STOCKTON - The last chords of Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" were still resounding on KSTN 1420 at 6:14 p.m. Friday when chief engineer Paul Shinn and program director John Hampton took the microphone, saying they had an announcement:
"Something I never thought would happen," Shinn said. "KSTN will be signing off the air tonight."
Hampton recalled how he'd spent nearly 30 years at the station. "If I'm leaving now, half of me is gone."
They briefly told the listening audience that KSTN broadcast its signal on the oldest transmitter in the country still on the air every day, then introduced the final tune: the opening theme song to "WKRP in Cincinnati."
KSTN, Stockton's first music radio station, had broadcast for more than 60 years at 1420 on the AM dial.
Its sister station, KSTN FM 107.3 FM, will remain on the air but will drop its regional Mexican music format and switch to a satellite feed of K-LOVE contemporary Christian music sometime Monday.
As a result, the company will terminate about 20 employees, all on-air personalities and related staffers, said Robert La Rue, the station's president.
He declined to go into the reasons behind the drastic changes, just saying it was a decision by the board of directors of San Joaquin Broadcasting, which owns the station.
KSTN also broadcasts Stockton Thunder hockey games and University of the Pacific men's basketball games.
The Thunder found out about the shutdown just hours before their game was to be broadcast on Friday. Thunder fans can hear the game broadcast on stocktonthunder.com, but the team is eager to continue radio broadcasts.
"We were completely blind-sided," said Dan Chapman, president of the Thunder. "We found out (from station management) about 2:30 p.m. (Friday). We were hoping to get (Friday) night's game in.
"The good news for us is that our highest percentage of listeners is on the Internet, but we want to be on the radio. We have reached out to one station, which I'm not going to name at this time, and the initial response was positive."
Even though the Thunder has another game today, also against Bakersfield, it was not scheduled to be on radio. The Thunder has 11 more road games this year. Home games are not broadcast on the radio.
Pacific has aired basketball and volleyball games on the station since 2005, and the school's athletic director, Lynn King, said he was surprised by the news this afternoon.
"We feel bad about it," King said. "It's always tough to lose a partner like that, and it's a loss for the community."
The men's basketball team has five games remaining in the regular season, and King said the school is hopeful they will all be broadcast on 1280 AM KYSX. Tonight's game against New Mexico State will air on the station, and they are working on the details for the rest of the season.
La Rue left open the possibility that KSTN might resume broadcasting on the AM frequency in the future.
"It doesn't mean it goes away forever. It could come back as something else, but nothing's been decided right now," he said.
KSTN AM began broadcasting on Nov. 27, 1949, offering music and news from 6 a.m. to midnight daily. Original station manager Dave Greene said at the time it was the first time Stockton had a music station.
Among its founders was the late Knox La Rue, Robert La Rue's father and the first president of the independent Stockton radio station.
KSTN grew into a local media powerhouse, in the 1960s featuring top 40 music programming and bringing to Stockton rock stars such as The Yardbirds in 1966 and Eric Burdon and the Animals in 1967.
The FM station was approved for broadcast in late 1958 and began broadcasting the following year.
As an independent radio station, KSTN had faced increasing competition from corporate radio giants, which offer advertisers access to hundreds of radio markets.
Robert La Rue told a newspaper reporter in 2007 he hoped to keep the station locally owned.
Still, in 2008, industry trade publications reported San Joaquin Broadcasting had agreed to sell both stations to Independence Media Holdings LLC of Dallas. That deal, however, apparently fell through.
The final song to play on KSTN - the familiar TV theme - had a specially constructed ending: "... Baby think of me once in a while. I'm at KSTN in Stockton."
At 6:18 p.m., the song ended. Then came the final words: "For the last time, this is KSTN, signing off."
After about a minute of dead air, two conflicting distant radio stations competed for fuzzy airspace, neither the English of one nor the Spanish of the other comprehensible on 1420.
Record staff writers Jagdip Dhillon, Scott Linesburgh and Barbara Zumwalt contributed to this report.
Contact reporter Reed Fujii at (209) 546-8253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The man in the photo is Ellis Lind. He was an on air personality. The vehicle is a Goliath Express