The temperamental radio dial in your garage is perched precariously on KGLR 105.7, the only local station that’s playing the 13th Floor Elevators, B-sides by The Who, and whatever other hidden gems the deejays feel like playing. (And even after that dial position gave way to top-40 rock hits by the Eagles and Rolling Stones, you still listen all the same.)
Or maybe it’s 1994, you’re listening to John Prine or the Talking Heads in your Geo Metro — where the radio is permanently locked in to 101.7 “The X” — and desperately trying to get your friends to do the same, so the station will stay on the air.
Then again, it could be 2022, and the entire eclectic set is streaming through your Jive Radio app, alongside indie radio hits from the past decade or two.
Chances are, one of the voices you heard between the curated tunes was that of Bruce Van Dyke.
The radio host died Sept. 16 after a brief illness. He was 69.
‘The most bizarre alarm clock ever’
Bruce Van Dyke became a Reno radio icon by breaking the status quo on the airwaves.
Van Dyke’s long career in Reno radio began in 1978, when he moved from Fresno to join KGLR — a station with the philosophy, “If it’s good, play it.” It fit Van Dyke’s style — prog rock, psychedelic rock, longer tracks and a full-album philosophy. A future radio employer would call Van Dyke’s KGLR morning show “the most bizarre alarm clock ever.”
“Nobody had much of an idea what they were doing,” Van Dyke told the RGJ in 1992. “We were just music fans who wanted to do shows we could listen to.”
But shortly after Van Dyke’s arrival, the station switched its call letters to KOZZ, and altered its format. The wave of 1980s radio homogenization hit the market, tightening up playlists and allowing for less leeway for deejays.
“For the stations that hung true to that very spaced-out original FM progressive ideal, they quickly got stomped in the ratings,” Van Dyke told the RGJ in a 2003 interview. “It’s become a trend that’s been honed to this day until you have a radio market that’s very highly researched and formatted.”
Despite the changes, Van Dyke clicked with audiences, winning numerous “region’s favorite radio personality” accolades. After a brief shift to KOH, Van Dyke was hired by upstart hot music station KWNZ in 1985 to be the voice of their morning broadcast.
“The 97.3/KWNZ air personalities are genuine people who talk one-on-one with you, including Bruce Van Dyke and the Morning Crew,” the station wrote in an ad announcing the station’s switch to hot adult contemporary music.
The stint with KWNZ didn’t last long, however. In 1986, Van Dyke left Reno to bring his on-air talents to stations in Texas and Colorado.
Then, opportunity struck back in Reno in 1990.
‘From Frank to Frank’
Reno’s KSXY, a Top-40 station, had slipped to the middle of the pack on the Reno radio scene in late 1990. Van Dyke reached out to the station’s general manager, De De Hagen, with a proposal: “A station that will go from James Brown to Lyle Lovett to Simple Minds to Rickie Lee Jones.”
Or, as the station would later say, “From Frank (Zappa) to Frank (Sinatra).”
Hagen was sold. Van Dyke left Denver and landed back on the Reno dial on Nov. 1, 1990 as both the program director and on-air personality. He personally played the first song at 6 a.m.: James Brown’s “Get Up, I Feel Like Being a Sex Machine.”
The X was born.
Listeners tuned in not only to hear Paul Simon and Bruce Hornsby, but also shows like “The Risky Biscuit Hayseed Hoot,” a Saturday morning show playing roots, Americana and bluegrass tracks.
Months later, the station’s corporate owners pulled the plug on KTHX, a recurring theme in the station’s turbulent 1990s. Fans resuscitated the station more than once through phone calls and letter-writing campaigns, and followed it through two changes to its dial position.
The audience for KTHX in Reno was small but zealous.
“Radio is one real tight-ass jukebox,” Van Dyke said in 2003. “There are air personalities and disc jockeys. DJs — the ones that come in with knowledge of music and make a show — are almost extinct now. People there now make the jukebox function properly and read on-air blurbs.”
The station finally found a stable home in 1997, and Van Dyke stayed on as a regular deejay until a retirement of sorts in 2005 — save for a two-hour show on the weekends.
But the airwaves came calling again. He partnered with Steve Funk, another legendary local radio personality, to kick-start KXNV 89.1, a community radio station spinning an encyclopedic range of music. By 2017, the station evolved into the internet-only station Jive Radio, where Van Dyke still curated the library for his show, “Gratuitous Echo.”
Man of the people
Every other venture that Van Dyke undertook in Reno was about connecting with people: emceeing local events; writing a regular column for the Reno News & Review; spending a few years co-owning Big Ed’s Alley Inn, a venerable restaurant, bar and intimate music venue; lobbying against downtown Reno’s riverfront movie theater (he thought the spot needed something “world-class, world-renowned”).
But his immeasurable impression on local broadcasting will be his legacy.
The X — Van Dyke’s creation, and the last bastion of his vision on local commercial radio — has been off the air now for nearly a year. But the spaced-out original progressive ideal now has found its way to countless platforms: Van Dyke’s Jive Radio; Spotify playlists from friends; your own curated music mix, downloaded to your phone.
There’s also over-the-air eclectic radio still on the air, including community radio stations KNVC 95.1 FM in Carson City and KWNK 97.7 FM in Reno. For old times’ sake, you might head out to the garage, dust off the old temperamental radio, and tune in.
Brett McGinness is the engagement editor for the Reno Gazette Journal. He’s also the writer of The Reno Memo — a free newsletter about news in the Biggest Little City. Subscribe to the newsletter right here. Consider supporting the Reno Gazette Journal, too.