The identify Saul Levine won’t ring a bell, however anybody who’s pushed on the 405 between Wilshire and Santa Monica Blvd. has undoubtedly seen the billboard for his KKGO Go Nation 105 radio station, which sits atop the headquarters of Mount Wilson FM Broadcasters, Inc. (named after the native peak the place he constructed his transmitter and antenna 60 years in the past).
The 92-year-old founder and proprietor of the corporate is hunched behind his desk on an in any other case unoccupied third flooring of the constructing beneath the freeway underpass across the nook from Selection’s workplaces. In one of many remarkably prescient strikes that mark his unlikely journey from the cow-town of Cheboygan, Michigan, to sunny Southern California, Levine bought the land for $800,000 in 1985, pulling down a flophouse for army vets that occupied it on the time.
Levine’s firm, which employs son Michael because the station’s PD, Supervisor, Nationwide/Native Gross sales and Advertising and marketing Director, and daughter Stephanie as a authorized counsel who additionally consults KKJZ (KJazz 88.1)/Lengthy Seashore, owns FM station KKGO (105.1), the L.A. space’s solely nation station, in addition to AM oldies outpost KSUR (1260 Ok-SURF). Programming the extra station alternatives represented by HD Radio (not high-definition, however “in-band on channel digital radio expertise used to transmit audio and knowledge”), Levine additionally packages “Unforgettable,” an Grownup Requirements channel (HD3) and his different ardour, the classical Ok-MOZART (HD4), with KSUR-AM simulcast on HD2.
Levine’s dad and mom — his father an atheist from Lithuania, his mom an Orthodox Jew from the Ukraine — have been a part of an organized marriage after arriving on Ellis Island. When Levine’s father couldn’t survive hauling a pushcart by way of New York’s crowded decrease east aspect, he headed west on a practice, touchdown within the Chippewa outpost of Cheboygan, 90 miles from the Canadian border city of Sault Ste. Marie, the place he opened a common retailer and despatched for his spouse to hitch him.
“After I was a child, it was nice,” recollects Saul. “There was outside ice-skating, snowboarding, tobogganing, We have been the one Jewish household there.”
Nonetheless, the bold Levine vowed by no means to return to the city, leaving the College of Michigan after one yr to enroll at UC Berkeley, the place he majored typically research, with an emphasis on philosophy, economics and psychology. “It didn’t put together me for any form of actual job, but it surely was enjoyable studying Schopenhauer and Spinoza,” he laughs. After commencement, he took a job as a social employee for the County of Los Angeles, then obtained his graduate diploma at USC in social work earlier than ending legislation college at UCLA. All alongside, he harbored a want to get into radio.
Realizing the potential of the nascent FM band — which within the late ‘50s was merely simulcasting its extra in style AM station’s programming — the then-32-year-old Levine secured an FCC allow for an FM station in Los Angeles in 1958, after the unique AM outlet selected to not renew its license, citing the expense of paying for electrical energy.
Like Daniel-Day Lewis in “There Should Be Blood,” Levine bulldozed the land atop Mt. Wilson –which he leased from the U.S. Forest Service for $350 a yr — driving the tractor himself. He acquired a transmitter from a defunct Michigan station for $1,500, had an antenna crafted out of a lead pipe, and bartered industrial time on the yet-to-air station for a $300 flag pole so they may broadcast. He even constructed a makeshift studio on the positioning itself, the place an eccentric Seven-Day Adventist-turned-engineer who actually lived off the land saved the station on for as near across the clock as humanly doable.
KCBA launched in February 1959, with a classical format, then turned to jazz in 1979 as the primary incarnation of KKGO, then again to classical in 1990 when KLAC dropped the format, altering the decision letters to KMZT (Ok-MOZART) in 2000, earlier than lastly going nation as KKGO in 2007 when proprietor Emmis Communications pulled the plug on L.A.’s solely nation station on the time, KZLA.
