This past week, radio folks who spent part of their careers with Seattle’s “The Mountain” had a reunion on Zoom and shared it with the world. It was pretty cool and makes me think we should be doing one of those with the KLSY staff while most of us are still around.
The program director that hired me at KLSY, Chris Mays, posted a nice history of The Mountain on Facebook and all that she accomplished there. That reminded me that its her story that connected two amazing Seattle radio stations. So, I thought I would share her post and then chase it with a few more nuggets about my radio experience.
103.7 The Mountain celebrated our 30th birthday Saturday. It was a very special station, which I created. One of the questions listeners asked was about the history. This is a bit long, but it tells the tale! A lot of people have asked me how I came to create The Mountain. The true story reads like a fairytale! I’ll try to save the details for my book; even so, it’s bit of a long journey. Once upon a time, there was a teenager growing up in the 60’s in Columbus, Ohio. It was the Vietnam and Richard Nixon era. Her parents were liberal and her brothers were draft age. She was very into music. From Carol King’s Tapestry to Grand Funk. FM radio was developing into a freeform rock. She read Rolling Stone and dreamed of moving to the West Coast to work in radio, preferably the legendary KSAN, San Francisco. She graduated from high school in 1970, the spring of Kent State, 2 hours away. Off I went to college to pursue a degree in communications. My stated career goal on graduation was to be a Program Director of a Progressive Rock Station in a major market, (preferably on the West Coast). After graduation I looked at a map of the West Coast and picked Eugene, Oregon. It was between Seattle and San Francisco, and had a college. I moved there, with everything I owned in the back of a pickup truck. I went to graduate school at the University of Oregon until I got a radio job. First was a cool little station, KFMY, then the bigger rock station KZEL. It was a freeform progressive rock station with 50,000 albums. Everyone played what they wanted. I was on the air at night as Chris Kovarik. It was rock and roll heaven! There was this guy who was a Yale graduate, spending his summer fighting forest fires in Bend. He would sit in the forests up in those lookouts, and listen to KZEL. One day he applied for a job. His name was Peyton Mays! He got hired. Ultimately, I became the Program Director and he was the Music Director. We fell in love. We both wanted to move to a larger market. I finally got my interview at KSAN, San Francisco and interviewed at KZAM in Seattle for a position as Promotion Director. I got the job and moved to Seattle. KZAM was in a struggle to retain the format and by the time I joined the staff, they had a consultant and the format was pretty tight. Within a month of my arrival, the guy who hired me (Paul Sullivan) was fired, then the General Manager. I applied for the Program Director job and got it! I worked with Marion Seymour, Kerry Lowen, Matt Reidy, and a ton of other talented people. Meanwhile, Peyton had moved to Seattle and was programming KEZX, a ‘beautiful music’ station. We had worked with his boss in Eugene. David Littrell went from KEZX to ultimately be the guy who booked the zoo, Marymoor Park and Chateau Ste. Michelle shows. This was 1981, a decade before the Mountain. So, in 1983, the owners of KZAM decided to change the format to KLSY, ‘classy’, a soft pop station targeted to women. They invited me to stay. On July 10, 1983, KZAM signed off with The Beatles ‘Golden Slumbers’. KLSY signed on with Eddie Rabbit’s Driving My Life Away. The audience was furious. I went home and cried. Next up, Peyton Mays changes the format at KEZX to a cool softer rock format with David Littrell. I hired Bruce Murdock, Tim Hunter and Delilah Rene, among others, and the station was very successful. It was the first time I had ever had a budget that included marketing, personalities and BIG promotions. I learned a lot about real radio basics from George Johns and Dana Horner. Prior to that, it had all been about the music for me. The final chapter. I left KLSY in February 1990 and was working for Broadcast Programming when KEZX changed their format back to ‘easy listening/beautiful music’. Now there were TWO of these formats. Entercom brought a man in from Chicago to do something with KBRD. G Michael Donovan interviewed me and asked what I would do with 103.7. They were thinking hip hop. I told him if that was their choice, I wasn’t their girl. Then I wrote a proposal and made a cassette tape of what MY station would sound like. Ultimately, they agreed! We had a dinner where we decided on the name “The Mountain” (The Needle didn’t have positive images). It started out more mellow than I wanted, but eventually I won the trust of Entercom and they let me morph it to what it became. There was an indisputable hole in the market for a high profile, liberal leaning rock station with incredible personalities. Or so I thought! And there you have it. From hippie teenager with a dream to ‘successful Program Director of a Major Market Progressive Rock Station’. And what a long, strange, wonderful trip it’s been!
