Just hearing that name, brings back smiles and a lot more than just a little bit of heaven.
At its peak, L.A.'s 94.7 KMET might as well have been the Babe Ruth, the John Wayne, and the Mount Everest, of rock radio. Today's DJ's owe much to the fore fathers that built the trails, laid the foundation, and went where no radio station or its disc jockey's had gone before. Though so much in rock radio, and radio in general has changed (and not at all for the better), what you probably are hearing today on any rock, classic rock, and/or oldies style radio stations, developed from and still takes a page or two from The Mightiest Met, 94.7 KMET.
If KMET was the uncharted waters, then its pioneer was top 40 disc jockey Tom Donahue, and his very talented wife, Raechel. Born in May of 1928, Tom "Big Daddy" Donahue, was indeed and without question, the John Muir of his day. Tom's career started in 1949 in South Carolina at WTIP, and later in Philadelphia at WIBG, and later still in Maryland at WINX. Tom soon moved west to San Francisco at radio station KYA (now KOIT), and meet up in 1967 with legendary disc jockey B. Mitchel Reed. Together Reed and Donahue would soon co-own Pasadena's KPPC-FM. KPPC-FM with its free form radio format, brought the love songs, the rock anthems, concept albums, the British wave, L.A.'s rock scene, and all that was happening just up the 101 freeway in San Francisco, happily to its listeners the way Reed and Donahue wanted to play it, and in ways no listener had ever heard on radio before. The station grew very quickly and became enormously popular with its innovative format. Success was larger than anyone had ever imagined. However, ideas being different and the owners of KPPC becoming greedy, all the newly brought success would be short lived. Conflicts with the station owners left Donahue and Reed in search of a new radio station elsewhere, and eventually to KMET.
In 1967, former KRHM 94.7 traded frequencies with KLAC-FM 102.7, and the KRHM call letters moved to the latter frequency. KLAC-FM vanished and KMET was born during the 1967 frequency switch. In the beginning KMET and its studios were located across the street from L.A.'s famous La Brea Tar Pits on Wilshire Blvd. KMET was born, and Tom and Raechel along with B. Mitchell delivered it home. The station was small and everyone from those that worked there to those that "tripped in" found peace and music high, along with high times, at KMET. It wouldn't be until mid 1976 that KMET would find a more corporate location to really call its home, at KTTV's Metromedia Square complex off of Sunset Blvd., at the Hollywood freeway.
As Tom Donahue spoke over the airwaves, as an entire new standard in music and of music was being introduced even greater than the success found at KPPC. Album oriented rock radio was being formatted and the listeners couldn't get enough. AM had the bubble gum and pop hits, where groups like The Doors, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, The Jefferson Airplane, could now hear their entire album being played instead of a track or two at best, or a three minute skimmed version that was being played over on the AM dial. However it was the emergence of one band that pushed the FM free format to the forefront and did as much for rock radio, as rock radio did for them. That band was Led Zeppelin. Led Zeppelin was the perfect band for the perfect format, and KMET forged ahead much like its east coast counterparts, and found its listeners calling for more. Tom and Raechel had hit a bonanza with KMET. Along with B. Mitchell Reed, Donahue brought on young but seasoned DJ's to keep up with the demand of their friends, fans and the listeners. KMET was well planted and began to grow.
The DJ's that came to KMET each brought the gift of insight and an individual perspective of rock and roll of that now early 1970's era, and would read as a disc jockey Hall of Fame throughout the entire 1970's. DJ's such as David Perry, Cynthia Fox, Paraquat Kelley, Ace Young, Al "Jazzbeaux" Collins, Jeff Gonzer, Jack Snyder, Mary "The Burner" Turner, Frazer Smith, Jim Pewter, Mike Harrison, Dr. Demento and Jim Ladd all were part of the growth and success of KMET. Many of these DJ's came and went from KMET, and even B. Mitchell Reed left for a year in 1971 to work at KRLA. However most returned, and like Reed who came back in 1972 and stayed for the next 6 years, so did many of the other DJ's realizing that KMET was in fact, home. Something magical was happening at KMET. You knew it at the station and as a listener could hear it through the airwaves.