“The place I grew up, they referred to as it nation and western music, and it was round on a regular basis,” says Levine, who insists he nonetheless listens to each document that airs on the station. “It was solely after I went to varsity and began relationship ladies that I turned enthusiastic about all this high-falutin’ classical and jazz, which I’m nonetheless loopy about.
“I like the brand new nation as a result of it’s extra like rock and also you don’t get that nasal twang. However I’ve even turn out to be used to that.”
By the mid-‘90s, Levine owned an FM and two AM stations in Los Angeles, an AM, FM and TV station in Honolulu, in addition to an AM and FM station in San Francisco, all of which he’s just about divested save for the 2 stations on the town.
“I loved that,” he admits, “It was a whole lot of enjoyable, however the actuality was the one stations that have been creating wealth have been right here, and I might run these on a day-to-day foundation. It’s by no means the identical if you let different individuals handle for you.”
With all of the consolidation within the radio business over time, Levine was by no means tempted to promote, even when the Clear Channels of the world got here calling. All the time enthusiastic about expertise, the radio exec acknowledged early on the potential of FM.
“There weren’t even any high-fidelity recordings to play on the time,” he says. “The one individuals broadcasting in FM have been hobbyists from their bedrooms or garages. However FM was each noise and static-free, and I knew that audio would ultimately catch up. And it gave me a change to personal my very own radio station.”
Years earlier than SiriusXM, in 1983, to be exact, Levine was syndicating his jazz programming nationally by way of satellite tv for pc, however acknowledges the menace big-pocketed corporations like that signify within the battle for the automobile dashboard with the standard AM/FM hierarchy.
“Ninety p.c of the inhabitants within the U.S. listens to terrestrial radio no less than as soon as every week,” insists Levine. “Radio will survive for the subsequent 15 to 20 years. It’s free, it’s native, it’s reside and it’s the one medium that offers together with your group.”
Levine sees HD Radio as one method to fight the competitors by offering extra area of interest programming for a goal demo. “I see an virtually analogous scenario with the early days of FM radio,” he says. “There’s no income from the classical or oldies stations, however the nation format helps all of them, so I don’t care.” (KKGOs registered a 2.zero share within the newest Nielsen Audio scores.)
With the lack of his spouse Anita six years in the past to ovarian most cancers when she was 65, Saul has turned to match.com to pursue romantic pursuits, confessing that he lists his age as 71 whereas looking for a feminine companion no older than 65.
“There was one I preferred, however she turned out to be a bit of meshugge,” he says. “She was enticing and clever, however she’s transformed to Hinduism and wished me to additionally. Then I discovered she was spiking my meals with herbs. She saved telling me Massive Pharma’s killing us, but when it weren’t for Massive Pharma, we wouldn’t be right here in any respect.”
Except for going to work on the workplace day-after-day, Levine has additionally turn out to be the world’s oldest winemaker together with his Cobblestone Vineyards, an award-winning firm that cultivates in Monterey (Chardonnay), Napa (Cabernet) and New Zealand (Pinot Noir).
“I used to assist my father make wine within the storage,” he says about rising up on a farm the place they’d develop greens and fruit. “He’d purchase the Harmony grapes and crush them in these big washtubs. My mom used to hate it as a result of it attracted all these fruit flies.”
Today, after a latest knee substitute surgical procedure, Levine maintains a gentle routine of train, together with the treadmill and strolling a few miles a day, a food regimen of fish, greens and fruit, and, naturally, a glass of wine each evening. Is he terrified of dying?
“I was, however now I don’t give it some thought,” says Levine, who dotes on his two-year-old granddaughter and surmises he’ll be round till she hits bat-mitzvah age. What sort of knowledge does he supply at 90 years her elder? Says Levine: “I’ve been a really fortunate individual. Looks like all the pieces I touched might simply have gone south, but it surely went north as an alternative. I labored laborious, although. I put within the time.”