Hooked On Surf

In The Beginning, There Was Dirt...

Let me tell you how I got hooked on surf. I was an atypical suburbanite (or maybe not so atypical) above average intelligence failure in the cookie cutter public school system and white middle class. I was lured by the tribal nature of the rhythm blues of Bo Diddley, the raucous Rockabilly of Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, the gut-punching kick drums of Frank Guida's Norfolk rock 'n' roll via U. S. Bonds, plus the precious few rockin' instros of the late fifties and early sixties recorded by Link Wray and his Ray Men, Jody Reynolds and the Storms, and Johnny and The Hurricanes. I was the kid on my block that made incredibly sculptured custom car models, made my own bicycle suspension system with which I could do almost block long wheelies, and crafted a skate board from my old roller skates and a piece of surfboard shaped plywood.

I began my love affair with radio on a crystal set that my dad helped me build on the kitchen table. He showed me how to use a soldering iron, and how to soup up the crystal set by adding a battery into the circuit. I began by listening to KXRX and KLOK in San Jose, and KGO in San Francisco. I was among the few who listened to KGO when they went Top 40 for a few weeks in the late fifties, using a vote-for-your-favorite-star-and-we'll-play him/her-all-weekend promotion. This backfired of course when a Stanford fraternity stuffed the ballot box with nominations for Enrico Caruso, whom they played for an entire weekend before giving up the ghost. You should have heard the begging on the air by the DJ's for votes for anyone other than Caruso!

Discovering Regional Differences

I inherited our family's obsolete big radio console, and began to listen while I was supposed to be doing my homework. It had a decent tuner and a great big antennae on the back. I was quickly addicted to KYA 1260 in San Francisco, KEWB 910 in Oakland, KOBY (was that in San Mateo?), KKIS 990 in Pittsburg (California), and KLIV 1590 in San Jose. I also often listened to the black stations KDIA 1310 in Oakland and KSAN 1450 in San Francisco, where a fledgling Sly Stone did his legendary show from.

One night I noticed that I could listen to radio stations outside the Bay Area, and that they played records that the local top 40 stations didn't play. First it was the obvious Southern California stations...KFWB 980 and KHJ 930 in Los Angeles, KRLA 1110 in Pasadena, border bandits XERB 1090 and XERF where Wolfman Jack held sway, as well as KMEN in San Bernardino and KAFY 550 in Bakersfield. Then, there were the Central Valley stations KSTN 1420 and KJOY 1280 in Stockton, plus KMAK in Fresno. I also frequented KDON 1460 in Salinas and KMBY 1240 in Monterey.

Soon, I noticed that the later at night it got, the farther away I could listen...WLS 890 in Chicago was my first big discovery, and then there was the coolest of the Canadians CJOC 1220 in Lethbridge, Alberta. Both soon became regular stops on my nightly dial-around. I remember hearing the Checkers "Blue Star" for the first time on CJOC, and to this day, I want a copy of that record!

Surf Beat Filled The Airwaves

One night, I was listening to KFWB, and I heard this monster guitar record called "Surf Beat" by Dick Dale. It was simple, mostly a rhythm, and very powerful! KRLA soon picked it up too. Suddenly, within six months, KSTN, KLIV, KRLA, KFWB, KMAK, KDON, KKIS, KHJ, and KJOY were flooding this new surf sound into me. This stuff oozed raw energy. It had the edge of Link Wray's "Rumble" and "Jack The Ripper", and the most incredible sound. There were no stupid words about Pat Boone's acne love life, and there was this whole escape to a better fun filled life. It was not the white-bread British instro thing that the Shadows did. This was rock n' roll! The guitar was king, and the horns fell back to a support role. Hooray!

My adolescent anger, my fears, my frustrations, all seemed counterpointed by this energetic music. Suddenly, I felt connected.

No matter how many changes surf has gone through, it's always had that connection for me. I even flirted with trying to like the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean to be in with the cool dudes and dudettes, but it was always the real thing that I actually spent money on.

Addicted To Reverb

I was so addicted to the sound, and it was so hard to find in the record stores, that I made a deal with Frank Compoy who owned Record City in the Willow Glenn district of San Jose. The deal was, if he'd buy a surf instrumental, I'd buy it from him sound unheard. Every Saturday morning, I rode my bike for an hour and a half one way from my house in Cupertino to his store. He'd give me a bonus of the KFWB, KEWB, KYA, KHJ, and KRLA surveys he'd get in the mail. Then, I'd ride another half hour to downtown San Jose and stop in at Discorama, the Mexican record store on First street where I was the only white kid in the store. There, I'd sometimes find those wonderful East LA records by Thee Midnighters and Cannibal and the Headhunters, the Sevilles, or Chan Romero. That was my other love then, that and the real R&B before the spit and polish of Motown stole the raw energy right out of it. I loved artists like G. L. Crocket, Roger Collins, U. S. Bonds, and Ray Charles (that live album still RULES).

