Company: Mt. Wilson Broadcasters
Birth: Cheboygan, Mich.; 1929
Education: B.A: from University of California at Berkeley; law degree from UCLA
Career Turning Point: Obtained license to operate FM radio station in 1959
Most Influential Person: His father, because of his business ethics. When others declared bankruptcy during the Depression, his father
preferred to pay off his debts incrementally.
Hobbies: Hiking, tennis, raising golden retrievers
Personal: Lives with his wife in West Los Angeles; both children work at the company; he built the station's offices near home for convenience
He may not look like a radio maverick, but Saul Levine has bucked industry trends since he entered the business in 1959. He recently garnered headlines by switching his FM station from a classical format to country music. The station is now known as KKGO-FM (105.1), while his AM station KMZT-AM (1260) carries on the classical tradition. Born of parents who fled Eastern Europe, Levine grew up in a small town in Michigan. He spent nine years in college and attended four institutions, finally earning a law degree from UCLA: He practiced law part-time for about 20 years to support his radio career. During his 48-year tenure as a station owner, he has switched formats only three times from classical to jazz, back to classical and now to country. Along the way he also bought XESURF-AM (540) in TijuanA: At one point Levine had several radio outlets and a TV station in Honolulu, where he still owns an antennae tower. His company, Mt. Wilson Broadcasters, has offices in Santa Monica where 30 full-time employees work.
Question: You say obtaining the FCC license for 105.1 was the turning point in your career. How did you get it?
Answer: I just asked for it, because no one wanted it. FM went through this strange period when all the channels were filled after World War II, and then TV came along. Everyone said radio was going to die, so why pay the electric bills to keep this thing going when all the money was going into AM? I just had to ask for it. That really defined the rest of my life.
Q: What did you get just the license?
A: Then I had to build the station, but I had to practice law to support it. There was absolutely no money in FM.
Q: Why not?
A: It was a new medium and there weren't many sets. When I went on the air, about 30 percent of radios could pick up FM. If you can't reach 70 percent of the people, advertisers aren't too thrilled. So it was a terrible struggle.
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