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Gary Allyn
AIRCHECK, The Story of Top 40 Radio in San Diego

Good Guy Gary Allyn
 

Part 1: Meet Gary Allyn

 

It may be difficult for many people to relate to events that occurred in radio 35 to 40 years ago, but during that time, one of the key battle zones of competing Top 40 radio stations occurred in the San Diego market thanks to the willpower and financial resources of some very committed station owners. One person who figured prominently in that battle was Gary Allyn.

 

Among the key markets that where he worked before coming to San Diego was WMET in Miami. WMET was a cutting-edge station that received the second license in the nation to broadcast in stereo multi-plex. It was there that he picked up the nickname of ‘World’s Tallest Midget’ as he rubbed shoulders with Lenny Bruce and Larry King when they worked the local college circuit. In fact, his friendship with Lenny Bruce landed reference to him on the back of Lenny’s second comedy album.

 

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After toiling in other stations, Allyn was drafted into the US Army where he did GI interviews. He replaced Steve McQueen, whose voice was used on many promos, opens and closes to various spots aired on Armed Forces Radio. (Yeah, THAT Steve McQueen). While stationed in San Antonio, he landed a job at KONO under PD Stan Richards. He continued to work at KONO once he completed his military service. KONO management loved to use gimmicks to entertain listeners. Gary Allyn continued to be use the term ‘Worlds Tallest Midget’, as he would for years to come. But it was here that his familiar “Wine Colored Velvet Colored Couch” term came into use.

Richards and Allyn subsequently moved on to WCPO (Color Radio) in Cincinnati that seemed to Gary as the ‘prequel’ to the television show WKRP in Cincinnati. From there, the team went to KIMN in Denver. When Richards was offered a job at KCBQ in San Diego, he would accept the position only if his friend Gary Allyn came along in the deal. After hearing an aircheck of Allyn, Station owner Lee Bartell consented to the arrangement.

Part 2: Onward to KCBQ 1965

 

Stan Richards and Gary Allyn arrived at KCBQ as part of a youth movement to stem the rising popularity of rival KGB’s Boss Radio phenomena. Despite his 10 years of experience in radio, Allyn looked like a college student, but performed as a seasoned professional. Almost immediately, he questioned management over silly contests that produced cheap gifts to winning listeners, or air personality restrictions that impeded their job to function on the air. Allyn seemed to gain credibility with the owner when he raised such concerns.

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Gary Allyn in KCBQ lobby, 7th & Ash, San Diego

In the meantime, poor management was causing KCBQ to implode due to poor programming decisions and high staff turnover. One of the early staff departures was Stan Richards who left for medical reasons. Gary Allyn was a rare bright spot for KCBQ in 1965 as he developed a loyal audience. He created the “Worlds Tallest Midget” fan club where members would receive an official ID card and a signed photograph of Gary Allyn, paid for from his own salary because the station would not fund such an extravagance. Management also had a problem with this promotion. Short-statured Lee Bartell took offense to the term. So the concept was re-cast as “Leader of the Little People” instead.

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The KCBQ studio was located at 7th and Ash in downtown San Diego. The broadcast booth had a large picture window that allowed the public to view the deejay as he did his shift. For many years, listeners were encouraged to drive by and wave. Over time, this practiced ended as gestures became the single-finger variety. Gary Allyn was given a wine colored velvet cover for his chair with his name on it by one of his fans.

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At least fourteen different deejays worked at KCBQ during 1965. Some lasted a few weeks while others remained for a couple of years. Some were prominent in the industry, and others flittered in and then left, never to be heard of again. Among the fourteen were Johnny Williams, Tom Murphy, Lord Tim Hudson, Gentleman Jim Mitchell, Jack Hayes, and Johnny Solo, in addition to the original Hit Paraders Johnny Holiday, Bill Bishop, Jerry Walker, Seamus Patrick O'Hara, Shadoe Jackson, and Scotty Day. Jack Vincent maintained a low profile working the overnight shift from the station transmitter in Santee, CA.

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Johnny Solo, Tom Murphy, Gary Allyn, and Jim Mitchell in their 'company' coats.

Gary got a call from the station owner of KONO in Spring 1966 offering him the position of program director if he would return. After what must have been agonizing nano-seconds, he accepted the offer and left for San Antonio.