Once I got my drivers license, I started hanging out with Hugh 'Squeaky' Martin, the overnight jock at KLIV. He'd let me do some segues on air, answer phones, and go through the junk barrel. What's the junk barrel? KLIV had two fifty gallon cardboard barrels they'd fill periodically with the singles they didn't add, or wore out from airplay. That's where I first discovered the Fender Four, the Sonics, Rocky Jenkins' Echo Four, the Torquays, the Preps, the Uniques, the Pretty Things, the Dave Heenan Set, Dave Myers and the Surftones' "Gear", and many other great surf and garage punk unknowns. It would take several hours once a month to go through these barrels, but what a gold mine!

My Radio Listening Habits - AM DIAL - 1962~1966

KAFY 550 Top 40 Bakersfield Surf and American garage supplementing British Invasion and Motown. DJ's moved freely between KAFY and KLIV and KFXM back then. It was kind of a farm club for the big league.
KFXM 590 Top 40 San Bernardino Surf and American garage supplementing British Invasion and Motown. This was the station that John Ravenscroft was on, the station through which he discovered the Misunderstood, taking them to England to become make a name before evolving into Juicy Lucy. ravenscroft changed his name in the UK to John Peel, and the rest, as they say, is history.
KFRC 610 Top 40 San Francisco British Invasion and Motown. Very top forty as everything was changing to psychedelia. They tried really hard.
XETRA 690 All News Tijuana, Mexico Became 69 Gold, an oldies station.
KCBS 740 MOR San Francisco KCBS is the linear descendent of KQW San Jose, which was the very first broadcast station, launched 1909. They changed their call sign to KCBS in 1947.
KGO 810 MOR San Francisco KGO went Billboard top 40 for a short period in the late fifties. They ran a big promotion - send a card in to vote for favorite artist and KGO would play the winning artist's material for an entire weekend. A Stanford fraternity send in thousands of cards for Enrico Caruso, and with very few listeners and even fewer votes for others, they ended up playing Caruso all weekend before abandoning top 40. KGO became number one in the market 25 years ago, and enjoys that position still today, with a 15 share in a 100 station market. They launched hosts like Ronn Owens and Jim Lange (Dating Game).
WLS 890 Top 40 Chicago Billboard plus local. Dick Biondi ruled the airwaves (later worked at KRLA)
KEWB 910 Top 40 Oakland British Invasion and Motown. Crowell-Collier owned, sister to KFWB (LA) and KDWB (Minneapolis), now KNEW. Gary Owens of Laugh In fame, Johnny G (used the initial because of fear of listener prejudices against Hispanic surname Gonzales), and Buck Herring were very cool! Also Don Bowman, Art Nelson, and Casey Kasem hung their hats at KEWB.
KHJ 920 Top 40 Los Angeles Surf, British Invasion, and Motown. This was home to Charlie Tuna among other DJ legends.
KABL 960 Classical Oakland Just for those stressed out occasions.
KFWB 980 Top 40 Los Angeles Surf, American garage, British Invasion, and Motown. DJ's like Gene Weed , B. Mitch Reed, and later Gary Owens ruled! They played a whole lot of surf. Dick Dale had three of the top ten at one point.
KKIS 990 Top 40 Pittsburg, CA American garage, British Invasion, and Motown. Unimaginative, but they did play the Unique's "You Ain't Tuff."
WBZ 1030 Top 40 Boston Billboard
XERB 1090 Top 40 (Wolfman Jack) Mexicali, Mexico American garage, British Invasion, R&B, Pachuko Soul, and Motown. One of several "border" stations licensed in Mexico and broadcasting only North to US markets, XERB was programmed out of LA and featured the legendary Wolfman Jack. He was also heard on XERF and others simulcast from the LA studios.
KRLA 1110 Top 40 Pasadena Surf, American garage, British Invasion, Pachuko Soul, and Motown. Very polished rock radio, launched hosts like Reb Foster, Wink Martindale, Gene Weed, Bill balance, and Roger Christian . They played Thee Midnighters and Cannibal and the Headhunters when no one else would.
KLOK 1200 International San Jose These guys were too fun. With Spanish well covered on other stations, KLOK aimed at other languages. It was amazing how many times I heard their Chinese music programming coming out of cars at McDonalds in Cupertino on Saturday nights.
CJOC 1220 Top 40 Lethbridge, Alberta Billboard, Canadian rock, local. I'm still searching for the Checkers' singles they used to play! "Blue Star" was way cool!
