Thursday, March 19, 2015

Cassady, Kerouac, KROW, KJAZ and Cowan

I was reading the Collected Letters of Neal Cassady and chanced upon a somewhat arcane reference to radio history. There is a single sentence in a letter to Jack Kerouac from June of 1952 "How's Mombo Pat Henry Shows? Great vacation he's having." On it's own I would have read right over the sentence without considering who Pat Henry was. But the book is extensively footnoted. At the bottom of the page is the key information:
"Pat Henry (1926-1999) was a disc jockey who played jazz on radio station KROW, Oakland, in the 1950s, before founding KJAZ, Northern California's first all-jazz radio station in Alameda, with a transmitter on San Francisco's Russian Hill, in 1959."
Pat Henry was the real deal. His obituary in SFGate focused on his status as a living legend here and here. they called 92.7 KJAZ a "world-renowned cultural institution." Back in 1967 Billboard Magazine was already calling KJAZ and Pat Henry, "the major jazz voice of Northern California." They even go as far as to describe a field of a dozen Bay-Area stations playing jazz programming.  The reason all these sources keep specifying "northern" California is that in southern California KNOB signed on as all-jazz, out of Los Angeles in 1957. But dont' think that they were competing. Their signals didn't overlap and when KNOB increased power from 320 watts to 3,500 watts in March of 1958, they threw a big jazz bash and hired Pat Henry as their emcee.

The idea for an all-jazz station, according to Billboard at least, was born in Henry's mind in the 26 years he spent working for AM stations in Bakersfield (stating at the age of 18 in 1944), and San Jose and Oakland. Durring his three year stint at KROW Pat started accumulating the hardware for his own station. But KNOB signed on first. It's hard to say definitively but the fact that another all-jazz station was operating only 300 miles away must have emboldened him. Interestingly, that Cassady letter predates KJAZ by 7 years, and his time on KCSM by 5 years. The Cassady family lived at 29 Russell St. in San Francisco, CA.  So Neal and presumably Kerouac were listening to Pat Henry on 960 KROW-AM out of Oakland.  At the time Pat was about 26 years old... younger than Cassady or Kerouac. His program then ran four nights a week midnight to 6:00 AM, Walter Jamond had two nights a week and the Arthur Murray Dance Studio sponsored all six nights starting in November of 1952.

But jazz didn't stay on top for long. KNOB segued out all it's jazz programming by 1966 effectively surrendering to the cultural groundswell of rock and pop music. While the rest of the jazz programming moved to public radio KJAZ stuck it out. Henry ran the station on the proverbial shoestring budget bartering advertising time for everything down to office supplies. To cut costs in 1962, Henry moved the studios to KJAZ. thankfully the buyer, Ron Cowan was enough of a jazz fan to keep it intact.  Though he did relocate the studios to Bay Farm Island in the early '80s. The stations financial problems mounted until 1981 when Henry was finally forced to

But the station became a money pit. In 1994, KJAZ frequency was sold after Cowan deemed the station unprofitable. Loyal listeners organized a fundraiser to keep KJAZ on the air but it wasn't enough. The station was sold and 92.7 FM and the format changed to Spanish music. From 1999 to 2002, they simulcasted the rock format of KSJO in San Jose as KXJO. In 2002 it became one of the nations few dance-formated stations at KPTI, two years later it became KBTB, an Urban station. In 2004 it went back to dance under the ownership of Flying Bear Media as KNGY. In 2009 it changed yet again and is currently a CHR station with the calls KREV.

 After the sale in 1999, many of KJAZ programmers and announcers crossed the street to KCSM. Pat Henry could be found there as well, but he'd had a Saturday afternoon show there since the mid 1990s.