What did 101 KLOL sound like in 1979?
In November of 1979, the Iran hostage crisis started, Ronald Reagan announced his candidacy for US President and the Houston Astros signed Nolan Ryan to record 4 year $4.5 million contract according to onthisday.com.
In the course of working on my 101 KLOL documentary, I ran into former DJ Greg Thomas who worked mid-days and afternoons on Houston’s legendary rock station back in November of 1979.
This was in the time that KLOL was transitioning from being a progressive rock station into a more formatted Album-Oriented Rock (AOR) station. Imagine the hippie version of the station giving way to the rocking period.
In fact, consultant Ed Shane had just come up with the idea and unleashed the KLOL Rock N’ Roll Army on the world.
Thomas was kind enough to provide me with around an hour and a half air check he recorded during his shift in this time period. One thing that stuck out to me, was back then, there was hardly any station imaging or IDs unless the DJs said it (scroll down to listen to the recording).
“We didn’t use pre-produced promos and liners back then like stations do now,” Thomas told rock101movie.com. “The reason goes back to the early free-form days, when AOR stations were the ‘anti-Top 40’ stations. Anything that smacked of Top 40 or commercialism, like station hype and talking over the beginning of songs, was avoided. A pre-produced liner or promo would have fallen into that category.”
Immediately I had lots of questions for Thomas. He graciously agreed to answer them.
Mike McGuff: What year did you start at KLOL? How old were you at the time? Where had you worked before?
Greg Thomas: I started in August of 1979. I was 25. Previously, I was on the original air staff at KLBJ-FM/Austin from 1973-1976 (a station which still has a rock format,) and Top 40 KNOW-AM from 1977 to 1979. In an odd turn of events, Ed Shane of Shane Media was consulting both KNOW and KLOL at the time, and he recommended me for the position. I probably never would have gotten in there without it.
MM: You teased two Rock and Roll Army events, from what I understand, this was the very beginning of the army?
GT: Yes. This was the very beginning. We only had paper Rock n Roll Army cards at the time. The plastic ones came later, but I can’t remember exactly when. It was while I was still there, though. The original “leader” of the Rock n Roll Army was General Gene Austin. He was replaced by Col. St. James, but I can’t remember if Gene left or got canned. Once the Colonel was on the air, we started the listener wall, where listeners would send their pictures to the station. Then one day the Col. got the idea to ask for nude photos, and people actually sent them in! Most were embarrassing; some of them may have left me scarred for life. That went on for quite a while, but I think management eventually put a stop to it. The Colonel St. James (Joe Sayre) at Cypress Radio could tell you more about that (and he will in the documentary).
MM: In the course of researching for my 101 KLOL documentary, I heard this was a tough time for KLOL as it was transitioning from progressive to AOR. What are your thoughts on this?
GT: It may have been tough before I got there, but my time there wasn’t tough time at all. At least not from an on-air perspective. We drove KILT-FM out of the format and they went Country. Sales may have been down, but I wouldn’t have known about that. When I arrived in 1979, the collective mind of the air staff (which is something you don’t see nowadays,) understood that the days of playing anything you wanted to, no matter how obscure, were over. By 1979, we had a large binder with the titles and artists we could play in it. Jocks still had a lot of freedom when I started there in 1979, and could play some songs/artists and ignore others. It was like you could do anything you wanted inside the fence, but you had to stay inside the fence.
When I was interviewing for the position, the PD, Paul Riann (Harbison,) put me on the air for an hour on a Saturday morning to see what my show would sound like and if I “got” what they were all about. In 1979, it was important that the air staff understood what the station was about so they could make the right musical choices. Later, Chris Miller became PD (in either 1980 or 1981, I can’t remember.) He came from KZAP, a very successful Lee Abrams Superstars station in Sacramento, and essentially instituted a Superstars format there, with more emphasis on popular music and none of the tasty but obscure stuff. With that format, we had a list of categories that we had to play, in order, and could select the songs from a recipe box with all the songs in the various categories in it. To my knowledge, it was the first time KLOL had a format.
It was also around 1980 or 1981 that KLOL took on what was called a “Modal” rock format. Basically, it was all the loud, hard songs….Foreigner, AC/DC, ZZ Top, Journey, Led Zepplin, Scorpions, Van Halen, etc. etc. If I remember right, most of the Beatles songs were pulled because they didn’t rock hard enough.
Toward the end of my time at KLOL, I transitioned from middays to research director, and only worked a weekend shift. Since I had a marketing degree from UT/Austin, I really enjoyed the job, but they let me go to replace me with John Sebastian, a nationally-recognized market research guru. KLOL wanted to hire him so KRBE couldn’t have him. No hard feelings there. If it had been my decision, I would have done the same thing.
