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All That Jive Is Gone
by Norman Davis

Placeholder image It was bound to happen sooner or later. Nothing lasts forever in radio. Even Rush Limbaugh will be gone some day--imagine that! So it wasn't a total shock to learn that JIVE RADIO had terminal ennui, but it was sad to see the end of a bold and daring idea.

JIVE RADIO was conceived in desperation by Ben Fong-Torres in 1991. Ben, then the editor of the influential radio industry magazine, The Gavin Report, was once a KSAN Deejay. He had a show on the station back in the days when it was completely free-form, spontaneous, unpredictable and San Francisco's favorite radio station.

When he was asked by Program Director, Kate Ingram, to host a weekly KUSF show, he knew right away that he didn't have the time. So he came up with the idea of a stable of Jocks from the old "JIVE 95"--a slogan used by KSAN in the '70s to identify its place on the dial. It was "JIVE" because KSAN's frequency was actually 94.9. Ingram liked the idea of a show with rotating hosts, reflecting the (non) format of old KSAN, and JIVE RADIO was born.

It wasn't tough to come up with hosts. There were lots of KSAN alumni still in the bay area, and others around the country available on tape. The City Coalition agreed to underwrite 13 weeks of the program and Beverly Wilshire ("The Beaver") hosted the first show on October 6, 1991. Other former KSANers followed: Bonnie Simmons, Richard Gossett, Thom O'Hair, Edward Bear, Bobby Dale, Tony Kilbert, Stephen Capen, Dan Carlisle and most everybody else still around, including me.

I left the bay area in 1989, after finding radio opportunities to be slim and none and mostly none for a DJ used to having his own way on the air. When JIVE RADIO started, I was living in Idaho helping out my parents, who were up in years. I couldn't completely give up radio though, and had wangled a weekly blues show on a Boise station. JIVE RADIO gave me an opportunity to go back to those "thrilling days of yesteryear" and get really weird again on the air, and I gladly accepted the invitation to participate. It was easier to tape the shows and mail them than to commute to San Francisco for the program, so that's what I did.

It was great fun putting those shows together. I reached deep into the dark corners of my vinyl and polycarbonate library, finding and playing rare tracks, outrageous air checks and enigmatic oddities, and mixing them together in psychothematic sets. I figured it was my duty to expose listeners to artists they might not hear otherwise: Timothy Leary, Ken Nordine, Napoleon XIV, Kathi McDonald, Blodwyn Pig, Grimm's Rocking Duck, Gerry Groom, Ron Geesin and others.

{Stefan and Jack Benny
on KSFR before
it became KSAN-FM}
Finding a place to record the shows was always a problem. Some were taped surreptitiously, late at night, at radio stations where I had acquired entry. One station charged me $60 to record a show. Equipment was nearly always marginal. At one station the manager picked up his equipment at local pawn shops, trading it out for commercials. So the turntables were of the "home" variety with no cuing, slow starts, and tone arms that tended to skip when a truck drove by or a plane flew over. Another studio I used had just one CD player and one turntable, so to avoid stopping tape after every track, shows had to be planned alternating CDs and records. This was a challenge but it resulted in a lot of old vinyl being aired that might have been skipped otherwise.

At times, I had no station connection at all and had to resort to other means to record my show. A couple of times, I produced my JIVE hours at home on my old TEAC reel-to-reel. I had a Radio Shack four-channel mixer--you know, the kind kids get for their first band, a portable CD player, a cheap turntable that needed two full rotations to get up to speed, and a microphone. I taped the shows in the attic of my folks' house, which was built in 1901. If you listened carefully, you could hear the cars driving by in the background on the breaks.

Once my TEAC broke down in the middle of a show. I had to record my voice tracks on a cassette for the rest of the show, and then send the remaining records, CDs and a cue sheet to KUSF with instructions. KUSF's crack crew put the show together and pulled it off without a hitch.

On February 16, 1992, KUSF celebrated the 25th anniversary of the founding of KSAN as a free-form station with a 13-hour special. "History Repeats Itself" was the working title, and a large contingent of ex-KSANers came by to play radio and party. The JIVE RADIO tribute was hosted by Thom O'Hair who instructed producer Billie Sharpe to post a sign at the door reading, "Check your baggage at the Door." O'Hair kicked things off at 11 a.m. and was followed by a who's who of ex-jivers. Dusty Street, Raechel Donahue and Glenn Lambert came up from L.A. Norm Winer flew in from Chicago. Others drifted in from their respective hideouts: Terry McGovern, Stefan Ponek, Dave McQueen, Dan Carlisle, Dr. Hip, Budd Stuntt, Travis T. Hipp and Bob McClay. A few of the old gang who couldn't make it in person sent tapes or participated by phone. We heard from Sean Donahue, Phil Charles, Scoop Nisker, The Cosmic Muffin and others.

There was a schedule, but like KSAN's, it was adhered to very loosely if at all. Guests drifted in and out of the studio at random, and most of the time, hung out in the hall, rapping with friends they hadn't seen for years. It was a great reunion and was so well received that another JIVE special was aired a year later on May 21--Tom Donahue's birthday and the anniversary of the actual sign-on of KSAN as a free-form station. Most of the Donahue clan showed up and again, the Jive Radio refugees came down from the mountains and up from their caves to see old friends and talk about the years at KSAN. It was another day of reminiscing and listening to the sounds of the '60s and '70s.

Fong-Torres served as producer for JIVE RADIO for the first year, then turned the job over to Billie Sharpe, ace publicist, who was hired initially to produce the first JIVE RADIO special. Sharpe did an elegant job of keeping things together for the next four years. It wasn't easy to keep a show running smoothly with two dozen or so radio maniacs at the helm, but it went amazingly well. Only once did a scheduled DJ cancel out at the last minute.

{source unknown}
In 1995, the City Coalition ran out of money and stopped underwriting JIVE RADIO. Public Radio programs without underwriting are on shaky ground, but once again, Ben Fong-Torres came to the rescue. He contacted some potential underwriters and persuaded Spinelli Coffee to keep the show percolating for a while. When Spinelli declined to renew and another underwriter could not be found, it was the writing on the wall.

Fong-Torres looks back at the five-plus years of his creation with fondness. "It was a fun thing," he says, "a luxury for those of us who had the time to put together some music and haul it over to USF. For us and our listeners, it was exactly what it was meant to be: a brief return to the days and the spirit of 'freak-freely' radio, as Donahue once called it."

Sharpe says what she'll miss most is being able to tune in at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday for a guaranteed audio adventure. "It was outrageous," she remembers, "so many people coming from different directions, but everybody was doing it for the love of radio--the love of music. It was like being able to listen to the masters."Placeholder image

Ingram, who loved the program and hung in with it for months even with no underwriter, will also miss the show. "I was impressed with the consistent quality of the program and the programmers," she says, "only one no-show in five years--that's remarkable. It was a program run by volunteers, but done professionally. The 25-year reunion party was awesome. KUSF has never had anything like that. It was amazing. We got TV coverage! It was a tribute to just how big and important KSAN was."

Before I got the memo officially announcing the death of JIVE RADIO, I had been thinking about my next show. For some reason--maybe it was Hale-Bopp--II had decided to make the theme, "Apocalypse Now." I thought I would play a lot of end-of-the-world songs and announce it as if it was, "The Last Radio Show." But after getting the memo, I decided that maybe it was good that I hadn't really done my "last show." As Billie said, "maybe the demise of JIVE RADIO means it'll pop up somewhere else." I'm hanging on to my records, CDs and tapes just in case.