Friday, June 10, 2005 | Since its beginning in 1963, KSON has maintained its place on San Diego’s radio dial and established itself as the first and last word in country music for local fans. Over the course of its 43 years, many things have changed for the station. The current line-up brings the broad sounds of the music genres out, while meeting the tastes of the listeners.
Newest kids on the block, morning show Cliff and Company, started last year, bringing fun-loving trio Cliff Dumas, Morgan Thomas and Bill Tanner to the morning commute (5 a.m.-9 a.m.). Nick Upton (9 a.m.-noon) and Bryan Dean (noon-3 p.m.) handle the workday shifts and bring a more straightforward approach to their programming. Kimo Jensen (3 p.m.-7 p.m.) balances music and traffic updates for the drive home, and Deb Spring (7 p.m.-midnight) helps listeners decompress. The diversity of the on-air crew reflects the many directions country music finds itself going in.
“Country music is a melting pot of this country, anything works,” says Deb Spring, KSON-FM’s evening on-air host. “We’ve got rock-a-billy music, we’ve got bluegrass, we’ve got traditional – it’s really hard to define.”
The station regularly reaches out to the community with everything from rewarding listeners with “Double Your Paycheck” contests, local talent searches with the “Colgate Country Showdown” and Free Gas Days. The station also takes an active role in several charitable activities, such as Operation Helping Hand, which looks for military families in need and doubles their paycheck, and St. Jude’s Hospital fund-raisers. Deb Spring is involved with the Helen Woodward Animal Center and multiple sclerosis organizations. Dumas has written four joke books which have generated money for Cystic Fibrosis.
With satellite radio and the iPod generation poised to take a bite out of broadcast radio’s base, it is a local station’s ability to connect with its audience that will set stations like KSON apart from nationally generated counterparts. Listener access to local concerts and events continues to play a major role in KSON’s programming. This summer, the station will host a series of concerts called Countryfest, which will feature $5 tickets.
“I think you do need to try to keep your fingers on the pulse of what an audience locally enjoys and likes,” says Nick Upton, a 26-year KSON veteran. “For years people talked about (how) the coming of satellite and music systems where you have uninterrupted music radio is going to lose its listeners. They’ve been predicting the demise of radio for a long time, but the one thing radio has always been able to do is to reflect the local music tastes of its audience.”
Since his KSON debut in 1978, Upton has survived the Urban Cowboy craze, the demise of vinyl, and the move of the cowboy from the urban to the suburban. His 29-year career has been spent entirely in San Diego and his duties with KSON have included a 14-year stint as music director, which earned him a nomination for Country Music Director of the Year. He has seen the national influences and local influences create a viable local country music scene which have produced acts such as Nickel Creek.
San Diego’s country music tastes are also influenced by the large military community, which brings flavors reflective of their hometown to the scene.
Even if it may not be the first name to be dropped in a discussion of country music hot beds, San Diego will remain a well-educated country audience thanks to Upton and KSON’s consistent support of country music.
“(Listeners’ tastes are) pretty broad and that’s always hard to predict,” says Upton. “You don’t want to get into a situation where you say ‘Well, I know this will never work in San Diego.’ You don’t know that until you put it on the radio and let your audience hear it.”
Tami Rapozo, is a San Diego native who has written for several local publications. In 2001, she wrote Keepers of the Faith, a book on the San Diego Padres and their booster club, the Madres.