BigView Rock and Roll Radio 80s Memories

By Jeff “Beaver” Brown
We had the world by the tail and didn’t even realize it at the time. The DJ’s and staff at 95/KDJK Modesto-Stockton were providing a rock & roll soundtrack to people lives. Our audience was listening to the end of rock radio as we knew it. The memories are still sweet, the friendships have lasted decades, anything like it returning is highly doubtful. The ride was still mighty sweet.
The mid 80’s was a wide-open time in Modesto and 95/KDJK filled a gaping hole for rock radio. Mark Davis, the first Music Director at the station said, “The 1980’s was a fresh and exciting time for music. It didn’t take long to assemble what would become an amazing group of creative, talented, fun loving and passionate people. They made their mark on a rock & roll loving community that spanned from Merced to Stockton.” KDJK was welcomed with open ears like no radio station we could remember. Maybe because we were just like them, we loved the music too. Mark added, “It was a time when one could get a DJ on the phone, make a request and actually hear it. A time when music, air personalities and a radio station involved with the community was very personal.’
KDJK had no computer-generated playlists, no consultant in New York or LA telling us what to play. It was just us, a few people at the station, Mark Davis, Randy Maranz and me, listening to the music being sent from record labels and playing what we thought was best. Most rock radio stations across the country at the time were like that. Our DJ’s had amazing freedom to play songs that worked together. Sure, we had a format for them to follow but the people on the air were good enough to make the occasional left turn. Unlike other radio stations we didn’t talk over the music and most of the time you would hear at least three songs in a row before commercials. Six songs in a row sweeping the top of the hour. Speaking of talk, our DJ’s had freedom to say what they wanted about any subject. Another thing that made our sound unique were what we called “drop-ins.” Short clips from movies or TV shows that are commonplace today. Our jocks just didn’t play one for the heck of it. They tried to make sure it helped blend to the next song.
The impact of KDJK coming on the air was felt by Kris Kosach Wellen, a recent 1985 high school graduate. She called the station a “gamechanger” in the Modesto/Stockton area. As Kris put it, “I remember a buzz about the new station that summer from my high school friends and friends at MJC and my family. We wanted to hear the music on MTV or Night Tracks, KDJK did that and more.” Before they had broken nationwide the band U2 was being played on KDJK, Kris describes it this way, “KDJK was the first station in the valley to play The Joshua Tree when it was released. When that album exploded it gave KDJK more credibility.”
Kris even noted that it was abundantly clear that the music on KDJK was locally handpicked, not just songs from Casey Kasem’s AT40. She went on to say that KDJK was novel and exciting, it felt real and authentic. On weekends when she and her friends would cruise McHenry they would “more or less” judge other people by the music they were blaring. 104.1 at the time was acceptable, but those playing KDJK were our people. In a related twist Kris ended up pulling weekend DJ shifts near the end of KDJK’s run as a rock station in 1994 and 95. Kris went on to be one of the first VJ’s hired at MTV2, a music host on Tech TV and has hosted multiple shows for the Travel Channel.

KDJK provided things for our audience that weren’t available before we signed on locally. The Psychedelic Supper from 6 to 7pm weekdays, playing songs from that far out era. The Monday Blues, two hours of blues music, not syndicated but programmed by our DJ Tony “The Big Man” Chastain. Sunday morning jazz for the refined and Metalshop on Tuesdays for the head bangers. Every Thursday was a “No-Repeat Workday” from 6am to 6pm. The station supported local club acts and played their songs on the air. KDJK even broadcast “Live Aid” in its entirety. Rockline from LA on Monday nights let locals hear interviews with the biggest stars in Rock.
I can remember the mid 80’s at KDJK and the great nights at the Pizza Machine. It was the time of Lip Sync contests and we packed the place on Saturday nights. If there was a festival or public event we were there. At the Riverbank Wine & Cheese Festival one year we let people throw water balloons at us all day for charity. I still hear stories about “Fun Bus” trips we had to concerts with The Rolling Stones, The Who, Springsteen and Days on the Green. We could have sent listeners to see the biggest rock acts anywhere, but instead flew one group to see Bon Jovi in their heyday to Des Moines, Iowa. The station was flooded with thousands of post cards to try and win that contest! Because we heard from listeners there was no place for all rock music at a club, The Tree Frog started an all rock night on Wednesdays. Record companies got involved and sometimes their artists we played would show up unannounced. Connecting with our listeners and providing unique opportunities was important. Getting people backstage to meet their favorite rock star was a staple prize at KDJK.
I started doing the KDJK morning show about a month or so after they went on the air in ‘85. The ride lasted nearly 10 years. With games like “Name That Riff”, lots of trivia and outlandish characters and bits that would never get on any air now (we weren’t PC in any way), I had the time of my life. The KDJK morning show really took off when Richard Perry joined me. To this day he is still one of the funniest people I know. Even though I had to wake up at around 3:45am every morning, I miss it dearly. One of my biggest regrets was never getting to say goodbye.
KDJK rode the musical roller coaster as the hot genres changed. From straight rock to hair bands to grunge and metal we played it. The music was important, but so were our people. I’m hoping that whoever is reading this will smile when they see the names Joni Green, Mark Davis, Randy Maranz, The Mason Man, Fast Lane Clark, Spot the Dog, The California Fun Boy, Richard Perry or Beaver Brown. These people were thrown together and became a family of sorts. The ability to touch as many lives as we did was amazing. Radio back in the 80’s had the power to do that.
Radio now is a different animal relates Mark Davis, “Two or three major corporations own a majority of the signals across the country, in most cases programming does not happen in house.” KDJK was owned and started by Joe & Anne Gross from Ceres. Two names that you may not know, but they effected the lives of so many people in our listening area. By letting their people program KDJK without interference they built a rock radio legend in Modesto that is remembered fondly by many today and will probably never be equaled. If you survived the 80’s I hope we helped you rock thru it, Aqua Net optional.

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