With the war in Vietnam still a rage, the deaths of Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janice Joplin, Watergate, the 1972 Olympic tragedy in Munich, the now solo careers of all four Beatles, the Black Panthers, streaking, and the birth of so many rock based bands of the 1970's, the topics and opinions of these DJ's on KMET were as endless as the amount of music that was available at their fingertips to play. Social conscious and progressive rock, songs that did not have to conform under three and a half minutes, and rather than having to sell to its listeners any of the Top 40 found on AM, KMET went deep into both the minds and moods of its generation. By the mid 1970's, Mount Everest had indeed been reached at KMET. Sadly, part of an era would soon come to a close. In 1975, KMET's founder and pioneer, Tom Donahue, died of a heart attack. Tom was just 46 years young. Acclaim would bestow upon Tom years later when in 1996 the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted Tom as a non performer. One of only three disc jockeys to receive such an honor.
Of all bands to be "heard" on the KMET airwaves, it was The Pointer Sisters, singing the stations jingle written by Shadoe Stevens (one of the stations programmers) that listeners heard over and over and loved every time. "A Little Bit of Heaven, Ninety Four Point Seven - KMET - Tweedle Dee", became the station's anthem for well over a decade. It was also Shadoe Stevens who created the stations, "not so serious at itself" humor, by placing advertising billboards all over Los Angeles, on busses, and in print, all of which at times, were even hung upside down. Artist Neon Park created some of the funniest ads and paintings advertising KMET.
Dr. Demento, bom April 2, 1941 as Barret Eugene Hansen, specialized in novelty songs, parodies, and songs from the 1950's and 1960's as well as the old radio broadcasts from the 1930's and 1940's. Hansen knew his music, its early history, its lighter side and defiantly its humorous side. Hansen too, was part of KPPC-FM. As told in the words by Hansen often on the radio and in interviews, he played the song "Transfusion" by Nervous Norvus. Fellow DJ Steven Clean said that Hansen had to be "demented" to play such a song. Thereafter, the name stuck and Barret Eugene Hansen would better and forever be known as, Dr. Demento.
Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a very young Barret started collecting records both 45rpm and 78rpm, including (what Aerosmith would later so vividly describe ) as the big 10 inch record. It is said by the time the good Dr. made his way to KMET in 1972, via UCLA earning him both a masters degree in folklore and ethnomusicology and as a roadie for the 1960's free love bands of Spirit and Canned Heat, his own personal collection of records was literally in the thousands. It was at KMET on Sunday nights at 6:00pm, that the good Dr. along with some of his in studio friends would remind us it was time to "wind up your radios dementions and dementites, it is time for the Dr. Demento show." For the next 4 hours, including the last hour which was dedicated to the listeners weekly "Top Ten", fans enjoyed music from the very favorite "Pico and Sepulveda" a song that takes you back to 1947 by Felix Figueroa & His Orchestra, to the more modern Frank Zappa with his rocking but a bit nasty song, "Titties & Beer".
Names that we once knew but forgot, names that we never heard of, and names right out of what may have sounded like a cheesy Japanese monster movie were being introduced and re-introduced to us week after week during four of the funniest hours on KMET every Sunday night: Ogden Edsl, Tom Lehrer, Monty Python, Louden Wainwright III, Tom "T-Bone" Stankus, C.W. McCall, Cheech & Chong, Allan Sherman, Sheb Wooley, Stan Freberg, Ray Stevens, Shel Silverstein, Rose And The Arrangement, Napoleon XIV, Fred Blasie and Bames and Bames, were just a small few of the artists played by Dr. Demento. Perhaps the largest of all names to emerge from the airwaves of the Dr. Demento show was a young San Luis Obispo student who got his first "real break" on KMET thanks to the good Dr., by the name of Alfred Matthew Yankovic, better known to us all as "Weird Al".
