Interested in much more about this subject? Woody Goulart’s eBook, Boss Radio KHJ in the Neon Fun Jungle, is a personal, up-close story. Updated with new material in March 2016. Special discounted price now for a limited time only. Available exclusively for Amazon Kindle.
By design, the main focus of the Boss Radio format at KHJ was the music. In Los Angeles during 1965 when the new format was launched on KHJ, what singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell would later call “the star-maker machinery” was in full gear. A very high output of recording industry product in those days coincided with the arrival of the new format.
So many unforgettable recording artists were consistently producing and releasing new rock and roll music at that time. Their product was perfect for being showcased on Boss Radio KHJ.
The legacies continue into the present day of recording artists such as The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Cher, Marvin Gaye, Dianna Ross, The Rolling Stones, and Stevie Wonder—whose songs were popularized on the new KHJ in the 1960s.
Here are the number one songs played on Boss Radio KHJ in the late 1960s after the station had become LA’s most popular station but before FM radio became the dominant medium for rock and roll music starting in the 1970s:
Just Like Me—Paul Revere & The Raiders
These Boots Are Made For Walkin—Nancy Sinatra
California Dreamin’—Mamas & Papas
Soul And Inspiration—Righteous Brothers
Monday, Monday—Mamas & Papas
When A Man Loves A Woman—Percy Sledge
A Groovy Kind Of Love—Mindbenders
Searching For My Love—Bobby Moore
Strangers In The Night—Frank Sinatra
Lil’ Red Riding Hood—Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs
Summer In The City—The Lovin’ Spoonful
Yellow Submarine / Eleanor Rigby—The Beatles
You Can’t Hurry Love—The Supremes
Psychotic Reaction—Count Five 96 Tears—? & The Mysterians
I’m Your Puppet—James & Bobby Purify
Good Vibrations—The Beach Boys
Devil With A Blue Dress On &Good Golly Miss Molly—Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels
I’m A Believer / Steppin’ Stone—The Monkees
Ruby Tuesday—The Rolling Stones
Happy Together—The Turtles
Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye—The Casinos
There’s A Kind Of Hush / No Milk Today—Herman’s Hermits
Somethin’ Stupid—Nancy & Frank Sinatra
I Think We’re Alone Now—Tommy James & The Shondells
The Happening—The Supremes
Groovin’—The Young Rascals
Society’s Child—Janis Ian
Light My Fire—The Doors
The Oogum Boogum Song—Brenton Wood
I Was Made To Love Her—Stevie Wonder
Can’t Take My Eyes Off You—Frankie Valli
All You Need Is Love / Baby You’re A Rich Man—The Beatles
San Franciscan Nights—The Animals
Ode To Billie Joe—Bobbie Gentry
The Letter—Box Tops
Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie—Jay & The Techniques
Higher And Higher—Jackie Wilson
How Can I Be Sure—The Rascals
It Must Be Him—Vicki Carr
Expressway To Your Heart—Soul Survivors
I Say A Little Prayer—Dionne Warwick
Different Drum—Stone Poneys
I Second That Emotion—The Miracles
Hello Goodbye / I Am The Walrus—The Beatles
Boogaloo Down Broadway—Fantastic Johnny C
Itchycoo Park—Small Faces
Nobody But Me—Human Beinz
Green Tambourine—Lemon Pipers
Love Is Blue—Paul Mauriat
The Dock Of The Bay—Otis Redding
(Theme From) Valley Of The Dolls—Dionne Warwick
Mighty Quinn—Manfred Mann
Young Girl—Gary Puckett & The Union Gap
Cry Like A Baby—Box Tops
A Beautiful Morning—The Rascals
The Good, The Bad And The Ugly—Hugo Montenegro
Tighten Up—Archie Bell & The Drells
This Guy’s In Love With You—Herb Alpert
Mony Mony—Tommy James & The Shondells
Jumpin’ Jack Flash—The Rolling Stones
Hurdy Gurdy Man—Donovan
Grazing In The Grass—Hugh Masekela
Hello, I Love You—The Doors
Classical Gas—Mason Williams
People Got To Be Free—The Rascals
Born To Be Wild—Steppenwolf
On The Road Again—Canned Heat
Harper Valley P.T.A.—Jeannie C. Riley
Hey Jude / Revolution—The Beatles
Those Were The Days—Mary Hopkin
Magic Carpet Ride—Steppenwolf
Love Child—The Supremes
For Once In My Life—Stevie Wonder
Lo Mucho Que Te Quiero—Rene & Rene
I Heard It Through The Grapevine—Marvin Gaye
Soulful Strut—Young-Holt Unlimited
Crimson And Clover—Tommy James & The Shondells
Everyday People—Sly & The Family Stone
You Showed Me—The Turtles
Mendocino—Sir Douglas Quintet
Baby, Baby Don’t Cry—Miracles
Indian Giver—1910 Fruitgum Co.
