A decade ago, Scott Young and the man known as “Dirty Dave the Record Slave” went to the now-shuttered Original Taco House to meet with Ken Seymour, chairman of Western Oregon Radio Club, a nonprofit club for radio enthusiasts.
Seymour was already working on moving an oldies format from a station in Newberg to a new tower on Mount Scott in Portland. Instead of starting a new station, Young and Dirty Dave pitched the idea of bringing back the once-admired KISN.
After a few meetings, Seymour took on Young and Dirty Dave, reviving KISN (pronounced “kissin’”), which has become an unlikely but enduring bastion of classic radio in the Spotify age. Listeners can hear everything from all-time classics like “A Day in the Life” by The Beatles to tracks that, while once chart-toppers, may have lost some of their relevance over time, like “California Sun” by Joe Jones.
Due to their prior experience, running the station hasn’t been an entirely foreign experience for the pair. “Dave, myself and Scott have a pretty good knowledge of the music because a couple of us actually worked at radios,” Seymour says. “I worked at a radio station when I was in high school, so I remember playing this stuff a little bit.”
KISN’s challenges date back to the ‘70s. After the Top 40 radio station shut down its AM broadcast in 1976, it struggled to regain any sort of relevance.
Following a failed FM revival—and an attempt to stream the station that was in the process of being disbanded in 2013—Portland was left without a proper oldies station. The “KISN Good Guys” as they were once known, were no more. Something had to change.
Enter Seymour, who helped bring KISN back to FM and was dedicated to keeping the oldies alive. “A lot of the commercial full-power stations that you know are no longer really broadcasting songs from the ‘50s and ‘60s much. Everybody thinks that’s a dead audience now,” Seymour says.
Their first order of business was regaining the original KISN call sign (the series of letters used to identify a station). “KISN” had been snatched up by another FM station in Salt Lake City, and the Federal Communications Commission doesn’t allow any two stations to have the same call sign, so the Portland station became “KISN-LP’' and now broadcasts on FM 95.1.
Nowadays, Dirty Dave (he’s used the handle on air for decades and it’s the only one he’ll divulge to the press) is in charge of content curation and the daily operations of KISN. The “Record Slave” half of his nickname stems from his collection of more than 90,000 records, a music library that greatly benefits the station.
“He collects, selects, and organizes which songs to play, typically a few weeks ahead of time in playlists,” Seymour says.
Depending on whether a song is found on an album or single, big hits from the ‘50s and ‘60s often come in multiple versions. Because of this, most of KISN’s music comes from digitizing Dirty Dave’s collection of singles as well as full-length records.
Between songs, jingles and commercials reminiscent of the ‘50s and ‘60s fill airtime. Some of this time is specially themed and includes sponsorships underwritten by Scott Young. Other times, old television and radio advertisements are sprinkled throughout the song breaks.
“Scott’s done a really good job tracking those down,” Seymour says. “He likes retro commercials…we kind of throw those in as little reminders of things in the past.”
KISN is run remotely by Seymour, Dirty Dave, Young, and many other contributors, as well as promoted and often hosted by G. Michael McKay. Guest DJs can also be heard, with much of their broadcast done live. This is then streamed via the internet to a station atop Mount Scott and to KISN’s website.
As a low-powered FM station, its signal struggles to reach outside the eastside of Portland. “Dude, why can’t you turn up your power, man?” is a question Seymour gets a lot, and unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple.
“The FCC essentially structured the low-power FM broadcast service to be squeezed in between full-power FM broadcast stations,” Seymour says. Simply put, KISN can’t extend its reach without illegally interfering with other nearby FM stations.
In spite of its limited range, this small and tightly run tribute operation has managed to stick around longer than its previous iteration, thanks to a staff of volunteers dedicated to keeping the KISN name alive.
Whether you remember the KISN Good Guys from their initial Portland radio dominance in the ‘60s, or have never heard of them until now, the station is steadfast in providing “real oldies” for the Portland area. But Seymour is aware it can’t last forever.
“Like all good things, KISN-LP will unfortunately come to an end at some time as we and our audience all get older. When that is, we don’t know,” he says. “We do this today because we enjoy bringing music memories back from the past as a public service to ‘ours and newer generations,’ playing the history, roots and foundations of rock ‘n’ roll.”
LISTEN: KISN-LP broadcasts at 95.1 FM on the radio dial.