P.S. I should note that between us, Peyton Mays and I programmed progressive rock in Seattle for 25 years. David Littrell still programs some of the best shows in the market.
Thanks, Chris. This is where I thank you for hiring me and giving me that break I needed to go where I went, where ever that was.
How did I end up knocking on KLSY’s door back in the days when they were “Classy-FM”?
Due to downsizing at KOMO radio where I had been Larry Nelson’s producer for 4-1/2 years, they let me know on the same day my wife and I found out we were pregnant with our second child that I was losing my job. In fact, I remember not telling her until after the weekend that I was now unemployed, so as not to harsh the buzz about the pregnancy.
After a few months of collecting unemployment and wondering what the heck was going to happen next, I managed to get an interview with Chris Mays and eventually the G.M., “Mr. Classy”, Dana Horner. I impressed them enough take me for a test hire, helping out production guy Jeff Bach with copywriting and production during the work week, and pulling a weekend airshift. At this point, I had been off the air since I had left Yakima in late 1979.
Over time, Chris like what I brought to the party on weekends, enough that she wanted to stick me into afternoon drive. I remember going to a station holiday event, where I met the woman I was going to be paired up with to report on traffic and banter with, Alice Porter. She was being brought over from KEZX–yes, the radio station being run by Chris’ husband at the time, Peyton Mays. I had a lot of fun doing afternoons with Alice and it sounded like it. The station wanted that fun to move to the mornings with Bruce Murdock, aka “Murdock in the Morning” but initially I just didn’t want to partner up with him on the air. I liked where I was. So, they hired a co-host from Chicago named John Thomas and it was a morning show nightmare. The two didn’t get along, had completely different styles and it was such a caustic environment, I remember Bruce, Alice, Dave Sloan and me doing a mock exorcism of his presence after they fired him. By this time, station management really wanted to move me to mornings. So much that I was told everything from, “Well, you know, we won’t really be able to raise your salary much if you stay in afternoons” to “Eventually, you’ll lose Alice and we’ll move her to mornings.” What else could I do but agree to start waking up early again and the team of Murdock & Hunter was born. In time, that became Murdock, Hunter & Alice. That continued until December 17th, 2003, when G.M. Marc Kaye came backstage at the Village Theater in Issaquah to tell us our services were no longer needed. We had just finished doing a live Christmas show. Ho friggin’ ho. That left me just shy of a 20-year run in one place. In radio, that’s like 147 regular job years.
We can all look back on our lives and say, “If only THIS hadn’t happened” or “If THAT hadn’t happened” but the bottom line is that everything occurs as a part of your story. Sure, I wish some of those more unpleasant events didn’t happen, but that’s not our call. The radio bug still is very much alive in me, but rather than depending on it for a livelihood, its now more of a hobby. It’s a part of what I do and my little KRKO morning show is the perfect outlet to satisfy my radio Jones. Chris mentioned of writing a book some day about her radio experiences. Having written 1,031 of these blogs since 2008, my story has seeped out a little at a time, much like a leak at a nuclear power plant. Ms. Mays’ retelling of The Mountain Story was just the inspiration I needed for me to put a bit of my story down while I still remember it.
You know, I’ve seen a lot of radio hearts broken over the years. I have to say that its thanks to people like Chris and Dana that I got to spend 35 years (and counting) of my life doing something I really love to do.
And that’s pretty lucky.