Friday, August 10, 2007

Ramsey Lewis, Morning Man on KKSF-FM (103.7)

Here's my first column from the Oakland Trib today. I'm working on my next, which includes the death of Ron Lyons. If you have memories of him, post them here and I'll get them into the column. Thanks.

HOWARD STERN may call himself “the king of all media,” but he’s got some serious competition from morning show (5-9 a.m.) DJ Ramsey Lewis, the newest addition to KKSF-FM’s (103.7) lineup.

Lewis is a jazz pianist whose 1965 hit, “The In Crowd,” is number 354 on the Recording Industry Association of America’s list of the all-time top 1,000 songs.

For 15 years he’s been a Chicago disc jockey whose show is now syndicated into 15 markets. He has a successful weekly PBS television show, “Legends of Jazz, ” on which he brings some of the finest American music to a new audience.

The 72-year-old, who looks scarily good for his age, tours and plays some 50 shows a year, records an album a year, has won three Grammys and seven gold records and has been the Radio and Records Air Personality of the Year twice.

Oh yeah, and he’s just finished his first ballet, “To Know Her,” which was performed by the Joffrey Ballet, and now he is working on a memoir.

It’s a stellar resume, even if he hasn’t appeared, like Stern, as “Fartman” on the Grammy awards show.

This month KKSF replaced sydicated morning host Whoopi Goldberg with Lewis’s more music-focused morning show. His shift began the same day that Goldberg announced she was joining TV’s “The View,” but that had nothing to do with KKSF dropping her show.

“It was a matter of what fit our format best,’’ says program director Ken Jones. “People turn to us for music and they weren’t getting that with Whoopi.”

She’ll still do her radio show from New York. Fans can hear it at

“I almost wish we could have kept it. Can you imagine the guests she’ll get now?” says Jones.

But her show was ranked only 21st in the spring ratings book for the most valuable 25-54 audience.

Lewis is sort of a jazz spy in the house of love. He’s a straight-ahead jazz aficionado playing music on smooth jazz stations -- a format that elicits the same feelings in traditional jazz players that Hillary Clinton draws from Rush Limbaugh.

The way Lewis resolves the conflict is by integrating the music of older jazz greats with the smooth jazz lineup.

He started in radio as a guest on Chicago’s WNUA-FM, when a program director heard him and pitched him on doing his own show. He agreed to take it on, as long as he could mix the softer works of Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Wynton Marsalis, Oscar Peterson and Miles Davis along with the staples of the genre, such as Kenny G.

And these were the days before “Smooth Jazz” was a genre. It was called contemporary jazz, and featured musicians who could really play, he says, such as Grover Washington, Al Jarreau and Wes Montgomery.

“My beef with smooth jazz is that many times the so-called smooth jazz musician rests on his or her laurels and for some reason, there is no evolution,” he says in a phone interview from Chicago.

“They have found a comfort zone, imitating what has been done before, and I don’t find the guys in smooth jazz coming up with their own voice. I won’t name the ones guilty for being lazy and comfortable.”

But, he says, you’ll hear the ones with a fresh perspective on his shows. Among them, he says, are Eliane Elias, a singer and pianist married to trumpeter Randy Brecker; and pianists Bobby Lyle and Monty Alexander.

Which is all good with Jones, whose station features a traditional jazz show Sunday nights 8 p.m. to midnight, and has an HD sister station at that plays only traditional jazz.

“I’m glad to have someone who can make the connections from Chet Baker to Chris Botti,’’ says the program director.

Lewis says he thinks smooth stations have a responsibility to turn listeners on to the older stuff.

“They have to introduce them to more than just the dessert. We have a responsibility to say have you tried potatoes this way, or the grilled asparagus?”

AROUND THE DIAL: KGO-AM’s (810) program director Jack Swanson has two slots to fill in the lineup that is the Bay Area’s top-rated. Gene Burns is temporarily doing afternoons, in place of Pete Wilson, who died of a heart attack last month. And former San Francisco Chronicle columnist David Lazarus, who did fill-ins and Saturdays, is moving south to work for the Los Angeles Times.
Top contenders are likely Eddie Sellars and Karel, but Swanson has no announcement yet. Look for it first here. Who would you like to see get a daily talk radio show?

Tag: Read Brad Kava’s daily radio blog at Email him at

1 comment:

A. Gallardo said...

I feel that James Gabbert would be a great radio talk show host. He has a proven track record at KGO radio as a fill-in host in the past, with a large following and bay area roots.