While Sunday nights were a fixture of dementia, hysteria was found every other night and day at KMET. During the 1970's KMET was everywhere. Lending its name to the many sponsored concerts, and having all of the biggest of the big artists of the day stopping by the studios and sitting in for a chat and a conversation with the mightiest of KMET's DJ's, often delivering their new single or LP themselves. If you were an artist, and you wanted to be promoted, when in L.A., you wanted to get to KMET and you wanted to talk to Jack Snyder and his "Off The Record" interviews, or be interviewed by Mary "The Burner" Turner, or have the man who was there from the beginning B. Mitchell Reed ask you questions on the air. Soon, best yet, if you were an artist you wanted to be part of the Innerview, (no, not interview, but Innerview), by the KMET DJ who would come to define the radio station, and the 1970's, and when you talk about KMET, or L.A. rock radio, or rock radio in general, you must talk about the lonesome L.A. cowboy himself, Mr. Jim Ladd.
Jim Ladd, some say, was KMET. Born on January 17, 1948, Ladd beginning his career in 1969 at KNAC in Long Beach, then at KLOS in 1974, he finally settled at KMET where he would stay at for the rest of the 1970's and most of the 1980's. Ladd had the voice for radio, the insight of what a listener wanted to hear, and spoke for a generation with his thoughts and opinions. All Jim ever seemed to ask in return, was to "turn off your T.V., and turn on your mind". Unlike many of his contemporaries in many of the radio markets in this country, Jim refused to play what "they" wanted him to play and set lists were bird cage material, and at KMET, he and the other DJ's had their freedom. Ladd combined music with an atmospheric sound and song sets pounded out by the decade's biggest artists and now legendary albums. Jim Ladd brought us the deepest and most personal of "Innerviews" with Roger Waters, Don Henley and Glenn Frey, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, and so many more of the artist that were shaping rock music, literally, right in front of our eyes. KMET was now the elite of radio stations and stood as tall as WNEW in New York, WBCN in Boston, WMMS in Cleveland, KQRS in Minneapolis and any of the others in any market. KMET was the biggest, if not title best.
Such a progressive and aggressive format, along with the surf reports, and yes the fish reports, concert reviews told firsthand the next day by the DJ's that were at them the night before, and more and more outstanding rock music in the later part of the 1970's, thrived higher and higher as KMET became such an enjoyment to listen to. Listeners indeed were turning off their TV's and listening to now legendary albums, that were just in their infancy as KMET brought them to the listening public for the first time. "Physical Graffiti", "Rumors", "Frampton Comes Alive", "461 Ocean Blvd.", "Some Girls", "Hotel California", "Street Survivors", and so many other albums were just being released and being heard for the first time. However, it was Pink Floyd's November 1979 release of "The Wall", and the bands connection to KMET seemed to bring a pinnacle and newest of heights for KMET as the decade of the 1970's came to a close.
Any car that looks good and drives smooth, of course must have a strong and reliable engine. The same held true for KMET. Many firmly agree that KMET’s engine, especially during its heyday during the years of 1976 – 1983, was driven so smoothly by its program director Sam Bellamy. Sam, as she puts it and many agree who talk about the bricks that built KMET to such success, was responsible for hiring disc jockeys Jeff Gonzer, Jim Ladd, Paraquat Kelley, Cynthia Fox, Bob Coburn, Jack Snyder, David Perry, and the ever so lovely Mary Turner. One of the many keys of success that Sam brought to the station, is she hired “talent”. “The community loved us because we were part of them and their concerns. We got involved with Greenpeace and marijuana legalization and we were very involved with the music. We were also very visible and approachable with our audience,” reflected Sam. “The personalities answered their own phones, ad-libbed the promotional material, created their own shtick and talked with the listeners. And, I answered personally every single letter ever received at the station that concerned programming,” said Sam. For us the fans who believe and listen with such open passion as the disc jockeys, those in the circle, and fans that were there reflect back on the success of KMET, then we must pay equally our respects and thank ever so fondly the incredible success that Sam Bellamy brought to the peak years, of the Mighty MET. Her contributions and years of tough smart decisions were paid back to the listeners in folds.
