KFAC (radio station)
KFAC was a commercial classical music radio station in Los Angeles, broadcasting for most of its life on 1330 kHz AM, and subsequently in both simulcast and separate programming on 92.3 MHz FM as well. "Only 41 of nearly 9,000 commercial radio stations in the United States play classical music" and KFAC was considered one of the best. On September 20, 1989 at 2 p.m., new owners changed both its name and its format, depriving Southern California of a major cultural institution. During its heyday, the station was arguably the most important cultural organization in the Los Angeles area, having greater influence on lovers of classical music than even the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Announcers such as Howard Rhines, Dick Crawford, Thomas Cassidy, Carl Princi, Fred Crane, Steve Allen, Alfred Leonard, Tom Dixon, Bill Carlson, Dick Joy, Tom Franklin, Ed Stoddard, Bernie Alan, Rodger Layng, John Santana, Steve Markham and Doug Ordunio were featured on the station. For several years, the station also carried the daily syndicated Adventures in Good Music with Karl Haas. Other regularly scheduled programs were hosted by Leonora Schildkraut, Werner Klemperer, and Gussie Moran.
Many of its programs, such as "The Gas Company Evening Concert," "Luncheon at the Music Center," and "The World of Opera" lasted for decades – with the Gas Company show airing for over 40 years. The station's "DJs" also had unusual career longevity; according to some estimates, their collective tenure at the station was over 400 years. This unique staying power, and the fact that at times KFAC was the only classical musical station in Los Angeles (KUSC, its last competitor, did not convert to full-time classical music broadcasting until 1976, and despite being non-commercial never achieved the listenership of the professionally formatted KFAC) meant that several generations of Angelenos grew up listening to the station. That, along with its cultural authority, gave the station a special place in their affections.
Early years and later developments
Like most radio stations in the 1940s, KFAC did not fill one niche, but rather broadcast a wide variety of programming, including baseball games from the Pacific Coast League and afternoon children's programs such as "Uncle Whoa-Bill" sponsored by the Bullock's Department Stores. Its evolution into the all-classical-music format was a slow process over many years. Its first classical music show began in December 1943, when Thomas Cassidy began hosting a two-hour nightly program sponsored by the Southern California Gas Company. Eventually the station added a second show, "Musical Masterpieces." It was Cassidy's responsibility to build the musical library for these shows.
In 1945, the station's owner, E.L. Cord the F.A.C. in the station's call letters stood for "Franklin Auburn Cord". Mr. Cord was the owner of the Franklin, Auburn, Cord & Duesenberg company (the transmitter was located on the roof of their dealership in downtown Los Angeles). Mr. Cord was touring the station when he saw for the first time the huge collection of discs (a full symphony might take up twelve 78 rpm discs) KFAC owned. Cord decided to make better use of this investment by switching to all-classical music. Management tested the waters on this idea by asking the audience if they wanted another nighttime program, "Lucky Lager Dance Time" (which played pop and swing tunes) to continue or if they would prefer more classical. Classical won by a slim margin.
Tom Dixon hosted the afternoon shift. His frequent errors (from mispronouncing the names of conductors and performers to playing movements of concertos and symphonies in the wrong order), prompted listener Sarah Lee Halpern to write to Dixon suggesting he name his show "Music and Mistakes with Tom Dixon." For a long time afterwards, every time Dixon made an error, he would say, "I'm sorry, Sarah Lee …" Dixon's less-formal atmosphere and willingness to admit his errors on the air endeared him to audiences. (Another listener once asked Dixon, "Who writes your mistakes?") For years Dixon signed off with the phrase "TTFN" (ta ta for now). Dick Crawford on the weekends was famous for playing opera records out of order and once played Bach's Brandenburg Concerto at the wrong speed.
From 1952–1973 KFAC broadcast performances from the Hollywood Bowl. The station pioneered an early form of stereo broadcast by having two microphones on different sides of the Bowl. Listeners at home who had two radios were instructed to place them seven to twelve feet apart and tune one to the 92.3 FM band and the other to KFAC's AM frequency, 1330. This method of producing stereo came to an end with the advent of FM multiplexing. KFAC 1330 AM played "The Lord's Prayer" sung by a choir at 6:00 AM each morning for a period of time.
