Despite only being in existence for less than eight years, Oakland’s KEWB — which evolved from the pioneering Oakland Tribune station KLX and later became KNEW — made a lasting impact on Bay Area listeners through its innovative Top 40 programming, sponsorship of local events, and a parade of talent that was hard to beat.
From June 8, 1959, when KLX became KEWB, until September 1966, when KEWB became KNEW, fans of Color Radio Channel 91 were able to tune in some of the most notable voices in the history of radio — Top 40 or otherwise — including Gary Owens, Casey Kasem, Don MacKinnon, K.O. Beachin (real name: Bob Elliott, later known as K.O. Bayley on KFRC), Bobby Dale, Robert W. Morgan, Ron Lyons, Chris Borden, Don Bowman, Ken Knox, Ron Reynolds, Ted Randal, Michael Jackson (the talk show host, known as Michael Scotland at KYA) and the one and only Real Don Steele.
Throw in the innovative programming skills of Chuck Blore, and the recipe for success was complete.
KEWB came into being during the Summer of 1959 after Crowell-Collier Publishing purchased KLX (910 kilocycles on the AM dial) for $750,000 from its original owners, the Tribune Publishing Company of Oakland, which had founded the station thirty-seven years earlier.
The Oakland Tribune, owned by the Knowland family since 1915, was one of countless newspapers across the United States that saw the potential benefits of radio in the dawning days of commercial broadcasting, and debuted 250-watt KLX on May 3, 1922, from the landmark Tribune Tower at Thirteenth and Franklin streets.
Through its familial relationship with the Tribune, KLX became a popular and influential voice on the Bay Area airwaves, increasing its transmitter power incrementally over the years to 5,000 watts.
The station moved out of the Tribune Tower — where it had occupied the 19th, 20th and 21st floors at the top of the venerable edifice — to new studios and offices in the Bermuda Building on Franklin Street in Oakland in the latter part of 1956.
This move was a prelude to the sale to Crowell-Collier, a company that was best known for publishing Collier’s, a weekly magazine that once enjoyed circulation levels on a par with its main competitor, the Saturday Evening Post. However, by the 1950s, Collier’s had begun to fade; it ceased publication on December 16, 1956, as its owner ventured into the world of broadcasting. Eventually, Crowell-Collier would own three historic Top 40 stations: KFWB/Los Angeles, KDWB/Minneapolis and KEWB/Oakland-San Francisco, each of which received the distinctive programming imprint of Chuck Blore.
Crowell-Collier sold KEWB to Metromedia Radio in April 1966 for nearly 2.5-million dollars. The station became KNEW in September of that year under its new owners.
Some representative lineups for KEWB over the years, based on information from the station’s music surveys, included:
September 1959 — Gary Owens (6 to 9 a.m.), Ted Randal (9 a.m. to noon), Frank Bell (noon to 3 p.m.), Mark Foster (3 to 7 p.m.), Buck Herring (7 p.m. to midnight), Bill Wood (midnight to 6 a.m.).
January 1960 — Gary Owens (6 to 9 a.m.), Ted Randal (9 a.m. to noon), Frank Bell (noon to 3 p.m.), Mark Foster (3 to 6 p.m.), Buck Herring (6 to 9 p.m.), Bill Wood (9 p.m. to midnight), Bob Dunn (midnight to 6 a.m.), Bill Enis (Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.).
September 1961 — Don MacKinnon (6 to 9 a.m.), Chris Borden (9 a.m. to noon), Ken Knox (noon to 3 p.m.), Don Bowman (3 to 6 p.m.), Buck Herring (6 to 9 p.m.), Casey Kasem (9 p.m. to midnight), Michael Jackson (midnight to 6 a.m.).
December 1963 — Honest John Trotter (5:30 to 9 a.m.), Scott Bridges (9 a.m. to 1 p.m.), Art Nelson (1 to 4 p.m.), Bobby Dale (4 to 8 p.m.), Ron Lyons (8 p.m. to midnight), Carr Pecknold (midnight to 5:30 a.m.), Perry Roberts (Saturday 3 to 8 p.m., Sunday 7 p.m. to 1 a.m.).
October 1964 — Scott Bridges, Jim Tharp, Pete Bunny, Art Nelson, Don Steele, [Robert W.] Morgan, Perry Roberts. (Airtimes not noted.)
December 1964 — [Robert W.] Morgan (6 to 10 a.m.), Art Nelson (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.), Don Steele (3 to 7 p.m.), K.O. Beachin (7 p.m. to midnight), Ron Dunn (midnight to 6 a.m.).
Gary Owens Don MacKinnon Robert W. Morgan Ron Reynolds
— Exhibit includes text and audio. — Audio exhibit only. — Jingles only.
1959 KLX Becomes KEWB (Monday, June 8, 1959; 14 minutes) JZ
This rare and interesting recording by Jim Zahn captures a defining moment in local radio history: the departure of the pioneering Oakland station, KLX, after nearly four decades of ownership by the Tribune, and the launch of Top 40 KEWB in its place. The broadcast begins with “stunting” by KLX, consisting mostly of the recitation of listeners’ names and occasional announcements of what is to come. Finally, KEWB arrives with a message by Crowell-Collier Broadcasting president Robert M. Purcell, followed shortly by the station’s raucous new star, Gary Owens.
KEWB PAMS “Color Radio” Jingles, Circa 1959 (5 minutes):
Gary Owens on KEWB, September 29, 1959 (12 minutes):
Buck Herring on KEWB, 1959-1960 Composite (1 minute): DB
An instrumental theme built around the six notes of the three Crowell-Collier stations’ call letters — KFWB (Los Angeles), KDWB (Minneapolis) and KEWB (Oakland-San Francisco), written by jingle gods Bob Sande and Larry Greene. The theme, entitled “Image Part I” and performed by Hank Levine & Orchestra, was released as a single (ABC-Paramount #10256) and charted for one week only on the Billboard Hot 100, showing up at #98 on October 9, 1961. It was played regularly, often in the evening hours, on the stations through 1963. (For the complete exhibit featuring this audio clip, please click here.)
The great Casey Kasem, not quite 30 years old here, presides over his evening program on “Easy To Remember” KEWB. Notable are Casey’s references to minutiae, such as band member’s names, later an essential element in his “American Top 40” broadcasts. A native of Detroit, Casey had been at KYA prior to joining KEWB, and would shortly move on to KRLA in Los Angeles. John Hamlett, who provided the recording to the museum in 2009, noted “I recorded the original on a reel-to-reel Wollensak by laying the mic(s) on a pillow next to my portable radio speaker. Then the tapes were stored away and traveled around the country with me for the next 45 years untouched. When I found them last year I transferred the recordings to my PC (using another reel-to-reel Sony which I bought in ’65 in Japan) and they came out pretty good.”
— Exhibit includes text and audio. — Audio presentation only.
— Edited broadcast. — Jingles only (no program content).
DB — Courtesy of David Billeci.
BAR — Courtesy of Barry Salberg.
FK — Courtesy of Fred Krock; compilation by Norm Howard.
JH — Courtesy of John Hamlett.
JZ — Courtesy of James Zahn.
RL — Courtesy of Ron Lyons.