Thursday, April 02, 2020

The Jazz KNOB and the Lighthouse Cafe

 103.1 KNOB, which may have been the first all-jazz radio station in the world. I am always wary of broad claims of being "first," but Stein bought KNOB in 1957. Most other all-jazz stations claim much more narrow firsts. 88.3 WBGO claims to be the first Jazz Station to "webcast day and night" in 1997. In 1966, WLIB-FM claimed alternately to be the first jazz station in all of America programmed by African Americans and/or New York's only all-jazz radio station. It was almost certainly both, at least in 1966. Even WHAT-AM's all-jazz format only goes back to 1958, though their overnight jazz programming goes back to at least 1956... courtesy of Sid Mark's program.
Alex "Sleepy" Stein was a jazz DJ and owner of the infamous

If you are thinking of other Los Angeles area stations, KBCA only flipped to jazz in 1960, then dropped it in 1966. If you were thinking of the Alameda-based 92.7 KJAZ, it was founded in 1959. Despite their claims, it was not the first commercial jazz station. [More here] And what about KLON? It was founded in 1950 which is before most of these other claimants, but they didn't change to an all-jazz format until 1981! The station changed its call sign to KKJZ in July 2002. A 1958 article in Broadcasting magazine (below) firms up the KNOB claim. It appears that KNOB was all jazz but WHAT may have them on total operating hours:

"Southern California's KNOB began operation with a jazz format on 25 August 1957 in Long Beach, though the station only gradually increased its hours of operation to twenty-four hours as the station increased power and moved from 97.9 to 103.1 MHz a year later."

Stein for his part, didn't start in jazz. Stein was born in Georgia, then lived in Miami and Havana, Cuba. He even graduated from the University of Havana with a degree in languages. He moved to New York for a job at CBS. He later moved to Chicago for an announcing job on WIND. There he got his nickname "Sleepy" for a slot he inherited from Russ "Wide-Awake" Widoe. Later Alex was station manager and program manager at KARV in Phoenix. He moved from there to Long Beach, CA for a gig at KFOX-AM. It was at KFOX that Alex started doing remote broadcasts from the Lighthouse, a legendary jazz club in Hermosa Beach. More here. His show was called Mahogony Hall. Stein brought Niles, Jim Gosa and other early jazz DJs to KNOB. Ray Torian hired him as Program Director, then Stein bought half of the business and it flipped to all-jazz. Torian wasn't a jazz fan but he gave it a go.

But it was Howard Rumsey who brought jazz to the Lighthouse. Rumsey convinced John Levine, the owner The Lighthouse Café, to host a series of Sunday jazz jam sessions. Levine purchased the bar in 1949, Levine was skeptical but on May 29th, 1949 he gave it a whirl. It was hugely successful. Those live jam session broadcasts from the Lighthouse built Stein's reputation in the L.A. jazz scene. Jazz was popular but live jazz was a rare bird on the radio.

At the Lighthouse, the house band was Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All-Stars. Rumsey was a local. He was born in Brawley, CA near the Salton sea. He first began playing bass with Vido Musso and Johnnie Davis, then became part of Stan Kenton's first band. He played with Charlie Barnet and Barney Bigard then returned to Los Angeles and founded the Lighthouse All-Stars. Contemporary records recorded Rumsey's All-Stars with it's various line ups multiple times between 1952 and 1960. Their regular Sunday gig became Stein's bread and butter at KFOX. More here.
In the end, the Lighthouse All-Stars outlasted jazz on KNOB. In 1966 The Jazz Beat column of Billboard remarked that the "...Sleepy Stein and Ray Torian interests, who became involved in internal fighting, and hindered the stations growth." In 1966 Stein sold his interest in KNOB and became a stockbroker. The station flipped to an “adult request” music format. KCBA bacame the top jazz station in Los Angeles by default. Live jazz continued at the Lighthouse Cafe until John Levine's death in the early 1970s. That brought an end to Rumsey’s time at The Lighthouse. Howard Rumsey himself continued to write and record for decades. He died on July 15th, 2015. He was 97. He lived long enough to see the formation of Woofy Productions. Between 2003 and 2007 they released nine different jazz LPs in their "Sunday Afternoons at The Lighthouse Cafe" series.  More here.

I strongly recommend reading the paper Jazz and Radio in the United States by Aaron Joseph Johnson. He dives into this topic than even the Peretti text. You can download it [HERE]

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