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Remembering KRCH

When KRCH signed on in May of 1967, Igor was there, pumping out 24 hours of “adult music” every day. Chief engineer Mike Waldman remembers Igor well: It was an IGM automation system installed in the control room in the Siteman Building at 111 South Bemiston in Clayton.

The nickname can be attributed to those people who had to baby sit the machine, and it’s doubtful the moniker came out of admiration. Anyone who dealt with those early automation systems knows they were finicky and undependable, prone to malfunction on a whim and for no apparent reason. Unlike today’s radio stations’ KRCH always had a live person on duty. The announcers were expected to be personalities, producers of commercials, and babysitters for Igor.

Born near the beginning of the FM boom, KRCH was on a frequency of 98.1 mHz, which was the old KSTL-FM dial spot. Foreground Music, Inc., the corporate name for the company owned by Gerry Mollner and Richard Friedman, was the licensee, but their first priority had been to buy KSHE from then-owner Ed Ceries in 1963. The amount they offered was $5,000 too low, and Century Broadcasting, owned by the Grafmann brothers, was the successful bidder. Foreground was able to purchase KSTL-FM from the Haverstick family in 1967, and they were required to jump through a few hoops with Clayton’s municipal government in order to get a “special permit” to locate their offices there. Initially, company vice president Richard Friedman got a recommendation of conditional approval, providing he put the transmitter and tower somewhere else.

Within three years, a new tower was erected in downtown Clayton. Dick and Nancy Friedman remember it well. “We had a helicopter take the pieces up. The man who owned the hotel, Meyer Loomstein, knew we had to drill through the roof. In fact, for a long time I had a cone of concrete sitting on my shelf. It had been a piece of the roof of the Colony Hotel that they had to drill through to anchor the 72-foot tower. We had to do it on a Sunday. We had cleared everything through the City of Clayton so it wouldn’t mess up traffic.”

The format was described in a Post-Dispatch article as relaxed, good music, “75 percent instrumentals and 25 percent vocals - selections from Broadway shows, updated versions of old favorites, and new, good music numbers.” The station bragged that it had pioneered an approach in St. Louis in which only eight minutes of commercials were played each hour. “We were probably one of four local stations with an easy listening format; Harry Eidelman’s KCFM, I think WIL-FM and WRTH were also doing it,” says Dick Friedman. “It was popular all over the country and was doing very well for the stations that had it then.” In 1970, an hourly gimmick was added in which the newsman would broadcast alternately in stereo through the left and right channel, which supposedly gave listeners an opportunity to appreciate stereo separation.

It was one thing to get a station on the air, but as many others had found, it was another thing to actually sell enough advertising to make money on the deal. “What you would run into was some people saying ‘You guys are going to ruin it with all those commercials. You’re going to make it like AM radio. We like it the way it is now with beautiful music for long periods of time and no commercials.’ We’d overcome that by telling them there’d only be 8 minutes of commercials per hour, which meant there were 52 minutes of music.

“I can’t tell you how many people told us we were going to go broke and we were crazy for going into the radio business. It was terrific. Don’t listen to the naysayers,” says Friedman. By the time KRCH was sold to Bartell Broadcasting 5 years later, the Friedmans felt they had done well on their investment. The purchase of KSTL-FM had cost less than $100,000. The sale price to Bartell was several times that amount. New call letters, KSLQ-FM followed the sale.

(Reprinted with permission of the St. Louis Journalism Review. Originally published 04/02)