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Goodbye, KOME

[whitespace] KOME Writing on the Wall: The walls of KOME's soon-to-be-vacated San Jose studios are decorated with autographs and rock memorabilia that tell the story of 26 years of rock & roll programming.

Christopher Gardner



It's been a long time that
we've rock & rolled

By Corinne Asturias

THERE'S NO DOUBT that KOME taught me to rock & roll. When I was a high school freshman in the early '70s, I got my first taste of FM album-rock from a radio in the corner of my drafting class that upperclassmen had permanently tuned in to 98.5. Because I was a freshman girl in a class of mostly senior boys, it took me a couple weeks to get up the courage to ask someone what we were actually listening to. Once the strains of the Stones, Clapton, The Who and Led Zeppelin started trickling into my consciousness each afternoon, that 45 minutes wasn't enough. In a flash, I had outgrown the Teen Beat world of my old plastic AM radio, where teeny-bopper pop rock had held me in its grasp in a room full of stuffed animals and pink ruffles since the age of 10.

Little did I know that KOME was whisking me away to exciting, unpredictable and sometimes chaotic new worlds. And I was never going back.

And so began a decades-long relationship with one of San Jose's most venerable rock institutions. During high school, KOME ("the KOME spot on your dial") was the station we tuned in on our way to concerts at the Oakland Coliseum or Winterland, where the DJs would play songs by the bands you were heading to see--not because they were sponsoring the show, but just to get you in the mood. Much of my life back then played to a KOME soundtrack--high school dances, sunbathing with friends, driving up Highway 9. Whether it was the programs of Dana Jang or Greg Stone's Stone Trek, KOME was a trusted friend.

In college, when I had acquired the standard wood-veneer AM/FM clock radio with snooze button, the first thing to bounce in my ears some mornings was Dennis Erectus doing "Celebrity Gang Bang with Nancy Reagan." When a student heckler in Santa Cruz inspired then President Ronald Reagan to snap "Shut up!" in the middle of a speech, Erectus isolated it on tape and used it all morning as commentary on commercials, the news, certain song lyrics and, of course, himself.

Those were KOME's glory days, when its diamond-shaped yellow-and-black road sign logo was standard for locker and binder decorations all over the valley, not to mention bumpers, back windows and the engine compartment of VW bugs. For the X-acto-knife-wielding renegade, the KOME letters were chopped and sliced for personal effect: KOOL, MINE, KILL or DICK.

KOME was a place for hearing the news, too, and not just about the latest band breakup. I can still remember that fateful day in 1980, hearing a long set of John Lennon songs and having an eerie sensation that something was terribly wrong.

Maybe it was me, but it seems like the station lagged a bit musically in the '80s, never making the transition to punk and new wave. My car radio started wandering over to Live 105, for fresher tracks and the wry wit of Big Rick Stuart. I had kids, got busy in a different kind of life. Silence also started to feel really good. But when 98.5 changed its format to new rock in 1994, KOME came back into my world with a vengeance--through my son. Our home became a battleground between me, a writer in need of solitude, and him, a young radiohead just starting a rowdy love affair with rock & roll.

Today, however, I have KOME and my son to thank for my perfunctory knowledge of new music and my belief that today's stuff is every bit as good as what we listened to back in the good old days. You just have to listen to it all the time, really loud.

My son, who has a phone in his room, has the dubious distinction of winning more KOME contests than anyone should ever be allowed to think about. He became well known to a DJ there called No Name, whom he accosted on a regular basis to win a contest called the "Top Eight at Nine." I don't know how many times he won this thing by guessing the top eight songs of the day, but it was a lot. On more than one occasion, I heard him on the air while I was driving, whooping and hamming it up for effect. Once he won the contest by delivering all eight song titles in Spanish.

I sometimes worried that he was the station pest. He would call night after night, sometimes being sent away because he had won too recently. A couple of times No Name busted him for using a phony name, by using *69, scolding him, "Not cool, Max!"

Over the years he and his friends have made countless forays on the bus, skateboards in hand, to pick up booty from KOME's offices out on Dudley Avenue. They always pronounced it "Dude-ly."

After learning of the station's demise, my son expressed shock that something so integral to his life, his universe and the growing market of his generation could possibly change. KOME produces the sounds he falls asleep to at night and wakes up to each morning. He knows the name of every band, every song, every album. How does this just go away?

I told him the harsh truth, the one I learned back in 1981 when I was working as a reporter for San Jose's station KXRX, which was changed overnight from a news-talk format to automated soft rock: "Most radio stations are owned by corporations run by people who don't live where their stations broadcast and mainly want to make as much money as possible." He couldn't believe this, that there wasn't some head-bobbing owner at home, listening to the stuff broadcast on his frequency and loving it. I told him to count his blessings that KOME was still a rock station. "Country is a big moneymaker," I told him, at which he shuddered visibly.

Thursday night, he and his friends rushed out to buy a gift for No Name--a wizard candle--which they delivered to him at KOME's emptied-out studios. It was a school night; it was late and I didn't love the idea, but I let him go. There's a lot to be said for closure when it comes to something as important as the station that taught you to rock & roll.

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From the June 4-10, 1998 issue of Metro.

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