When a then-17-year-old Hal Abrams left his hometown in the Rocky Mountains for the Golden State with not much more than a guitar strapped to his back, music was at the forefront of the teen’s mind.
Like so many other young men and women lured to Hollywood’s glitz and glamor and its promises of fortune and fame, Abrams, now 53, wanted to be a rock star.
The teen’s dreams of playing riffs to screaming, sold-out crowds were never realized, though.
He did, however, pursue his passion for music through a career as a disc jockey, working in major markets across the United States over the years. He got his first job at KWPR in Los Angeles, where he worked for six months, beginning his lifelong love affair with radio.
“I was living by ratings and advertisers,” Abrams said about his life before moving to the Central Coast almost a decade ago. “They sort of dictated my career.”
So when he moved to Morro Bay with aspirations of creating his own station, it’s no surprise music was still at the forefront of his thoughts, as was using his on-air talent and years of broadcasting experience for something more altruistic than what he had been doing for so long.
“I wondered if radio could be … gratifying and rewarding, used for good,” Abrams said about his decision to leave his career as an on-air talent. “I was also tired of moving around.”
For more than three decades, Abrams used his voice and talent to broadcast for thousands to hear in 17 different markets, spanning from Alaska to California and North Carolina to Virginia, with stops in between, before relocating to the Central Coast.
“When I leave California, I always find myself coming back to the coast,” Abrams said from Morro Bay, his home of the last nine years.
Prior to his move, Abrams spent his days consumed by ratings and how many advertisers supported (or didn’t) his show. He told blue humor for a living in the mornings and partook in silly stunts, like living in a doghouse, to not only garner more listeners and advertiser dollars but also to raise money for organizations such as the ASPCA.
“It paid well, but it wasn’t that rewarding,” Abrams said about his life of ratings, advertisers and corporate-owned media radio stations, a world he left behind when he moved to Morro Bay and founded his own radio station—97.3 (Morro Bay) and 107.3 (North County) FM The Rock. “Everything led to this, but I never envisioned it would turn into what it has.”
Abrams touts The Rock as being Central California’s only volunteer-operated and listener-supported community radio station. It broadcasts from Montana de Oro to Harmony, up over the Cuesta Grade and back down to the California Men’s Colony. No one’s paid for his or her on-air time at the station, where everyone is a volunteer.
When Abrams started the station in 2014—he also received his first LPFM (low power FM) license that year—and said his intent was to open the doors to anyone wanting a radio show, which he did and continues to do.
“We have a wide range of ages of people on the radio, from some who have never been on air to 70-year-olds and Cuesta students in the radio program (at the college),” Abrams explained, noting there are 53 on-air talents at The Rock, himself being one of those individuals. “Most likely people are going to find someone (an on-air talent) that they know,” he added. People from all walks of life come in. You could have classical playing in the morning and metal at night.”
The station features “diverse and eclectic conversation, music, hyperlocal information and emergency services for San Luis Obispo County,” with listeners all over the county and beyond as the station now streams on the Internet, according to Abrams.
“We aren’t just music but also talk … cooking, politics, religion,” Abrams said. “The diversity can’t be found anywhere else. There’s multiple choices for accessing music—Pandora, Spotify, Apple—but you can’t get that hyperlocal, smaller community stuff on Pandora or Spotify.”
Abrams prides himself on using his years of on-air experience to create a platform supported by a small army of volunteers, as well as one that’s also backed by the community, which is invited to the station’s sixth annual fundraiser this month.
The free event is being hailed as a tribute to the British Invasion and will begin at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 6, at the Morro Bay Vet’s Hall, 290 Surf St., featuring the sounds of Unfinished Business, The Vinylistics and Slogrrrl. While there’s no charge to attend, guests can purchase food and beverage (beer and wine), and a silent auction will be held between musical performances. All proceeds will benefit the station.
“It’s truly amazing to see the community come together to donate their services, time and money to make this concert and the station a phenomenal success,” Abrams said, noting the radio station operates on a skeleton budget of about $29,000 annually, of all which comes from donations.
The annual concert is the culmination of The Rock’s yearly donation drive, which begins March 1, and ends that year’s cycle of fundraising, Abrams explained.
He joked the successful and nationally syndicated radio show—Animal Radio— which he began hosting years ago is what pays the bills and allows him to operate The Rock. The pet talk show is broadcast on more than 130 radio stations across the country, including America’s Talk and XM Radio. Shows are pre-recorded in Morro Bay and then sent out on the airwaves.
“I never really left the glitz and glamor (of Hollywood),” Abrams said, referring to Animal Radio, which made its debut in 2002. “That’s my real job. The radio station is my fun.”
For more information about The Rock FM 97.3 and 107.3, visit www.centralcoastradio.org or call (805) 772-1314. Individuals can also donate, find upcoming show lists and purchase The Rock merchandise on the website.