Radio Battles

KRE 1950s

Radio Battles of the Early 80s

Smooth Jazz Comes to Berkeley

John Fraim

Below are notes based on some of thoughts and memories of Berkeley in the early 80s. One of the big things I remember from this time is the battle between two jazz radio stations: the new KBLX and the old KRE. Idea for a story as well as a diorama.

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KBLX FM. New radio station in Berkeley with a new smooth R&D format in the radio industry, soft jazz for a new generation of music fans. Called The Quiet Storm. The new corporate player in Berkeley with HQ out of Dallas. First attempt at imposing a smooth-jazz formula playlist. The station is their national test station for this new format of music. It would take jazz out of its dingy, dark little clubs and make it background music for a new white audience for this new type of jazz audience. Not the jazz you heard late at night in some place, but rather jazz music in the background of some family picnic on a bright Saturday afternoon … in the wine country. (In fact, up in places like Sonoma County where I lived a number of years, this type of jazz would be referred to as Chardonnay Jazz as it was played at so many wineries for various events.) Today, KBLX, called the “soul” of the Bay Area. (Hear the original test radio spots for the new KBLX via link at end of this post)

KBLX: New Face of Jazz in Early 80s Berkeley

And, there was KRE AM. An old, traditional, jazz station. The kind that Berkeley would want and in fact need. The old KRE station on the south part of Aquatic Park had been home to many famous Bay Area radio personalities. The sound of the Bay Area was broadcast out from the Berkeley jazz radio station for many years. But, it had fallen into disgrace and dis-repair. Did the fading building of KRE represent the end of an era? Or perhaps, the beginning of a new one?

KRE: Old Face of Jazz in Berkeley 

The Fantasy Building in Berkeley. The real film center of northern California … except perhaps the Lucas operations in Marin. A film studio and record studio with many independent film producers working out of it in the early 80. Much of the KRE jazz recorded in this studio only a mile east of the station. Founded by Saul Zaentz, it was a multi-media arts complex. (I was lucky enough to have an office at Fantasy for a few years at the time of this story).

Fantasy Studios in Berkeley

Old, legendary jazz record producer(modeled on Orrin Keepnews) has an office in the Fantasy Building. He produces music at Fantasy and supports KRE radio. He has produced idol of the narrator/hero of this story at the time – McCoy Tyner. Through Tyner, the narrator of the blog/diorama discovers the music of John Coltrane and ends up writing a book about him. A deep interest in jazz at this time overtakes the hero of the story after five years working for one of the world’s largest corporations. After three years of law school and five years with this corporation, jazz is the first of his artistic muses to return to his life. There is an interest to listen to avant-garde jazz and access to it via friends at KRE and friends in an early San Francisco support group for something new in jazz called Loft Jazz.

McCoy Tyner’s Inner Voices – Fantasy Studios Late 70s

The story takes place over the summer that KBLX moves into a new building in the northern section of Berkeley’s Aquatic Park in west Berkeley next to the freeway. It is a state-of-the art building but fits in hardly at all to the surrounding environment in Berkeley where it has recently landed … from its command center in Dallas.

On the southern section of Aquatic Park is a crumbling, old building next to a two hundred-foot antennae tower. Weeds grow unattended around the building. It has the rounded corners and the funny glass windows of that particular style of building of the early 50s. The letters KRE appear on the front of the building. At night, the neon letters KRE light up in big red letters in the front of the building and also on the KRE radio tower next to it. The big red letters on the radio tower can be seen all over Berkeley and by the traffic on the freeway.

(The two locations and buildings are fictional. KBLX actually operated out of the same building that KRE operated out of. The change is for dramatic effect. We will be changing names in this story and do not intend to write some history of this time. Rather, a novel/screenplay based around this period of time.)

The long, narrow Aquatic Park Lake sees all types of events for various Berkeley causes. The northern part is near University Avenue and the southern part, a half of a mile south, is right on Ashby. Both University and Ashby are the major routes across Berkeley from East to West. They define, in many ways, the true north and southern parts of central Berkeley.

* * *

And so, that battle between two radio stations in Berkeley for the music minds, has changed much of the popular jazz heard today. The fact that the power of KBLX eventually dominated and destroyed KRE should not be much of a surprise to anyone.

One of the more interesting aspects of the radio battle I witnessed (listened to) in the early 80s was the new commercials for KBLX. I have a collection of radio commercial jingles from the original KBLX that they tested when they first came into Berkeley. One can hear the – almost forced – professionalism in the tests for new commercials for the new jazz format station.

Perhaps various sounds (Bluetooth in the diorama) should be coming from the two structures? The KBLX building blares out the test radio commercials while the old KRE building plays straight ahead jazz like Horace Silver and Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea and Santana. (In fact, famous musicians give a benefit concerts in Aquatic Park in support of KRE during this time. Perhaps the story centers around the largest concert to save KRE?

A story about this time. The music of many lives in Berkeley, a new type of battle with a type of intruder into the community of Berkeley from some outside force.

Few times in my life have the forces of good and bad been so vividly defined.

In a building on the north part of Aquatic Park and a building on the south part of Aquatic Park.

For me, for those living in Berkeley at the time. A certain image or sound from the collision of types of music.

It was something big at the Aquatic Park in Berkeley that summer.

It is still big today.

Berkeley Aquatic Park Today

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Hear Various Test Radio Spots in Early 80s for the New KBLX

The last days of KRE.

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