||This article may require copy editing for grammar, style, cohesion, tone, or spelling. (March 2013)|
|Broadcast area||Los Angeles, California|
|First air date||April 13, 1922|
|Callsign meaning||"Kindness, Happiness, and Joy"|
(LBI Radio License, LLC)
|Sister stations||KBUE/KBUA/KEBN, KRQB, KWIZ
Also part of the Liberman Cluster: TV Station KRCA
KHJ Radio in Los Angeles, California broadcasts Spanish-language entertainment programming as La Ranchera. It was also one of America's most formidable Top 40 radio stations in the 1960s and 1970s as 93 KHJ before changing its format in 1980. KHJ is now triplexed to three of the six towers of KBLA 1580 kHz located near Sunset and Alvarado, Los Angeles. Radio station KYPA 1230 also utilizes two of the six KBLA towers for it's signal. The two KHJ towers at Venice and Fairfax were removed February, 2013.
KHJ went on the air in 1922. It shifted frequencies from the lower half of the radio dial like most stations of the day, in response to the growing interference problem standard broadcast stations faced as their numbers grew. The new Federal Radio Commission established order on the AM band in the late 1920s, forcing some substandard operations off the air, pushing others to merge, and assigning others to stable and permanent channels with predictable signal power in 1927-28. As part of that effort to bring order from chaos, KHJ was assigned the regional-service channel of 900 kHz, with 1000 watts of power, and remained on that channel and that power level until 1941. At that point another reorganization of AM broadcasting by the Federal Communications Commission (successor to the FRC), in conjunction with the NARBA agreement, saw KHJ permitted to raise power to 5,000 watts and move to a frequency of 930 kHz, where it continues to operate today.
Founded by Charles R. Kierulff, owner of C. R. Kierulff & Company in early 1922, KHJ was sold to the Times-Mirror Company, owners of the Los Angeles Times newspaper in late 1922 . KHJ served for a short time in the late 1920s and early 1930s as the Los Angeles affiliate and West Coast production hub of the fledgling CBS radio network, functioning as the originating station for programs like Bing Crosby's first national network radio show in 1931. CBS would eventually purchase its own more powerful West Coast flagship station, 50,000 watt KNX, and part company with KHJ. Then, KHJ was purchased by Don Lee, a well-known local luxury automobile dealer who also owned KFRC in San Francisco. Lee eventually accumulated 21 radio stations. In 1949, the entire broadcasting company, including KHJ and other stations, was merged into RKO General. The call letters were said to stand for "Kindness, Happiness, and Joy".
During its Don Lee ownership, KHJ became the West Coast flagship station of the Mutual Broadcasting System, one of the "Big Four" networks in radio's classic era of the 1930s – 1970s. Famous entertainers of the period, such as George Burns and Gracie Allen, and Steve Allen, appeared on KHJ. At one point the station employed its own 50-piece orchestra to back up musical guests. In an historic 1931 broadcast (which partially survives today), KHJ introduced the world to an up-and-coming singer named Bing Crosby. Pat Weaver (the president of NBC, creator of The Today Show and The Tonight Show, and the father of actress Sigourney Weaver), worked there as an announcer.
In April 1965, programming consultant Bill Drake was brought in to craft KHJ's new top-40 format. Drake hired program director Ron Jacobs, who had created formats in Hawaii and California. The new format featured a very "tight" sound built on a restrictive music playlist and restraints on on-air commentary by the announcers (although a few superstar announcers, such as Robert W. Morgan (produced by Walt "Failsafe" Radtke), Charlie Tuna, Humble Harve (produced by Dex Young), and The Real Don Steele (produced by Jon Badeaux) were allowed to develop their own on-air personalities). Also part of the format, which came to be known as "Boss Radio", was a package of memorable jingles performed by the Johnny Mann Singers. "Boss Radio" subsequently spread throughout the nation and brought high ratings and acclaim to stations such as KFRC in San Francisco, WFIL in Philadelphia, KGB in San Diego, WQXI in Atlanta, CKLW in Windsor, Ontario, and WRKO in Boston. Bill Drake, teamed with Gene Chenault, brought up many of their "Boss" announcers through the stations in other cities, which they used as a proving ground for talent.
KHJ's call-in request number used the Los Angeles area code 213, conflict exchange 520, followed by the current year. For example, in 1974, the phone number to call the station would be (213) 520-1974, then the next year it would change to 520-1975.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, the station competed with three other local stations with similar formats: KFI, KTNQ and San Diego-based XETRA-AM, which operated under the servicemark "The Mighty 690."
KHJ competed against four other "soul radio" stations serving the Los Angeles radio market at the time: KDAY and KGFJ both of Los Angeles, and the "border blasters" XERB and XHFHJ-FM both based in Rosarito, Mexico located south of San Diego.
