The big station that could - KGBS AM 1020
While remembering Dave Hull over these past few days, I was also recalling the station where I first heard him, Storer Broadcasting’s KGBS. As I previously mentioned, the station was a daytimer, which meant the station broadcast only from sunup to sundown. Though the station did have a 24-hour FM simulcast, it was really all about the 50,000 watt AM operation.
It’s worth noting the frequency was notable as K-POP, featuring Earl McDaniel and the still-going-strong Art Laboe. But as KGBS, the station brought in “Emperor” Bob Hudson for mornings and Ron Landry for afternoons.
Then it was PD Ron Martin (truly underrated in the history of LA radio) who combined the two talents to become Hudson & Landry, both the popular KGBS morning show and a nationally famous comedy team, earning four gold records and a Grammy nomination. With Landry moving to mornings, that gave the opportunity for Dave Hull to come aboard for afternoons. More on the Hullabalooer in a moment.
Middays were occupied by KFWB veteran Bill Ballance. “My career had plateaued to a definite level of mediocrity when Ray Stanfield, the station’s general manager, called me in and said that he wanted me to start talking to women. The presentation would be up to me,” said Ballance. The result was the “Feminine Forum,” a forerunner of the shock jocks who would dominate the 80s (think Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, Tom Leykis). His show evolved into Ballance coaxing his female callers to share sometimes lurid details about their relationships. James Brown of the Los Angeles Times wrote Ballance was “the lascivious uncle, chiding his ‘doll babies’ to rid themselves of their ‘grunthead’ oppressors.” He managed to skirt the line because of his rich vocabulary and his ever-dry wit, but raised the ire of women’s rights activists who accused him of exploiting his callers. The target audience was housewives, but it soon was one of the hottest shows on the dial, even overheard in local police precincts and syndicated nationally. The FCC would eventually attenuate the “Feminine Forum,” but Bill Ballance – once a member of KFWB’s “Swingin’ Seven Gentlemen” – again distinguished himself on the SoCal airwaves. (By the way, did I ever mention the story of Ballance punching out his counterpart B. Mitchel Reed? Another story for another time.)
Then there was the Hullabalooer. His former KRLA colleague, the aforementioned Bob Hudson, told PD Martin that Dave Hull had left KFI and was looking for another job. It was Ron Martin who moved Ron Landry to team up with Hudson which opened the door for Dave Hull. Already one of the most clever DJs on the air, he had an insight that would define his future at KGBS and KMPC.
Back in 2000, the Museum of Television and Radio was hosting “LARadio.com Day.” Both the Hullabalooer and Ballance were on the panel. Dave recalled that “Bill Ballance gave me the best idea I ever had,” then turned to Ballance and asked him if he remembered his “Nifty Fifties” dance Ballance was hosting at the Hollywood Palladium (“I sure do,” replied Ballance). One afternoon, Dave received a caller from someone who’d been just dumped by his date for that dance, He asked Dave for “a name from your personal ‘little black book.’” The Hullabalooer said he was married and had five kids. “Go ooonnn” said the caller.
“Tell you what I’m gonna do,” and Dave put the caller on the air to find him a match. “How tall are you? What kind of car to you drive?” And all of the phones lit up. “Dial-a-Date” was born, which later became the “Lovelines” on KMPC (and for that matter, Matchmaker, the syndicated TV game show).
Oh, did the one-liners, double entendres, and insults fly, fast and furious! From the book Hullabaloo:
CALLER: “Dave! Don’t hang up on me! I’ve been waiting a month to get on!”
HULL: “I know! I’ve been waiting a month to hang up on you!” (CLICK)
CALLER (male, crying): “I’ve got to get a date!”
HULL: (immediately mocking the tearful voice) “What’s the matter?”
CALLER (crying): “I’m all alone.”
HULL (crying): “You still are!” (CLICK).
OK, one not in the book. Dave didn’t hesitate asking female callers for their physical proportions. He was about to mock a caller as overweight (this was hardly the days of political correctness) until she reported one of her numbers was “40,” and it wasn’t her waistline. An almost speechless Hullaballoer gave his horn a loud honk and returned to the male caller he was trying to set up. The caller asked “but what does she do for a living?” Dave yelled “DOES IT MATTER?!?”
And in between all of the madness all day long were the hits – in fact, KGBS was the first radio home of Casey Kasem’s American Top Forty. Did I mention the station signed off at sundown? Yet KGBS had some incredible ratings. Dave Hull was number one with male listeners, in spite of his abbreviated show. And of course there was the huge audiences for Hudson & Landry and Bill Ballance.
Before this gets dismissed as simply another “pining for the old days” that are long gone, bear with me for a moment. KGBS had a major challenge, disappearing as early as 4:45 p.m. during the winter months. Yet so many people loyally tuned in. Station GM Ray Stanfield said the secret to his success was to be “original.” Today, radio has a major challenge. It’s viewed as something only heard by a boomer-aged audience. Perhaps. But young people tuned into KGBS back in the day. Later, it was Howard Stern that parents tried to keep their children from hearing, but failed. Plus I have (admittedly conservative) students who have only a vague idea of who is Rush Limbaugh, but are active listeners of Dennis Praeger.
Chet Casselman, unfamiliar perhaps to the SoCal audience but well known as the newsman for KSFO’s legendary Don Sherwood, said that in the 70s radio shifted from finding original talent and programming to “if they have ‘X,’ we need to have ‘X.’” This was even before deregulation and the consolidation of the radio industry. Originality was replaced by the need to play it safe.
So is there any prospects for something original on the dial? Will there ever be another KGBS?
The audience is listening.
Last time I said I was going to post something, there was a last minute change of plans. Actually, that happened twice. At least for the moment, next week we'll cover how a radio station helped listeners break a bad habit. That’s the plans for next week. Until then, thanks for reading. And once again, I welcome feedback – just not in my headphones.