Innocence was forever spoiled, and rock music tragically lost one of its most precious and sacred voices on the night of December 8, 1980 in New York, when John Lennon was tragically and senselessly gunned down by a deranged fan. Trying to make sense off such a loss and looking for comfort was indeed very tough in the days and weeks to come. KMET, and especially the words of Jack Snyder and Jim Ladd the night the story broke, may forever be imbedded in the minds of those that quickly tuned in as they heard the reports and watched the news. Snyder and Ladd though at such a loss for exactly what to say, knew that listeners were hurting and turning to them as part of this awful aftermath for some kind of comfort. Somehow, as those that are veterans of their craft often do, did finds words and walked with the listeners of KMET over the next few days and weeks and reminded us of the happy times, and the music and love that John Lennon stood for. It was a tough time for fans of rock music and a tough time in Rock and Roll. Death had been part of rock music for decades and KMET so spiritually could talk in its free form format through all the overdoses and all the accidental deaths and so many of rock's tragic deaths of these artists they played. However, music was changing and those long nights of fans calling in and speaking their minds and all night tributes as both DJ's and their listeners grew tighter the listening bond, had perhaps a little less grip now. Something wasn't quite right.
It was indeed very tough in any market for a radio station to maintain such stable ratings, and competition, especially in a market as fierce as that in Los Angeles, was steadily improving. With the advent of cable television and MTV, people started to change their moods, and cassettes that now replaced those very bulky 8-tracks made listening to what you wanted to hear in the car when you wanted to hear it, meant less people turning in to the radio as they drive down the highway. Oldie stations offered a nostalgic format, and AM talk radio too had progressed from its conservative roots and offered vast choices of radio pleasure. Seeing the music on MTV, meant for many, no longer a need to simply wanting to listen to it. Video didn't just kill the radio star; it also was taking away some life from the radio itself.
Times were changing, and changes even for KMET were inevitable. In 1978 B. Mitchel Reed underwent coronary heart bypass surgery and left KMET to later show up at cross town rival KLOS-FM in 1979. Sadly, on March 16, 1983, Mr. Reed's lingering heart condition caught up with him, and he died peacefully at his West Hollywood home. He was 56 years young. Reed, much like KMET's co founder Tom Donahue, responsible for starting KMET, passed away far too early and far too young in life. Dying was also finding its way into the corporate world of radio station ownership, and those that owned the station, and especially those that owned the company that owned the station, were beginning to think they knew more of what needed to be played, than the veteran DJ's that they had for hire. Set list's, were being forced upon DJ's across the nation, and KMET could only do little as pressure and rank were sneaking down to what was being played. KMET had survived and thrived during the disco revolution staying true to itself, but changes in culture, trends in music, the growth of rival stations in Los Angeles especially KLOS and KNAC (that switched over to a much harder alternative format), and KROQ's growing popularity by bringing the punk sound that evolved into the new wave sound of the 1980's, took a sizable chunk of KMET's audience. Corporate interference however would be KMET's cancer. Like all cancer, it started to spread and was hard to control. KMET was being called in some circles, and so unfairly, a relic of its own past.
Though KMET still had its peaks, especially during the 1984 and 1985 Bruce Springsteen shows of "The Born In The USA" tour, and still hung on to much of its roots as it could, stricter formatting was indeed the writing on what was now the real wall of KMET. The staff and local management of KMET being unsure just how to continue on, in the wake of such change, and fed up with corporate meddling, and the ever struggle with the daily play lists, soon found staff and its once coveted DJ's leaving The Mighty Met. Morning DJ, Jeff Gonzer left the station in 1986, and others were to soon follow. In late 1986 The DJ's knew the end was aapproaching, the station already knew it, and the listeners were starting to hear it. DJ's Randy Thomas, Jack Snyder, Rick Lewis, David Perry, Cynthia Fox, Jim Ladd, and Pat (Paraquat) Kelly gathered to tell a story at Gladstone's in Malibu with staff reporters from the L.A. Times, all the while KMET station director Frank Cody was busy strategizing on just how to pull the plug. Tuesday, February 10th, 1987, Angelinos and the rest of the radio world could read first hand in the Calendar section of the L.A. Times, Patrick Goldstein's, Deborah Caulfield's, and Robert Hilburn's commentary of just what was about to happen to KMET. Even more powerful, was each of the aforementioned KMET deejays, photographed sitting around a table at Gladstone's, finally able to tell their story.
