Confessions are good for my rock ‘n roll soul
By “Rockin Ron” Richards
Meet Me At The Station KFIV (1975-77)
After “breaking the ice” with my first job in radio at KCEY,Turlock, the late Larry Maher, KFIV Program Director, hired me on as a “weekender.” So in February of 1975, I began my venture into TOP 40 radio. The late Stuart Chase and I were the only ones working weekends until A.J. Roberts and Mike Green joined us as Weekend Warriors.
The first time I walked into the building was for my interview. The business offices were to the left; DJ offices to the right. The DJ office was one large room, and one entire wall had windows looking into the main on-air studio and the production room. The only radio personalities with their own desk space were”Radio” Rick (Myers) and “Captain” Fred James (Music Director). To the left of the main office were the offices of the late Robert Fenton (owner) and the salespeople. Further down the hallway was the bathroom (on the left)..and the backroom, housing the Teletype, Coffee machines, and the 5000-watt daytime transmitter. Later, the bathrooms were labeled “K-BOY” and “K-GAL.” Radio people are nothing if not cute.
The KFIV studios were in a brick building that had a 1950’s “feel” to it. Outside of the main office, the windows that decorated the front entrance and DJ office area were of a “Block Ice”/”Frosty” type,… you know… very heavy-looking and you couldn’t really see through them. In the studio, the on-air DJs sat facing the DJ room, which Radio Rick referred to as “the disc jockey lounge.” Behind the disk jockey on-air chair was the 1000-watt transmitter (used for night times) and several racks that housed tape recorders and audio processors. The reel-to-reel tape decks were used for playing Public Affairs Programs, which aired on Sundays, either in the early morning hours, or just before midnight. KFIV was on the air 24 hours a day, but went off the air Sundays at midnight for regular, scheduled maintenance.
When you sat down at the console, you were mesmerized by the number of buttons and switches, and volume-control knobs. Those knobs were called “Pots,” which stood for “potentiometers.” It was surprising–and a relief–to learn that only a few of those buttons were essential. As you sat at the microphone, to your right were three turntables, above them was a wooden cabinet with slots that housed the current Top 40 records. There were three boxes which held the three main categories of songs: A’s were the Power Hits, B’s were “not as popular” hits (played less often), and C’s which were brand new “hit bound” songs. Right above the console, at eye level, sat the cart machines. “Cart” was short for “cartridge.” The “Carts” themselves resembled 8-track tapes with one big difference. Onto each cart was wound 40-seconds to 5-minutes of tape for the airing of one thirty-second commercial up to several minutes worth of commercials. The station’s jingles were also placed onto cart. While a record was playing, the DJ would “load” the cart machines with commercials, promos, jingles, and get ready to hit the “play” button at the right time. Stations had hundreds of carts. To the right and left sides of the console were “towers” (cart racks) where the carts were numerically stored.
The PSA (Public Service Announcement) metal file box was placed just to the left of the DJ’s left hand. It contained typewritten announcements to be read live concerning local events. Above the window that looked out into the disc jockey lounge, were two infamous clocks (not real clocks, these were large pizza-sized circles. They told the DJ what to do at :03, :07, :11, etc, hour after hour). KFIV had a daytime clock, and a nighttime clock. The nighttime clock allowed for a few more Album cuts. The Daytime Clock was used between 6am and 4pm. To your left, as you sat at the console, was an area where brand new releases (LPs) were kept. These were often called “DJ Promotional Items” that record companies supplied to the station. It was the duty of the Music Director to decide what album cuts were to be played, usually determined by Record Magazines, requests to the station, and recommendations by Billboard Magazine or other related periodicals. The Music Library itself was located in the back, a small narrow room “dressed” with Oldies But Goodies. The 45’s were “catalogued” by years, in bins, on your right and vintage LPs to your left.