Part 3: Allyn Time begins at KCBQ

 

After two years at KONO, during which a fierce battle ensued with rival KTSA over ratings superiority, Gary longed for the southern California weather and was motivated to return to California when the station owner hired a manager of a classical music station to run KONO, a Top 40 station

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Gary lined up a job at KDAY in Los Angeles and merely stopped by the station to visit with Mike Scott on the way to Los Angeles. By this time, KCBQ had relocated its studio to the location of its transmitter in Santee, CA. The facility was far more advanced than the old downtown digs. During that fateful meeting, Mike Scott offered him the afternoon shift at the same pay he would have received at KDAY. Fortunes continued to turn as Mike Scott, a brilliant program director, left KCBQ in early 1969, and Gary Allyn became the program director. Now it was his turn to shine.

 

The programming at KCBQ had vastly improved in 1968 and was now on the cutting edge of Top 40 radio. The move to Santee to a more modern facility produced a better sound than the antiquated studio at 7th and Ash could produce. A slot was created at night to play progressive, non-chart, music selections as well as current hits. The operating budget for contests was expanded to produce gifts that listeners would actually want, rather than the cheap trade-outs offered under the previous management. Even a Sunday night talk show found a loyal audience. This is what Gary Allyn inherited when he took the reigns as program director in January 1969.

 

Top 40 radio was constantly changing in 1969. One could not just stand pat with the successful efforts of 1968 to stay competitive. While Allyn usually had control over personnel decisions, occasionally, the upper management would hire someone and tell Allyn they were on their way to San Diego to be on the air. Sometimes, he was ‘presented’ with air personalities that, more often than not, proved unfit for the San Diego market. Those that did well in the market tended to be his hires. His staff of 1969 included Robert L. Collins, Neilson Ross,  veteran Scotty Day, Lenny Mitchell, China Smith, and Thom Devine.  Lee ‘Babi’ Simms, who was fired repeatedly for on-air dramatic statements, and Happy Hare Martin, who produced large advertising revenues during his show, returned after working in other states.

 

By now, listeners wanted cash for winning contests. He created a cash jackpot, using random jackpot increases that required constant listening to win. He kept raising jackpots until rival KGB created the double-cash jackpot to counter KCBQ’s insurgencies into their market share. The KCBQ ownership once again impeded market performance by restricting cash jackpots in favor of producing larger cash annual bonuses for management staff.

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Faced with limited funding for contests, Allyn went back to innovative music programming to keep pace with KGB. He created the long-play format where album cuts would be mixed with current hits in the rotation. But ownership had concluded that the best way to beat the competition was to hire the competition. They started with KGB program director Buzz Bennett, who proceeded to fire all the KCBQ staff, or encourage them to leave, and replace them with former KGB staff. What KCBQ ownership did not know, until the Winter ratings book was released, was that the album format had caught on and KCBQ actually beat KGB in the ratings.

 

Allyn moved on to other local stations. Capitalizing on the success of KCBQ’s Long Plan format, Gary and Neil Ross aired San Diego’s first Classic Rock Album station XHIS and XHERS in 1971. He programmed KDEO in 1973 and moved over to program KSEA-FM, San Diego’s first FM Top 40 station in San Diego, in 1974. He left radio after that to pursue a host of other ventures. He was one of only a few who influenced Top 40 radio in San Diego for years to come. If there was a Radio Hall of Fame in San Diego, he should be an early inductee.

 

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Gary Allyn and David Leonard 2006


Part 4 The Adventures of O.B. Ranger

The Adventures of O.B. Ranger was a 98-episode serial produced for XHIS and XHERS radio in 1971. It was a collaboration by Gary Allyn and Neil Ross, (the latter formerly with KCBQ and now a voice-over artist often narrating NOVA on PBS).

The Ranger was a cross between the characters of Dudley Dooright and Inspector Clouseau offering a satirical look at the "head" and "hip" movements. It was done in the style of the earlier 'Chicken Man' series. The situation goes something like this:

"In the early 1970, San Diego's Sunset Cliffs became the birthing place of the city's most unexpectedly successful crime fighter and mythical master of malaprop, The O. B. Ranger. Some day this hallowed ground will take its rightful place in history, or be bulldozed for condors. Just the kind of illegal and nefarious goings-on that get the Ranger hot under his paisley mask." By John Fox

The Adventures of the O.B. Ranger is available on CD by emailing gallyn@roadrunner.com