Sherwood quit his first job on KSFO in the 1950s, briefly relocated to Hawaii, came back for a television job, and got into trouble for a spirited on-air defense of the Navajo people. Chronicle columnist Herb Caen was a fan, but also seemed to enjoy stoking controversy around the popular star.

This from a 1961 Caen column: “‘Mayor Art’ Finley, the veteran TV and radio personality, resigned huffily from KSFO after reading (here) that Don Sherwood’s salary is around $300 a day. When The World’s Greatest Disk Jockey has been indisposed, Finley has been summoned to replace him — at the union scale of $34.25 for three hours. ‘I know I’m not half as good as Sherwood,’” admits Finley, ‘but I feel I’m better than one-tenth as good.’”

The middle of the 20th century was great for local radio, assisted by government regulations that strongly encouraged independent ownership, and stopped radio corporations from owning more than one station in the market. KSFO cemented itself as a powerhouse in 1958, luring Russ Hodges from New York and pairing him with Lon Simmons to broadcast the San Francisco Giants, who had just arrived from New York. Hodges publicly embraced the move, and felt as comfortable in the city as any native.

“You people aren’t provincial out here,” he said in a 1958 Chronicle story headlined “Let’s Meet Russ Hodges.” “If a man is good, it doesn’t matter what uniform he wears. … I can see merit in guys on the opposite side, and so can you San Franciscans.”

Hodges and Simmons continued a tradition of solid Bay Area pro sports broadcasters, from Bill King to Bob Fouts to Greg Papa to the current stellar lineup of Duane Kuiper, Mike Krukow, Dave Flemming and Jon Miller with the Giants.

Mayor Art Finley got his start on radio Photo ran 07/01/1966

Mayor Art Finley got his start on radio Photo ran 07/01/1966

The call-in talk show premiered in the Bay Area in the 1950s, allowing listeners to become part of the show, and shifting the dynamics of San Francisco radio. Iconic disk jockeys, including Al “Jazzbo” Collins, Carter B. Smith and Russ “The Moose” Syracuse, rose to prominence in the early 1960s, while KSOL and KDIA (in Vallejo) brought soul music to the Bay Area, bonding with the previously ignored African American communities, and saturating the San Francisco airwaves with Motown and R&B.

Locals were able to make a huge impact building radio stations from the 1950s to the 1970s, often starting with almost nothing. Jim Gabbert is a good example; the Stanford electrical engineering student built K101 into a powerhouse, before selling several stations and buying TV-20.

Another positive trend in the 1970s was the better-late-than-never rise of the female disk jockey.

In the 1920s, KFRC had openly pledged never to hire women as on-air hosts. (“Except in singing, a woman’s voice does not broadcast well,” owner James B. Threlkeld Jr. told The Chronicle in 1924. “Of course there will be notable exceptions to this rule as in the case of women of great national prominence who may happen to be visiting here.”)

Diana Blackmon on KDIA and Shana Livigni on KFRC were pioneering female DJs in Bay Area radio, while Belva Davis started her radio career at KSAN in 1961. (KSAN also supported Dusty Street and Bonnie Simmons, popular DJs who started in the late 1960s and early 1970s.) Spanish-language stations grew in popularity during this era as well.

KFRC returned to prominence in the 1970s and 1980s, with Dr. Donald D. Rose forging a strong relationship with listeners with a combination of rock music and goofy shtick.

By the 1970s, radio hosts were some of the biggest media stars in San Francisco. Stations such as KSAN, KMEL, KITS, KOME (in San Jose) and student station KUSF developed unique shows and loyal followings, launching popular iconic hosts including Alex Bennett, Terry McGovern, Don Bleu, Tony Kilbert and Renel Brooks-Moon. KFOG had a particularly long run, playing rock music that was off the beaten path for decades, with Dave Morey leading the cult of Fogheads.

Doctor Don Rose was a popular morning drive-time disc jockey.

Doctor Don Rose was a popular morning drive-time disc jockey.

KNBR has produced a steady stream of memorable hosts, from Pete Franklin to Tom Tolbert. KQED-FM was built as an arm of the public television station, with smart programming including Michael Krasny’s long-running “Forum.” KCBS, a descendant of Doc Herrold’s KQW, settled into a reliable all-news format. KGO was for decades a ratings leader, dominating with a roster of talk show hosts.

Here’s an excerpt from The Chronicle’s 1976 interview with KGO’s brand-new host Ronn Owens, who was interviewed while sipping wine and photographed — no exaggeration — wearing a silk shirt opened to a fountain of chest hair.

“In New York, people don’t care what you do because they don’t have time for you,” Owens said. “I had high expectations for this city, and all have been fulfilled.”

Owens remains at KGO, but the station has struggled with plummeting ratings in the last decade. Looser rules have allowed consolidation, and most Bay Area stations are now part of a larger group with out-of-state owners, a depressing development for listeners who grew up in the era of Sherwood, Syracuse, Blackmon, Morey, Simmons and Hodges.

But San Francisco radio isn’t dead — it’s arguably closer to its roots than ever, even as corporate radio has stripped San Francisco’s larger stations of much of their uniqueness. San Francisco station KPOO has been embraced by the community, and independent public radio station KALW (an FM radio pioneer) remains a treasure. Online radio stations including, the Mission District’s Radio Valencia and have brought the pirate radio vibe back, with the kind of eclectic and experimental programming that the first Bay Area broadcasters experienced.

A microphone at radio station KNBC.

A microphone at radio station KNBC.

And the greatest asset for San Francisco radio hasn’t changed: intelligent and opinionated listeners, who want their broadcast talent to be the same.

We’ll let 1976 Ronn Owens have the last word on that.

“I can be less sensational and more substantive in San Francisco,” Owens told The Chronicle. “What I love about … San Francisco is that I’m overpowered here. I’m used to leading my listeners, but here I’m led a little. … I’m much more comfortable being genuine.”

Peter Hartlaub is The San Francisco Chronicle pop culture critic. E-mail: Twitter: @PeterHartlaub