Morning Zoo Host Chris Collins Returns to Sacramento
Chris Collins made a visit to Sacramento over the weekend to do some interviews as part of SacTV.com’s exploration oflocal radio history. Collins was the host of the valley’s top morning radio show in the 1980s, The (KSFM) FM 102 Morning Zoo.Collins worked for the station from March 1980 through November 1992. From the late eighties through early nineties, FM 102was the last music station in town to achieve double digit market shares, in an era before the internet and instant music on the gadget in your pocket.
FM 102 was a station that transformed top 40 radio from a grab bag carnival of sounds to electronic beats with a street vibe and a topical, anything goes morning show. Collins explains in the SacTV.com video series why the show worked and how it ultimately got derailed. While leading the area’s top morning show for many years, Collins was also the station’s Music Director under Program Director Rick Gillette. Together they crafted the sound of the station based on the impact of Michael Jackson’s 1982 blockbuster album Thriller. The station went on to consistently beat top 40 competitiors KWOD and KROY in the ratings, to the point both stations were forced to change formats as KROY became classic rocker the Eagle in 1990 and KWOD shifted to modern rock the following year.
Even though Collins and his Zoo team were incredibly popular in the 1980s and early 1990s, behind the scenes issues played into the story that ended the Zoo in 1992. Unfortunately, the show was axed following management changes, which was followed by a huge legal settlement in which Collins benefitted. He went on to call games for the San Jose Sharks and ran his own station, KDIA in Oakland, before running a software company in Seattle. These days, like many important radio figures of the past few decades, Collins is exploring new media technology to connect with his audience. He has turned down offers for radio shows so that he can focus on new tech that is replacing radio as the direct pipeline to pop culture.
Collins observes that radio is no longer dialed into people’s lives the way it was in the 1980s. Corporations have changed the sound of radio since the Telecom Act of 1996, which allowed big companies to buy up half the radio industry. Today, FM 102 is owned by CBS
and is nowhere near its market leader status when it first beat KZAP in 1985 to win the market crown. Collins says that radio has lost its ability to connect with the street in this new dimension of tech gadgets that now overshadow the popularity of today’s top music acts. His morning show was a mix of music and controversial talk. Interestingly, even though KSFM’s dance beats were in sharp contrast with the freeform rock sound the station projected in the late seventies, Collins says freeform radio helped paved the way for his kind of radio philosophy.
Freeform was a format that had no rules, whereas corporate radio programming introduced a long list of rules starting in the eighties. But the station trusted Collins to run the show his way until its eventual demise. Whatever the rules were back in the 1980s, Collins definitely knew how to break them with his controversial content. Understanding where to draw the line is what kept the show vibrant and relevant. The Morning Zoo was a cast of several funny characters who ranged from the analytical news man Mike Reynolds to the street sensibility of Kil R Bee. No morning show in town has approached the ratings success generated by The Morning Zoo in its heyday. It was an important part of local radio history because it worked better than anything since. Radio may never be the same, but the latest series of Chris Collins interviews on SacTV.com raises important questions about how radio needs to reinvent itself.
Editor’s note: Edits have been made to this article after publication.
Disclosure: I am the owner of SacTV.com