On February 14th, 1987 the stations owners had finally given up, as the end had arrived. At 12:00 noon and as The Beatles "Carry That Weight" played as KMET's final rock oriented song, and the once Mighty Met, the mightiest of all rock radio stations, went dark and ended. Manager Harold Bloom introduced 94.7 The Wave, and the call letters were mercifully changed to KTWV. Reaction came swift and angry, and KTWV caught a wave of its own in the form of listener backlash, however KMET was gone for good and not listener petitions, or any of the many very fine tributes brought on by KLOS, KLSX, KRTH, as well as the local L.A. television stations could resurrect the station. Goliath had been defeated and the mighty Kasey had struck out. February 14th,1987 was called by many, rock radio's "Valentine's Day Massacre".
Homages continued to follow in the weeks after, and what KMET DJ's were not allowed to do because they were so abruptly all fired on February 13th, the day before the end, other radio stations welcomed the KMET staff in to their studio and gave them a chance to speak in their words and offer listeners a chance too, to say some heartfelt good-byes. KLOS DJ Joe Benson especially, would take the lead and welcome in what was for years his rivals at KMET, and so humbly and gently let the listeners heal as well. There were no winners to be found here during this time. Everyone lost a little, and with those at KMET, they lost their jobs and their station. KLOS showed that all DJ's are a fraternity, and rival stations were just that, and what happened to KMET could (and later would) happen to so many other radio stations. After all, to the DJ's at KLOS or KMET it didn't much matter as to who worked where, all and each were friends and long paid their dues in one of the toughest of all radio markets in the nation. The torch was passed that day to KLOS here in Los Angeles, and with class and dignity they accepted it. KLOS had more than longed earned it, and still to this day, every now and then, speaks in such respect about the Mighty Met, its former dial neighbor, 94.7 KMET.
All of KMET's disc jockeys went on to have various degrees of success and still for the most part, can be heard on some form of radio and/or Internet broadcast. Jim Ladd went on to have a major role in Roger Waters 1987 Radio Kaos LP and tour, and continues to be the voice of L.A. rock radio. He is also forever immortalized on Tom Petty's "The Last DJ" LP. Jim received a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame on May 6, 2005 (7018 Hollywood Blvd.). Cynthia Fox currently has the midday shift on KLOS and is sounding as lovely as ever. Jeff Gonzer is the program director of Westwood One's adult rock format heard on various stations across the country and internationally on Armed Forces radio. Denise Westwood too is at KLOS. Jack Snyder and Ace Young can be found via the Internet at www.cajunmarket.com and at www.yosemitegold.com, respectfully.
Personally signed by Jim Ladd and Raechel Donahue
They say all good things come to an end, and nothing lasts forever. KMET seems to fit both these sayings. The Canadian based rock band Rush, said it best in the song "Spirit of the Radio": "....one likes to believe in the freedom of music. But glittering prizes and endless compromises shatter the illusion of integrity". Though KMET may be 20+ years gone, it's soul like so many of the artists and a few of its DJ's that sadly left us, have not at all been forgotten.
Me sitting on top of my recovered but burned and stolen 1978 Camaro in May of 1980. Note my KMET t-shirt.
Signed by Shadoe Stevens
Signed by Cynthia Fox
My nephew, David St. John, and me in early 1982. Please note my KMET T-shirt.
On Friday, July 10, 2009 from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m, L.A.'s 100.3 FM "The Sound" became KMET, just for one day, as we all enjoyed "Finally a KMET Friday." Jeff Gonzer, Ace Young, Pat "Paraquat" Kelley, Jack Snyder, Dr. Demento and others from the Mighty Met recreated the music, the magic, the spirit and fun of LA's original album rock station. Sadly missed was Jim Ladd, Denise Westwood, Cynthia Fox, and Bob Coburn, left out of the party by the "fuddy duddy management" over at KLOS. It was a day of celebration of what was the mightiest radio station ever in Los Angeles, 94.7 KMET. Whooya! It was a little bit of heaven.