In the summer of 1970, a contest held by KHJ went terribly wrong, and led to a man's death and a large judgment against RKO General in an ensuing lawsuit. That summer, the station ran a series of contests called "The Super Summer Spectacular." In the contests, The Real Don Steele would drive a conspicuous red car to a particular area, and an announcer would give clues on the air about where he was going and encouragements to listeners to find him. The first person who found Steele and fulfilled a specified condition would receive a cash prize and would be interviewed on the air by Steele. The conditions varied from answering a question correctly to having certain items of clothing. One example of an on-air clue was: "The Real Don Steele is moving into Canoga Park — so be on the lookout for him. I'll tell you what will happen if you get to The Real Don Steele. He's got twenty-five dollars to give away if you can get it ... and baby, all signed and sealed and delivered and wrapped up." At the time, KHJ had the largest teenage audience in the Los Angeles area, with 48 percent of the total teenage audience in the area listening to it. Its nearest competitor had only 13 percent of the total teenage audience.
On July 16, 1970, two teenagers, who were following Steele in separate cars, drove at speeds up to 80 miles per hour so that they could be closest to Steele when the next contest was announced. One of the teenagers forced another motorist — 32 year old Ronald Weirum — off the road, and Weirum was killed when his car overturned.
Weirum's wife and children filed a wrongful death action against both teenagers, the manufacturer of Weirum's car, and RKO General. One of the teenagers settled with the plaintiffs before trial for the limits of his insurance policy. A jury subsequently found in favor of the manufacturer of the car, but found that the second teenager and RKO General were both liable for the accident. The jury awarded the plaintiffs $300,000 of damages.
RKO General appealed to the California Supreme Court, which, in 1975, affirmed the jury's verdict that RKO General was legally liable for the accident. The California Supreme Court said that KHJ had negligently created an undue risk to the public by causing a situation in which its youthful listeners were led and even encouraged to race on the public roadways to find Steele and win the contest. The court held that there was sufficient evidence to permit the jury to find that the contest's risk of harm to the public, including Weirum, had been foreseeable.
The format brought high ratings to the station through the late 1970s until FM radio became the dominant way to broadcast popular music. In November 1980 during the Bob Shannon Show, "93 KHJ" switched from Top 40 to Country music. The country format which boasted, "we all grew up to be Cowboys" lasted three years before changing to an all oldies format, "The Boss is Back" using the original Johnny Mann "Boss Radio" jingles. In 1984, KHJ tried a Top 40 format called "Car Radio," highlighted with traffic reports every ten minutes, 24 hours per day.
On the evening of January 31, 1986, regular "Car Radio" evening jock Dave Sebastian Williams was joined in studio by Robert W. Morgan. Many disc jockeys from throughout KHJ's heyday of Boss Radio phoned in (including M.G. Kelly, Bobby Ocean, Jimmy Rabbitt, and Boss Radio-era Program Director Ron Jacobs) for a farewell broadcast, playing the songs that had made KHJ a popular AM station in the 1960s and 1970s. At the stroke of midnight, the station changed its call letters to KRTH to match those of its FM sister station, KRTH-FM playing a format called "Smokin' Oldies" that featured hits of the first ten years of rock and roll. The station used "AM 930" as its on-air ID.
RKO General was under nearly continuous investigation by federal regulators from the 1960s onward due to unethical conduct at its television stations, including KRTH-AM/FM's television sister, KHJ-TV (channel 9, now KCAL-TV). It was eventually ruled unfit to be a broadcast licensee and forced by the FCC to sell off its broadcast properties. In the summer of 1989, KRTH AM/FM were sold to Beasley Broadcasting, which immediately turned around and sold KRTH-AM to Liberman Broadcasting. It became a full-time Spanish-language station, adopting the call letters KKHJ in honor of its historic calls.
As time went by, program director Alfredo Rodriguez and chief engineer Jerry Lewine wanted to bring back the legendary three-letter call sign. However, the FCC hadn't issued three-letter calls to radio stations since the 1930s. So they came up with a plan to convince the FCC that KKHJ could not use the Spanish pronunciation of its call letters on the air. This was purportedly because the pronunciation of the first two letters in Spanish (kah-kah) sounded like «caca», the Spanish vulgar slang word for feces. As a result, whenever the call letters were used, they were pronounced in English. This proved somewhat awkward over a decade, so the station collected letters from listeners and community listeners and lobbied the FCC to allow the station to drop one of its Ks. The FCC allowed the station to return to its original calls, KHJ. The change became official on March 15, 2000.
An unrelated low-powered FM station in Madras, Oregon, KHJA-LP 102.1 FM was a tribute to the 1960s and 70s era KHJ, using the Los Angeles station's vintage logo, jingles, and "Boss Radio" slogans. In 2008, it changed its call sign to KGBZ-LP and switched formats.
Meanwhile, the former KKHJ callsign that was used during the 1990s by Liberman was assigned to an FM station in American Samoa. They also use the legendary station's "93KHJ" on-air name. The classic 93KHJ jingles are also regularly played on the station.
On his Greatest Stories Live album, singer Harry Chapin references KHJ in the song W*O*L*D ("I am the morning DJ, at KHJ. Playing all the hits for you; play them night and day"), much to the audience's delight (this version was likely recorded in concert in a locale served by KHJ).
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