Bowl broadcasts featured an intermission program and interview hosted by Thomas Cassidy [1917–2012]. On non-broadcast nights, Cassidy appeared onstage at intermission to welcome the audience to the venue. Ultimately he was christened "The Voice of the Hollywood Bowl." However, Ernest Fleischmann, who had been hired as executive director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, upon assuming management of the Hollywood Bowl, terminated Cassidy's appearances.
From 1953 to 1986 Carl Princi hosted "The World of Opera." Heard weekdays at 3 p.m., this hour-long program played selections from a wide variety of operas, both famous and obscure. Another well-known program was "Continental Varieties" which played every weekday afternoon at 3 p.m. with distinctive theme music by the English light music composer Eric Coates.
The Los Angeles Music Center, a three-theatre complex, opened in 1964. "Luncheon at the Music Center" was created in the early 1960s by Thomas Cassidy, who also hosted the program for its first eleven years. The program was considered by many the pre-eminent talk show on which to plug theatrical and musical events in the Southern California area. Broadcast weekdays live from the then Pavilion Restaurant of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Music Center (with recorded shows only on holidays), the show interviewed not only musicians but also actors and directors who were either involved in local productions or just visiting the area. The guests actually did eat lunch during the show – during musical interludes – though the host did not. Nonetheless, the presence of other diners at the restaurant gave the show one of its hallmark elements: the sounds of plates and cutlery clacking in the background. Originally the program was broadcast using one microphone in the middle of the table. Eventually that was increased to three, which decreased the need for everyone talking to lean so far forward. Martin Workman succeeded Thomas Cassidy and hosted the show for 14 years.
During the latter years of the station, KFAC made various attempts to appeal to a younger audience. Most of these attempts were brought about by some of the youngest staff members Dennis Parnell and Doug Ordunio. (One interesting project was the "classical music nightclub" that they operated in conjunction with the El Cid restaurant on Sunset Boulevard in the late 50s/early 60s. Various chamber music groups would perform there, and I'm not sure whether these performances were broadcast or not. But it was great while it lasted!)
One of the most unusual programs of all was the institution of "Global Village" which was heard from 1974 until 1986. It was conceived by then FM Programmer Dennis Parnell, who was also a professional singer and voice teacher in the Los Angeles area. The basic idea of the show was to extend the concept of style so that ALL types of music would be considered appropriate. One of the most unusual juxtapositions attempted by Parnell during these early stages was to combine an obscure wordless choral composition by Sergei Rachmaninoff with Janis Joplin's recording of the song Mercedes Benz. This was considered rather shocking to some of the station's dyed-in-the-wool listeners, however, it did serve to attract a number of younger listeners as well as older listeners with open minds who were interested in hearing new ideas. The station had often been criticized as a dinosaur and the announcing style was viewed as stodgy. Its opening tagline, spoken each week by host Carl Princi was "Welcome to Global Village, a meeting place for the I and the ear." The program became very popular during a generally "dead" time slot ( Friday night from 10:00PM to Midnight ) and was soon picked up by Volvo, and eventually sold out all of its commercial slots.
Programming the show at KFAC ultimately became a problem for Parnell, as the engineers were unable to make the immediate segues required to lace the show together. As a consequence, he asked Carl Princi, the then program director, if he could produce the show in his own studio, putting it on tape, so the engineers could relax a bit. Since the program was already gaining listeners, Princi gave him the go ahead. The cost of producing at home was minimal, and Parnell asked for a production fee of $50.00 per show. George Fritzinger, the General Manager, had no problem with the payment, and the prorgram continued to grow in popularity. After six successful months on the air, Parnell consulted with both Princi and Fritzinger about marketing his show in San Francisco at KKHI, and was given the green light. The General Manager at KKHI was interested, and Parnell returned to L.A. to discover he would no longer be paid his production fee, but would receive that fee as part of his salary, not as a separate fee. Of course, this made the program the property of KFAC, not Parnell. He went to Carl Princi and was told nothing could be done, and so Parnell replied that he would simply play records again. Doug Ordunio, who was brought into KFAC by Parnell to help in the library was also present at the meeting between Princi and Parnell. Princi was quite upset, and during a long pause in the conversation, Ordunio said he could continue production of "Global Village" if Parnell made good on his threat to play records. He agreed to continue since he also possessed a vast musical knowledge, regardless of style. This move effectively ended the friendship between Parnell and Ordunio. Parnell left the station around April 1974. Ordunio was installed as the new FM Programmer, a job he continued until Dec. 31, 1986.
