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Tom Marshall

By Tom Marshall

KAPX Radio was born 50 years ago this coming November. At 107.9 on the FM dial, and with a fairly powerful signal, it played middle-of-the-road music and aired local news and sports reports daily. 

San Clemente native Mike Chamberlin was an original staff member back in ’71. During his two years at the station, he served as news director, covering local events including the comings and goings of the town’s most famous part-time resident, President Richard Nixon.  

Living here again after a career anchoring the news at TV stations in Sacramento, Los Angeles and Phoenix, Chamberlin recalled attending his first White House press conference from Casa Pacifica. 

“After Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and the other big guys asked their questions, I asked Press Secretary Ron Ziegler if the President was going for a swim in San Clemente’s ocean.  The national press just turned around and stared at me,” Chamberlin said, laughing. 

Mike Chamberlin on-the-air early in his radio career before becoming a TV news anchor in Sacramento, Los Angeles and Phoenix. He was an original announcer at San Clemente’s former radio station, KAPX. Photo: Courtesy of Mike Chamberlin

But, he was doing his job, covering the local angle to the story.

The station’s studios were located in a strip mall at 800 South El Camino Real, across from the Ralphs center now. 

“I get my haircut in the barber shop that is located almost exactly where the newsroom used to be,” said Chamberlin.

Most of the San Clemente old-timers I asked only vaguely remember the station. 

“They played mostly background music, but I remember they had a disc jockey named Sandy Beach,” recalled Rick Divel. 

The studios eventually moved to the North Beach area.

With listenership lagging, the station switched to a religious music format and changed call letters to KWVE-FM.  In the 1980s, while playing Christian music during the day, it hit ratings pay dirt in the evenings by airing punk rock and new wave music. An odd combination, I would think.

But it didn’t last, and the station migrated to Santa Ana under its new owners, the Calvary Chapel organization. Although the transmitter and broadcast tower are still licensed to San Clemente, the local programming and news are gone.

KWVE made news in September 2017, when the station accidentally activated its Emergency Alert System that sent a portion of Chuck Swindoll’s Insight for Living program to the air of all Orange County stations just as Swindoll was saying that “extremely violent times would come,” leaving listeners to worry of an impending apocalypse.

Even so, it’s too bad San Clemente doesn’t have its own local radio station today. Maybe if Mike has a few million dollars lying around, he can start up a new station. How ’bout 24 hours a day surf music?

Tom Marshall is a member of the San Clemente Historical Society and a retired journalist. 

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