Thursday, January 11, 2001
Thom O'Hair, a pioneering radio program director and disc jockey who helped revolutionize rock 'n' roll radio at the groundbreaking San Francisco station KSAN in the early 1970s, died Monday in Eugene, Ore., of complications from a stroke. He was 58.
From his stint at KSAN, which was a crucial voice for the Bay Area music scene during the era, to his efforts to broadcast the popular Strawberry Music Festival and recent work on an Internet radio station, Mr. O'Hair was a lifelong believer in the power of radio as a communication tool, according to his family, friends and colleagues.
"He knew what radio could do, and he went places with it that no one else had," said his son, Tim Gubbins.
Born and raised in a suburb of Chicago, one of Mr. O'Hair's first jobs as a teenager was in a mechanic's garage, where he quickly assumed control of the turntable and became the in-house disc jockey during his shifts, his son said.
After a short stint in the Air Force, Mr. O'Hair moved to California in the early 1960s. He helped create KCSE, the radio station at California State University at Chico. He met and married his wife, Kay, in 1965; they were later divorced.
After working at radio stations in Eugene and Springfield, Ore., Mr. O'Hair came to KSAN in 1971. The station had already gained a national reputation as something new in radio: It was a place where disc jockeys played what they wanted, where irreverence mixed with politics, and where album-oriented rock radio began.
Disc jockeys streaked nude through competitor stations and were arrested on-air for marijuana possession. One was fired for repeating a Black Panther member's suggestion that President Richard Nixon be killed. The station also gave artists like David Bowie, Elton John and Bonnie Raitt their first consistent airplay.
Mr. O'Hair was a morning disc jockey and program director for three years. He was described as wonderful, funny and irascible by fellow DJs.
"Thom kept things fresh and new and different. He helped keep KSAN on the cutting edge," said Norman Davis, a fellow disc jockey at KSAN now living in Florida. "He loved the fact that we were creating styles and trends that radio stations across the country were following."
Mr. O'Hair left KSAN in 1974 for Los Angeles, where he worked at KMET. He later worked at WQIV in New York.
He also worked at the popular KKCY ("the City") in San Francisco in the 1980s and briefly for its predecessor, KOFY.
Always interested in exploring new ways to use radio, Mr. O'Hair founded Hog Ranch Radio in the 1980s, which aired the twice-annual Strawberry Music Festival. The roots music and bluegrass event, held at Camp Mather near Yosemite National Park, attracts as many as 5,000 people every Memorial Day and Labor Day weekend.
Mr. O'Hair suffered a stroke four years ago and had moved to Eugene. But he remained active in radio, serving as general manager of Fat Music Radio Network, an online radio station based in Santa Cruz.
"He always believed in using radio for what it was truly for -- to serve people and to communicate," said Felton Pruitt, who worked with Mr. O'Hair at the Strawberry Music Festival and Fat Music.
In addition to his son, Mr. O'Hair is survived by a grandson.
San Francisco Chronicle
Photo from Strawberry Music Festival Calendar
Taken by Maria Camillo
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