhill Gang. Sure, you’ve heard them all now, but back then, it was beyond the pale. We even had to publish a “fay” playlist that didn’t include the R&B music we were pounding. When advertisers complained, we would show them the list loaded with the Doobies, Boz Skaggs and Jefferson Starship. This was before the BDS, so nobody could prove the only time you heard these songs was after midnight.
In between the music, some great radio was made. KFRC built and operated the first mobile studio, enabling us to be a part of our audience and broadcast from all over the Bay area. The mobile station was nicer than the real one on Bush street. None of the jocks wanted to have to go into the station.
And who were those jocks? Some of the very best in the business. Dr. Don Rose held down mornings. Dave Sholin was on middays. if you don’t believe me, ask Dwayne or Kilgo. Other “legends” who passed through those doors during that time period include: Harry Nelson, Mark McKay, Bobby Ocean, Big Jack Armstrong, Shotgun Tom Kelly and Bill Lee. Keith Naftaly’s first job in radio was answering the request lines at KFRC.
Local record people who were getting their records played at KFRC haven’t done badly either. Careers whose origins can be traced back to San Francisco include Burt Baumgartner, Brenda Romano, Jim Burruss, Bruce Hix, Jeff Trager, Bob Galliani, David Foreman and David Newmark.
How did it sound? Ask some of those whose careers were influenced like Dan Kiely, Steve Rivers or Bill Richards.
It was a special time. We didn’t know we were making history. We didn’t know we were inventing Crossover. All we knew was that the music was great, We were having a blast and Ernie made a fortune!