As a “Weekender”…you usually had a second or third job to make ends meet! At that time, I was working for Wherehouse Records (now known as F.Y.I.), when it was located next to the now-defunct Mervyn’s on McHenry. My third job was working part-time at KTRB. Let’s see…a full-time job and two part-timers..h-m-m..yes, I eventually “paid” the price for my health.
Now, that you have an idea of what the station looked like and what you had to do to survive, what follows next are little stories that came to be, while working at KFIV only.
The Rookie Behind The “Mic”
My inaugural “air time” on KFIV, came on a Saturday, for one hour of training! The Program Director was the late Larry Maher. Larry had stepped into John Chappell’s “shoes” as PD a few months earlier and guided me during the hour that I was on the air. Larry was kind of a hyper-guy, and was more nervous than me. I suppose just like any other person who smokes, Larry was doing his best for the tobacco company in that one hour. As the moment of truth approached, Larry was showing me what to do and when to do it. I think I got more of a “kick” watching him fumble through carts (spots), PSA’s, making sure that my music was lined up according to the format clock. I think Larry got the message, as I was beginning to show signs of frustration, and left me alone (finally!) during the last twenty minutes of my debut. A well done job by Larry, but disastrous results could have evolved into a nightmare!
The Chief Engineer
A “Weekender’s” schedule began by looking into the On-Air Studio during the week to find out the times for your weekend shifts. Since I was the new kid, I basically worked the “All-Nighter,” from Saturday morning to Sunday night. Remember back in those days, radio stations closed down for maintenance on Sunday nights. This is where I met our Chief Engineer, Mel Freedman. My first impression of Mel was that he was unique in character. Harsh, subtle, and yet professional, after all… keeping the station “on the air,” was his job. Sometimes Mel could be overbearing and a bit much. He was constantly on you if you were headed towards potential violations that needed immediate attention. Well enough was enough, as one afternoon I was filling in for Larry Maher and in came Mel, “barnstorming” through the studio.
Questions were asked, “Did you sign the transmitter log?”….”Did you hang the clipboard up and put it back where it belongs?”….Did you do this?.. do that?….finally I started raising my voice and told him everything was done, “go over there and check it yourself!”..Ready to put my boxing gloves on…my pilot light was lit! Mel backed off, as my shift was over to make room for “Captain Fred James” who came on next at 4p.m. Poor Fred, got into the line of fire, when he came in, I shook my head and left the control room. After that incident, Mel and I became buddies, as I eventually understood where he was coming from.
Later in my career, I worked with Randy Hill (Chief Engineer at KYOS-Merced)..I began to realize what needed to be done to keep the station running and prevent a local disaster, if it went “down.” Although Mel was “hard” on us all and”ruffled” a few feathers we would be constantly on our toes. “Thumbs up!” Mr. Freedman, for a job well done!! Throughout my tenure as a “weekender” at KFIV, I would anticipate and greet Mel, who came in shortly before sign-off on Sunday nights. After the station was shut down for maintenance, I made it a point of saying good-bye as I was going out the door, and in reply..I got a hearty….. “Night, Night.”
There were 3 turntables (record players) at KFIV. Each turntable had 3 speeds: 45..33 1/3…16 (rpms)! As a general rule I would keep the front two turntables at 45 and the back one at 33 (for LPs). Many of us, and I was no exception, would be caught sometimes playing the records at a wrong speed. This was embarrassing at times, especially when working the prime shifts. To hear somebody like Linda Ronstadt on Quaaludes was something else and if you played it that way at night,…everybody thought it might be a new Pink Floyd single?!! Well you learned to live with it and have fun too! One night, I remember playing an LP and the corner of my eye spotted dust collecting and building up on the needle. I knew what was eventually going to happen, so I “opened” up the “mic” did a play by play description, explaining to listeners what was about to happen next. Well, as expected the stylus collected too much dust and “skated” across the rest of the album. I then picked up the stylus, cleaned off the dust with my thumb, making a wonderful scratch-like noise over the airwaves and promptly put the tone-arm down and resumed play.
