This story is dedicated to the many unsung heroes of Bay Area Radio and TV: the Public Affairs Directors who kept the station licenses and helped our communities. (Apologies if I mistakenly left your name off the list – we’re not unsung for nothing!)
Jane Morrison, who held the Public Affairs position at KNBC/KNBR for decades.
Belva Davis was Public Affairs Director at KWBR and KDIA in her early days.
Lissa Kreisler was Public Affairs Director at KLOK and KBAY
Janice Edwards KNTV
George Sampson KLIV
Harry Osibin (Harry O) LIVE 105, KFRC, KCBS, KDIA
Sherry Brown – KOIT
Gimmy Park Li – KFOG-KNBR
Joanne Greene at KFRC & KSAN
Leora Johnson and Keven Guillory – KIOI
Javier Valencia at KRON
Rose Gilbault & Mimi Kwan – KGO
“Public Affairs is boring! Who wants to do that?” Most of my DJ friends just wanted to play music and have fun, and who could blame them? But for many broadcasters, Public Affairs was the most meaningful job of them all. I was fortunate. I got to be both a DJ and a Public Affairs Director, and doing both changed the course of my career.
If you became a radio personality after about 1996, chances are that you never knew Public Affairs once played a very important role in American broadcasting. But time changes everything. By the early 2000’s Most of my Public Affairs colleagues had either been timed out or let go to save money. The job of handling Public Affairs became the extra task given to the station manager’s executive assistant or tacked on to an intern’s responsibilities. To learn how Public Affairs went from essential to unnecessary, we need to go back in time. Public Affairs was once an important part of broadcasting, based on The Federal Communications Act of 1934, which was the radio rulebook for decades. To keep the station license, owners had to serve the “problems, needs and interests of the community and prove it to the Federal Communications Commission.
I started as a DJ in the 60’s, and I remember thinking how ridiculous it was to require me to pass engineering tests and get a license to play music and tell jokes on the radio.
Then it got serious: failing the FCC’s First-Class Radiotelephone license test cost me my first job. Lesson learned. I finally passed the test and having that license got me over some big hurdles in my career. At a little station in West Texas, I was technically the Chief Engineer, because I was the only one there with a First-Class License!
At my next job at KDON in Salinas in 1972, 50 bucks a month was the pay for doing Public Affairs duties. To be fair, they were already paying me the princely sum of $600 a month to be their afternoon DJ, so $50 extra was good, and I really liked doing that job.
For practical purposes, since nobody else wanted to take the job, Public Affairs was a form of job security. But money or job security were never the real reasons for doing it. It’s hard to believe, but back then you had to know a lot about all aspects of radio. KDON was a small station, but the year I spent there was an education. And it felt good to help people out. After KDON, I was fortunate to be hired to do mornings at KCBS-FM in San Francisco. The air staff was a fun mix of veterans and relative newbies like me: Bill Dodd had worked in San Francisco, at KSFO and KIOI previously, and Bill’s was the most solid voice. Others on the staff included Bill Keffury, fresh from KFOG, Steve Newman, who was notorious for starting his own radio station in his mom’s garage as a teenager, and a guy named Brian Roberts, who went by the air name of Buck Rogers. After a few months doing mornings, I was asked by Mike Beeson, the station’s News and Public Affairs Director, to interview someone. The “someone” was Sammy Davis Jr. I guess I did a decent job, so I became a regular fill-in for Mike, whenever he was unavailable. That gave me valuable experience and invaluable feedback from a real pro. Mike had created a 60 second Public Affairs feature called “60 Seconds”. It ran on KCBS-FM in commercial breaks throughout the week. A few months after I started, Mike moved down the hall to the news station, KCBS AM, and he recommended me for the Public Affairs position. It was an amazing time!
Alan Bowker With Sam
Together with my capable and creative engineer, Alan Bowker, we produced fifteen “60 Seconds” features a week. But Public Affairs was a passion for me: I loved doing it. It established me at KCBS-FM, and because of the CBS connection, and we shared space with the number one news station, the biggest celebrities of the day came to talk. George Carlin, Michael Jackson, Kirk Douglas, Doris Day and hundreds of others. Authors like Gore Vidal, James Jones, Pat Conroy, who wrote Prince of Tides, shared their wisdom. Decision makers like Harvey Milk, Willie Brown and so many more stopped by to chat. I was able to emcee charity events with sports heroes like Joe Montana and Will, “The Thrill”, Clark.
Sam With Will “The Thrill” Clark
Then one day, James Gabbert, the legendary owner of KIOI, offered me a chance to be heard on a station with a stronger following, The offer was for an afternoon drive shift (no more 4AM wakeup), and he wanted me to bring the Public Affairs feature with me. So, I renamed the feature “Got a Minute?” and the deal was sealed. Jim also owned a radio station in Hawaii, and I later learned that he was airing “Got a Minute?” there, when a listener called to say he’d been listening to me on the beach across the Pacific!
When I left KIOI I took “Got a Minute?” with me to KYA and later KSFO, helping countless nonprofits and getting involved in dozens of fundraising events throughout the Bay Area. Being skilled at Public Affairs played a part in my success and longevity. When I left KSFO, the boss even admitted it would be hard to replace me. The job itself was fulfilling and satisfying, and best of all it kept me gainfully employed for years.
Over those many years, I’ve been fortunate to work with truly great Public Affairs people like KFOG’s Gimmy Park Li, Joanne Greene at KFRC, Javier Valencia and Rosie Chu, and support so many great causes side by side with them and others. Later, at KFRC, I was able to do a live Public Affairs show.
Harry Osibin, aka Harry “O”, And “Don Stevens” On KDIA
When I left, Harry Osibin took over those duties. At my last station, KBAY, Public Affairs meant hosting a Sunday Morning community hour. Budget cuts meant station promotions were eliminated, but together with John Leathers we were able to incorporate Public Affairs into promotions, hosting many events for the Kidney Foundation, Veterans Day, Alzheimer’s annual Memory Walk, and we established a feature through the Silicon Valley Education Foundation to provide teachers with money to buy equipment and educational programs for their classrooms.
We initiated the station motto, “KBAY Cares” and were able to promote the station as a strong community partner for causes people cared about. There’s nothing stronger than standing before hundreds of potential listeners advocating for them and their causes. The last event I hosted was in 2018, and by then, Public Affairs was more than just a way to keep the license. It was both image and reality, and we did it because we could, not because we were required to. I was 17 when I first heard about serving my hometown from my broadcast teachers. They never knew it, but they inspired a lifetime of service, fun and joy on the radio, and I carried their inspiration with me for over 50 years. Public Affairs may once have been a chore, but it came to mean so much more.