By Derek R. Waring
Gary Avey’s interest in radio began as a youngster back in the early 1950s. He was fascinated with, of all things, microphones! Belonging to the 4H club in the San Fernando Valley of Southern California, Gary was able to acquire PA sound equipment from selling animals at auction at the local fair. He used that sound system for their monthly 4H meetings and other 4H events.
Growing up in the LA area Gary loved listening to the wide variety of radio stations, noting how their different formats worked. He watched a lot of early ’50s TV as well and noted how microphones were used in different program situations (Editor’s Note: Gary is our Microphone Man). Gary’s dad encouraged his interest and after graduating from high school he decided he wanted to enroll in the radio broadcasting course offered at the Don Martin School of Radio and Television Arts and Sciences in Hollywood. This school offered a complete course that included instruction in all phases of radio production and announcing as well as Federal Communications Commission (FCC) First Class Radiotelephone license test preparation. After completing the year long course and getting his FCC license Gary was hired at KYOS radio in Merced, Ca. in 1959; his very first job in radio.
KYOS was an old station that dated back to the mid 1930s. It was a 5,000 Watt full time AM station with a directional pattern at night which required an operator with a “first phone” FCC license. KYOS had an M-O-R, or “middle of the road” type music format with Mutual Network newscasts every hour. At night they had a teen music show called: “Rotinom” which was a title the station manager came up with. It was “Monitor” spelled backwards! Gary says he is sure the kids listening had no idea what Monitor, the NBC Radio Network’s weekend program that started in the mid ’50s was. Rotinom was an all request teen record show in that very beginning era of “rock ‘n roll” music. Gary says he was “thrown” into doing this show every night Monday through Friday which was quite an adjustment for him as he didn’t even like rock ‘n roll at the time! He did survive the test and learned quite a lot about this new music called rock “n roll. KYOS, after about a year, converted to a Top 40 music station guided by programming consultant, Ted Randall, who was a popular personality at San Francisco’s KOBY. Ted supplied KYOS with copies of all the Top 40 records which made things much easier than if they would have had to get them themselves. Gary was assigned the duties of “music director” at KYOS; this entailed lining up the order of play of all the music for each DJ shift. He remained at KYOS for two more years gaining valuable experience.
After KYOS Gary moved up Highway 99 to Modesto’s Top 40 station, KFIV . At K5, as it was called, their format was known as: “The Top 45 on K5.” It was a much better run operation than KYOS; their studios were better equipped to deliver the fast paced rock ‘n roll format. The building was built as a radio station; the studios were well designed and had a “sound lock” where one walked into a small room and the door closed behind them then they could go into the small production studio or the bigger main control room through their doors; this kept outside sounds from entering the broadcast studios. K5 did not yet have cartridge tape machines, all local recorded spots had to be played on reel-to-reel tape machines from small 3 inch reels. The DJs were constantly “cueing” up tapes on five Magnecorder tape machines as well as cueing up 45 rpm records. It was a whirlwind of activity. Gary’s boss at the time said, “being a disc jockey is like a being a one armed wall paper hanger!”
K5’s operations manager was Gene D’Accardo who had been with KMOD and KTRB. Gene also did a 15 minute local newscast at noon, as well as a later afternoon newscast. He was the production guy voicing most of the recorded local commercials as well as promos. Gene went on to become a newsman and eventually News Director at NBC’s KNBR in San Francisco.
Mel Freedman, K5’s chief engineer, was installing the first cart machines on Gary’s last day at the station! Mel was quite a character and a superb engineer who really knew his stuff. Being a DJ was not something Mel aspired to be but he did reluctantly pull an air shift. He followed Gary from 8:00 PM to midnight, at which time K5 signed off the air until the next morning. Mel didn’t say much on the air just the minimum to get by; he definitely was NOT a “rock jock” but he was an excellent chief engineer.
K5 used four turntables in the control room, two 12 inch Presto units that were only used to play the music on 45 rpm records and two larger 16 inch turntables that were used to play the various “agency” commercials that, in those days, were recorded on 12 inch records called “ETs” for “electrical transcriptions.”
KFIV had only had those call letters for about 4 years, when Gary was there, it had been KMOD before that. KMOD was an ABC radio affiliate and KFIV continued that affiliation which meant that they carried many network programs including Don McNeil’s “Breakfast Club” every morning and a few ABC news and comment programs in the late afternoon.
