100.3 FM KQLZ Los Angeles Pirate Radio

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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.
Look out, Los Angeles

L.A. Times, March 18, 1989, "N.Y.'s Shannon Invades L.A. Radio"
Part 1 --- Part 2

USA Today, March 20, 1989, "Making Waves"
Part 1 --- Part 2

The Pulse of Radio, "March 17: A Day of Radio Infamy"
Part 1 --- Part 2

Radio & Records, March 24, 1989 "Pirate Radio Surprise Attack Clears Decks for L.A. CHR War"
Part 1 --- Part 2

Inside Radio, April 3, 1989 "The Latest News, Trends and Management Information"
Imitators try to ride the Pirate Radio seas

Radio Only, May, 1989 "Pirate Radio"
Part 1 --- Part 2

Radio & Records July 14, 1989 describing Pirate's upward movement. Also see Page 24 and 31.

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 job done!

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 was born."

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 Radio bumper 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 that month!)

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 recorded a 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 special 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.'"


History Page 1, 2, 3, 4

Airhead cartoon reprinted with permission of HITS MAGAZINE.
Thanks go out to Brian Wilson for turning us on to it.

ęCopyright 1999-2023 by Dennis Younker