Radio Survivor’s Top 5 Commercial Radio Stations

I am a college and community radio loyalist and these days I never listen to commercial radio unless someone else has put it on and I have no way to control the radio (during cab rides, in doctor’s office waiting rooms, and perhaps via cheesy hold button music, etc.).

Since coming up with a list of my favorite commercial radio stations is VERY difficult for me, I’ve had to turn to the last commercial radio station that I can proudly declare myself to have been a fan of: KQAK-FM out of San Francisco in the 1980s.

I’ve heard that people are most passionate about the music of their youth and that many never get past that period musically, becoming permanently stuck in the sounds of their teen years. Well, for me, I was a teenager smack dab in the 1980s and my favorite commercial station helped me transition from the heavier rock sounds that I listened to in the late 1970s (on KSJO and KOME) to the emerging new wave sounds of the 1980s.

“The Quake” was on the air from 1982 to 1985 and is most known for its “Rock of the ’80s” format (which they launched in April 1983 after an initial stint as an album rock station). The station went off the air in June 1985, just a few months before I headed off to college. Many of us were saddened about its demise and tearfully sat by our stereos tape recording its final hours of programming. Somewhere in a shoebox is my tape of the last hours of The Quake and tidbits from recordings by others can be found online.

The station played a mix of new wave, punk, rock, reggae, ska, pop and goth sounds. On “The Quake” I heard bands like Depeche Mode, Book of Love, Strawberry Switchblade, X, The Cure, Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, and Siouxsie and the Banshees for the first time.

I also enjoyed Alex Bennett’s morning show (take a listen to his first show on The Quake here) and found him to be much more entertaining and intelligent than his counterparts on other stations. He also introduced me to the Bay Area comedy scene, with his multitude of guests.

Quake DJs in general were a lot of fun, from the comedic Tim Bedore (with his segments like “The Bible According to Tim”) to the approachable, music-loving Big Rick Stuart. On his website, Rick Stuart shares some memories about The Quake, including the program director’s philosophy about adding music to the station. Rick writes, “I would sit in with Oz sometimes at music meetings and he would add weekly current songs with a nice theory. One for the boys, one for the girls, one for the older rock fans, and sometimes a weird song.”

For me, one of the lasting influences of the Quake was that it brought me to college radio. It opened my ears to a wider range of sounds and when it ceased broadcasting in June 1985 I switched my listening to the left side of the dial, becoming a college radio fan. I discovered all of the amazing stations at colleges south of San Francisco and started listening to KFJC, KZSU, KSJS, and KSCU. A few months later I was off to college near Philadelphia and became a fan of the student stations at University of Pennsylvania (WXPN) and Drexel (WKDU) and started DJing at my campus station WHRC.

Another “modern rock” station, Live 105, appeared on the commercial radio scene in San Francisco in 1986. Attempting to replicate some of The Quake’s adventurous programming, Live 105 caught my attention periodically from about 1989 to 1995 (when I couldn’t get college radio reception in my San Francisco apartment). But, my heart still belonged to the long-departed Quake and increasingly to college radio.

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