KGGO 94.9 Mhz
From Top 40 to AOR in 4 days
by Dick Downes
Some of this is hazy, but mostly accurate. Paul Drew was hired in 1977 to consult KGGO's programming and I was Paul's first hire as PD. Paul's specialty was installing "Bill Drake" style formats at radio stations that had been personality oriented. This meant cutting the clutter and DJ chatter and following a very strict "format clock" and music rotation. The new songs to be added were decided for me (at first) by Dave Sholin out of the San Francisco station, but I designed the clock and the music rotation system. There were no computers back then. We used a detailed color code for the music (using round peel 'n' stick labels) and categorized songs by popularity, chart position and length of time on the playlist - oldies had differing levels of color codes than "currents." Using the chart system and the clock, the jock would write down the time a song was last played and every other song in the category had to be played before it could repeat. Those were the basics. It required that you really pay attention, but the system ensured that the rotation was as duplication-free as possible.
My job was to beat KMGK. The two stations played virtually the same music but KMGK had a head start, bigger budget, more established DJs and a pretty strong grip on the market. KGGO was owned by Stoner Broadcasting Systems and the day-to-day operations of the group were handled by Glenn Bell. Jeff Trumper and Calvin (can't remember his last name) ran KGGO. It's very popular sister, country KSO, was under separate management but answered to Glenn. Jeff was my rabbi locally, while I took specific direction from Drew - mostly by cryptic phone calls and faxes. He only visited the market once (and that's another story).
I hired Bob Valentine for mornings. His real name was Drew (his last name excapes me) and he hated his air name. Imagine my surprise to hear him after all these years when I discovered your site! I also hired Jon Anthony and I did 10A-12N. Other shifts were filled, but I can't remember all the names without a trip to the attic and I just don't have time for that right now.
In the summer of '77, Trumper and I attended "The Great American Raft Race" in Atlanta at the invitation of the famous (and very hospitable) Jerry Blum of WQXI, Atlanta's monster Top-40 station. Then we went back to Des Moines and planned it as our major spring promotion for '78.
From just about the first day I arrived, I wondered why the station didn't switch formats to Album Oriented Rock (AOR). Now that I've been in sales a while I realize that they were scared to lose all their advertisers to "that hippie music." KMGK was already established and there was only one AOR outlet in town, an AM with a bad signal and no structure (I think it was KCBC). Though I wanted to remain loyal to Paul - he'd gotten me the job after all, I just knew in my heart that we should switch and I would hammer Calvin and Jeff on this every chance I got.
The ratings would have been released sometime around July 13, for Spring 1978. That was a Thursday. We'd lost by 1/2 a point to KMGK. As I recall we had a 5.5, they had a 6.0. Under the circumstances that was pretty damn good in the space of one "book," but management finally started seeing things my way with regard to a format change.
That sounds pretty specious, I'm sure it was foremost in their heads as well, but they didn't discuss it with me, those decisions were above my pay grade. However, I had been on them about a switch for months. So without fanfare, they brought me into Glenn's office on Friday and said, "Go for it."
I was thrilled and said, "Great, when can we launch?" expecting an August 1 date. "Have it on the air by next Wednesday." Oh Shit! I handled the programming part. Jeff the sales details (by then we'd become pretty good friends) and I'm pretty sure Calvin was gone at that point.
Fortunately I had an extensive album collection (as that was my music of choice, not Top-40), so did a few of the other jocks. We started calling record labels, swearing them to secrecy and asking them to prepare "Care Packages" for us. They were thrilled to have a new outlet for the format and complied. Plus, we started bringing albums from home in Friday night, inventoried everything so we knew what we had to work with. Marked all the albums so we knew who owned them and started brainstorming.
Paul Drew's contract had been cancelled (though we kept in touch over the years and remained friendly). We worked all weekend on the new format while continuing to air the old format. We had to place new color dots, figure out a rotation, write new liner cards, positioning slogans, determine from the trade magazines what albums (and cuts) were getting the most airplay, completely change the jocks' approach and a million other details - all in 4-1/2 days!
Most all of the jocks would make the transition without much trouble - at least at first. One notable exception was Jon Anthony. He was a very high-energy guy and, though he was not a happy camper at the time, I think he realized he wasn't meant for the format - and he went on to do great things.
I've tried unsuccessfully to get the archived Des Moines Register article from July 20, 1978 for this article, because we were so crazed getting everything ready, I don't remember a lot of that week. I know we were stealth-promoting a change and launched on time as "KGGO, The Album Station," (or something similar) but it's really a blur.
Guys who had been fast-paced, loud, Top-40 DJs the previous week were now mellowed-out musicologists. I'm sure it sounded weird to the listeners and we took some good-natured ribbing, but all things considered, the station sounded good. I knew we still had a lot of work to do, but I was happy with what we'd accomplished in a short time and very grateful to all who helped make it happen.
Des Moines was one of the last top-75 cities to get an AOR station, so Glenn and Jeff were getting bombarded by consultants who specialized in the format. These guys had dozens of stations under their belt with established systems and success stories. I had ten years as a Top-40 guy and it's what I was known for - I didn't stand a chance.
After a month or so, Jeff brought me in his office and told me, "This is the hardest thing I've ever had to do." I immediately realized what was going on and said something wise-ass, like "Oh, are you the one getting fired?"
After a long weekend home with the wife, looking at the house with the mortgage and the kid in the yard, I went back the following Monday and asked humbly if there were any openings in sales. I was gratified that the answer was, "Sure Dick, we like you a lot, just felt we needed an expert to program the new format."
So I went into sales at KSO (working in sales at KGGO would have been too humiliating), then followed Jeff Trumper to St. Louis a few months later when he became the new GSM for Doubleday's launch of KWK. I was the first salesman on board, had my pick of the best clients and we debuted with a 9 share, then got an 11 in the next book. That was quite a ride!
I made a lot of money, learned a lot, developed the base for a successful management career and never looked back nor really missed programming that much. I was always grateful to all the folks at Stoner for an interesting cap to my programming career. I am currently president/CEO of CPM Group, a company that executes direct marketing and publishing projects for radio stations and other businesses: cpmgroupinc(dot)com
Any errors or omissions are mine and not the responsibility of the gentlemen who run this website. If anyone can smooth out some of the rough edges, please write the hosts and they can get in touch with me for any corrections. For those not mentioned who were an integral part of the birth of KGGO as an AOR, my apologies, it was long time ago and a whirlwind.
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