16 thoughts on “January 3, 1969 Radio Dial

  1. I heard Pat O’Day answering questions about his career on zoom last week. He explained KJR’s acquiring KISW. He said back then the FCC could approve or disapprove a format change. He said they intentionally eroded the station’s listener appeal. With the station’s ratings tanking, it was then feasible to justify to the commission switching to the rock format which had been their initial interest in buying an FM.

    1. Sneaky, and not nice for the fans that enjoyed the classical KISW. Now, we only have KING FM. Not surprised that classical is not as popular these days. What sells is what plays.

        1. Well…I dont know about that Dick. I think they would have preferred to have simply bought it and flipped formats. But the FCC was not cooperating. Being KJR they saw the way the wind was blowing and wanted an FM that rocked. I believe a broadcaster should be allowed to determine the stations format. Had it been a couple decades later they could have arrived one day with security guards ..called a staff meeting and made all employees clean their desks and leave as they changed format. Those tactics.. so common in 80s and 90s… are more disturbing to me than trying to persuade an uncooperative FCC into approving a format change. Having owned a station…I know what a non-sensical and paper pushing bucket of cold water the Commission could be at times.

          1. Steve,

            As a former radio station owner, you don’t see that as a subversion of the public interest?

            You say you believe a broadcaster should be allowed to determine a station’s format. I agree with you. Isn’t that the way it is today?

            But back then, was a format change allowed or denied by the FCC on nothing but the whim of a commissioner, or were there written rules?

            Did Pat O’Day just tell the FCC that he ran KISW into the ground on purpose and now he needed his format change?

            Did he announce to KISW’s classical music listeners the reason he bought the station and what his plan was before he even made the deal?

            The fact that KISW became a powerhouse in Seattle is irrelevant.

          2. I think it was obvious that turning KISW into a rocker was the plan, despite the denials. As a listener, just reading Victor Stredicke’s columns, I figured that was going to be the end result. I didn’t realize, at the time, that it was being done through a slow dismantling of the classical format. KOL beat them to the punch with the progressive rock format though.

          3. Dick…let me respond after your comments so people can keep track of our discussion.

            “Steve, as a former radio station owner, you don’t see that as a subversion of the public interest?”

            No…I don’t. When you pay lots of money for a radio station and you have to keep it running or you will go bust, then you need to have a format that works. I was lucky enough to buy a country station that did well, so I never had to deal with it. But let’s say I had bought a religious station that played screaming sermons…there were two in the market… and the FCC said I could not change format. I would have tried to figure out some way to get it done. And maybe that would have included demonstrating it was not financially viable keeping it as it was. And I am pretty confident a Danny Kaye Lester Smith station would not have been run as a train wreck… it is not as if they were running a 60 cycle tone. But their hearts were not into classical like the way they operated and promoted KJR. Now current FCC rules where a few operators own all the pie…I see that as not in the public interest,

            “You say you believe a broadcaster should be allowed to determine a station’s format. I agree with you. Isn’t that the way it is today?”

            That is how it is today and has been for years. Don’t know exactly when it changed, but format control by owner sure was not an issue in the 80s. Look at all the stations that stunt and do odd stuff like all Christmas.

            “But back then, was a format change allowed or denied by the FCC on nothing but the whim of a commissioner, or were there written rules?”

            Unsure, but probably the staff’s interpretation of a rule. Victor’s article makes it sound like that one commissioner had more interest in the sale than was typical. Not all, but some of the lesser known FCC rules could be stupid and arbitrarily enforced. Example: For all the years I worked for Fred Danz of SRO, he wanted to turn our daytimer into a full time. He paid for at least two PEs to do full time applications. They were sent in and the FCC claimed the night signal might interfere with KHJ or an Alberta station. That is why they rejected the upgrade twice. Okay…we could accept that. Fred paid for another application from a top Illinois engineer, we submitted it. The FCC had no issues with interference nor us not covering COL. But they rejected it because they now said there were two full time stations in the market and their opinion was a third was not needed. That was not previously a consideration mentioned and it blew away professional engineers. Case closed on appeal. That was late 70s. So I buy the station in early 80s. NAB is pushing for help for daytimers. The FCC doles out low power for night operation. My station got 91 watts. Then Mark Fowler, FCC Chair, says the administration has determined that if a station can prove it will not interfere with any other station then power increases and full time can be granted. George Frese in Wenatchee did a splendid job of engineering adding a tower and using our existing tower site and it was approved in a couple months. So what the FCC did and didn’t do seemed to have a lot to do with their staff and their flexibility in looking at things.