Gary Avey was all of 22 years old when he worked at K5; he enjoyed his time there and would liked to have stayed longer. Instead he joined the Navy and became an electronics tech, receiving his training at Treasure Island in San Francisco. It was also at this time that he married his wife Norma just before setting sail across the Pacific to Hawaii and then to the Philippines to Subic Bay Naval Station.
While at Subic Bay the Navy found out that Gary had radio experience so he had the opportunity to work at an Armed Forces Radio Service (AFRS) station on the base. It was a little 250 watt AM station that even had call letters, KCMB. Gary recalls that Armed Forces Service stations were not really supposed to have call letters but this station was somehow allowed to use them. Gary was assigned to do the morning show for KCMB. He used music that was produced and sent over from the Hollywood headquarters of AFRS on pressed vinyl records. These were 12 inch LPs that had multiple cuts on them with the top tunes by the original artists in the Top 40 and easy listening genres. KCMB also had recordings of state side radio programs that could be scheduled as needed. The morning show was fun says Gary; he was given free reign to do the show as he wanted with no hard and fast rules. There were many Navy families living on the base who listened, as well as the Filipino community in the nearby town who loved listening to American radio. Gary was required to read the news on occasion. This duty usually popped up when the taped newscasts from AFRS shortwave stations in South Korea or Japan were of such poor quality that they could not be broadcast. KCMB did have an American wire services teletype machine but even that was “iffy” due to the poor condition of the telephone lines in the Philippines.
After the Navy Gary returned to California in 1963. He needed a job and radio seemed to be the most logical way to go. So Gary began his search; he searched and he searched. Starting with KFIV he talked with Gene D’Accardo about coming back. Gene had an opening but it was the all night shift and Gary wanted none of that. He headed up Stockton way stopping at KSTN which at the time was under the consultation of Bill Drake of “Boss Radio” fame. It was early in his career and shortly before Drake began programing KHJ in Los Angeles and KFRC in San Francisco. KSTN did not have an opening. Next it was over to San Francisco where Gary visited an old Don Martin classmate, Bill Keffury, who had become the Program Director of KYA. Bill took Gary and his wife Norma out to dinner and gave them a tour of the station. Gary decided he was not quite ready for San Francisco radio though! Next stop Santa Rosa where Gary met with another of his Don Martin buddies, who did the morning show at KSRO; no openings there either.
Maybe there was a place for Gary up Sacramento way! He started up the Sacramento Valley checking in at KGMS which happened to be owned by the same people who owned KFIV. Gary walked into the building and ran into Mel Freedman! Mel also did engineering for KGMS. No openings there either. KXOA was next on the itinerary where Gary ran into another former Don Martin classmate who was Program Director (Editor’s note: Gary Avey knows people). There were no openings there either. Continuing up the valley Gary stopped in at KMYC in Marysville and KUBA in Yuba City; no luck. On to Chico and first to KPAY where there was no opening and then to KHSL where Gary finally got some good news. KHSL indeed had an opening; He was hired on the spot! He says he knew the Good Lord had lead them to Chico and it’s in Chico where Gary and Norma have spent their lives raising a daughter and a son. Gary’s daughter and son-in-law have given them two grandchildren, a girl and a boy.
KHSL-AM went on the air in 1935 and was a CBS Radio affiliate paired with its sister station, KHSLTV a CBS-TV affiliate which went on the air in 1953. They shared space in the same building in downtown Chico at 4th and Wall Streets. The radio and TV personnel were shared on both. Gary was able to do some on-camera TV spots as well as “voice overs” for TV. In the early ’70s Gary even did occasional subbing as anchor of their noon TV newscast. KHSL Radio’s music format was middle of the road. He recalls that they started off each hour after the CBS newscast with an up tempo big band instrumental; then rotating vocals with occasional easy listening instrumentals. On the half hour CBS had a 5 minute feature called “Dimension” with various personalities including several of the high profile CBS News journalists back then like Walter Cronkite and even one feature done by “Dear Abby.” CBS Radio still had some remnants of “old-time” network radio. Arthur Godfrey’s daytime show was on Monday-Friday from 10:10 AM to 11:00 AM with a live small orchestra and vocalists along with Arthur’s interviews with high profile people, plus commentary on the current scene. Then at 11:10 AM it was Art Linkletter’s House Party, a simulcast of the TV show that was edited down to fit the 20 minute window for radio. In the afternoon there were various other features that were about 10 minutes in length. Long time newsman Lowell Thomas did a nightly CBS newscast at 5:00 PM. KHSL was big on local news. A radio news producer prepared the local newscasts. Gary Gerould was the radio news director and did the morning newscasts. Gary moved on to KCRA radio and TV in Sacramento and did news and sports. He later did radio play-by-play for Sacramento Kings basketball.