Under Ordunio's direction, "Global Village" ascended to greater heights and created more unusual sounds and experiments of music, such as the night a slow movement from a Mahler symphony and a Bruckner symphony were heard simultaneously.
Ordunio (playfully referred to as "Uncle Douggo" by Lynne Warfel during her 1982–86 stint as late morning/early afternoon KFAC host) was responsible for creating other provocative classical music programs, such as "At Home With" which featured interviews recorded at the homes of classical musical celebrities who lived in Southern California. He also produced five 4-hour specials, collectively known as "The Circular Path," which expounded the idea that all music was bounded by a series of concepts and forms which would eventually repeat themselves. The program began with the sound of the aortic pulse recorded within a mother's uterus (the first sound ostensibly heard by a fetus), and then took listeners through the history of music with compositions as well as interviews with prominent musical figures. The final show was four hours of conjectures about the future of classical music. The most unusual idea set forth was stated by composer Henry Brant who said that we would someday find ourselves in a world of "music pollution." The entire program ended with a live recording of singer Peter Allen performing "Everything Old Is New Again," which was basically the philosophy behind the entire 20-hour program.
The last show created by Ordunio before the station's decline was "Making Waves," a program of new-age music, airing during a period before the creation of such stations as "The Wave." At the time the program was instituted on Friday nights at 11:00 p.m., the only broadcast vehicle for this music was a show known as "Midnight Café" on KNX-FM.
This program and "Global Village" were abandoned by Robert Goldfarb (program director under Louise Heifetz) because they were deemed inappropriate for the station’s image.
Sales and ultimate conversion
Cleveland Broadcasting purchased KFAC from the Cord estate, and was itself purchased after a successful campaign by Atlantic States Industries (ASI), a subsidiary of the McGavren Guild Media representation company. Under ASI, KFAC ended its ban on commercial "jingles." Previous policy had been that all commercials had to be voiced by KFAC announcers. While music beds, usually classical, were OK, ad agency jingles were anathema. ASI also instituted the combo operation of broadcast consoles, so that KFAC announcers finally became radio DJs. Previously, engineers had spun the records and announcers had merely announced, either live or on tape. When time came for Federal Communications Commission (FCC) license renewal, a group of challengers also applied for the license, claiming that KFAC was not serving the local African-American community. This seemed a ludicrous charge because the station never discriminated against any group in its choice of featured composers or performers.
Investigations seemed to uncover that the protesting group had challenged other station licenses for the purposes of extorting substantial amounts of money from the station owners. It is not known precisely how much money was paid by the owners of KFAC to settle a possible lawsuit, but typically when a station's license is being contested during the renewal process, there is a slim chance of it being sold.
In 1986 a group of investors headed by Louise Heifetz (daughter-in-law of the violin virtuoso Jascha Heifetz) purchased the station for around $33 million. She and her accomplice (program director Robert Goldfarb) fired most of the staff announcers in the hope that new talent would attract new listeners. The highly respected engineering staff was also laid off in the new year's blood bath of 1987. Supposedly, Goldfarb had been hired to do the same for manager Wallace Smith at KUSC a few years before.
During the next three years the station's ratings declined and it was sold to Evergreen Media, who changed its format and recast it as KKBT-FM ("The Beat", which eventually moved to 100.3 FM), an R&B station. Several years ago, Ralph Guild, the top man in charge of the company that owned KFAC, confided that putting the station up for sale was one of the biggest mistakes he had ever made.
In 1989, the new owners donated both the KFAC call sign and the classical record library to University of Southern California Radio station KUSC, which assigned the call sign to its Santa Barbara satellite.
Today the 92.3 frequency is home to HOT 92.3 Old School and R&B. The KFAC call letters, at home on the Santa Barbara translator for KUSC for over a decade, were replaced when the station chose to have all of its affiliates have call letters ending with "SC."
- Gerard, Jeremy (October 16, 1989). "THE MEDIA BUSINESS; Classical Stations Do Their Best To Survive". The New York Times.
- PUIG, CLAUDIA (September 20, 1989). "Waltz Ends at KFAC as New Crew Gears Up for Rock Format". Los Angeles Times. p. 3.
- McDOUGAL, DENNIS (January 7, 1987). "STAFF VETERANS REPLACED NEW OWNER CLEANS HOUSE AT KFAC". LA Times.