By Radio Rick Myers
I left My Heart in San Francisco, with KYA. But before that, my heart started pounding to the beat of radio at the age of eight when Cal Purviance (“Cal Your Birthday Pal” on KTRB) wished a Happy Birthday to little Ricky Myers of Manteca! (Wow, my name, on the air!) Cal later became a friend; we laughed that he had set me on my career path. Cal was a magician; in one sentence he turned me into a radio lifer.
I was drawn to personalities who did far more than “play the hits.” To say something entertaining in short bursts of 3 to 17 seconds is an art form that intrigued me. These weren’t “Rock Jocks” they were entertainers. How could they be so bright and clever as they talked out of, or into so many songs? How could they do it every three minutes, hour after hour, day after day?
As a teenager, I discovered KYA-1260 AM, a station packed with high entertainment disc jockeys ’round the clock. A station after my own heart.
Gene Nelson, the morning guy, touched that heart. I remember how he could rotate being funny with being sincere, a true communicator. The day after Martin Luther King Jr died, Gene went on the air and gave America a pep talk; somehow we would rebound, things eventually would be better, but for right now, give yourselves time to process. His comments weren’t insensitive; what happened was horrible, the shock of it all had us back on our heels, but don’t give up on the resiliency of America.
I wrote Gene two fan letters. Each time he wrote back. I think he understood his abilities were a gift, and didn’t take them lightly. Over a period of 15 years, I never heard him tell the same story twice. I later learned how difficult it is to be creative on demand, but Gene always delivered.
In 1967, I was on the air at KSRT, Tracy–my first radio job–when my sister called, all excited. She had just won $100 listening to Gene’s show on KYA. I’m on the air and she’s listening to someone else!! Yes, blood is thicker than water, but Cash is King.
Johnny Holliday was a huge performer. He had been Number 1 in New York City. He started when Top-40 jocks were glib, hip, and talked jive. That fast-talking “I’m the geeter with the heater, playing stax of wax and mounds of sound, number one on the charts, number one in your hearts” stuff ended in
May of 1965 when programmer Bill Drake forced every jock to relate better. Quickly, it was showcase the music, not your DJ gimmickry! Johnny adjusted perfectly, but on occasion would throw in stuff like, ‘It’s five minutes on the Hello Side of Five o’clock.” (only disc jockeys talk like that.) With great tongue-in-check bravado, he referred to himself as “Every Teen Queen’s Dream,” “The King of the Concrete Jungle,” and for San Franciscans, he was “The Knight of Nob Hill,” and “The Baron of the Bay.” He bought a house in Tiburon for $50,000 that’s now worth 1.4 million (Of course it is).
He left for Washington DC, and switched to sports where to this day (43 years as of 2022) he is the radio voice for University of Maryland football and basketball. For 14 years he hosted the pre- and post-game TV shows for Washington Nationals. He wrote a great inside look at his life, “Johnny Holliday: From Rock to Jock,” a book I recommend.
Johnny was also the PA Announcer for the Oakland Raiders, and was the national announcer for the Roger Miller and Hullabaloo TV shows. He would fly down to L.A. on a Tuesday, tape a TV show, and be back on the air Thursday. One Sunday he had to pull an air shift at KYA, forcing him to miss the Raider game. On the air he said this was all pretty simple: Roger Miller paid him enough to miss an occasional show; the Raiders did not.
Amazingly, Rick Barry of the Golden State Warriors idolized Johnny Holliday, maybe they idolized each other. In any event, they became close friends. Barry got his hair styled at same place Johnny did, and was delighted to be part of the KYA radio basketball team. I never saw the spelling, and always assumed the team was called the KYA Radio Wonders! It wasn’t until about 5 years ago I learned it was Radio Oneders (Radio One). Radio Wonders looks better.
Johnny brought Ed Hider with him to San Francisco. Hider was a one-liner machine, much like Dr. Don Rose at KFRC, but Hider didn’t laugh along with his punchlines. Dr. Don always seemed to enjoy being corny.
For years, every night at the stroke of midnight, KYA had a tradition: on came “Baby, What I’d Say” by Ray Charles. I like a station that doesn’t take itself seriously. The all-night guy was Russ “The Moose”Syracuse. He referred to KYA as an air liner, The Super-Freak 1260. If he was tired of a song, he’d drop the sound effect of a bomb on it. His “air liner” featured a bevy of stewardesses. If you wanted to be served some food, just ask for stewardess, Kay Ration, and when the Super-Freak landed and you needed transportation, talk to stewardess Lisa Carr, etc. The audience got it.
Mike Cleary and Sean O’Callahan came from KROY, Sacramento. Cleary also had a TV Dance Show (a la American Bandstand). I think his TV show was on Sundays, early afternoon. Tommy Saunders had great wit and was way too good for 9pm to midnight, but that shift allowed him to go to school and become a teacher (an honest job).
Years, later, in the 80’s, Gary Halladay, the General Manager of KFIV, Modesto, and I tried to hire Russ the Moose Syracuse to work mornings at K-5. We thought a great entertainer could slow down the onslaught of FM’s popularity. We couldn’t agree on price. Also, I recall that he was living in Sonora to be close to his daughter and her family, and I thought he would tire quickly of the commute. Russ was a pleasure as we tried to make it happen. I remember him telling me he wouldn’t be embarrassed to be working in a smaller market like Modesto, the drive down from Sonora would be easy, and he wouldn’t “phone it in” but would make it work.
It woulda been fun. He woulda been a Radio Oneder.
3 thoughts on “The Radio of My Youth–KYA”
Just ran across Rick Myers story on growing up listening to KYA. Hopefully Rick will get in touch with me.
(Museum note: We did reach out to Johnny. At 84, he is still on the air full time as the Voice of University of Maryland football and basketball. Following KYA, Johnny was the Morning Drive DJ for WWDC in Washington DC for 11 years, then slid over to Sports. He is forever a friend of the Modesto Radio Museum.)
Rick, I will always remember you as you introduced John Sutton and the Chamber Maidens on K5 when it went country. I still have the tape of our performance. Lots of good memories in those days.
And I will always remember you as Modesto’s Number One Ambassador! We would bring in local dignitaries and celebrities every Friday morning to sing along to Tom T. Hall’s “That Song is Driving Me Crazy!” The song drove everybody crazy; we could never quite sing along, so we just laughed our way through it. Today, it would be Karaoke at its worst. I would pay money to keep that recording buried, then again, the Museum might want it.—Radio Rick