"As things turned out, however, the show went very smoothly, and Valens was just such a nice, personable kid that I went away with an entirely different opinion about rock 'n' roll."
The year that Valens performed at Clairemont High School, Spirit nightclub owner Jerry Herrera, now 44, was a sophomore at Point Loma High.
While most of his friends were attending school-sponsored record hops hosted by popular radio deejays, Herrera said, he was "working each night in a little kitchen, washing dishes."
Still, he said, "I listened to the radio every chance I got, mostly to KCBQ, even when I was at work. There wasn't nearly as much variety as there is today, but even then, we all had our favorites.
"The guys were into black acts like Little Richard and Fats Domino, while the girls were into Elvis Presley. And whenever a song by Elvis came on, I would turn off the radio, wait a few minutes, and then turn it back on.
The Record Hops
"At the time, there were only a couple of radio stations in town that played rock 'n' roll, so you couldn't switch around until you found a song you liked the way you do today."
Tom Cresci, 43, became a sophomore at Point Loma High in 1959, a year after Herrera. And unlike his older classmate, he attended virtually every school dance there was, some featuring local rock bands and others, deejays spinning records by the likes of the Del Vikings and the Silhouettes.
"The Saturday night record hops were always held in the girls' gym, while the bands played at larger dances, put on by several high schools, in places like the War Memorial Building in Balboa Park and the La Mesa Recreation Center," Cresci said.
"And as soon as we got in the car to go home, we turned on the radio full-blast, because that was the cool thing to do. Even in junior high school, as soon as radio stations started playing rock 'n' roll, those of us who had older brothers knew they were coming to pick us up because we could hear their car radios before we saw their cars."
As important as radio was to typical San Diego teen-agers in the 1950s and early '60s--when deejays, veteran local broadcaster Don Howard said, were "the next thing to movie stars"--the job of spinning records for a living wasn't nearly as glamorous as most star-struck youths might have thought.
Ernie Myers, who came to KCBQ in 1953, two years before rock 'n' roll, to play records by such pop crooners as Peggy Lee and Frank Sinatra, remembers how hard he used to work in the days before songs and commercials were put on "carts," or two-track tape cartridges, as is common practice today.
"Everything was on record, even the commercials, and you had four or five turntables, all going at once," said Myers, who left KCBQ in 1955 for KOGO-AM (600), which a short time later became one of several other local radio stations to jump on the rock 'n' roll bandwagon.
"While one song was playing on the first turntable, you'd be cuing up the next song on the second turntable and two or three commercials on the others," he said. "You pretty much needed help from an octopus, just to get all the work done."
Just as difficult, said Howard, was executing the outrageous promotional stunts he pulled, first on Big Band station KUSN-AM (1130)--now KSDO--from 1948 until 1955, and later on KCBQ, from 1955 until 1963.
"I did remote broadcasts from all kinds of places," Howard recalled. "I've been inside a monkey cage at the zoo, on the roof of a nightclub in a car, and at the bottom of a swimming pool, in a diving suit, with a microphone in my mask.
"Most of the time, however, I was in a mobile studio, broadcasting from department store openings, high school record hops and nightclubs. Still, it was never easy.
"Today, when you do a remote broadcast, the music is played at the station and all you have to worry about is the microphone and being pleasant to the live audience.
"But in those days, you had to play all the records from the site, so you were constantly jumping back and forth between the turntable and the audience."
The fringe benefits to local deejays, however, more often than not made up for all the hard work. There were personal appearances attended by hundreds, sometimes thousands, of screaming fans; countless requests for autographs, either by mail, by phone, or in person; and, in Ernie Myers' case, a personal endorsement from the Beatles.
"My brother was a deejay in New York, and he interviewed the Beatles shortly after they arrived in the United States in 1964 and got John Lennon to cut an intro to my show on KOGO," said Myers, who since 1980 has been morning news co-anchor on news/talk station KSDO.
'Hi, This Is John Lennon'
"It went, 'Hi, this is John Lennon of the Beatles, and you're listening to Ernie Myers,' " he said. "I played the hell out of that tape the entire time they were hot."