Additional Source Material:
Don Barrett, Andrea Walsh, 440: Satisfaction, Barry Mishkind, Stefan Daystrom, Rosemary Earl, Jim Hilliker, Andrew Davis
The year was 1959.
Dwight Eisenhower was in the Oval Office. Soviet Premier Khrushchev and Vice President Nixon held their famous "kitchen debate" in Moscow, while down in Cuba a young man named Fidel Castro seized power. Two new states were admitted to the Union, bringing the total to 50. A gallon of Ethyl gas cost about 27 cents, making it pretty easy to fill up your brand new Ford Edsel. Ben-Hur won twelve oscars at the box office. The Baltimore Colts were the NFL champions, beating the New York Giants 31-16 in the playoffs. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson died tragically in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa.
Bobby Darin topped the charts with Mack The Knife, while Phil Phillips sang about the Sea Of Love. Playing these hits (and many, many more) was a small Pasadena radio station located at 1110 KHz on the AM dial. It had just changed its call letters to KRLA.
Signing on in 1942 as KPAS, the station became country KXLA three years later. Tennessee Ernie Ford, Cal Worthington and Jim Hawthorne were three of the announcers.
When the station was sold to Eleven-Ten Broadcasting, they became KRLA, the second AM top-40 station in Los Angeles, competing with KFWB "Channel 98" in the early '60s.
In 1964, when the British invaded America, KRLA seized the moment and became the first southland station to air The Beatles. Emperor Bob Hudson had the duties of morning man during this time. (Thirteen years later, KRLA would become known nationwide in a rather subtle way: on the cover of the album Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl, two show tickets are displayed. Look closely at the fine print at the top of the tickets. It says, "KRLA and Bob Eubanks Present".)
KRLA's most notorious competitor arrived on May 7, 1965. A small, low-rated 5000-watt station known as KHJ transformed itself into the top-40 powerhouse of Southern California. (Rumor has it that when KHJ started up, they built their music rotation off of KRLA's playlist!) For the next 34 months, top 40 fans had not two but three AM stations to choose from. In the end, it was KFWB that went down, and KRLA held its own against The Boss.
Johnny Hayes brought us The Big 11 Countdown every week. Dave Diamond was another KRLA notable, having worked at KHJ and KFRC as well. Dave Hull was the real name of the legendary "Hullaballooer". KRLA was privileged to have two other nationally-known jocks: The irrepressible Real Don Steele (featured in Grand Theft Auto), and cultural icon Wolfman Jack (featured in American Graffiti and the subject of The Guess Who's 1974 hit Clap For The Wolfman.) Many other "legends" got behind the KRLA mike at various points in history: Humble Harve, Machine Gun Kelly, Casey Kasem, Mike Ambrose, Dick Biondi, Roger Christian, Bob Eubanks, Al Lohman, Gary Mack, Charlie Tuna, B. Mitchel Reed, Wink Martindale and Johnny Williams, to name just a few.
In the early '70s, the station was guided by Shadoe Stevens, later to become TV's wacky pitchman Fred Rated. Studios were at the Huntington Hotel for many years.
During a brief stint with Country, KRLA's Corky Mayberry was awarded the Academy Of Country Music's Personality Of The Year award.
Dick Hugg, affectionately known to his listeners as "Huggie Boy", brought us the best in oldies and soul. For a time, he even hosted his own dance program, The Huggie Boy Show, which aired weekly on KWHY channel 22 for many years. His popularity continued to increase long after the show went off.
And how could there be a KRLA page without mentioning Mr. Rock 'N' Roll, Art Laboe? This man's name is synonymous with the station itself; under his guidance as Vice President, KRLA was the success it became. Art Laboe's Rock 'N' Roll School was the source for many a question on KRLA's Hitrivia, which was often featured on the back of their weekly playlists until 1979. When you think of KRLA, the name Art Laboe should be the first one that comes to mind.
Over the years, the station became synonymous with oldies, but kept current hits mixed in with the gold. Midway into the seventies, billboards promoted KRLA as the "Elvis-to-Elton" station. (In 1978, a second Elvis would have a hit single on the KRLA charts.)
A few years afterward, John "Bowzer" Baumann (of Sha-Na-Na fame) did a television ad for the station which went something like this: "Hey! This is Bowzer -- and I'm beside myself with excitement -- because I just found a great new radio station - KRLA. They play today's hits, and the WONDERFUL tunes of the late '50s and early '60s."
In late 1984, KRLA made a slight format adjustment and went all-oldies, eliminating most of their '70s (and all the '80s) music. Top 40 on AM was slowly disappearing: KFI was leaning toward talk; KHJ (which had returned as Car Radio) played a few new tunes but wasn't strictly top-40; down in San Diego, The Mighty 690 was becoming 69 Extra Gold. The only southland station bucking the trend was upstart KWNK 670 in Simi Valley, which had just signed on and could barely be heard in downtown Los Angeles. But they, too, soon went talk.
In the middle of the 1980s, KRLA came under the same ownership as 97.1 KBZT (which changed to KLSX), with both studios located in the mid-Wilshire district. With KLSX's Classic Rock ("AOR gold", perhaps?) and KRLA, oldies were pretty much covered for the rest of the decade.
