Ackerman’s radio career began in Sacramento, where he “got the radio bug” while attending Grant Union High School. In 1942, he landed a job at KQW. At the time, the station was still licensed to San Jose, requiring some programming to originate there. Ackerman spent time in the San Jose studios as well as KQW’s San Francisco studios.
He told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Carl Nolte in 2009 that he remembers doing live broadcasts of big bands — Muggsy Spanier at the Bush Garden, a jazz band at the Mocambo, Del Courtney, Desi Arnaz, Ray Noble or Bob Crosby and his Bobcats, “live and direct for your listening pleasure from the Rose Room at San Francisco’s famous Palace Hotel.” Some of those live broadcasts would be distributed nationwide.
The Ken Ackerman collection of recordings of many of those broadcasts is held at Stanford University. These tapes had been kept for years by Ackerman, who collected antique radios, microphones, and a variety of broadcast memorabilia.
Ackerman’s five decades in San Francisco radio covered the transition from KQW to KCBS (1949), the conversion to the all-news format at KCBS (1968), and the move from the Palace Hotel to One Embarcadero Center (1971).
For many years, Ken Ackerman’s voice (the one Nolte said sounded like “polished wood”) was the glue that held together the American Airlines-sponsored program “Music ‘Til Dawn.” Ken was the second announcer on this show, Dave McElhatton being the first, and Ken took over after Dave went to the morning show.
That program aired classical music from 11:30 at night to 5:30 the next morning. “Then I did the farm news at 6, and stayed around for an 8:30 newscast. “Wonderful days,” he told the Chronicle. “I loved it.”
The switch to all-news in 1968? Ackerman didn’t love that so much. In a 2010 CHRS “Living History” interview, Ackerman admitted he never really enjoyed the transformation to all-news anchor.
Ken Ackerman On The Air
Ken Ackerman: Yellow Cab Spot (1946)
Ken Ackerman introduces “Music ‘Til Dawn” on KCBS, opening with its signature theme song, “That’s All” (Circa 1963):
Ken Ackerman interviews KFRC alumnus Merv Griffin on the station’s switch to Magic 61 (1986):
Ken interviews Tony Bennett at the Fairmont Hotel for KCBS (1972):