KRBE (104.1 KRBE), is a Top 40 (CHR) radio station based in Houston, Texas, United States. The studios located in Suite 700 of the Chase building at 9801 Westheimer Road in the Westchase District in western Houston. The transmitter facilities located in Missouri City. Even though the station's studios were once located on Kirby Drive, and the station itself has sometimes been referred to by locals as "Kirby", the call letters are actually derived from the station's original owners, Roland and Edith Baker. The studios were not moved to their Kirby Drive location until more than a decade after the station signed on. KRBE is owned and operated by Cumulus Media.
At 6 pm on November 8, 1959, KRBE signed on at 104.1 FM as a classical station by owners Roland and Edith Baker. It continued as such into the late 1960s, when it flipped for the first time to top 40. The station was simply branded as "104 KRBE."
KRBE beats KILT & flips Houston to FM
In the mid-1970s, KRBE took on the moniker of "Bump & Boogie" and developed a danceable "Rock 40" format. The studios were located on Kirby Lane above the ACCA recording studios. At this time, it was owned by General Cinema Corporation. Bob Fauser (Sales Manager at WNBC) became the General Manager. Clay Gish (now known as Gishele Gish) became the program director in 1974 and launched a legendary run that lasted until 1980. Mike Krehel (of KSAQ/San Antonio and KBEQ/Kansas City fame) became the Chief Engineer during that time and gave KRBE its "Flame Thrower" signature sound. KRBE DJ's during the mid to late 1970's included Kenny Miles hosting "Miles in the Morning", Matt "The Man the Mighty" Quinn (of KILT and KCBQ), Roger W.W.W. Garrett, Dwight "Shotgun" Cook (now at Soundworks.com), The Original Rock 'n' Roll Wizard (Ron Haney, who died in 2014), and Tom "Rivers" Yarbrough (deceased as of September 29, 2011). During this period, KRBE became the first American FM top-40 station in a large market to flip the market from "AM" to "FM", beating the legendary KILT in Arbitron ratings for the Houston market. In 1975, KRBE moved from Kirby Lane to showcase state-of-the-art studios in the Caldwell Banker Building overlooking Interstate 610 at Westheimer Road across from The Galleria. Around this time, KRBE was purchased by Lake Huron Broadcasting.
KRBE was ranked "Station of the Year" by Bobby Poe magazine, and in 1979, was named "Major Market Rock Station of the Year", and Clay Gish was named "Major Market Rock Program Director of the Year" by Billboard Magazine.
In the late 1970s, KRBE billed itself under one of two nicknames, "Super Rock 104 KRBE" or "Houston's Super Rock", playing a mixture of top 40 and rock hits. DJ's included Barry Kaye (formerly of KILT and KHJ), CC McCartney (formerly of KILT, KKBQ and KIMN/Denver; moved into the country arena in Nashville at WSIX where he was nominated 4 times by the Country Music Association as "Radio Personality of the Year" in 1989, 1996, 1997 and 1998. Inducted into the Texas Radio Hall of Fame in 2008. Now owns CC McCartney Voice Imaging in Nashville.), Roger W.W.W. Garrett, Matt "The Man the Mighty" Quinn, The Catfish (formerly of XEROK and KILT), Jon Kelly (Jeff Low, now a paramedic in Katy), Dayna Steele (now a speaker and author) and Bunny Taylor (KRBE's first female DJ, who is now an artist in Pasadena, California using her real name, Faith Taylor). In 1981, KRBE flipped to an Adult Contemporary format as "FM 104 KRBE".
Rivalry with KKBQ
In late 1982, top 40 KKBQ (which had signed on in July of that year) moved to FM with great success. To counter them, KRBE relaunched as "Hottest Hits 104 KRBE" with a CHR format in the mid-summer of 1985. Not too long after, KRBE dropped the "Hot Hits" slogan to become "Power 104". Both stations remained head to head throughout the remainder of the 1980s. In November 1986, Dallas-based Susquehanna Radio purchased KRBE and KENR, now known as KNTH.
In 1987, KRBE took a lean towards a dance-friendly top 40 format with evening weekend studio mixshows, from 10 PM to 2 AM, known as "The Friday & Saturday Night Power Mix". KKBQ matched it with its own mixshows, aptly titled "Club 93Q". By the end of 1987, Scott Sparks had been hired from Y-95 in Dallas to prop up the night show with a Dance-heavy sound. The new dance lean had built so much momentum that KRBE had to top KKBQ again, and it did on the night of January 9, 1988, when it launched "The Saturday Night Power Mix Live from The Ocean Club", which was billed as Houston's first live four-hour (and later, six-hour) mixshow from a nightclub. On Sunday, May 29, 1988, KKBQ launched its first live nightclub broadcast, "93Q Live On The Cutting Edge" from Club 6400, a club that played a mix of industrial, new wave and goth music; no top 40 was allowed. While KRBE's show was a little more radio friendly, it was first to play some of the music 6400 was spinning, and turned out to be an instant success.
KRBE responded to KKBQ's 6400 Sunday nights with an in-studio mixshow called "Sunday Night Power Tracks" that specialized in "rare and obscure" imported dance music, mixed by the Ocean Club's Tim Flanigan.
"Hits Without the Hype"
KRBE and KKBQ continued their top 40 rivalry (including mix-shows from various Houston nightclubs) until 1991, when the top 40 format was showing signs of wear due to the rise of popularity of grunge rock and hip hop. Under Program Director Steve Wyrostok, who was recruited from sister station WAPW in Atlanta, KRBE stripped to a generic "no frills" top 40 format, in which the station dropped "lazer FX" sound effects, and did away with voice announcers. In addition, DJs were asked to stop screaming and rap was pulled from its playlists. Even the "Power" moniker of the 1980s was gone.