KMBY 1240 Top 40 Monterey American garage, British Invasion, and Motown. Aimed mostly at the top forty, they nonetheless played some great stuff.
KJOY 1250 Top 40 Stockton American garage, British Invasion, R&B, Pachuko Soul, and Motown. Not as cool as KSTN, but this Central Valley rocker had guts in their playlists and spun quite a few local bands.
KYA 1260 Top 60 San Francisco British Invasion, Billboard, and Motown with a local focus (Beau Brummels, Sly Stone, etc.). Tom Donahue came to KYA from Buffalo's WBKW, then went from KYA to found freeform FM at KMPX before taking it to KSAN-FM. Also big influences on KYA were Peter Trip and Bob Mitchell, who came with Donahue from WBKW. Rumors at the time circulated that there were payola problems at WBKW. Donahue and Mitchell founded the Autumn label, who launched the Mojo Men, the Beau Brummels, Sly Stone, Jefferson Airplane, the Great Society, and the Grateful Dead. KYA sported an expansive playlist, with a Swingin' Sixty plus 40 Bubbling Under, and Norman Davis debuted 7 new songs every night, with the most calls determining the survivors to be added to the playlists. KYA also rotated a significant number of Golden gate Greats (oldies), mostly on the grittier side. The original programming service innovator Bill Drake was at KYA before starting what eventually homogenized top forty and killed regional radio. Also here were Peter Trip, Bob Mitchell, and Emperor Bob Hudson.
KAZA 1290 Spanish (daytime) San Jose Spanish Language Top 40. Bill Kingman was here.
KDIA 1310 R&B Oakland R&B and Motown. Old GO (George Oxford), and Rosko, who used to sing self-penned beat poem commercials over instro grooves, and later was at KGFJ in LA. More mainstream black music than KSAN, but very cool!
KEEN 1370 C&W San Jose Billboard Country, rockabilly . In the early days, I fondly recall hearing Johnny Cash (Sun period) first on KEEN.
KMAK 1380 Top 40 Fresno American garage, British Invasion, R&B, Pachuko Soul, and Motown. Misidentified as K-MAKE on the Jim Waller and the Deltas Surfin' Wild LP.
KSTN 1410 Top 40 Stockton Surf, American garage, British Invasion (imports too), R&B, Pachuko Soul, and Motown . I heard the Surfaris' "Wipe Out" first on KSTN. They were playing the original issue of "Surfer Joe" with all five verses. These guys also routinely played import British singles before domestic releases. I still recall the first hearing on Spencer Davis' "I'm A Man" one afternoon. This is also where Jim Doval and the Gauchos and the Merced Bluenotes first caught my attention. These guys ROCKED!
KSAN 1450 R&B San Francisco R&B, British R&B, Motown, Blues. Very inventive for the day. Sly Stone did a great show back then where he mixed the Rolling Stones R&B covers in this gutsy R&B and blues. There was this ADHD guy called Charlie Brown that was very funny. Once while visiting the station, I was introduced to him by the black PD and morning drive DJ, and they thoroughly enjoyed my surprise at his being white. This was the AM counterpart to the FM that made Tom Donahue and freeform the big new deal. It was already in the making here and at KLIV before Donahue launched his famous format at KMPX. This was a magical cauldron of radio innovation.
KDON 1460 Top 40 Salinas American garage, British Invasion, Pachuko Soul, and some Motown. With inspiration from KLIV and KSTN, John Harker and others had a great station that played lots of the now-legendary garage singles.
KLIV 1590 Top 40 San Jose Surf, American garage, British Invasion (imports too), R&B, Pachuko Soul, and Motown, with a local focus (Chocolate Watchband, Syndicate of Sound, Count V). KLIV's Brian Lord managed Count V. KLIV refused to pay for ratings books. Instead, they sponsored lots of listener activities and gave out early window decals in exchange for listeners registering their name and addresses, which they used to demonstrate their audience size to advertisers. They had "Surfin' Safaris" in the summer - listeners met at the KLIV lot in San Jose, then caravanned to the Boardwalk in Santa Cruz, where there would be a battle of the bands.
One year, the battle included the greatest show band on earth, San Jose's Jaguars, the Count V, the Syndicate of Sound, the Chocolate Watchband, the Tikis (became Harper's Bizarre), and the E-Types from Salinas, who won a contract with Ed Cobb. It was quite a show!