Simanaitis Says

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KFAC, REMEMBERED FONDLY

ONLY RECENTLY, in researching “The Birth of Los Angeles TV,” did I learn that Auburn/Cord/Duesenberg auto mogul E.L. Cord was the C of Los Angeles classical radio station KFAC. (A was for Auburn; F, for Fuller, the local distributor of the marques). What’s more, KFAC was run-of-the-mill radio until Cord toured the place in 1945 and recognized thr station’s huge investment in classical music (a symphony could take a dozen 78-rpm records). Why not go full classical?

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KFAC Business card. Image from Faded Signals.

And so KFAC was classical from 1945 until its demise in 1989. Wife Dottie and I remember the station fondly, in part because of its idiosyncrasies. KFAC ran loose and friendly, for instance, sometimes broadcasting opera acts in the wrong order. It once played a Bach Brandenburg Concerto at the wrong speed.

Tom Dixon, one of the KFAC hosts, had a proclivity for such on-air goings-on, which prompted a listener named Sarah Lee to write that his show should be renamed “Music and Mistakes with Tom Dixon.” Thereafter, whenever he’d flub, he’d say, “Sorry, Sarah Lee.” We all understood and forgave him.

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KFAC 1330 on the AM dial; 92.3 FM—or both simultaneously. Image from a 1957 Program Schedule video.

Beginning in 1953, KFAC AM and FM pioneered an early form of stereo broadcasting. It placed microphones at the left and right of Hollywood Bowl concerts and instructed listeners to place two radios seven to twelve feet apart, one tuned to KFAC 92.3 FM, the other to its 1330 AM frequency. Stereo FM broadcasting, introduced in 1961, obviated need for this.

Tom Franklin was a regular as the “Dean of Southern California Business Reporters.” I recall a particularly off-the-wall interview, with a long and involved depiction of some manufacturing process. At the end, Tom asked when it was coming to southern California. “Oh, these machines are really big,” the fellow said, “we have no plans whatsoever for your market.”

Wife Dottie introduced herself to Tom Franklin at an auto press event and told him that she depended on him for her Southern California business news. Hearing this commendation, he modestly scurried away like the White Rabbit in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. End of Wife Dottie’s interview.

She and I both enjoyed one of KFAC’s younger guys, Doug Ordunio, whom we affectionately called Douggor. His speciality was music of the avant garde, the sort of thing written for seven cellos, screeching soprano, harmonium and bus horn.

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Doug Ordunio, California-born 1950; KFAC radio personality from 1973 to 1986. At left, Ordunio in 1967; at right, more recently. He continues as a writer of poetry, fiction and film criticism, and website designer for New Millennium Records.

Ordunio also ran KFAC’s “At Home With” series. To me, the best of these interviews were regular guest appearances of Nicolas Slonimsky, eminent musicologist, conductor, composer and musical raconteur.

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Nicolas Slonimsky, 1894 – 1995, Russian-born American musicologist extraordinaire.

Slonimsky originally titled his autobiography Failed Wunderkind, but publishers preferred a more conventional, and accurate, Perfect Pitch. Douggor’s KFAC interviews with him were wonderful interactions of youth and age.

There’s a two-part video of a Slonimsky/Ordunio interview done in 1979; Ordunio was 29 at the time; Slonimsky, 85. It’s perhaps less outrageous than some of their interactions, but fun nonetheless and exemplary of Slonimsky the raconteur.

Another regular KFAC feature was Martin Workman’s “Luncheon at the Music Center.” As its name implied, it was a noon feature in which Workman chatted with musical notables on-location at the Dorothy Chandler venue. There were fascinating conversations with classical artists, provided one could hear them amidst crashing plates and clattering cutlery.

Wife Dottie remembers what occurred in January 1987, the first of KFAC’s death throes. It sounded like dear Martin Workman had a microphone wrenched from his hand amidst all the other lunchtime clatter.