Time Of The Season—Zombies
Aquarius / Let The Sunshine In— The Fifth Dimension
More Today Than Yesterday—Spiral Staircase
Oh Happy Day—Edwin Hawkins Singers
Bad Moon Rising—Creedence Clearwater Revival
Grazing In The Grass—Friends Of Distinction
Love Theme From Romeo & Juliet—Henry Mancini
What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)—Jr. Walker & The All Stars
Crystal Blue Persuasion—Tommy James & The Shondells
My Cherie Amour—Stevie Wonder
In The Year 2525—Zager & Evans
Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town—First Edition
A Boy Named Sue—Johnny Cash
Honky Tonk Women—The Rolling Stones
Sugar, Sugar—The Archies
Easy To Be Hard—Three Dog Night
Hurt So Bad—The Lettermen
Oh, What A Night—The Dells
Little Woman—Bobby Sherman
Suspicious Minds—Elvis Presley
Hot Fun In The Summertime—Sly & The Family Stone
Take A Letter Maria—R.B. Greaves
Something / Come Together—The Beatles
Someday We’ll Be Together—The Supremes
Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head—B.J. Thomas
The question needs to be asked: Did the music played within the new format on Boss Radio KHJ make the format and the station so successful? Or, was it the other way around? Was Boss Radio KHJ a channel for the transmission of pop culture? Or could pop culture have been transmitted to the people in some other way without this radio station?
In the 1960s one radio station in one American city could more easily distinguish itself from all the rest across an entire nation compared to today when that accomplishment would be almost impossible. For one thing, in those days there were far fewer radio stations on the air than we have today. There were also many more mom-and-pop owners of radio stations in contrast to today’s mega corporation control of radio stations in many markets across the United States.
As the Elton John hit Crocodile Rock asks, “Do you remember when rock was young?” The year 1965 was that time. It was the first full year after The Beatles initially came to the United States, and the entire recorded music industry on both sides of the Atlantic was supercharged by a high-energy competition between British and American rock and roll music artists.
This made the mid-1960s a major turning point for rock and roll music, which during this particular time became big business for major record labels that wanted to cash in on the exploding audience interest. The new format on Boss Radio KHJ was launched within this social and economic context in Los Angeles, a nexus for the North American record labels.
Who would have noticed, for instance, if this rock and roll radio approach had been launched anywhere else but in the entertainment capital of the world? I posed this question to Bill Drake, the one person whose name is most often linked to Boss Radio KHJ in Los Angeles. I ask Drake whether he thought that there was something inherent in California that allowed for growth in the creative sense in radio programming as compared to other states.
Drake, who was from Georgia, said, “I think that Boston and Detroit are pretty much like LA as far as operating a [rock and roll radio] station. I think it wouldn’t have made a whole lot of difference [had Boss Radio started in the east instead of in the west]. I’ll tell you this: I sure as hell would rather have been living here and going to New York from time to time than living in New York and going anywhere. I’m sure that if I’d lived in New York at the time, I’d probably have been on the road 300 days a year.”
What about the differences between radio programming in Los Angeles versus San Francisco? After the success of the Boss Radio format in Los Angeles on KHJ in 1965, the parent company (RKO) had Drake and company bring the same sound to San Francisco on KFRC. Prior to making a success of the Boss Radio format in Los Angeles, Drake had previously worked in San Francisco, so he had a high familiarity with all that was San Francisco radio in the 1960s.
One well known and uniquely San Francisco style or sound belonged to Tom Donahue in the 1960s. Drake told me that he knew Donahue quite well. “We were doing two different things,” Drake said. “Donahue and I had worked together at KYA. When I was program director at KYA, he was a jock there, and a damn good one.” Drake explained to me that the trade magazines’ commentary in those days about Donahue’s “aesthetic appreciation” of music programming versus Drake’s “product oriented” approach was a mischaracterization. Drake said, “I don’t think that I could ever try to explain away what I did by saying I was doing it for art’s sake. That’s bullshit. I think that anybody in this business who says they are–I don’t care if they’re a liquor company or a radio station or whether they are an artist or [musical] group or anything–anyone who says they’re doing it for art’s sake is either lying or a failure, one of the two.”
Clearly, what Drake did for radio programming was not about art for art’s sake. Rather, the sum total of what Drake did for radio programming was always all about reaching Drake’s own extremely high professional standards. Drake’s business partner, Gene Chenault (pronounced shuh NAULT), provided for me a unique inside view about how he evaluated his partner, the legendary radio programmer: “Drake is so much of a perfectionist that he is sometimes unhappy because perfection is not easily attained,” Chenault told me.
It is very difficult for me to envision the same kind of financial success of this rock and roll radio format on AM radio in any other market than Los Angeles. It also is difficult to imagine how the reputation, identity, and brand of this particular Los Angeles radio station could have been any more carefully pinpointed or executed, at least at the launch in May 1965.
Drake and Chenault are no longer living today. Some of their most important thoughts and comments have, however, been preserved in text form both here on this website, in my eBook, and in my primary research document.
Interested in much more about this subject? Woody Goulart’s eBook, Boss Radio KHJ in the Neon Fun Jungle, is a personal, up-close story. Special discounted price now for a limited time only. Available exclusively for Amazon Kindle.