They were more than just the kings of the radio dial. They were more than just No. 1.
They were Boss.
More accurately, they were the Boss Jocks, spinning those Boss Hits for an adoring, young and huge Boss Radio audience in Boss Angeles.
Even some of their names had more than a hint of Bossness to them--the Real Don Steele, Humble Harve, Dave Diamond, Sam Riddle, Walt Baby Love, Charlie Tuna.
Back then, the Beatles were fighting for chart space with the Mamas & the Papas and Dylan. Young people were becoming angrier about the Vietnam War and civil rights. Motown was in its glory days. It was a perfect time for rock ‘n’ roll, and a perfect time for KHJ/Boss 30 radio to make history.
Those days live only in memory. But tonight, at least, the Boss is back in town.
About 20 disc jockeys from the KHJ Boss Radio era are scheduled to gather at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Century City for a 25th anniversary reunion gala. The occasion marks the opening night of the annual Radio and Records trade magazine convention.
Among some of the other well-known jocks expected to attend are Shadoe Stevens, Johnny Williams, Charlie Van Dyke, Roger Christian and Gary Mack.
More than just a time for memories and toasts, the sold-out event will pay tribute to the fast-paced format of KHJ, which had a lasting influence on rock radio--much to the chagrin of radio fans who would like more variety and less rigidity in radio programming.
The KHJ format was distinguished by fast-talking jocks, a limited amount of commercials, a cappella jingles by the Johnny Mann Singers, a Top 30 playlist instead of a Top 40, and the promise of “much more music.” Groups such as the Byrds and Sonny and Cher would show up at the Melrose Avenue studio, begging the jocks to play their records.
The success of the station even spilled over onto television, with dance shows such as “Groovy” and “9th Street West” featuring teens dancing to the Doors and Steppenwolf. Riddle, Steele and Robert W. Morgan became popular video personalities as well as audio stars.
“It was the most influential station in America,” said Morgan, 48, who is now the morning personality on KMPC-AM (710) in Los Angeles. “There was a lot of circus elements put into the format, but it was all tempered with discipline.
“I had no idea it would have this long-term impact. We were too busy doing it to deal with the historical significance of it all.”
At the time that KHJ introduced its accelerated format in May, 1965, the 5,000-watt, RKO-owned station attracted less than 2% of the Los Angeles radio audience. But by October of the same year, the station was ranked No. 1, with more than 15% of the radio audience.
The station was the brainchild of programming consultant Bill Drake and program director Ron Jacobs. Morgan praised Jacobs for coming up with “100 ideas a day” and Drake for “picking out the two best.”
During an interview earlier this week, Drake, who eventually became the head of Drake-Chenault, a national radio programming and consulting firm, still exhibited pride in his creation.
“We cleaned up AM radio,” he said. “We put everything in its place. It was radio that was designed for the listener. Before us, disc jockeys would just ramble on incessantly.”
On KHJ, everything was loosely mapped out. Commercials and songs were specifically timed and programmed, and the jocks were trained to keep their chatter to a minimum.
“We got rid of the diarrhea of the mouth,” said Humble Harve, who is now at KRLA-AM (1110). “We trimmed the fat off the meat, so you only heard the meat.”
“There was an electricity to working at KHJ,” said Riddle, 50, who is now the producer of the successful “Star Search” television show. He said tonight’s gathering would be similar to a high school reunion.
He added, “It’s going to be strange, because I really haven’t thought about radio since 1971,” when he left KHJ to pursue a career in television. “But it’s the reason why I am where I am today.”
The other jocks are in other places today, although many of them are still in broadcasting. Tuna and Steele are disc jockeys on KODJ-FM (93.1). Diamond is chairman of the communications department at Morningside College in Ohio.
KHJ no longer exists. The Boss Radio format floundered in the 1970s, and the station was unable to regain its popularity despite half a dozen format changes. The station became KRTH-AM (930) in 1986, with an oldies format.
Although some get together occasionally, the jocks do not socialize often. Before they posed together Monday for a special pre-ceremony picture, Morgan and Riddle had not seen each other in 20 years, even though they work only a few blocks from each other.
The jocks will be allowed during the program to share their own special memories of KHJ. Morgan recalled one bizarre experience when he and Mama Cass delivered puppies to contest winners out in the San Fernando Valley.
“It was 110 degrees, we were in this limo and all these puppies were in the car while Mama Cass ate cheeseburgers,” he said.