The birth of Pirate Radio
came about when Outlet Broadcasting Corporation
sold KIQQ to Westwood One in March of 1989 for
$56 million. A month earlier, prior to the
launch, speculation ran rampant about KIQQ and
what was going to happen when the new owners
took over. In this
cartoon that appeared in HITS Magazine that month,
you can see Rick Dees on the back of Steve
Silvers (then PD of KIIS), Scott Shannon on the
back of Randy Kabrich and Jay Thomas on the back
of Jeff Wyatt, the PD of Power 106 (KPWR).
Running up in the background is Buzz Bennett. See footnote below
Click below for some great
articles on the Pirate.
Date & Source unknown,
"So Long, New York"
Scott Shannon heads for L.A.
L.A. Times, March 18, 1989,
"N.Y.'s Shannon Invades L.A. Radio"
1 --- Part
USA Today, March 20, 1989,
The Pulse of Radio, "March
17: A Day of Radio Infamy"
Radio & Records, March
24, 1989 "Pirate Radio Surprise Attack Clears
Decks for L.A. CHR War"
1 --- Part
Inside Radio, April 3, 1989
"The Latest News, Trends and Management
Imitators try to ride the Pirate Radio seas
Radio Only, May, 1989
& Records July 14, 1989 describing
Pirate's upward movement. Also see Page 24 and
Radio & Records, 1991
"Hot From The Pirate Poop Deck"
Now that Scott Shannon has left, who will
program the new Pirate?
Over the years, there have
been many rumors of how the name "Pirate
Radio" came to be on KQLZ as well as how
the station came into existence. Here's the
story from the man himself, Scott Shannon.
"When I was a young boy, I
was fascinated by the pirate radio ships (such
as Radio Caroline) that were anchored in the
Atlantic ocean and would broadcast into Great
Britain and other countries. My goal was to
become a professional D.J. and get a job out on
the high seas as a pirate radio jock. Well,
after I got into the business, I found out that
it really was not such a great job after all.
The working conditions were abysmal and it paid
next to nothing. But I never forgot the concept
or how cool I thought the name PIRATE RADIO was.
So when it came time to sign on our new station
in Southern California, I needed something that
would cut through all the crap & clutter
already on the air...(over 100 signals). We
needed to strike hard, fast & huge, and
leave no doubt in the listener's minds that this
was a serious rock & roll radio station,
unlike any others on the air. So I decided to
call it---PIRATE RADIO! To me that just screamed
"turn this mother on and listen loud right now".
It also conjured up transmittable passion, much
like my favorite Top 40 station of all time,
BOSSRADIO-KHJ did back in the 60's." And there
you have it!
Westwood One allegedly
signed Scott Shannon to a 10 million dollar,
five year contract to bring him to L.A., and
Scott's Pirate Radio was definitely getting the
So how did the Pirate call
sign come about? After all, "KQLZ" is not
particularly catchy! Randy Kabrich, one of the
original founding members of the station, shared
the story behind the call sign with us.
"Scott had two call signs
with a Z in them. He wanted a backup plan if
(the moniker) Pirate Radio didn't work. That way
he could shift to Z100."
"He liked the call letters
KKLQ out of San Diego that was owned at the time
by Edens Broadcasting, the same company I worked
for in Tampa at WRBQ."
"I explained to him the
hidden meaning in the call letters. 'L' (or el)
in Spanish means "the"...thus El Q meant The Q
to Hispanic listeners."
Thus KKLZ (with the el Z) in the call letters
were the calls we wanted. Unfortunately, I found
those call letters licensed to a station in Las
Vegas who wasn't about to give them up. Still
looking for rough sounding letters, we
substituted a Q for the second K, and thus, KQLZ
The goal of the station? To
topple top rated Rick Dees and KIIS-FM -- the
Disco Ducks -- and Power106. KIIS and KSRF were
doing Top 40. KOST, KBIG, and KJQI (Touch98,
which later became KYSR) were doing Adult
Contemporary (AC). The Pirate came from nowhere
and shook their very foundations. Even legendary
KLOS was rocked.
Jeff Axelrod, the Morning
Show Writer/Researcher 1990-91, was at KBIG in
the wee hours on March 17, 1989. Someone had
tipped him off to the impending change that
night at KIQQ. He kept a radio tuned to 100.3
and heard them occasionally fade down a
Carpenters song or some such to test the audio
chain with Guns N' Roses "Paradise City". He
described it as "surreal"... He has today what
he considers to be the primo Pirate artifact:
The Morning Show snare drum and cymbal!