KFAC, we remember you fondly. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2015

8 comments on “KFAC, REMEMBERED FONDLY

  1. Mike B
    September 16, 2015

    KKHI in San Francisco (one of 2 classical stations there) had a few stereo programs with one channel on AM and the other on FM in the late 1950s. Definitely not hi-fi, but it was stereo. My dad’s Webcor stereo console (nice furniture, cheap innards) could separately tune AM and FM to allow that. Not much later, multiplex FM stereo came along and we had to find an adapter (never worked really well).

  2. Leland D. Sigley
    June 1, 2020

    KFAC was my favorite radio station. I discovered at the age of thirteen and it quickly became the only station that I listened to. I bought a pocket transistor radio to listen to at luncheon time in what would now be called middle school. It was at that time that my favorite program, Piano Parade, came on. However, the radio idea didn’t work out for me because I was always being picked on from my Rock and Roll classmates. In the end, I would run home to eat and listen to KFAC in peace and then run back to school. In the evening, I enjoyed The Gas Company’s Concert at 8pm. Years later, when the station broadcast Keyboard Immortals Play again in Stereo, I was in heaven. I had a collection of classical Ampico piano rolls and an Ampico equipped grand piano at home. But, the opportunity to hear even earlier artists and composers on the older Welte-Mignon system was very exciting to me.

    R.I.P. KFAC you gave a young boy many fond memories.

  3. simanaitissays
    June 1, 2020

    Thanks, Leland, for your thoughtful comments. They remind me of two things in my own life: During jr high school years, my fellow gang members in Cleveland quick-exited the second of a double feature. I stayed; it was “The Red Pony,” music by Aaron Copland.
    Also, an early editorial mentor of mine, Larry Givens, wrote an authorative book on Ampico pianos. Perhap you have the book?

  4. debisala
    March 26, 2021

    Thank You so much. You can find the new link to the Slonimski interview on Doug Ordunio youtube channel by searching.

  5. Doug Ordunio
    March 27, 2021

    Since verbiage and a few pictures of me are featured, I’m happy to report that I am still above ground, having just turned 70. A few of the interviews I did at KFAC an subsequently are on the Doug O youtube channel, plus many other things. I was very lucky to be associated with KFAC for 13 years before I became a producer and host for two major inflight production companies, AEI Inflight & DMX. Music of all styles will always be an essential part of life!!😎😎

    • simanaitissays
      March 27, 2021

      Hello, Doug,
      Your interview (and evident camarderie) with Nick Slonimsky introduced me to that marvelous personality. Many thanks!
      I’m happy to hear that you are well. I suspect I continued to enjoy your musical ken back when extensive air travel was part of my life.

  6. Dennis Wulkan
    May 26, 2021

    Does anyone definitively remember the theme music played during the KFAC Gas Company Evening Concert in the 50s and 60s? I seem to remember Tchaikovsky but also a Rachmaninov piece that was a Variation from Paganini?

  7. hieronymus
    September 14, 2021

    A retrospective/tribute by Richard Cassidy to his father, Thomas Cassidy, who was the host/MC of KFAC’s programs can be found on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LARuDyToT78 or search YouTube for:

    LA Air Power: This is Thomas Cassidy

    The theme music for some of these programs is included:

    Evening Concert:
    Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 23

    Luncheon at the Music Center:
    Richard Wagner – Tannhauser – Grand March

    … and a few others.

    It was my trying to find the theme music for “Luncheon” that brought me to this web page. With further searching I found the YouTube link above with my answer.

    My mother would turn on this program on every day in the late 1960s and early 1970s until we moved away from Los Angeles.

    I particularly remember this piece from those occasions when I was home sick from school.

    I finally thought to call my mother up just a few days ago to ask her about this, and between both our patchy memories and a couple of badly remembered and hummed measures, was able to get the name of the program, if not exactly recall the (name of the) theme music.

    So, after a couple more hours of searching, one minor childhood mystery now has its answer.

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