I never worked with Dennis (Crash) Collins. He was there before my time. He came by a couple of times when I was at KLOL. I remember him being a very nice guy. And his voice sounded like that all the time, too, it wasn’t put on.
MM: After KLOL, where did you work? How did you eventually get into voice over?
GT: After KLOL, I had a very short lived (3 weeks) career in radio sales at KYND, the easy listening music station. I got fired because I was a single dad and had to stay home with my son while he got over strep throat. At that point, I’d had a belly full of major market radio, swore I’d never do it again, and moved back to San Angelo to go into the oil investments business with my dad.
But later, around 1984, the FCC opened a new 100,000 watt FM frequency in San Angelo. I thought if I could build one from the ground up instead of paying some highly inflated multiple of cash flow, it would be a smart investment, and I could turn a profit on the sale. So I built a new station from the ground up.
You want to know how to make a million dollars in radio?
Start with 2 million.
The station (KELI-FM, 98.7) was a ratings success, but an economic dud. I ended up losing money on the sale. I put it on the air December 7, 1986, and sold it in 1999. It’s been through multiple owners and format changes since that time, and is now owned by a group out of New York City.
I got into voice-over 8 years ago because I was looking for a way out of my job at the time. I was an escalations phone rep for the credit card division of Citibank in Jacksonville, FL. Imagine working in the complaint department for a credit card company. I moved to that department just about the time the banking crisis hit in 2008 (or whenever it was,). I was dealing with a LOT of very angry people. It was horribly stressful and I was looking for a way out. I wasn’t able to take voice-over full time, though, until the end of last month, when Citi let me and about 30 other people go who did the same job I did.
MM: Anything else you want to add?
GT: Radio used to be about half business and half art. Now, it’s all business and no art. With a maximize-profitability-at all-costs mindset, the big corporations have squeezed the life out of their stations, and radio just isn’t fun anymore. It’s not fun to work there, and it isn’t fun to listen to anymore. And the classic rock stations seem to play the same 300 songs over and over. Don’t they know there’s a lot more great music out there?
At both KLBJ-FM (’73-’76) and in the early part of my time at KLOL (’79 to ’80 or ’81,) the air staff had a common mind about how the stations were supposed to sound. At KLBJ-FM, we had a lot of freedom to do crazy things like track an entire side of a Moody Blues album, play 6 Beatles songs back to back, or play Riders on the Storm and a bunch of other rain songs when the clouds opened up. There wasn’t THAT much freedom at KLOL when I arrived, but the sound of the station still depended on the jock’s musical knowledge and their ability to make a tasty mix of music. It was sort of like, “What song would sound good right after the one that’s on now?” Today, it’s all programmed ahead of time by computer. We used a computer to program the music at KELI (it was an Adult Contemporary/Lite Rock station,) but the jocks had a lot of freedom about what they said on the air and were able to let their personalities shine through. There are very few personality radio stations anymore, which I think is a real shame.
— Interview end —
You can check out Thomas’ voice-over work at deepwarmvoice.com.
Check out more at Thomas’ YouTube channel.
The November 1979 KLOL song list
So what did 101 KLOL sound like in 1979? I sat there and logged the hour and a half recording Thomas gave me. Here is a list of the songs played and the commercials that aired in between.
Free – Fire And Water
Blue Oyster Cult concert ad Sam Houston Coliseum for December 1979
Fleetwood Mac – Sisters of the Moon
Molly Hatchet – Flirtin’ With Disaster
Eric Clapton – Blues Power
KLOL Rock N’ Roll Army
Send your name, address and zip code to:
PO Box 1520
Houston, TX 77001
All Star Audio
Alternative Film Society “Fantastic Animation Festival”
Cactus Records and Tapes April Wine “Harder…Faster” ad
Styx – Borrowed Time
The Who – Love Reign O’er Me
Levi’s Blue Jeans
Foreigner – Head Games commercial
Dan Fogelberg – Phoenix
The Rolling Stones – Not Fade Away
Mateus frizzante rosé wine
Technics Direct Drive Turntables
Point Blank – Mean to Your Queenie
tape cuts off
Bob Seger – Till It Shines Lyrics
Foreigner – Double Vision
ZZ Top – I Thank You
Sound Warehouse commercial for Hounds – Puttin’ On The Dog
Rock N’ Roll Army Pink Floyd “The Wall” exclusive listening party
Alan Parsons – Damned If I Do
Stephen Stills, Manassas – Down the Road
Aerosmith – Remember (Walking in the Sand)
“Till Marriage Do Us Part” movie
Gullo Haas Toyota
Eagles – The Long Run
Elton John – Hercules
Kenny Loggins (feat. Michael McDonald) – This Is It
ZZ Top Degüello album ad
Atlanta Rhythm Section – Sky High