The next serious competition came on March 2, 1989. KNX FM (93.1) abruptly switched from MOR to music of the late '50s and early '60s, and changed calls to KODJ. Listeners of KLSX heard the "official" reaction from one of the higher-ups:
Well, it happened again in the southland. Another radio station has closed up shop and gone home.....now, I don't blame KNX for what they had going for them, but what bugs me is that they switched over to a moldy-oldies format.....Los Angeles already has an oldies station on AM -- KRLA! So if you know someone who's an oldies fan, you might wanna tell them about AM 1110, KRLA...because who needs oldies on FM anyway?
As the '90s dawned, KRLA drifted toward an R&B-tinged playlist, featuring lots of Motown mixed in with the doo-wop. Dick Hugg changed his moniker's spelling to "Huggy" Boy. Still oldies-based, they retained respectable ratings, not only with those who grew up with the music but also in part of the Hispanic community, with Huggy Boy's show and the '50s subculture. Bill Earl penned a book, Dream-House, chronicling a full fifty years of AM 1110's history. No KRLA jock was without a copy.
KODJ, apparently getting killed in the ratings by KRLA and K-Earth, moved their oldies up to the '70s and changed to KCBS FM to reflect their ownership. (Calling themselves Arrow 93, they may have had a hand in downing KLSX, which went to weekday talk and weekend rock.)
By the mid-'90s, AM music stations in general were all but extinct: KIIS 1150 had stopped playing rap/funk, KWNK was Spanish, XPRS had abandoned their long-running nightly fifties program, San Diego's KKLQ ended its simulcast on the super 600 frequency and 69 Extra Gold had long since gone talk. KRLA soon found itself the only station still playing regular pop music on AM, save for the "standards" stations and an occasional bubblegum tune on children's-format Radio Disney.
By 1998, KRLA had over 39 years of heritage under its belt, and was, as Andrew Kvammen put it, "the oldest station in L.A. that hasn't changed format." Over the course of those 39 years, many top 40 stations had graced the amplitude modulation band in Southern California. Some came and went; others tried innovations; a handful were legends: KFWB, KHJ, KFI, KTNQ, KIIS AM, KDAY, KWOW, KROQ AM, KALI, KEZY AM, XTRA --- KRLA had outlasted 'em all. But talk and sports were proving to be the real money-makers now, and in the fall of 1998, GM Bob Moore made the decision to pull the plug.
On November 10, 1998, Huggy Boy became the last regularly-scheduled KRLA personality on the roster; otherwise the station was jockless. Except for a taped show on Thanksgiving, he continued with his regular morning program until the 27th, and did a final marathon show on November 29th, KRLA's last day on the air.
The last selection was a soulful tune by the group War, Don't
Let No One Get You Down. As November 29, 1998 segued into the 30th,
a short piano intro "That's All" was played...and then thousands of
listeners throughout the southland heard the final words of an unforgettable
"Huggy Boy has left the building."
Some recollections of the early days from board operator Ted Shireman:
It was a strange operation for sure. Oak Knoll Broadcasting was an interim operator, supposedly only for a short time but it went on and on. Profits, if any, were to be shared with KCET. Therefore it was not possible to make capital improvements; the ancient transmitter equipment required operators on duty, so it was decided to play all music and commercials at the transmitter with engineers employed as board operators.
Finances were so shaky that there were only two announcers, Laboe and Johnny Hayes (later a very young Manny Pacheco came on board to do evening request show) Most of the day and all weekends the operation was semi-automated. I recall when Laboe left Fri at 11 pm he would prerecord 6 weather reports to be rotated all weekend, plus two others in case the weather changed Sat or Sun.
Some recollections from a fan named "Uncle Joe":
Most fans will either remember KRLA as an oldies station or as the station that brought the Beatles to Southern California. But I will always remember KRLA as my 1st Radio Love. Right in the middle of the above, early 70's, Shadoe Stevens did a fantastic job of programming what would soon become the standard for AOR on the FM dial. The line-up included some of the best jocks of all time:
B. Mitchel Reed, Johnny Hayes, Don Burns, Shadoe Stevens, Lee "Baby" Simms, Jimmy Rabbitt, Gregg Shannon, Russ O' Hara, Dave Diamond, and Mikel Hunter. Many of the above followed Shadoe over to the upstart KROQ and then onto KMET. But KRLA is where it all started for me. Thanks 11-10
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?: Dave Hull, the "Hullaballooer", now works at KWXY
Cathedral City, one of the last truly "Beautiful Music" stations in the country.
(See the KWST page for more on that genre.)
Shadoe Stevens can be heard on the nationally-syndicated Billboard Top 40 Countdown. (He was also the center square on the resurrected Hollywood Squares a few years back.) Corky Mayberry now lives in Amarillo, Texas. Former PD Jack Roth now does voice-overs.
Chief Engineer Don Beem, who has since passed away, wrote a book detailing the entire history of KRLA. (Special thanx to Ted Shireman for the info on the book and Jack Roth.)
As for the station itself, even though the music has been silenced, the
memories will go on -- after all, that's what this website is all about. To
Robert W. Morgan, Emperor Bob, The Real Don Steele and Wolfman Jack: you
helped see us through a very turbulent time and brightened many a day. Even
though the four of you are no longer with us, may your legacy live on.
To all the KRLA listeners, staff, and oldies fans in general: here's to the station that brought you your music and many, many good times. A station that will live on as long as at least one of us is alive to remember and cherish it, and that other stations could take a lesson from. The station that was all that AM radio stood for at one time, and all that AM radio should be -- KRLA.
Back to Main Radio Page