Johnny Hyde had a lengthy radio career, which included working for Sacramento stations, KXOA, KROY and KCRA. Photo courtesy of Martin Ashley
For many longtime radio listeners in Sacramento, the name, Johnny Hyde, is quite familiar.
During his lengthy career, Johnny, who will turn 75 years old next week, spent time working for local radio stations, KXOA, KROY and KCRA.
Last week, Johnny shared many details about his life and career for readers of this publication.
Johnny initially spoke about growing up in St. Louis with his mother, Margaret, and his sister, Carole.
During his youth, Johnny became fascinated with radio.
In speaking about his memories of listening to radio at that time, Johnny said, “While I (was) living in St. Louis, I used to go to bed at night (with) a radio sitting on my chest. I would sort of act like a human antenna and bring in the music from not only St. Louis, but across the river in East St. Louis, (Illinois). And that’s where I would hear black music. That’s where you’re hearing the Lightnin’ Hopkins and you’re hearing Chuck Berry and some folks like that. That was a hot fudge sundae right there. I’m the human antenna, just listening to this stuff, just absolutely fascinated by it, and I knew that that was my life right there.”
Johnny recalled one of his favorite radio memories, saying, “One (St. Louis radio station) was KXOK. And in those days, they used to have a little audience section – seats for an audience – to go watch the disc jockey and the engineer, who played the records. And they would have guests on the radio program.
“I think the high point of my life at the time was when I met and saw Patti Page (1927-2013), whose big hit was (‘The Doggie in the Window,’ with the lyric line), ‘How much is that doggie in the window?’ That was about the greatest thing in the world to me. This was at KXOK in St. Louis. She was on the radio program.”
Another one of Johnny’s favorite radio memories was listening to KXOK disc jockey Ed Bonner (1923-1993), who Johnny referred to as “the Dick Clark of his time in St. Louis.”
Johnny, who also recalled listening to St. Louis radio stations, WEW and KXLW, was asked if he had dreamed of becoming a disc jockey.
He responded, “Oh, yeah. Actually, I really dreamed more of sort of being, I don’t know, the guy who put the show together. I guess you would call him a producer now, the director.”
When he was 14 years old, Johnny left his home in St. Louis to seek out his father, Eddie Hyde, who he had never met.
Johnny said that he discovered that his father was in poor health, in and out of a hospital, and was not overjoyed to see him.
“I met him,” Johnny recalled. “He had no place in his life for a 14 year old, and I just wanted some place really to belong. So, what I had done was I made a decision that I was leaving home. I left home, got on a Greyhound bus, ended up in Tucson, (Ariz.). ‘Hello, dad, I’m your son.’ ‘Oh, (expletive),’ on his part. So, I stayed with him for a while and he had to go back in the hospital. He was that sick.”
Although Johnny returned to St. Louis, he would not stay there long.
He was soon back in Tucson, where he began hanging out at radio stations and making acquaintances with some of the disc jockeys.
Johnny found a home in a room at a rest home, an arrangement that he noted worked out fine for him, as long as he “didn’t interrupt Lawrence Welk on Saturday nights.”
While in Tucson for the second time in his life, Johnny lied his way into a midnight to 6 a.m. disc jockey shift at KAIR, as he told the station that he had prior experience as a DJ.
That job did not last long for Johnny, mostly because he would deprive himself of sleep and sometimes fall asleep on the job.
“My problem was I was so fascinated by the guys that were working the day shift, I was up all day with them,” Johnny said.
Despite firing Johnny from his first radio job after about five months in that position, Ralph Anderson, the station’s manager, liked Johnny and set him up with his second radio job, at KVWM in Show Low, Ariz.
Johnny would later return to Tucson, where he began working mornings at KCNA.
His career in radio also included working as a DJ for KELP in El Paso, Texas, KRIZ in Phoenix, KWAC in Bakersfield, KYNO in Fresno and KJOY in Stockton.
Following the death of KJOY’s owner-manager Joe Gamble, Johnny began working in Sacramento.
In recalling that time of his life, Johnny said, “It was a strange situation that I ran across. I got a job up here (in Sacramento) at the old KXOA, and I was going to do nighttime at KXOA. But they had to get rid of a program director who didn’t know that he was about to leave and do another shift. And at the same time, KROY was absent a guy who was on vacation and they needed help. So, the two stations worked together. KXOA hired me, but I went to work for KROY, filling in for I think three or four weeks in the all-night shift there. And then when that was over, I went over to KXOA. We’re talking 1964.”
Johnny explained that he quickly became very creative during his night shift at KXOA.
“I would go in and I would listen to music and put together sort of like my music format and I would pretend that it would be their music format and I would integrate mine,” Johnny said. “Finally, the owner of the station or the manager said, ‘Why don’t you take an hour at night to feature your music? Call it Hyde’s Hits or something like that.’ I thought, ‘Oh, that’s stupid.’ But the more I got thinking about it, I had become fascinated with British music, and The Beatles were obviously just part of the floodgate. There was the Herman’s Hermits and there was The Searchers and The Rolling Stones, The Hollies and all those type [of musical artists] coming.”
Johnny’s decision to finally accept that offer, led to his very popular program, The Gear Hour, which featured the newest British hits.
The success of that program moved KXOA past its rival, KROY, in the ratings.
Johnny, who also created a fan club for followers of his show, said that the popularity of his show led to his hiring at KXOA in 1965.
After Johnny’s hiring at KROY, he would become that station’s program manager, and KROY would move forward as the city’s number one station.
Also contributing to KROY’s success in that era were disc jockeys such as Bob Sherwood, Chuck Roy, T. Michael Jordan, Gene Lane and Martin “Wonder Rabbit” Ashley.
The station also enjoyed success through various promotions, including its annual picnic at Gibson Ranch in Elverta and its Rock Island Line, which Johnny recalled transported fans of the station from Sacramento to Dixon and back.
Johnny noted that his radio career continued after he left KROY in the summer of 1970.
“After KROY, I had really become bored,” Johnny said. “My problem in the world of programming is I will build and if it’s successful then I will become bored with it. (That boredom occurred after the release of) about the second or third successful ratings book.”
To cure that boredom, Johnny accepted an offer from KCRA co-owner Jon S. Kelly to work at KCRA radio, while his brother, Bob, was on a sabbatical leave.
In speaking about his time working at KCRA radio, Johnny Hyde said, “I programmed there for two years. We took number one in the market. It was good, it was successful and they had me go over and do some stuff on the television side, which I never enjoyed, but I did it anyhow.”
With the return of Bob from his sabbatical leave, Johnny left his position at KCRA and filled his time with advertising and consultancy work for some radio stations, including KROY.
Today, Johnny is happily retired and residing with his longtime girlfriend, Maxine, his dog, A.J., and his cat, Pesek.
In pondering his radio career as a whole, Johnny Hyde said, “Well, I’m actually the luckiest person in the world. I mean, look at this way: A 14-year-old kid on a Greyhound bus going to Tucson and then being able to truly create something that had meaning and lasting power. It’s 2014 and (his career is still being talked) about. A lot of guys who went to work for (General Motors) never got to do that, unless they invented door handles.”