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KFAC was a commercial classical music radio station in Los Angeles, broadcasting for most of its life on 1330 kHz AM, and subsequently in both simulcast and separate programming on 92.3 MHz FM as well. "Only 41 of nearly 9,000 commercial radio stations in the United States play classical music" and KFAC was considered one of the best [1]. On September 20, 1989 at 2 p.m., new owners changed both its name and its format, depriving Southern California of a major cultural institution. During its heyday, the station was arguably the most important cultural organization in the Los Angeles area, having greater influence on lovers of classical music than even the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Announcers such as Howard Rhines, Dick Crawford, Thomas Cassidy, Carl Princi, Fred Crane, Steve Allen, Alfred Leonard, Tom Dixon, Bill Carlson, Dick Joy, Tom Franklin, Ed Stoddard, Bernie Alan, Rodger Layng, Steve Markham and Doug Ordunio were featured on the station. For several years, the station also carried the daily syndicated Adventures in Good Music with Karl Haas. Other regularly scheduled programs were hosted by Leonora Schildkraut, Werner Klemperer, and Gussie Moran. [1][2]

Contents

Overview

Many of its programs, such as "The Gas Company Evening Concert," "Luncheon at the Music Center," and "The World of Opera" lasted for decades – with the Gas Company show airing for over 40 years. The station's "DJs" also had unusual career longevity; according to some estimates, their collective tenure at the station was over 400 years. This unique staying power, and the fact that at times KFAC was the only classical musical station in Los Angeles (KUSC, its last competitor, did not convert to full time classical music broadcasting until 1976, and despite being non-commercial never achieved the listenership of the professionally formatted KFAC) meant that several generations of Angelenos grew up listening to the station. That, along with its cultural authority, gave the station a special place in their affections.

Early years and Later Developments

Like most radio stations in the 1940s, KFAC did not fill one niche, but rather broadcast a wide variety of programming, including baseball games from the Pacific Coast League. Its evolution into the all classical-music format was a slow process over many years. Its first classical music show began in December 1943, when Thomas Cassidy began hosting a two-hour nightly program sponsored by the Southern California Gas Company. Eventually the station added a second show, "Musical Masterpieces". It was Cassidy's responsibility to build the musical library for these shows.

In 1945, the station's owner, E.L. Cord (the F.A.C. in the station's call letters stood for "Fuller Auburn Cord", the Auburn Cord & Duesenberg dealer in the Los Angeles area, and western region headquarters for the Auburn Automobile Co. The transmitter was located on the roof of the building), was touring the station when he saw for the first time the huge collection of discs (a full symphony might take up twelve 78 rpm discs) KFAC owned. Cord decided to make better use of this investment by switching to all-classical music. Management tested the waters on this idea by asking the audience if they wanted another nighttime program, "Lucky Lager Dance Time" (which played pop and swing tunes) to continue or if they would prefer more classical. Classical won by a slim margin.

Tom Dixon hosted the afternoon shift. His frequent errors (from mispronouncing the names of conductors and performers to playing movements of concertos and symphonies in the wrong order), prompted listener Sarah Lee Halpern to write to Dixon suggesting he name his show "Music and Mistakes With Tom Dixon." For a long time afterwards, every time Dixon made an error, he would say, "I'm sorry, Sarah Lee…" Dixon's less-formal atmosphere and willingness to admit his errors on the air endeared him to audiences. (Another listener once asked Dixon, "Who writes your mistakes?") For years Dixon signed off with the phrase "TTFN" (ta ta for now). Dick Crawford on the weekends was famous for playing opera records out of order and once played Bach's Brandenburg Concerto at the wrong speed.

From 1952 – 1973 KFAC broadcast performances from the Hollywood Bowl. The station pioneered an early form of stereo broadcast by having two microphones on different sides of the Bowl. Listeners at home who had two radios were instructed to place them seven to twelve feet apart and tune one to the 92.3 FM band and the other to KFAC's AM frequency, 1330. This method of producing stereo came to an end with the advent of FM multiplexing.

