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In the spring of 1968, Lee Gahagen (California Talking Wireless Company) was approached by some students from Sacramento State University who worked at campus radio station KERS (90.7). They convinced Gahagen to run a “free form” radio station, similar to KMPX and KSAN in San Francisco.
Gahagen agreed, and, on November 8, 1968, radio station KZAP made its debut. After hearing a montage of the new station’s announcers and “Revolution” by the Beatles, listeners were treated to the song “Cristo Redentor” by Harvey Mandel. The station had the slogan “K-ZAP…Free Form Stereo at 98 and a half.” Initially, the station broadcast from 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m., Monday through Saturday. Within a few months, the station was on 24 hours a day, six days a week. A year after the station made its debut, it was on the air 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It was located on the top floor of the Elks building in downtown Sacramento.
The station was truly free form. The air talent hand picked their music, and one could conceivably hear a classical piece followed by a psychedelic rock track followed by a jazz or blues tune. The station’s emphasis was on the “art” of mixing music, rather than company profit.
The station continued in this mode until late 1971 or early 1972. At that time, KZAP placed a certain amount of control on the musical presentation, but not enough to make a significant difference to the average listener. The station changed hands in 1972, following the sudden death of owner Lee Gahagen. The new owners, New Day Broadcasting, were supportive of the format and the air talent working at the station.
In 1973, KZAP became more rock-focused and established some guidelines for the announcers to follow, but there were no actual play-lists. Announcers had to play a certain number of songs from a given musical category each hour, but that was the general limit of the play-list. The station’s slogan was “FM 98, K-ZAP…..It’s all about the music.” The station more or less continued in this direction until the station was sold to a Las Vegas company (Western Cities Broadcasting) in late 1978.
The new owners hired radio consultant Lee Abrams of the Burkhart-Abrams consulting group to advise the station on what direction to take. Abrams had developed the “Super Stars” format and had been very successful in delivering large ratings at the expense of musical creativity in many radio markets. His methods involved reducing the musical library to roughly 400 songs at any given time, and emphasizing the announcer talent over the music. Basically, Abrams took Top 40 principles and applied them to Album Rock radio. While his “Super Stars” format was not as tight as Top 40 radio, it was considerably more restricted than any Rock radio listener was used to hearing in Sacramento.
On the first business day of 1979, the new owners fired KZAP’s Program Director, Robert Williams and replaced him with Chris Miller of WQDR in Raleigh, North Carolina. One by one, most of the remaining air staff quit or were fired. The new “Superstars” format was quickly installed after the station broadcast 98 hours of live rock. The station was heavily promoted in local media as “FM 98, K-Z-A-P, Sacramento’s Best Rock.”
New on-air talent came to the station from other Sacramento radio stations. Andy Rush from KROI-FM did mornings and Bryan Davis (Simmons) from KROY and KROI-FM was hired to do middays. Eventually they were joined by Jon Russell of AM-14 KXOA in afternoon drive and Tom Cale from Earth Radio 102 KSFM. In its first “book” as a “Superstars” station, KZAP went from a 2.7 to an 8.1 share (“12+”). The station appealed to listeners from both Progressive rock and Top 40 stations, and was aimed squarely at 18- to 34-year-old males.
The station took such a serious chunk of KSFM's listener-ship, that the owners of “Earth Radio” switched the format of their Progressive Rock station to CHR in September 1979. At that point, KZAP became the only Album Oriented Rock station in Sacramento. In early 1980, KZAP had a nearly 15 percent share of the entire Sacramento market (12 +).
The station continued with its extremely popular mainstream AOR format under the guise of Program Directors Chris Miller and Les Tracy in the early and mid 1980s. When KROY (96.9) flipped to a Soft Adult Contemporary format as KSAC, the owners sought to broaden the format to include more mainstream artists in KZAP’s already tightly-formatted Superstars format; Les Tracy refused to add the softer music to the format, and subsequently went to work for KOME in San Jose.
The station continued to plod along as the undisputed king of Sacramento radio, and skewed its format to attract the upper end of its desired demographic group. By the late-middle 1980s, the station leaned towards Classic Rock programming. Roseville-based KRXQ (93.7) picked up the younger-end of KZAP’s listener base.
In November 1990, KROY (96.9) flipped its “Churban” format to Classic Rock, and stole the majority of KZAP’s listeners from its base. The station’s ratings dropped to the lower 2s by late 1991. The station’s owners were well aware of the ratings slump. At midnight on January 20, 1992, after playing the song “Cristo Redentor” by Harvey Mandel, KZAP left the air, and the owners flipped the station to a Country format known as “Fresh Country 98.5.” Shortly thereafter, the station changed call letters to KNCI.
Eventually, the station flipped its focus to Classic Country, apparently unable to deal with the double attack of KSKK (105.1) and KQBR (104.3). It also changed its call letters to KRAK-FM, and the KNCI call letters went to 105.1 FM. The station’s ratings were short of stellar. EZ Communications owned KRAK-FM at that time, and entered into an agreement with Entercom to switch the frequencies of KRXQ and KRAK in March 1998.
Today, KZAP (as we know it) is what was once its own competition, KRXQ, at the same 98.5 frequency as its predecessor. The call letters KZAP are now used for a local radio station in Paradise, California at 96.7 FM.
KZAP's Return to the Air
On July 4, 2015, KZAP returned to the air in Sacramento, California on 93.3 FM under the callsign KZHP. Many of the DJ's from KZAP's history are back including Tom Cale, Kat Maudru, Dennis Newhall, Robert Williams, and Bob "The Godfather” Galli. This incarnation of KZAP is non-commercial, listener supported. The music format is described as "50 years of rock, blues, and more."