In May of 1989, Pirate
stickers were released on the world, and
began showing up on cars all over Southern
California. Pirate shirts
were next: black with blue lettering and
plastered with the PIRATE RADIO logo.
The promo staff, busy
beating the bushes, even appeared at a cable
television employee gathering in Lancaster, and
later at the Antelope Valley fairgrounds, to
promote the station.
In June, 1989, three months
after the station's birth, Arbitron listed
Pirate Radio at #13 in Los Angeles. And the next
book placed the Pirate in the top ten. By June
of 1990, the Pirate was tied for #6. The L.A.
Times sat up and took notice with an article on
the station and its climb to the big time.
As the station continued its
rise in the ratings, it trumpeted its success on
the air every chance it got! Suddenly, and to no
one's surprise, it hit Number 3! It was a proud
moment for The Pirate!
(Note: according to an
article in the L.A. Times on June 9, 1989, the
Birch Radio Survey had already placed the Pirate
at number 3
Raul Moreno was doing
weekends at KFAC in 1989, but the station was
close to a format change and he needed some back
up work. He was called by The Pirate on the day
before its takeover of KIQQ. Raul was there at
the infamous warehouse at 5:00 am on March 17,
the day the mothership landed. The warehouse was
across the street from Westwood One
headquarters, the new owners of KIQQ, uh, KQLZ.
After the station got rolling, Raul worked a few
days a week with Scott Shannon and the Morning
Show, monitoring other stations and answering
the phones. He had an inside track since he had
worked as Rick Dees' producer. Naturally, Scott
wanted all the dirt on Rick. This led to all the
many jokes about KIIS-FM. Once the Pirate got an
actual promotion budget, Raul went out on
Morning Show promotions with Mike Rawlins, aka
"Russell the Love Monkey". Russell was an actor
that wound up doing some work with the Pirate.
Later, it was "The Big Watusi", Mark Mendoza,
that hit the road with Raul on the promos. They
drove the one and only promotion van, #13,
although sometimes they used Simon T's 4Runner.
Raul moved on from the Pirate in June, 1990.
On July 10, 1989, Mel Blanc
passed away. That night, Archer Dusablon
tribute to Mel in his home studio which
aired four times on the morning show the
following day. On July 12 at 3:30 am, Archer
found a thank
you note faxed from Blanc Communications
in his inbox.
Sometime around January,
1990, the new Pirate billboards went up in L.A.
They had the Pirate logo and a, well, not so
great picture of Scott Shannon. From some focus
groups, the station learned that hispanics
refused to listen because they felt Scott looked
like the devil! When Scott found out about it,
he started playing with it on the air, and would
announce "Pirate Radio 100.3 FM, the Pirate
morning show with El Diablo!" Later, Scott had
some shirts made up that said "I am NOT El
Diablo!". Eventually, the billboards were
replaced by the "Pirate Party Pig" billboards.
The first Pirate Radio
birthday bash was at the Sagebrush Cantina in
Calabasas, celebrating a year of success as Los
Angeles' newest station! The station released a
shirt just for the occasion.
That first year, equipment
and engineering was on a seriously crimped
budget--but the promotional machine wasn't. The
sound was good enough for Joe Listener, and the
station flourished! Southern California had a
hunger for a new sound, and the Pirate fed it!
The station added still
more mystery by using a PO Box in Avalon out on
Catalina Island as its mailing address!
Scott Shannon exaggerated a
bit by telling listeners the station was a
200,000 watt blow torch. In fact, it was more
like 5,100 watts out of the transmitter. No
matter--Pirate SOUNDED the part! If Scott said
200,000, the listeners weren't going to argue!
Not one to miss out on
raining their success on other parts of the
country, the station went on satellite on the
Westwood One transponder. Reports of DJs and
other radio staff in other parts of the country
being mesmerized (and sometimes losing track of
what they were doing!) have filtered in over the
years. The station gained some fame across the
country with this satellite signal, becoming
more than just a Southern California phenomena.
Pirate Radio USA was a
syndicated show that went on that feed, and
attracted listeners and DJs from around the
country. Jamie Osborn was doing the show one
evening when Ozzy Osbourne showed up. "One night
while I was hosting Pirate Radio USA (The
Nationally Syndicated Version). I went into the
bathroom to take a piss. It was a single
bathroom. As I was standing there, the door flew
open and Ozzy walks in and stands right beside
me and starts going as well. He let out a big
sigh and exclaimed something to the effect that
he'd had to (f-in') piss for an hour. He didn't
know who I was. I just laughed and walked back
into the studio. A few minutes later the show
producer walks in with Ozzy and introduces us.
Ozzy just smiled and said 'Oh ya, we've already
shared a piss together.'"