Bowl broadcasts featured an intermission program and interview hosted by Thomas Cassidy. On non-broadcast nights, Cassidy appeared onstage at intermission to welcome the audience to the venue. Ultimately he was christened "The Voice of the Hollywood Bowl." However, Ernest Fleishmann, who had been hired as executive director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, upon assuming management of the Hollywood Bowl, terminated Cassidy's appearances.

From 1953 to 1986 Carl Princi hosted "The World of Opera." Heard weekdays at 3 p.m., this hour-long program played selections from a wide variety of operas, both famous and obscure. Another well-known program was "Continental Varieties" which played every weekday afternoon at 3 PM with distinctive theme music by the English light music composer Eric Coates.

The Los Angeles Music Center, a three-theatre complex, opened in 1964. "Luncheon at the Music Center" was created in the early 1960s by Thomas Cassidy, who also hosted the program for its first eleven years. The progam was considered by many the pre-eminent talk show on which to plug theatrical and musical events in the Southern California area. Broadcast weekdays live from the then Pavilion Restaurant of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Music Center (with recorded shows only on holidays), the show interviewed not only musicians but also actors and directors who were either involved in local productions or just visiting the area. The guests actually did eat lunch during the show – during musical interludes – though the host did not. Nonetheless, the presence of other diners at the restaurant gave the show one of its hallmark elements: the sounds of plates and cutlery clacking in the background. Originally the program was broadcast using one microphone in the middle of the table. Eventually that was increased to three, which decreased the need for everyone talking to lean so far forward. Martin Workman succeeded Thomas Cassidy and hosted the show for 14 years.

During the latter years of the station, KFAC made various attempts to appeal to a younger audience. Most of these attempts were brought about by some of the youngest staff members Dennis Parnell and Doug Ordunio.

One of the most unusual programs of all was the institution of “Global Village” which was heard from 1974 until 1986. It was conceived by then FM Programmer Dennis Parnell, who was also a professional singer and voice teacher in the Los Angeles area. The basic idea of the show was to extend the concept of style so that ALL types of music would be considered appropriate. One of the most unusual juxtapositions attempted by Parnell during these early stages was to combine an obscure wordless choral composition by Sergei Rachmaninoff with Janis Joplin’s recording of the song Mercedes Benz. This was considered rather shocking to some of the station’s dyed-in-the-wool listeners, however, it did serve to attract a number of younger listeners as well as older listeners with open minds who were interested in hearing new ideas. The station had often been criticized as a dinosaur and the announcing style was viewed as stodgy. Its opening tagline, spoken each week by host Carl Princi was “Welcome to Global Village, a meeting place for the I and the ear.”

After several months on the air, Parnell decided that he should receive additional monies in order to continue the production of the show, since the show was rather time-consuming to prepare. He proceeded to tell program director Carl Princi that he would stop production of the show if his demands were not met. Princi then had a meeting with then library employee Doug Ordunio. Princi asked Ordunio if it would be possible for him to continue production of “Global Village” if Parnell made good on his threat to end the program. He agreed to continue since he also possessed a vast musical knowledge, regardless of style. This move effectively ended the friendship between Parnell and Ordunio. Parnell left the station around April 1974. Ordunio was installed as the new FM Programmer, a job he continued until Dec. 31, 1986.

Under Ordunio’s direction, “Global Village” ascended to greater heights and created more unusual sounds and experiments of music, such as the night a slow movement from a Mahler symphony and a Bruckner symphony were heard simultaneously.

Ordunio was responsible for creating other provocative classical music programs, such as “At Home With” which featured interviews recorded at the homes of classical musical celebrities who lived in Southern California. He also produced five 4-hour specials collectively known as “The Circular Path”, which expounded the idea that all music was bounded by a series of concepts and forms which would eventually repeat themselves. The program began with the sound of the aortic pulse recorded within a mother’s uterus (the first sound ostensibly heard by a fetus), and then took listeners through the history of music with compositions as well as interviews with prominent musical figures. The final show was four hours of conjectures about the future of classical music. The most unusual idea set forth was stated by composer Henry Brant who said that we would someday find ourselves in a world of “music pollution.” The entire program ended with a live recording of singer Peter Allen performing “Everything Old Is New Again,” which was basically the philosophy behind the entire 20-hour program.

