Sponsor of 1st LA Music Awards
KNAC is a Los Angeles heavy metal FM radio station originally owned by Fred Sands that broadcast from January 8, 1986 at 105.5 MHz to February 15, 1995. However, KNAC was revived in February 1998 as an internet based radio station
The original KNAC was based in Long Beach, California and served Los Angeles and Orange counties on the FM band at a center frequency of 105.5 MHz. KNAC-FM had a variety of different formats. With a relatively weak radio signal and a small geographical area, KNAC never appeared in the Arbitron radio ratings. Outside the Los Angeles area, the station gained a huge following from heavy metal fans across the United States (via marketing and selling of t-shirts, stickers, compact discs, etc., with ads in heavy metal fan magazines). Before KNAC became popular under the heavy metal format, KNAC was branded as “The Knack.”
KNAC was inducted into the Rock Radio Hall of Fame in the “Legends of Rock Radio-Stations” category in 2014.
In the late 1960s through the late 1970s, the Rock format KNAC ran was referred to as “freeform.” A “freeform” radio format gives the on-air talent almost total control over what music to play, regardless of commercial concerns.
Popular performers of the time such as Avant-garde Experimental music artist Frank Zappa and comical theatre troupe The Firesign Theatre would stop by the stations studios to perform live or act as guest DJs.
During the early part of this era, the station’s on-air personalities would often perform their shifts while smoking marijuana or after having consumed other illicit drugs and alcoholic beverages usually provided by the mainstream record promoters in an effort to get their albums noticed, as many of so-called “underground” stations of the era were also known to do across the country.
During the early days of KNAC some of L.A.’s diamonds in the rough were found. Most notably, Ron McCoy (6 A.M. to Noon) was not only the Program Director but also a seasoned musician with the hard rock recording group MSG who released Little Suzie Looker (Hooker) and other regional hits. Jim Ladd (12 noon to 6 P.M.), who later moved to KLOS, would become one of the first nationally syndicated jocks with The Inner View along with his partner Jerry Longdon (12 A.M. to 6 A.M.), who went on to become the announcer on Don Kirshner’s ABC TV show In Concert (Ladd has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame). Frank Jolley (7 P.M to Midnight) was the first at KNAC to appear in the L.A. Arbitron with a very respectable showing. That performance brought him to the attention of Southern Pacific’s KKDJ, who hired him. Jolley would later become a motion picture producer and mentor chairman of the Producers Guild of America. While at KNAC Jolley produced the first-ever feature film for the infant cable TV industry, winning him the 1972 National Cable Television Association Award for his production of ZEBRA-9.
As a freeform radio station, KNAC featured typical rock artists of the day such as The Beatles, The Who, Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes, Pink Floyd, Genesis, among others. With its liberal on-air format, however, KNAC also played album tracks or songs by the more popular rock music artists that other radio stations would generally not play. In addition, KNAC broadcast artists that received less airplay on more commercial rock stations. These artists could include anyone from San Francisco Bay Area psychedelic music act It’s a Beautiful Day, blues rock group Electric Flag, to progressive rock acts such as the Moody Blues. Some rhythm and blues, soul and funk artists including Sly and the Family Stone, B.B. King, Chambers Brothers and Funkadelic were also heard on KNAC. The station’s owners during that period were Jim and Claudia Harden.
By the middle of the 1970s the underground and counterculture movements of the 1960s were giving way to newer subcultures. In response, KNAC started to play more punk rock and new wave music. By the late 1970s, KNAC had begun to evolve into an eclectic alternative music station.
Alternative music era
During the first half of the 1980s, KNAC ran an alternative music format. KNAC was known in the early 1980s as “Rock N Rhythm 105.5 KNAC,” developed by program director and afternoon drive DJ Jimmy “The Saint” Christopher. KNAC had a reputation as a cutting-edge station that played music that would later be added to stations like KROQ-FM. Bands like The Jam, Lone Justice, The Blasters, Elvis Costello and Dave Edmunds frequently visited the station’s Long Beach studio. The station was considered influential in bringing about a thriving alternative music scene in Orange County and Long Beach. Members of Sublime and No Doubt would listen religiously every Sunday night to Roberto Angotti’s “Reggae Revolution” from 1982 to 1986. Angotti was responsible for launching the careers of UB40, Steel Pulse, Pato Banton, Tippa Irie, Macka B, Mad Professor and many other British-based artists. He would venture to Jamaica to document the roots of reggae and recorded Peter Tosh’s final interview before his untimely death. “Reggae Revolution” was the only radio show that survived the “Pure Rock” format change, as Angotti took the #1 Arbitron rated program to KROQ in Pasadena/Burbank, where he would remain until his move to 91X in San Diego in the early 1990s. Announcers Norm McBride, Sylvia Amerito, Mary Hogins, Kat Snow, Rick Stuart, Soup Sullivan, Roland West, Doug Adams and Manny Pacheco were a few of the popular DJs of this time.
