Our AM station had a 24-hour open-door policy for the local musicians in an effort to compete with the new FM format of our competitor, KMPX. I came to expect musicians like the Lovin' Spoonful, the Beau Brummels, and other up-and-coming groups joining us in the studio, or to see members of the Grateful Dead fan club hanging out in the lobby.
KYA's air team during the summer of 1966 included Gene
Another big change for me came in '67 when Churchill sold KYA to AVCO Broadcasting. Personnel changes would soon follow. Tony Bigg joined the on-air staff, doing nights. Tony later changed his name to Tony Pigg and later became Regis Philbin's TV announcer. Ed Hider came on board from New York. Mike Cleary (who recently retired with a brilliant radio career resume as one of the top morning men), Tom Campbell, Gary Schaefer, and Chris Edwards rounded out the new team. It was almost a complete personnel change. Gene "The Emperor" Nelson, and yours truly, the "Baron of the Bay," were the only talent they kept after the ownership change.
Our new KYA general manager, Howard Kester, was noticeably different from the other radio staff. Many of us at the time wondered what Kester had done — what his background had been — to earn this plum job at KYA. Some of us still wonder. He had to have done something good to become the new KYA boss. After KYA, he went on to be the executive director of the Northern California Broadcasters Association. He passed away in 1989.
Kester was an immaculate dresser, but he had two annoying features: a constant blink and a nose sniffle. He'd say, "Hi, Johnny," followed by a blink and a sniff. I'd look at this guy and want to laugh.
Kester added "Program Director" to my duties. Immediately, I disliked the pressure of being the KYA PD. I tried to refuse the job, but he was a big imposing figure and the boss.
When I moved to mornings, Kester would often call first thing at 6:05 a.m.
"KYA," I'd answer.
"Who is this?"
"It's Johnny Holliday."
"Yes, Johnny, this is Howard (sniff). I'd like to talk with you when I come in this morning. I have a few ideas."
"Sure, Howard, no problem."
Then I'd get another call at 6:20.
Howard would ask, "Who is this?"
"It's still me. It's Johnny Holliday."
These repeated calls would go on until my shift ended. Kester would usually have an urgent need to read me something he'd written, or share a contest idea. His mind was always running — just like his nose.
Ed Hider followed Gene Nelson in the mornings. Hider used scores of voice tracks and sound effects. A typical Hider bit was a loud voice repeating, "I hate washing dishes! I hate washing dishes!" His act was just wild and crazy on the air from nine until noon. I think Ed guessed that Kester didn't like some of his looseness, so Ed would talk back to the voices sometimes just to drive Howard nuts.
Kester finally told me to fire Ed — while Hider was on the air. I pleaded, "Howard, Ed Hider is a wonderful, talented personality. You don't want to get rid of him."
"I don't like the things he's doing," said Kester. "I want him fired now." I refused to do it.
After the shift, Ed Hider and Howard Kester parted company, and that firing — by Kester — was one of the biggest mistakes KYA ever made.
Really, it was an AVCO decision to fire Hider, since AVCO had hired Kester in the first place. AVCO had purchased stations in Cincinnati, San Antonio, Dayton, Columbus, and even my next home, WWDC-AM, in Washington, D.C.
In fairness, I am sure that Kester felt the strain of running a station that was losing its dominance. KYA suddenly had competition after KFRC and KMPX climbed on the scene. Kester's responsibility was to insure that KYA keep up with the times, which were a' changin'.
The music scene was fluid and moving unpredictably — especially after the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" was released in the 1967 "Summer of Love." To be honest, I didn't think much of "Sgt. Pepper's" when it hit. I was so much into Top 40, and the songs were so different that I remember thinking it was weird. I guess I was wrong.
Dick Starr, brought in from WFUN/Miami, followed Johnny Holliday as program director of KYA. Starr passed away in 1982 at age 41 of cancer.
After holding down the programming job for about a year, I finally — and firmly — told Kester I didn't want to do it anymore. I was much better on the air and had problems disciplining guys I was working with, all friends of mine. I really didn't have the energy or disposition to be a strict PD.
So Dick Starr was brought in from Miami as the new program director. I went back to focusing on my radio show.
At KYA, Clint had commanded everything, but he also listened to us. He cared about what his employees thought and felt. I'm sure his religious upbringing gave him an added understanding of how best to deal with people, since his father had been a minister in Buffalo. At one time Clint's dad owned almost all the radio stations up there.
Kester, however, annoyed us all.
For instance, he nagged us to let him play softball with the Oneders. We reluctantly agreed. The first game out, he slid into base with such force that he almost broke the third baseman's leg. This was unnecessary. It was a public relations event, for God's sake, and he was out there getting everyone all riled up. The fans were ready to charge the field and throw things at our general manager.
He was constantly on us — picking and pushing. You can't do that and expect to get a good performance out of your talent. I really blame Kester's clueless management style for much of why KYA eventually went down the tubes in ratings.
On a positive note, Ed Hider and I became friends. I was proud to watch him go on to become a top comedy writer for folks like Cindy Williams, Soupy Sales, and Joan Rivers. He's a funny, funny man and has done very well for himself.
Ed was with me when KYA brought the Beatles to Candlestick Park in 1966. the group's last tour and concert. The tickets cost $5, $6 and $7, available by mail from KYA, No. 1 Nob Hill Circle, San Francisco.
I vividly remember cutting the promo spots about how the "Beatles' new sound system" would make sure everybody heard the Fab Four. (It didn't.)
But it wasn't until my co-author Steve Moore faxed me a San Francisco Chronicle article written by my friend, Ben Fong-Torres, listing me as an emcee that I remembered taking part in the show.
Wow. How could I forget that? It would be the Beatles' last concert on their last tour, although nobody knew that then. It still baffles me that I initially had such a hard time remembering the concert. Ed Hider recalls, "Oh yeah, you were there all right." Luckily the memories have returned in time for this chapter.
Gene Nelson and I came out on stage and exchanged a few wisecracks. I announced the first act, The Remains. (I wonder where they are these days.) They kicked off the evening with "Hang On Sloopy." Bobby "Sunny" Hebb was next in line and dedicated "I Left My Heart In San Francisco" to Joan Baez, who was there with her sisters, Pauline and Mimi.
The Cyrkle and the Ronettes, minus Ronnie Spector, did brief sets before the moment everyone was waiting for erupted. It was Gene who actually announced the Beatles, and they calmly walked from the dugout, in double-breasted Edwardian suits, and launched into "She's A Woman." I remember that George Harrison wore white socks.
Of course, fans were there more to see the Beatles than listen. Fong-Torres reported, "The San Francisco show was a relative flop for the group ... 25,000 seats sold out of a possible 30,000 ... and a money-loser for its promoters." "The wind was so strong that it blew the sound towards the East Bay," Gene recalls.
Knowing the way I operate, the reason the memory of this Beatles concert was diminished is because Gene was the king of the station, or at least he thought he was. I was probably disappointed that he — and not I — had been selected to lead the Beatles introduction. I was most likely wishing I were playing in a Oneders game rather than being stuck playing second banana on a windy night in friggin' Candlestick Park. So I blocked it all out.
Whenever I hear from a listener who remembers me at that last Beatles concert, I find I've made a new "best friend" for life. Ed Hider tells me that the Beatles escaped the park that night in an armored car with a police escort. I can almost remember that.
(c) 2002. Johnny Holliday and Stephen Moore