The last show created by Ordunio before the station’s decline was “Making Waves,” a program of new age music, airing during a period before the creation of such stations as “The Wave.” At the time the program was instituted on Friday nights at 11:00 pm, the only broadcast vehicle for this music was a show known as “Midnight Café” on KNX-FM.

This program and “Global Village” were abandoned by Robert Goldfarb (program director under Louise Heifetz) because they were deemed inappropriate for the station’s image.

Humorous anecdotes about KFAC

These recollections are by former announcer Doug Ordunio.

One of the funniest moments on Luncheon at the Music Center occurred during the tenure of host Thomas Cassidy. Since the program was run live and without tape delay, the guests needed to be on their best behavior. Cassidy was a strict Roman Catholic. One day when composer/conductor Lukas Foss was a guest on the show, he suddenly spouted out this uncensored remark. “There is always that wonderful story told about Beethoven who wrote a letter to a music critic, saying ‘What I shit is better than what you write.’” Cassidy was stuck because nothing could prevent the offending word from being broadcast.

After Martin Workman took over the program, another wonderful occasion was his interview of the guests who were in the current LA production of A Chorus Line. For music, Workman needed to play the Original Broadway Cast recording. However, he didn’t audition the recording for lyrical content, and so all the songs with bad lyrics (from the T and A song on down) went right over the air, much to the consternation of Workman.

Thomas Cassidy was like a ghost. One never saw him in the halls of the station. He would arrive in the middle of the night, record and leave the LPs for the next week’s shows and disappear back to the SF Valley. He always prided himself on his consistent professional deportment on the air. One night I decided to tune in the Gas Company program as I was driving in my car. the familiar Tchaikovsky theme was heard. Cassidy usually said, “Good evening, friends. This is Thomas Cassidy…” However, this time we heard “Good evening, friends…What the hell’s going on here?” Then I heard the volume turned down on the voice track. When the engineer Susan Rouzer deemed it was OK to proceed, she warily turned the track back up. Cassidy’s final word before the first front announcement were: “You get a lot more than gas, from The Gas Company.” I immediately pulled over and phoned the station, telling Susan, “Don’t let that voice track out of your sight. That is a keeper! Put it on my desk after the show.”

Tom Franklin, (called “the dean of Southern California business news reporters”) who hosted Executive Report on KFAC AM-FM for many years was the best man for the job. He was often gone on sponsored press junkets around the world, and he spoke with many top people at corporations everywhere. His show was the source of many intentional as well as unintentional bits of humor.

He was also a notorious tippler, and it was noted that he was probably one of the few people who fell down the stairs in the posh Wilshire Blvd. restaurant Perino’s without spilling a drop of his gin and tonic. His reputation was shared with Doug Ordunio and engineer Richard Nielsen (who worked the morning shift). For several years the trio kept a collection of all the empty liquor bottles whose contents they had consumed on the station premises. These were place on top of the record shelves in a location that could not be seen by the general public. When they were finally discarded after several years, they filled a LARGE trash can.

One of the funniest intentional moments on the show was when Franklin interviewed the owner of the Dutch liqueur company, known in that country as Wyn and Fokking. Tom got the executive to explain the company’s transition to the US market, and the owners were warned that they needed to change the name due to the similarity of one of its names to an obscene word in English. Their solution was to change the name to “Bols” (which when spoken by the Netherlander seemed very similar to the English slang word for “testicles”).

Franklin was also known for breaking into laughter on the air, so uncontrollably that it would take him minutes to recover. This happened quite a number of times, so much so that in the Master Control room, a tape was kept which was labeled “The Tom Franklin Memorial Reel.” The story he loved to tell was one from his earlier days, when in the middle of a longer scripted segment, he heard a click on the desktop next to him. When he glanced up to see what it was, some person had placed a tall drink glass partially filled with water and a handful of Alka Seltzer tablets. A condom had been stretched over the top and as the tablets fizzed away, the condom rose to an erect position. Franklin lost it again…

One of the funniest things in which almost the entire staff participated was a video project that was created as a parting gift to the station manager George Fritzinger and his exceptional German secretary, Regina Sears. It was a station tour, conducted by the longtime KFWB news announcer Dan Evey (who was married to a member of the station’s sales department, Michelle Davis).

