PUSHING THE 'UP' BUTTON
Today, Los Angeles listeners have to travel to the Banning/Palm Springs area if they want to hear Muzak or, to use the industry term, "Beautiful Music". This format, often derogatorily called "elevator music", is fast becoming an endangered species as the 21st century opens -- but in the 1960s and throughout the seventies, "Beautiful Music" was as ubiquitous on FM radio as AM Talk is today. At one time, Los Angeles boasted up to seven Muzak stations on FM (KPOL, KNOB, KJOI, KSRF, KOST, KBIG and KWST), and two on AM (KPOL 1540 and also XTRA 690, a San Diego outlet with a signal so strong that many L.A. listeners considered it a local station). Mantovani, Percy Faith, David Rose, Ray Conniff, Henry Mancini, Frank Chacksfield and 101 Strings were just some of the many artists whose pieces, most of which were instrumental, dominated the airwaves. KPOL even produced an anniversary album of soft tunes.
Soft works by contemporary artists like James Taylor, Elton John and Barbra Streisand gradually crept in. By the late 1980s, many of these stations had ditched the familiar string artists in favor of newer, more popular music. One of the first stations to break ranks, and perhaps make the most radical shift in format, was KWST FM 106.
On November 29, 1944, KFI officials broke ground on Mount Wilson for construction of a new FM and TV transmitting facility. The ceremony was broadcast live over KFI(AM) from Mount Wilson from noon to 12:15 pm that afternoon. KFI-FM went on the air from that site at 105.9 megacycles (MHz today) in July 1946 with its first test program, though some later sources say the station went on the air in 1947. The station only lasted until 1951 when the owner, Earle C. Anthony, decided to turn off the FM station and returned the license to the FCC. This was common at the time, when some station owners saw no money from FM and no future in FM. In the early '50s, while the audio quality was much better than AM, FM radios were not cheap, there were no AM-FM combination radios yet and stereo broadcasting on FM didn't happen until 1961.
The station filled the air with Beautiful Music before switching to a progressive rock format on December 31, 1974. As a forerunner to today's Alternative stations, they specialized in playing AOR tunes not heard on KMET or KLOS. Artists like Gentle Giant and Be-Bop Deluxe were standard fare. KWST was one of the first stations to play tunes by future mainstream artists like the J. Geils Band. Bob Gowa, Raechel Donahue and Chuck Marshall were just some of the personalities to host shows on this progressive station. Jim McKeon was the program director during and after the switch.
In early 1981, KWST abruptly switched over to a top-40 format, and snagged PD Chuck Martin from the recently demised KHJ. Bobby Ocean, another KHJ vet, also worked there. About a year or two later, Martin was replaced by Jeff Salgo, who changed the calls to KMGG. The station became known as Magic 106.
In the mid-1980s, TV channel 17 in Bakersfield, KPWR, changed its calls to KGET to reflect its new owners, Kern Golden Empire Television. Magic 106 promptly picked up the KPWR calls and became Power 106, soon shifting to an urban-oriented music mix which it retains today.
KPOL: switched its FM and AM to country KZLA and the KPOL calls departed for Tucson, Arizona.
FM 93.9 switched to the "MOViN" format in August 2006. (Source) Their AM side has undergone numerous transitions: they became Spanish KSKQ in the early '80s, but were bested in the
ratings by KTNQ. After a few other format changes (including all-Beatles!) they became all-sports KCTD, switching to the heritage calls KMPC in the spring of 2000.
KJOI: went Adult Contemporary, then switched to
lite-rock KXEZ. It's now KYSR (Star 98.7) playing 80s and 90s hits.
KSRF/KOCM: This Santa Monica-based station has changed calls and format a
number of times. In 1991 they became MARS FM, playing mostly techno and euro
music. With the new calls KACD/KBCD, they tried "CD 103.1", emphasizing Jazz. The station later switched to dance, achieving cult status as Groove Radio 103.1. In 1997 they tried a format
change, but received so many listener complaints that their voice
mail crashed and they re-Grooved their playlist -- the only instance
I know of where listeners were successful in bringing back a station. (Groove 103.1 still has many fans.) In the fall of 1998, 103.1 was purchased by Clear Channel Communications (which now owns Jacor) and flipped to Channel 103.1, with a "World Class Rock" Triple-A format similar to the old KSCA. 103.1 was later purchased by Entravision (which caters mainly to a Spanish-language audience) and in the summer of 2000, changed calls to KBUA/KBUE, simulcasting the Inland Empire's 97.5. (The World Class Rock format moved to the Web; for a time, its feed was carried on AM 850 in Thousand Oaks.) Early in 2003, 103.1 became KDLD/KDLE, a dance-formatted station known simply as KDL. At 11 PM on December 25, 2003, after a two-day loop of punk Christmas tunes, they switched to Classic Alternative Indie 103.1.
KOST and KBIG: both retain their call letters; both are
lite-rock AC stations. Both KOST and KBIG are now owned by Clear Channel.
KNOB: changed to Spanish KLAX; for a time was in the same building as KSKQ. Was #1 rated in the mid-'90s, but that title now belongs to KSCA.
XTRA: became The Mighty 690 in 1981, playing top-40 until October 1984, when it switched to Extra Gold. After less than two years as an oldies station, they went talk, then all-sports, known as X-TRA Sports 690. After a Standards format known as 690 The Lounge, they went Spanish and are now W Radio 690.
For more information on Beautiful Music, please visit EasyListeningHQ.com
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