Back in the decades prior to music programming originating via satellite and sophisticated computers, live announcers actually played the music with records.  These DJs or disc jockeys spun both 45 rpm and 33 1/3 long-playing albums and they actually spoke into a live microphone!

Voice quality for radio announcers in those days could range from mellow, strident, bland, rapid- fire ... some came across as friendly, some indifferent. But they all had one thing in common; they were always faceless…you identified only with their voice.

Such sets the stage for an interview we had with four Modesto radio personalities from back in the late 1970s, when stations were a lot different to listen to.  For most of these them, broadcasting was a gypsy way of life starting in backwater towns at two-room radio stations talking to the cows for very little money.  36- year old Bob Neira, a veteran radio man at KBEE said,  "When you’re young and eager, you’ll tell the station manager, ‘Just give me $50 a week and all the records I can eat’."  True to form, Neira started 18 years ago at a small 250-watt station in Colorado with a temporary FCC broadcaster’s license.

Modesto Radio Personalities in 1970s
By  Bob Neira

Now, he’s a survivor after 10 years at the KBEE studios where the switch to pre-recorded, automated radio formats has  cut staff size to one or two persons per shift who run both the AM and FM broadcasts at the same time.   Neira says, "It’s still a small business and people tend to float around in their early years.  One thing has really changed, and that is announcers with ‘dulcet- toned’ voices are gone.

25-year old Gail Wax, the only woman DJ in Modesto, already has plugged away at four different radio stations.  Her brisk, open and self-confident voice is heard on K102-FM, the new "adult-contemporary" station run by KFIV-AM.  She calls her job "fun and entertaining" but admits "I never thought of radio as a career, I wanted to write."  After graduating from  the University of California at Berkeley several years ago, she returned home to Modesto and got a job writing commercials at KFIV and voicing some of the on the air.  When the job folded, she took out newspaper ads, then got a call from a radio station in Livermore.  She worked there a year, studying for her first-class broadcaster’s license and teaching herself the radio business.  "I lived and breathed  radio every day for a year."  Wax adds:  "For a  female, it’s more difficult because of the stereotypes you have to overcome.  At first, most women want to sound sensual on the radio.  But it’s not believable and women broadcasters can’t get away with it." The best approach, she believes, is "to be the person on the air that you are off the air." 

John Landers, the 24-year old hot AM disc jockey on KFIV’s morning slot, considers himself an "air personality."  He said this is partly created by the station’s up-tempo, DJ-oriented format aimed at the 18 to 35 age group.  But the personality he projects is only for "when I’m on the air…I’m not anything like that off the air."  Landers said he appreciate radio style:  "If Howard Cosell talked in person like he does on the air, he’d grate on your nerves."  He picks up extra money as a disco DJ for private parties, a concert MC and fashion show judge, among other things.   After work, Landers hardly ever listens to the radio and says he just puts on a record when at home. 

29-year old Kenny Roberts is music director and top DJ at Modesto’s KTRB "Country Music" station, having come from a Top-40 rock formatted station. He went to radio school after a year at Modesto Junior College.  Roberts’ first job back home was a 12-hour shift on Sundays.  He then got the midnight To 6 am shift…the usual DJ training ground.  After several years, he moved to an Oregon station and then back to KTRB where he describes the sound as "modern country" for the younger age group.  Of radio broadcasting in California, including Modesto ... there is one accepted premise among stations:  each must find its own niche in  programming; each must find a specific audience  for a specific age group.  That is one reason some stations program specific types of music, news, talk, sports and information.  What is your preference?     

Bob Neira