The All Night Show
My all night show leaned more towards AOR (Album Oriented Rock) rather than Top 40. At this time FM was still in its infancy and I patterned my style more or less after KSAN radio (San Francisco). I believe I was the first one, locally, to do this…and had a great all night audience following. I remember one night, some young caller kept pestering me to play “Deep Purple” (another rendition of this song from the 40’s, don’t you know?) this time by Donnie and Marie Osmond. Well then, the “light bulb” went on and what I did was cue up the song on one turntable, grabbed a DJ copy of an artist that wasn’t going nowhere, and placed another LP on the back turntable. What happened next, is I started up the Donnie & Marie song and after a few seconds “killed” it on the air, pretending that I had the “45”(rpm) in my hand (when it was actually the Promo copy)…I said something to the fact as..NO! NO!…this will never do, broke the “45” on the air…and then said, Now!…Here’s some real Deep Purple and I then played, “Smoke On The Water.”
Sometime later, I got a call from Larry Maher, wanting me to come to the office! Oh! Oh!…I thought to myself, somebody must’ve registered a complaint…okay, Junior!…. time to eat your spinach! Much to my surprise, Larry had found out what I was doing with the all night show from a letter written by a listener, who commended me for making the all night show at KFIV sound better than ever! Whew!…not quite out of the “woods” yet, I explained to Larry what I was doing! After going several rounds, Larry consented and gave me his blessing on keeping up with what I was doing, but to only play my AOR format between 1a.m. to 5a.m. Agreed upon, from here on out, that’s the way it was during my time at KFIV. I never again experienced the freedom of choice in music like I did during those years!
As my time with KFIV went further, I eventually became a full-timer!! So what I did was take my AOR format to the next level. I would track a whole LP during my show. A Classic LP from the past on Tuesday and the rest of the week…all new releases!! I was the first one to do this locally and it would eventually come around, in some form later, when FM finally took hold!! During the LP tracking, I usually got caught up on “cutting” (or, recording) commercials (also known as “spots”) or taking “cat naps.” For the most part I had an instinct of waking up at the right time, when one side was completed, I “back sold” the songs (or back announced the songs that had played), played a PSA while flipping the record onto Side 2 and resumed airplay. Well that backfired one night..as I was playing a then new LP by Stevie Wonder, “Songs In The Key Of Life,” a double album. I started to doze off and lo and behold woke up to the sound of a needle (stylus) “hitting” the record label (Another Pink Floyd song?!) when I awoke and realized that the ABC News “feed” was already in progress I switched over! Okay! nobody responded to it…except…Dave Bowling..who was on his way to do the morning shift at KJOY-Stockton. Dave said he never laughed so hard!
After I went full time at the station, one of the things I did on the “all nighter” was to feature specials on certain groups. It would be an anthology-like program with tidbits of history on bands like The Beatles, CCR, The Doors, and one of my most successful ones was on The Rolling Stones! The night I had featured the Stones, I had people knocking on the front door, mind you, and requesting songs from the group! Needless to say it kept me on my “toes” that night..ah!…the power of Radio!!! A couple more interesting things happened…Homegrown (Modesto’s local Folk/Rock group) had their first LP pressed and I was able to give them exposure by playing that vinyl in its entirety. An interview with Modesto’s, Mike Allsup, lead guitarist for Three Dog Night, came “into the light” one evening too! Although, this was “dropped” into my lap at the last moment, I felt I didn’t have time enough to gather enough “info” about the band’s background and tried to make the most of it!
One thing I can say as far as lengthy album “cuts” or longer versions of “hit” songs by a group or an artist, is that it gave you a chance to stretch your legs, grab a cup of coffee, or..make a trip to the Powder Room! Some examples were: “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” (Iron Butterfly), “Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” (Elton John), “Get Ready” (Rare Earth) etc., all songs that were at least 17+ minutes or more.