Heavy metal era
In 1984, Fred Sands purchased the radio station at a bankruptcy auction.
Sands advertised in trade publications indicating his desire to hire a general manager with major market experience. Gary Price, an industry veteran, took the job and worked with Sands, who was intimately involved for the first year.
The antenna was moved from Signal Hill, California to Dominguez Hills, increasing the coverage area. In addition, Sands and Price ordered and installed state-of-the-art equipment for the new studio location and hired a new engineer.
With all the new improvements, Sands and Price recognized that KNAC needed a new sound as well. They selected a heavy metal format, targeting younger demographics. For the first time KNAC appeared in the Arbitron ratings and, once established, the station took in revenues of at least a million dollars per year. During the nine-year “Hard Rock” era, the KNAC program directors were Jimmy Christopher, Tom Marshall, Pam Edwards, Gregg Steele and Bryan Schock. Among the music directors at KNAC during that time frame were Kevin Stephens, Ross Goza and Michael Davis. Davis’ on-air moniker was “Jack The Ripper”. Original on-air talent included Kat Snow as “Killer Kat,” Lady Di, and Paul Lobster. Tawn Mastery took over Killer Kat’s shift in 1986.
Bands in KNAC’s playlist ranged from heavy metal, hard rock, classic rock and progressive rock such as Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, AC/DC, Van Halen, Aerosmith, Kiss, Scorpions, Guns N’ Roses and Rush, thrash metal such as Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax, Suicidal Tendencies and Testament, and grunge or alternative metal such as Faith No More, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and Tool.
Sands and Price worked together for about ten years. Sands sold the radio station in 1994 for five times what he paid for it in 1984.
Decline in popularity
By early 1992, heavy metal was losing ground to the growing popularity of various “Alternative Subcultures”. In trying to keep up with the times, KNAC began adding more music acts popular in the alternative music genre to its playlist rotation. The majority of these were the more guitar-based grunge acts like Pearl Jam and Nirvana as well as punk acts like The Offspring. While fans of the more adventurous and alternative earlier KNAC incarnation heralded a possible return to the previous format, many metal fans disliked KNAC’s new sound, and the station, already in ratings trouble, saw further declines in audience shares. In 1994, management announced that KNAC was being sold and was switching to a Spanish-language music format. Heavy metal fans began tuning in again to find that KNAC had returned to its metal format for the few last months. Once again, headbangers could hear the classic metal they had not heard in a while, like Megadeth or Saxon.
Finally, the last day, February 15, 1995, arrived. James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich of Metallica appeared as guests to show their support. The last song to be played on KNAC was Metallica’s “Fade to Black”. At 1:59 p.m., KNAC went off the air with a short farewell message from general manager Gary Price.
The 105.5 frequency became KBUE on March 6, 1995.
Return via World Wide Web
In 1998, under the guidance of record company promoter Rob Jones, Jr., a group of former KNAC staffers revived the station via Internet at KNAC.com, utilizing the relatively new technology of streaming audio. The music resembles that of the “halcyon days” of the 1980s, complete with the white-on-black KNAC logo and other on-air features.
In early 2001, the KNAC.COM brand and website was licensed by arrangement to Clear Channel Interactive through a merger with Enigma Digital, previous licensor of the KNAC.COM brand and website in 1999. This license remained effective until November 2001 when Clear Channel shuttered its Internet division.
In June 2007, it was announced that KNAC DJ Tawn Mastrey had to leave her job as host of “Hair Nation” on Sirius Satellite Radio as a result of complications caused by Hepatitis C. (She died on October 2, 2007.) To build awareness of Mastrey’s situation, a KNAC-FM “On Air” reunion was held on July 28, 2007 at WPMD.org on the campus of Cerritos College in Norwalk, California, which included many of the original KNAC air personalities and Price. (Click here for a podcast of this reunion.