KRBE was rebranded as "104 KRBE", "Hits Without the Hype", using liners like "No Rap, No Screaming DJs". KKBQ remained on its same course for a short time after, but eventually flipped to an "easy country" format on September 19, 1991, after a brief period in which it programmed a rock-oriented top 40 mix as a stunt.
Despite its new "no frills" approach, KRBE continued to offer dance music through its live club mixshows with the launch of "The Beat", which aired from 1994–2002, and was mixed by some of the top local DJs in the Houston area, such as DJ Rich a.k.a. DJ RIDDLER, and Marcus Delange a.k.a. DJ Mark D. The mixshows were broadcast from premier nightclub venues in Houston such as "Shelter" from 1994 to 1995, "Kaboom" from 1995 to 1996, and "The Roxy" from 1996 until its last broadcast in 2002. "The Beat" enabled KRBE to gain a worldwide audience when the station began streaming the on-air audio through its website in the late 1990s, thus billing itself "The World Famous 104 KRBE". The name "The Beat" was chosen to derail KQQK's widely-speculated plans to change format from Regional Mexican to Top 40 as "106.5 the Beat", which would have put them in direct competition with KRBE. (It is also speculated KRBE used the "Wild" and "Channel" monikers on its Friday night mixshows for the same reason.)
"The New Music Zone"
From 1992-1994, the station aired "The New Music Zone", an alternative music show that typically aired weeknights from 7 p.m. to midnight. From 1995 to 1996, the station's playlist as a whole had a pronounced alternative lean. In 1996, program director Tom Poleman and air talents Paul "Cubby" Bryant and Ryan Chase left KRBE for similar positions with WHTZ/New York City, which had also leaned in an alternative direction for a time. Ryan Chase would eventually return to KRBE ten years later.
In late 1996, KRBE evolved back into a mainstream direction that also featured a significant amount of 1980s pop, presented during the week as "Retro Cuts" and highlighted with "Retro Weekends" roughly once a month. The re-emergence of pop music in the late 1990s, along with the success of Sam Malone's morning show (which, from 1997-2000, was syndicated to Beaumont and Kansas City), brought KRBE success in the late 1990s and into the early 2000s.
On October 31, 2005, Susquehanna announced it had reached an agreement to sell its radio assets, including KRBE, to a partnership including Cumulus Media (which also owned Houston radio stations KIOL-FM (103.7) and KFNC-FM (97.5)) as well as Bain Capital, Blackstone Group and Thomas H. Lee Partners. The deal was completed in the first half of 2006. After the purchase, KRBE quietly changed its moniker from the long-time "104 KRBE" to "104.1 KRBE", a technically more accurate description of the station.
KRBE has evolved to an adult-oriented Top 40 format (similar to co-owned station WWWQ in Atlanta) under Cumulus ownership. In late January 2006, KRBE launched its digital HD signal. Its HD2 signal, from late 2007 until June 2012, simulcasted KHJK. After KHJK's sale to EMF Broadcasting in June 2012, KRBE's HD2 signal changed to Oldies music from the True Oldies Channel. In 2014, the HD2 signal began carrying Westwood One's Good Time Oldies format.
Morning show shake-up
On March 4, 2005, long time morning show host Sam Malone announced that he was leaving the station for a position at KTRH. Malone was replaced by afternoon host Atom Smasher, while Maria Todd remained as co-host. On July 7, 2006, Atom and Maria were let go immediately following that day's show. Cumulus said it was taking the morning show (as well as the station) in a new direction and needed a show that widely appealed to the entire Houston market and a team that knew the city and its people. The same day, longtime DJ Scott Sparks exited KRBE after nearly 20 years to begin mornings at classic hits station KLDE (now KGLK), reuniting Sparks with former KRBE program director and morning show DJ Paul Christy.
Malone added morning show duties at KHMX in 2006 (alongside former KRBE DJ Michele Fisher), but was let go in 2009. In early 2010, he became a morning show host at KSEV, until he was released in May 2012. Malone is hosting a conservative talk show titled "The Sam Malone Show", which is airing on KNTH. Atom Smasher is hosting mornings at KHMX. Maria Todd later became morning show co-host (along with Baltazar of WQHT/New York and WJMN/Boston fame) at KMVQ in San Francisco. On February 22, 2010, Todd moved back to Houston for a morning show on KHMX with KKHH's Brad Booker, who had been doing the morning show at KKHH. Todd was moved to afternoons following the announcement of the addition of Kidd Kraddick's syndicated morning show to KHMX, while Booker was let go. Todd later left the station; she later became a weekend anchor at KROI until that station flipped formats in October 2014.
On July 13, 2006, it was announced that "The Roula and Ryan Show", which had aired on KHMX, would return to Houston airwaves on KRBE. The team, which relaunched their morning show on July 24, 2006, consists of Roula Christie and Ryan Berrigan a.k.a. Ryan Chase, the latter of whom returned to KRBE after a ten-year absence, along with their producer Eric Rowe. Ironically, Christie also returned to KRBE after a six-year absence. She was paired with the aforementioned Atom Smasher from 1998-2000 on the 6-10 PM shift.
KRBE was the flagship station for the syndicated Nights Live With Adam Bomb, until January 2015, when the show was canceled.