A look back at “Live 105”, the station that brought alternative music to Bay Area ears for 30 years

Rival British bands Blur and Oasis met at Live 105 radio studios in 1994. Photo: Live 105 1994

On a recent Friday afternoon, Bay Area listeners whose radio stations were tuned to KITS 105.3 FM noticed something strange. The frequency that for more than 30 years hosted the region’s premier alternative rock station, “Live 105”, played the lead chords of the 1987 Guns N ‘Roses hit, “Welcome to the Jungle.”

OK, maybe this worked on a playlist that sometimes favored heavy guitar bands like Nirvana, Jane’s Addiction, and Green Day. But what followed was utterly confusing: decades-old hits by a jumble of artists that included the Pointer Sisters, Billy Idol, Hall & Oates, Blur, Kiss, Duran Duran, MC Hammer, the Killers and Journey. .

Then there was the station’s jingle, delivered with a self-satisfied sneer from something called 105.3 Dave FM, proclaiming “Totally Random Radio!” “

Without much fanfare, Audacy, the media company that owns 235 radio stations in the United States, had killed a Bay Area institution and turned it into another generic place to listen to retro Top 40 music in fashion. random, much like walking into a Whole Foods market.

Spud radio personality at Live 105 studio. Photo: provided by Spud / Live 105

The outcry from longtime listeners on social media has been swift and lasting. Some wondered if this was a joke. Others recalled attending the successful Live 105 events, such as the BFD end-of-year festival or concerts Not So Silent Night. But most posts lamented the loss of the community the station had established since switching to modern rock format in 1986.

“In the pre-Internet age, opportunities to find like-minded music fans were scarce,” said Jeremy P. Goldstein, a Concord native who grew up with the station. “If you saw a car with a Live 105 sticker on it, you knew you already had something in common; that they were part of your musical tribe.

Yes, Live 105 was a progressive radio station that broke the monotony of mainstream radio in the late 80s and 90s with British pop groups like The Cure, New Order, Smiths, Radiohead and Jesus and Mary Chain. But it was more than music. It was the spirit of the resort and the personalities behind it.

“I felt like I had found a station that was right for me,” said Aaron Axelsen, a Livermore native who was a fan of Live 105 long before he became musical director. “It represented my values, from a sense of the environment to embracing new music. “

Aaron Axelsen was Music Director of Live 105 and Alt 105.3 for 23 years Photo: Stephen Lam / The Chronicle 2009

It refers to the people who shaped the station in its early days for fostering this deeply rooted program of allegiance – director Richard Sands, music director Steve Masters and on-air personalities like Big Rick Stuart, Mark Hamilton, Alex Bennett. , Roland West and Lisa. Carr.

“It was hard to turn off the radio station back then because you didn’t want to miss anything,” Masters said. “You never knew what was going to happen next.”

Masters orchestrated the impromptu encounter on the air of brit-pop groups Oasis and Blur at the height of their rivalry in 1994.

David Bowie (center, in hat) and his band Tin Machine take part in Live 105’s Modern Rock cruise with station personalities including Richard Sands, Steve Masters, Roland West and Spud. Photo: provided by Spud / Live 105

Live 105 reinforced its sense of community with unique live events in the Bay Area, like the Modern Rock Cruise with David Bowie’s band, Tin Machine, and annual holiday concerts like Green Christmas, where artists like No Doubt, Sonic Youth, Garbage, Hole and Tony Bennett shared the bill. The resort also regularly hosted free concerts in Union Square and the San Francisco Embarcadero.

“There was definitely some real work going on, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by listening,” Masters said.

The station reached its peak in the mid-90s creating a playlist that distinctly represented the tastes of the Bay Area – a mix of post-punk, dance-pop, indie, local and underground.

“It was a very unusual radio station,” Sands said. “The Bay Area is truly a special place. Our slogan was “The resort that dares to be different”. “

As musical tastes evolved, so did Live 105. It was the Bay Area’s first mainstream outlet for grunge, electronic dance music, pop-punk, emo, and more. He even went through a rap-rock phase. Audiences have sometimes faltered, but the hearts of listeners have remained faithful.

“We didn’t have the best ratings, but for those who supported the station it meant a lot to them,” said Axelsen.

Blink-182 members with 105 live personalities. Photo: Trisha Leeper / Live 105

Mary Nite, who worked as an account manager at Live 105 for over 20 years, said it was like family.

“Everyone poured their love into the resort,” she said. “We all worked tireless long hours behind the scenes and did everything for our listeners. It was beautiful.”

Eventually, Live 105 began to falter under demands from its business owners, who mixed national syndicated programs like the Howard Stern Morning Show and the Relationship Advice Show “Loveline” into the lineup.

In 2017, when it was purchased by Audacy, the station was renamed Alt 105.3.

But the local staff have always remained dedicated to the original cause.

“If we heard a song and liked it, we played it,” Spud said. “These weren’t songs chosen by the record companies. Everyone was motivated by a passion for cool new music, and that brought us all together. “

The station took another step forward in the mid-2000s as the first champion of bands like the Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the White Stripes. Axelsen’s local music showcase “Soundcheck” and electronic music show “Subsonic” were among the most popular of their kind in the country.

“This connection we had with the audience is what makes radio media special,” said Axelsen, who is now program director for online station FloodFM. “We were real and sincere. You just can’t grab that by bringing in DJs from other markets. It just doesn’t work.

A classic Live 105 programming memo. Photo: Live 105

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