Gary became the program director of KHSL-AM in 1965; he did spot production as well as riding herd on all the jocks. In addition he did a mid-afternoon air shift and lined up the music. Back in the ’60s there were only two AM stations in Chico, KHSL and KPAY, and they were in heavy competition; there were no FM stations in those days. KHSL was big on live remotes from anywhere in the Sacramento Valley. A news cruiser was equipped with its own two-way radio system that also ran through the TV transmitter site and back to the downtown studio.
One of the promotional features at KHSL Radio was the annual KaHiSLe-Bug treasure hunt. They gave regular on-air clues as to the location of the hidden bug. The prize for the winner who found the bug was $1,290 in cash (our frequency was 1290 kHz). They finally had to cease the hunt due to problems with seekers causing property damage in search of the bug. The hunt was then changed to a “mental” hunt rather than actually hiding the bug in a physical location.
Gary remembers that in the late ’70s it was decided they would automate the station. It was not a good move; trying to make the system switch in and out of CBS network and trying to do voice tracks synced into music on reel-to-reel machines with the primitive computer brain proved quite difficult. The automation experiment lasted about a year and they went back to live operation. About this same time KHSL decided to switch to a “modern country” format. This turned out to be a good move and their ratings increased along with their revenue. Not long after this the company purchased land north of town and built two beautiful new studio buildings, one for radio and one for TV and moved the whole operation out of downtown. The new facility was well designed and provided much more room. New equipment included Panasonic direct-drive turntables and Revox reel-to-reel tape machines and Electro-Voice RE15 microphones. The station kept a few of the old RCA ribbon mics for old-times sake, one of which Gary has in his collection.
KHSL’s station manager was Dino Corbin from the late ’70s through the modern country format. Dino came to the station in the early ’70s as a Chico State student hired to do weekends. He advanced to sales and then finally became manager. He was very instrumental in promoting the country music format and making it successful through the mid ’80s. In 1984 Dino was promoted to station manager of KHSL-TV. Gary continued at KHSL radio until 1989 when Dino moved him over to TV. This was a good fit as Gary had done traffic on radio in the ’80s along with an air-shift and some production; he was given the traffic supervisor position at TV and stayed with that for 13 years.
In the late ’90s KHSL Radio and TV were sold by the original family that had owned Golden Empire Broadcasting since 1939. It was quite a transition for Gary and the other “ole-timers” to now be owned by a mid-west company. That didn’t last long as they were sold again after a couple of years to an east-coast company that came in and made many changes. The first of these new companies did not want the radio station, so KHSL-AM was taken over by Russ Pope, longtime director of engineering. He ran the station for a short time and an FM station was acquired which became KHSL-FM. Another of the changes was to “retire” some of the long time employees; one of them was Gary.
Alas, it was not the end of Gary’s broadcasting career; he was called back in to assist with the TV traffic part time. By this time Dino Corbin had resigned as TV manager and was hired as Market Manager by Clear Channel Communications, which had purchased KPAY-AM and its associated FMs. Gary had been in semi-retirement for about a year or so when Dino offered him a full time position as production director for his stations. So it was back out of retirement for Gary for five and a half years. He had lots of fun learning all about digital audio. Gary was happy to be back working with Dino and his staff. KHSL-FM eventually wound up in this group and continued the country format started by KHSL-AM.
Gary retired from broadcasting in 2008 after some 50 years; again, he was not completely finished. In 2017 he was able to produce and voice some historical 60 second pieces for KPAY’s ‘Morning News.” Gary continued this until early 2020.
If you’d like to hear and learn more about Gary Avey please visit the Modesto Radio Museum’s links below: