One of the most talented jocks in the city was Sylvester Stewart, also known as "Sly Stone," working at KSOL (K-Soul") a 1000 watts day/250 watts night station. KSOL programmed to the city's black audience. I'd listen to Sly with guests like Billy Preston who'd drop by and jam with him on the air. Sly had a great set of pipes and a soothing radio style. It was Sly's idea to add tunes by the Beatles and Bob Dylan to the KSOL play list.
After I became friendly with him, we cooked up an idea to put a television show together. Sly would be the "black guy" and I'd be the "white guy," and we'd call our show "Salt and Pepper."
We met at the Mark Hopkins coffee shop on afternoon to brainstorm the plan. Sly was in his flamboyant hippie clothes and we were both aware of the heads turning as we entered the hotel shop. We got a kick out of guessing what other people might have thought we were doing together.
"Salt and Pepper" would be a variety show with audience participation and guest musicians from the Bay Area. I think Sly was looking to create a show that would be equally popular with black and white audiences. The show never got off the ground, but we had fun dreaming it up.
Sly was a compelling DJ and a really good guy. Although he later got involved with drugs, he was pretty sharp when I knew him. Sly produced Bobby
Freeman's hit "C'mon and Swim" and later songs by local bands, the Beau Brummels and the Mojo Men. By February of 1967, he was performing locally with his own group, The Family Stone. A benefit show
at Bill Graham's Fillmore for the Council for Civic Unity was one of their first gigs, but it took only a year before "Dance to the Music" was a Top 10 single in the USA. By 1969, Sly and the Family
Stone was world famous.
Every year, Bill Gavin would name his Radiomen of the Year awards. I had been an honorable mention since 1962 against folks like B. Mitchel Reed, Dan Ingram, Joe Niagara, and The Real Don Steele. I was absolutely blown away when Gavin named me as America's Number One Top 40 DJ in 1965. In no way did I think I was in the same league as my competitors for that honor.
Sometimes I've joked, "What a coincidence! Both Gavin and I lived in San Francisco, and Bill's daughters babysat for my young girls." However, Gavin's credentials and integrity were impeccable and he played no favorites. Nobody could convince or sway him to do anything that he didn't want to do. Clare's reaction to my winning this award was sort of "Big deal; when is your next basketball game?"
During my four years at KYA, we experienced a fundamental, historic change in radio programming. I had started in Top 40 AM personality radio, and next came "flower power" music, the underground movement of the newly emerging FM format, pioneered by Tom Donahue at station KMPX. (Donahue had worked at Washington D.C.'s WINX in the very early '60s.)
San Francisco quickly became the heart of the new hippie music movement in America. Local promoter Bill Graham took over managing the Carousel Ballroom, renaming it the Fillmore West. Neighborhood bands like Sopwith Camel, Blue Cheer, Moby Grape, Jook Savages, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and the Warlocks played their mix of pop and blues, there and throughout the city. The Warlocks changed their name to The Grateful Dead and slowly began to build a devout following.
As the FM format began to attract listeners, KYA tried to adapt. Our new format became less structured. We had more freedom to try new things. The spirit was to talk more and express our personalities. The regimentation that I had experienced in Cleveland and New York eventually evaporated at KYA.
Billboard Magazine profiled my own changing approach to radio programming on July 29, 1967:
KYA Plays List Flexible Way
San Francisco — There has long been friction between two schools of thought in programming a rock and roll station — on one side the program director with a playlist of records shorter than a miniskirt, on the other the program director who stretches his playlist like last summer's fishing story. Johnny Holliday is one of those program directors who can't resist playing a good record. The playlist of (San Francisco's) KYA expands as the occasion demands...
Holliday believes there are other ways you can knock off a tight playlist station. 'It's a wonder stations don't get wise in the ways you can knock off a screaming tight playlist operation. This can be done through creative radio. I think the day of the screamer is gone. You have to be more creative as a personality today... you have to relate to the audience; deejays cannot merely play the music, saying the same things..."
KYA has been able to air 10 to 12 records exclusively and Holliday feels it lends excitement to Hot 100 format radio by playing potential hits first. On this, he'll listen to the advice of his deejays; it was Tony Bigg who discovered "Oogum Boogum" and brought it to Holliday's attention.
Does anyone remember "Oogum Boogum"?