The old skating rink on Tully (just a block from Modeto Junior College) was a haven for rock groups and artists during the 70’s! Among them: Alvin Lee & Ten Years After, Pablo Cruise, Iron Butterfly, Gino Vannelli, and a group that was about to make a comeback….Fleetwood Mac! (this was before the “Rumors” LP was released!) Before the 70’s were over, the skating rink was torn down and made way for Roller King!
Back in 1975, for those who grew up in this area, you’ll remember that turning on E. Orangeburg and heading for the station, there was nothing but orchards!! Thank heaven for the White Rail fence that graced the front of the station, because on nights where the Fog was so dense, this was the only way to recognize the studio’s location and your whereabouts! Now because the station was located, at that time, surrounded by orchards, you had a feeling that you weren’t alone. During the cold months of the year, the central heat was on, and once in a while you could smell the stench of some dead animal (mice). One night when I was in the backroom (music library) searching for some albums, much to my surprise when I came back to the console, was a mouse standing on it’s hind legs! As soon as the discovery was made, we both scattered in different directions! I did the balance of my show that night sitting with my feet cross-legged and up on the chair!! Inflection is inflection, but I didn’t need any surprises crawling up my pant legs!!
Oops!…Did I Say That?
Every radio broadcaster (DJ) has his or her moment(s) that involves the “slip” of the tongue. Mine came one Sunday afternoon as I was pre-selling, “Some Kind Of Wonderful” by Grand Funk (Railroad)!!…Yeah!..I mispronounced the word Funk!!! Okay, I thought to myself, just shut-up and close the “mic.” (microphone). My brother had me tuned in that very day and asked if he heard right?….he did!! Fortunately nobody else called and asked questions.
Deck The Log…Fa La La
Christmas time can be a wonderful time of the year..except commercial time on the radio! Outside of BMI/ASCAP week, which was a pain because you had to write down every song you played on your shift, there was the Fa La La season. The logs were extremely heavy during the Holiday Season, as we had perhaps, a 70% – commercial and a 30% music ratio. Shall we just say the station was overloaded with ads??
I remember doing a 1 hour shift for Larry Maher, one afternoon, and because of the commercial time you had to keep the music under the 2:30 minute mark..otherwise it becomes a make-up and added to the already headache! Anyway I kept it “tight” to say the least in that 1 hour and as “Captain” Fred James came into the studio to do his “Afternoon Drive” shift, I was just timing it out to make the ABC news feed at 5 minutes in front of the hour. As Fred arrived, he realized that I was still in commercials, when the bewitching hour arrived. I had just previously talked enough and got into my last set of “spots,” the last one being a 30 sec. one and as it finished, the ABC News Fanfare started up! Wow!! Fred was impressed and a sigh of relief from me.
The other incident happened with Fred James, as he was reprimanded for something he said on the “air,” around the same time. On top of the heavy load of ads during the Holiday Season, we also got “bogged down” with ticket giveaways!! Oh yeah!..not only were you “fighting” the format clock, you had prizes to present also. Well Fred got in trouble when he was heard saying over the “air,”…”I’ve got a pair of tickets to giveaway, if you can guess how much commercial time there is…this hour!”..Needless to say…that didn’t “set” well with the front office.
Dances, Remotes, & Parades…Oh My!
One of my favorite things to do was to broadcast live and take on High School dances, Haunted Houses (abandoned homes ready to be torn down), and special functions by local organizations. KFIV had a console built with two turntables and in very primitive fashion, comparing it to today’s standards, a hook-up by means of a telephone line. The line was “fed” through the console at the station…and you got a very hollow classic AM sound. One remote I did along with “Radio” Rick Myers at the time, was promoting the grand opening of a new Radio Shack store in the same shopping center that introduced Modesto to the first Raley’s (Tully & Standiford).
