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Golden Radio Roots: AM Station K-Surf Is Keeping the Oldies Alive on Los Angeles Radio

[dropcap size=big]F[/dropcap]orget your iPhone playlist, bluetooth-enabled speakers, and subscription services. One of Los Angeles’s best kept secrets is a little fledgeling AM radio station named K-SURF that’s keeping the oldies alive in the town that gave birth to car culture and elevated the game in terrestrial radio.

Southern California and oldies radio will forever remain intertwined. Whether you grew up during the era or simply feel nostalgic of a former life, the carefree and sun-soaked rock and pop classics of the 50s and 60s reminisce a soundtrack to our cultural past.

There truly is no feeling comparable to cruising PCH on a summer afternoon, windows down, with the Beach Boys on blast. It could be 1961 or 2018, the feeling very much remains the same.

But there had been a void a terrestrial radio for those of us who need a break from the all-encompassing, do-everything phone, and just want to lean back and listen to a master curator drop tracks. Enter K-SURF 1260, to fill the void last filled by L.A.’s former champion of nostalgia, K-EARTH 101.

Station K-EARTH 101.1FM – once L.A. radio’s cool uncle with crates of classic gold records – shifted ways in 2010. By introducing Eighties pop hits into its rotation, the channel that once promised “Non-Stop Oldies” has turned its back on its word. To the new generations, the “oldies” have become U2, Journey, and Van Halen.

Saul Levine is the 91-year old owner of Mt. Wilson FM Broadcasters, Inc., which owns K-SRUF. One of the last independent major-market radio networks in the country, Levine established his signal atop Mt. Wilson in 1959. Today, the umbrella of networks operated by the Levine family remains well-known. Saul’s son, Michael Levine, runs the popular country station K-KGO “Go Country” 105-FM out of their offices in Westwood. In terms of listenership, Go Country is one of the biggest of its genre within the United States, boasting over 1.2 million listeners in the Southern California region.

Saul’s daughter, Stephanie Levine, manages KKJZ “K-JAZZ” 88.1FM out of CSU Long Beach. The family worked out a partnership with CSULB to run the operation commercial-free out of its campus and provide a valuable community resource. Additionally, former classical station K-Mozart resides on 88.1fm HD2, while Unforgettable LA is an online radio stream of American Standards, ranging from Frank Sinatra to Michael Bublé.

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Saul Levine/All images courtesy of K-SURF.
Saul Levine owner of KSURG. All images courtesy of KSURF.

In March of 2017, Saul Levine came into work and flipped a switch. A longtime radio advocate with a sense of awareness that rivals the youngsters, Saul noticed a void in oldies programming within the very city that bred it. It was with Saul’s commitment to the “Golden Age” of the California lifestyle that K-SURF “KSUR” 1260 AM was born.

Boasting “wall-to-wall” classics with hardly any commercials, Saul brought on Go Country operations manager Fred Missman to run the new endeavor. Missman is no stranger to broadcasting. Out of college at San Diego State University, he worked at public radio station KPBS 89.5 FM, which he helped grow from No. 17 in the market to No. 1. From there, Missman moved to Los Angeles to become production director on KYSR “STAR” 98.7 FM, before serving stints on KBIG 104.3 FM, KZLA “MOVIN” 93.9 FM (where he worked on the Rick Dees Show), and KPCC 89.3 FM. Fred settled at his current home at Mount Wilson FM Broadcasters in 2014.

Fred Missman on KMPX in San Francisco.
Fred Missman on KMPX in San Francisco.

K-SURF 1260 is now Missman’s labor of love, where he leads its 24/7 broadcasting schedule and operations. As of right now, Missman is one of few live” jocks on an otherwise automated playlist of non-stop hits, which range from the Mamas and the Papas to Jan and Dean.

“No one plays this kind of oldies anymore,” Fred told L.A. Taco during his steady commute along the 405 to the K-SURF studios. “Inside of it somewhere is always this sense of youth. After all, we are all younger on the inside than we are on the outside.”

Missman truly believes in the California “oldies” experience as representative of a feel-good period, a golden era, if you will. “It speaks to an innocent time within us before Vietnam, before Trump, before all this devisiveness. I think people right now are looking for something that’s a little like comfort food. You want something that’s not so threatening - like earthquakes, and Nazis, and hurricanes, and everything.”

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Fred Missman on KJQY in San Diego.
Fred Missman on KJQY in San Diego.

[dropcap size=big]I[/dropcap]n a world so wrapped up with one national tragedy after the next, sometimes it is nice to take a break from the madness and enjoy the breeze. Only momentarily, of course, but the sentiment still stands. Sending out a fuzzy 25,000 watts during daylight hours, 1260 AM may be the golden lining in our otherwise traumatic world. Obviously, mid-century America wasn’t so cheery itself, but at least they didn’t have to worry about global warming.

One year into broadcasting, K-SURF remains one of the Los Angeles radio dial’s best-kept secrets. But it doesn’t need to stay that way. Looking toward the future, Missman hopes to keep the station and its dedication to our buoyant cultural history afloat as long as he possibly can, with limited resources.

Since its integration, Missman has been able to introduce “Disco Saturday Nights,” a weekly sub-format show dedicated to another feel-good genre that has long been underrepresented on mainstream networks. Eventually, he hopes to add more disc jockeys to K-SURF’s programming schedule.

“Saul’s always thinking down the road about what’s the next step and right now he’s very committed to the oldies concept,” Missman spoke optimistically. “He’s got a lot of other crazy ideas, and they’re all great. Be sure to keep an eye on the dial because anything can happen.”

K-SURF broadcasts 24/7 throughout the Los Angeles region on 1260 AM and 105.1 FM HD2. Streaming worldwide at laoldies.com.

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