            “Did Pat O’Day just tell the FCC that he ran KISW into the ground on purpose and now he needed his format change?”

            I sure can’t speak for Pat, and he is undergoing medical treatment, so I do not plan to contact him. I am giving my opinions here and sort of guessing what another owner might do…a risky slope. I would expect they just explained they were not doing well….and I don’t think it was doing that great prior to the ownership change either. I believe the marginal performance of the station for prior operators was a factor in their desire to sell.

            “Did he announce to KISW’s classical music listeners the reason he bought the station and what his plan was before he even made the deal?”

            I doubt it. I cannot think of any owner who, before a sale would stir up controversy. In those days, when the FCC would shut stations down for unauthorized control, it would be questionable PR to be foretelling the future of a station you did not own. And with most sales you keep it all quiet until the papers are signed…that was true in both my transactions. Mum was the word for many reasons. Now once the docs were in order, prior to FCC approval…you could talk about it.

            “The fact that KISW became a powerhouse in Seattle is irrelevant.”

            Maybe in regard to Victor’s 50 year old article, but from the standpoint of Seattle broadcasting history, I think most of us are glad there was a KISW. And it seems to me that the public stations do a good job of filling the classical music niche.

            Anyway, those are my thoughts as somebody who had to make money with a station or I would lose everything I owned including my house. At times it was good, other times a rough road. Generally I liked FCC staff, but they were all different people as in any agency, so you never knew what you might get and how any one bureaucrat might see it. And again, I am not speaking for Pat, I simply made a comment about his maybe 3 minute zoom story on KJR buying KISW many lifetimes ago,

          4. Steve,

            I appreciate your well thought out reply. As you say, the current setup of letting a few operators own all the pie is very much against the public interest.

            I’m not defending the FCC by any means. For them to demand the engineering studies you described to justify full-time operation and then, when you’ve satisfied their requirement, turn you down because “your town doesn’t rate three full-timers” defies logic and fairness.

            What got me going in the first place was the idea that KJR and the money and star power of Kaye-Smith would be allowed to do things a small independent operator couldn’t, and would never have to jump through those hoops.

            Why would they feel the need to tank the ratings in the first place when the transfer request included the intention to change formats? And why bring it up now?

            Thanks, Steve.

          5. Dick…yes I noticed the same thing….that this early on story by Victor referenced an impending format change. So it seems that it was no secret the station was changing format at some point soon. So I do not know how all that ties in with the story I heard, maybe they just didn’t worry much about execution of the classical format in the waning moments before they pulled it. You know how 50 years later memories can be there but details froggy.

          6. As the guy from Thor’s Towing (Where You Can Always Get a Thor Tow!) reminded us when phoning in accident reports to KAYO, “Drive carefully when it’s froggy out or you might croak.”

  2. They should have been allowed to make an immediate format switch. But, this explains stories of petition drives to save a format, back in the day. I guess they had to drive away the listeners to get what they wanted, with the restrictions in place at the time. I have heard many format changes take effect and I lived through it, coming through without a scratch. The FCC has given up a lot of control, now to the point that some of those old rules would be welcome. Such as, the requirement to maintain a studio in the COL, serve the listening public (honestly), and a top of the hour ID that clearly announces the station call letters.

    1. I know when I hear a gunshot or see a police helicopter flying overhead I would like to know what is going on. Unlike the 50,s and 60,s, there is not a local station that will tell you what,s going on. Even our local newspaper will not even mention it. I remember when ever their was a fire or explosion in our neighborhood in Tacoma, KTNT radio was on top of the story. I suppose there is no money to be made by being a 500 watt local. My father was a classical music fan and twice he signed a petition to keep KXA from switching formats. Even my father had mixed feeling about it. It may be in the public interest, but is it fair to the owners?

      1. When I lived in West Phoenix in the eighties, police helicopters were always hovering over our neighborhood. They had big spotlights and flew very low. I know of two bodies found on the street within a few blocks of our place.

  3. I think when you look at the rich history of KISW and the personalities it has offered to Seattle over the years, it would be hard to argue that it would have been better off to have remained a niche market classical station.

    1. There are probably only one or maybe two classical stations in each major market. But there are 6-10 religious stations, making up for the fact that these days, unlike the 1960s, not all stations run religious programs. Because, there is such a great listener demand for the religious format.

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