Some of the most common things to give away at Remotes were free tickets, album/record giveaways, etc. Promotional items were given away to bring in the customers to a local merchant. Well as everything was loaded in the KFIV Van (Keep On Truckin’) and we were on our way, Rick and I discussed what we could “pull-off” to promote customers at Radio Shack. Being a fan of Comedy, I came up with the idea of having listeners come by and throw a pie in my face. “Great idea!..Let’s do it!!..Rick replied. The response was overwhelming as I had everything from Chocolate and Strawberry creams to Berry, and even a Mud pie that I graciously accepted! Luckily, I knew a family friend (pictured with me on The Radio Museum website) who was working at Raley’s at the time. She led me to the large sink area in the produce dept., where I washed up! The tee shirt I had worn, resembled a “Tie-Dye!”…and it was retired afterwards.
The first and last time I got involved in the traditional Modesto Fourth of July parade, came in 1976. With the KFIV van, supporting larger speakers affixed on top and the sounds of the Rock’n 136 (1360 AM) filling the morning air, there were also two cars riding in front of it. On the cars we (KFIV DJ’s) sat on the hoods of the vehicles throwing or handing out “45’s” to the hometown crowds.
During the mid 70’s, KFIV had some firsts: FM station KITA (the first station for the Spanish speaking residents) “Flight To Soul” with Marcus Williams (Mel Williams’s son) the first program that catered to Soul/R&B enthusiasts. “Flight To Soul” came on Sunday nights eventually replacing Steve Sprunger’s Public Service program. The first female DJ (weekender)…Dorian McKenzie, who later departed for Sacramento radio…only to be replaced by Diane Cartwright!
Who Are You…Who?…Who?
The Radio Personalities at KFIV had unique nicknames during the 70’s. Notables such as Kevin Manna (“Your Manna In The Morning), “Skinny” Kenny Roberts, J. Michael “Bird” Stevens, “Radio” Rick Myers, “Captain” Fred James, “The Unreal” Don Shannon, “Rock’n” Ron Richards (me), John “Dyno” (Dynomite) Michaels, and A.J. “Koala Bear” Roberts. A bunch of great guys to work with, some of us would get together during our time off the air by attending concerts (most notably a handful of us had dinner with the group Ambrosia (“Holdin’ On To Yesterday”) The group was on the same bill with The Kinks, Sutherland Brothers & Quiver and appeared at the Stockton Civic Auditorium that evening.
Other times there were the all-night “hangouts” at the now defunct Brawley’s Restaurant on McHenry, where Don Shannon and I were once pulled over in the parking lot by Modesto Policeman, Luther Williams, only because the ’69 Triumph Spitfire I was driving, resembled one that had been stolen. We became buddies after that and found out that Luther was from Detroit, where I have family roots. Occasionally we would have other guests sit with us unto the wee hours of the morning..Air personalities like John Chappell, Ted “Cookie Man” Garrett (formerly of KFIV and working at KJOY), Dave Bowling (formerly of KFIV and working at KJOY too!), John “Dyno” Michaels (working weekends at KFIV at the time) and Mike Green (KFIV weekender who became the “afternoon drive” guy [4p-8p], when Fred James left for Sacramento radio). There were also appearances on occasion at The Roller King, “spinning” records.
Eventually everyone went their separate ways, some of us keeping in contact over the years, some of us worked together again at other stations. As of January of 1977, I left KFIV to do “Morning Drive” at KYOS in Merced.
We will have to dig for them. Some may still be in the library.
By “Rockin Ron” Richards
“Rockin Ron” in KFIV’s master control room in 1975.
“Rockin Ron” in KFIV production room.
“Rockin Ron” with back to school promotions.
“Rockin Ron” 1969 Triumph spitfire.
“Rockin Ron” with helpful friend.
Former KFIV deejays L-R Kenny Roberts, “Rockin Ron ” and Ron Posey in 2011 photo.
KFIV’s master control room in the seventies.
KMOD was the original call sign of the station when it came on the air in 1950. It was later changed to KFIV. The building and transmitting towers sat in a peach orchard on the north side of Orangeburg avenue a quarter of a mile east of Old Oakdale Rd. (as it was known then).
“Rockin Ron” in the KFIV music room.