The search, which visited all areas of the station, was to find the office of salesman Courtney Thompson (which was actually placed far into the recesses of the record library) near the offices of music director Clyde Allen, FM Programmer Doug Ordunio, and assistant programmer Steven de Mena.

All of the staff participated and along the wayward path, gave their farewells to George and Regina. Obviously, the staff members who had the greatest senses of humor provided some of the funniest moments on the tape. Perhaps the most audacious segment came near the end when the camera visited the FM studio, where Doug Ordunio was (apparently, but not actually) on the air. He was seated behind the mike and before he was about to talk on the air, he arranged some mysterious white powder (actually powdered sugar) on top of a large square mirror, and with a straw, pretended to snort cocaine.

After doing this, he seemed to open the mike and begin cursing wildly, as he announced a piece of music. The white powder was covering his nose. When this tape was shown at a reunion of the staff given at Sportsmen’s Lodge on Ventura Blvd, this spot provided one of the biggest laughs of the evening.

The tape concluded with the actual homeless man who often reclined beneath one of the shade trees outside the station with his dog, waving and saying his goodbye to George and Regina. Those two left before the notorious firing of New Years 1986. (Actually as salesman Courtney Thompson left the station after having been let go, he said to the library staff who were in their offices, "Watch out! There's blood spurting everywhere!")

One of Doug Ordunio's favorite tag lines for a station ID was: "KFAC-FM, Los Angeles--the bastion of sanity for Southern California."

Sales and ultimate conversion

Cleveland Broadcasting purchased KFAC from the Cord estate, and was itself purchased after a successful campaign by Atlantic States Industries (ASI), a subsidiary of the McGavrin-Guild "rep" company. Under ASI, KFAC ended its ban on commercial "jingles." Previous policy had been that all commercials had to be voiced by KFAC announcers. While music beds, usually classical, were OK, ad agency jingles were anathema. ASI also instituted the combo operation of broadcast consoles, so that KFAC announcers finally became radio DJs. Previously, engineers had spun the records and announcers had merely announced, either live or on tape. When time came for FCC license renewal, a group of challengers also applied for the license, claiming that KFAC was not serving the local African-American community. This seemed a ludicrous charge because the station never discriminated against any group in its choice of featured composers or performers.

Investigations seemed to uncover that the protesting group had challenged other station licenses for the purposes of extorting substantial amounts of money from the station owners. It is not known precisely how much money was paid by the owners of KFAC to settle a possible lawsuit, but typically when a station’s license is being contested during the renewal process, there is a slim chance of it being sold.

In 1986 a group of investors headed by Louise Heifetz (daughter-in-law of the violin virtuoso Jascha Heifetz) purchased the station for around $33 million. She and her accomplice (program director Robert Goldfarb) fired most of the staff announcers in the hope that new talent would attract new listeners. The highly respected engineering staff was also laid off in the new years blood bath of 1987. Supposedly, Goldfarb had been hired to do the same for manager Wallace Smith at KUSC a few years before.

During the next three years the station's ratings declined and it was sold to Evergreen Media, who changed its format and recast it as KKBT-FM "(The Beat", which eventually moved to 100.3 FM), an R&B station. Several years ago, Ralph Guild, the top man in charge of the company that owned KFAC confided that putting the station up for sale was one of the biggest mistakes he ever made.

In 1989, the new owners donated both the KFAC call sign and the classical record library to University of Southern California Radio station KUSC, which assigned the call sign to its Santa Barbara satellite.

Today the 92.3 frequency is home to HOT 92.3 Old School and R&B. The KFAC call letters, at home on the Santa Barbara translator for KUSC for over a decade, were replaced when the station chose to have all of its affiliates have call letters ending with "SC."

References

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