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The San Francisco Sound
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“The Station that Changed the World”


Rock music on the radio? As late as the mid-1960s, this concept was foreign to most San Franciscans as radio was dominated by Top 40.


One of the stations was KYA and featured the booming bass voice of “Big Daddy” Tom Donahue. No stranger to rock and roll, Donahue had started a record label recording several Bay area bands and had a staff producer by the name of Sly Stone. Donahue was also a concert promoter and produced the last public appearance of The Beatles in 1966 at Candlestick Park.


In 1967, Donahue wrote an article in Rolling Stone titled  “AM Radio is Dead and its Rotting Corpse is Stinking Up the Airwaves”. For years he had been thinking about a completely different style of radio and that year began broadcasting four hours of rock a day on KMPX, a small FM station known for its foreign language programming. It proved to be an immediate success and within two months, KMPX was a full time Rock ’n’ Roll station. It is considered to be America's first alternative "free-form" radio station.


The new format cultivated a large audience in only a few months, which was not lost on the station’s owner who realized he could turn a greater profit with more commercials and thus instituted strict guidelines on music and DJ air times. In a “power to the jock” move, Donahue and the staff walked off the job and migrated to a classical music station, where along with management they reshaped it into San Francisco’s rock station KSAN.


It was total “Free Form” radio. DJs on the new progressive FM station had almost total freedom to play whatever they wanted to. Listeners were hearing albums they had never heard on the radio, which until that time had only played the three minute single. Fourteen minute songs and whole album sides were common. The DJs also personified the mellow and often stoned attitudes of their listeners.


This one move introduced progressive radio to the U.S. It became known as “The Golden Age of Underground Radio”. It was somewhat short lived, however, lasting for 13 years. In 1980 Donahue’s creation, "free form revolutionary radio," was laid to rest. KSAN’s owners,

having had their fill of the long-haired rockers, thought they could make more money playing country music.

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