If you listen to local AM radio station KYOS (1480 on the dial, 1480kyos.com on the internet), you have probably heard an announcer proudly announce at the top of each hour that the station has been serving Merced since 1936.
On October 13, the station will reach a historic milestone: eighty years on the air.
The station began serving the city of Merced from a studio in the Hotel Tioga. It was a daytime station at that time. It would sign-on (a term that comes from a broadcasting regulatory requirement that a radio operator sign a program and engineering log) every morning and then sign-off at sunset.
It began with a relatively low-powered signal that could cover the city. In later years, the station’s signal was boosted so it could cover Merced County. The broadcast day eventually would be lengthened to 24-hours.
Throughout Merced’s history in the twentieth century and so far into these early years of the new century, the community has seen a multitude of change. One constant has been the AM radio station that has continuously been the voice of the community for eighty years.
Another constant for close to half of those eighty years has been radio announcer Dave Luna. He’s the Program Manager and morning personality for K97.5, the FM sister station owned by Radio Merced’s parent company Mappleton Communications.
Dave listened to KYOS as a teen growing up in Newman in Stanislaus County. He went to work for the station part time beginning in 1979 and has worked for the various owners of the broadcast group that includes KYOS full time since leaving college.
“KYOS was the big top forty rock-and-roll station in Merced,” Dave told me from his K97.5 studio on Main Street in Merced. “It’s what all of us listened to in those days.”
Dave says he moved to the FM side of the house as more and more listeners gravitated away from AM stations. His time with KYOS follows a pattern that is close to a history of AM radio in the United States.
“AM radio is tough,” he says. “Some AMs have just shut down, some are hoping news and talk will save them. “
KYOS runs satellite driven programming of news and talk radio Monday through Friday. Weekend programming includes some public service programs and an oldies format with music from the fifties, sixties, and seventies.
One can only imagine what those early years for KYOS were like. Radio was still a relatively new communication medium. While there were network shows like The Jack Benny Program or Fibber McGee and Molly, Merced audiences likely were drawn to local programs.
As music became the primary program source for radio in the years following the start of television, stations like KYOS found their new niche and were big players in local communities.
“I remember driving by the KYOS studio at the corner of 18th and Main when I was a teen,” Dave Luna recalls. “You could see the thunderbird logo on the building and the announcer through the large glass window. My buddies and I would wave and the announcer might wave back.”
Those were glorious times that have faded somewhat for local radio in the advent of large corporate ownership, changing listener tastes, and automation.
But KYOS has survived. It may not be the powerhouse it was in the fifties, sixties, and seventies, but it has carved out an audience that prefers news and talk.
For many loyal audience members, it is a station they are familiar with and a place they feel comfortable listening to on a regular basis.
There are no special plans to commemorate the milestone KYOS will soon mark. While the station’s eightieth anniversary may be just around the corner, the focus in radio is always on the future.
And what will the station look like in twenty years when a one-hundredth anniversary may be in order?
Local radio competes in a marketplace filled with many outlets for people to inform and entertain themselves.
Successful staff people, like Dave Luna with his over thirty-five-year tenure with the station, have found success by being resourceful and by being adaptable to changes in the work environment.
“I learned some valuable lessons from my dad about work ethic,” he says. “I have adapted and will continue to adapt as radio evolves.”
Dave has seen a lot of change in his years with KYOS and K97.5. For him, the most drastic shift came when the Castle Air Force Base closed in the mid-1990s.
He said it was common when the Base was in operation to see many military people walking down Main Street in Merced on a weekday.
Those days are gone, but new days are on the horizon. A radio station that broadcast the news of the United States entering World War II, the election of a dozen presidents, the moon landing, and so many other iconic events, continues to inform and entertain listeners in and around Merced County.
Happy eightieth anniversary to KYOS!
Steve Newvine lives in Merced.
He’s written Sign On at Sunrise, a novel about a young man who works at an AM radio station in the 1970s.
Steve worked part time at radio station WBRV in Boonville, New York in the 1970s. That station recently marked its sixty-first anniversary.