Sand in his boots: An interview with Kimo Jensen, longtime Pacific Beach resident and KSON air personality

Kimo Jensen sitting on his Vespa on Ingraham Street in Pacific Beach.
(B.J. Coleman)

Pacific Beach is “country” country.

Just ask Kimo Jensen, who moved to north PB in 1995. His home is on Mount Soledad, in a location where he can view the SeaWorld fireworks at night.

Jensen first worked at country music station KSON from 1989 through 1991 before a stint at Z90 and then a return to KSON, where he has been a mainstay spinning on-air tunes since then. Co-workers sometimes refer to Jensen as a “legend” in San Diego radio, although he demurs.

Asked about the job role description that replaced DJ (for “disc jockey”), Jensen replied that the current term is “air personality.” He explained that radio and online music stations are completely digital now, with no vinyl records atop turntables or tapes to spin.

But Jensen well knows the history of the radio business, especially locally. KSON was one of the two earliest radio stations to broadcast in San Diego — starting in 1945. He recalled the story of a female listener who heard the first radio broadcast of test tones from KSON.

“You had to be really bored to listen to test tones,” Jensen said, “but this lady won a prize and recognition for that.”

First recordings were reel-to-reel, followed by records on turntables. Mostly everything broadcast on radio these days is from CDs, Jensen said.

Jensen’s story of the continuing history of KSON is interesting too, demonstrating many changes in the radio music business. KSON was initially an AM frequency station and some years thereafter moved to FM frequencies. The station went online with a few years ago, and recently became an Audacy app station for access through cell phones and other devices anywhere. Jensen said Audacy incorporates on its app its on-air radio stations as well as digital-only stations.

During the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, KSON was broadcast from air personalities’ home studios, with only engineers at the central station studio site to ensure the equipment was functioning and getting the station on the airwaves. That pandemic restriction from in-studio broadcasting lasted nine months.

“I was ahead of the game on that,” Jensen said. “I already had a production studio in my home. The station had to install equipment for other hosts in their homes.”

Jensen describes his other related work in that production studio as imaging for other broadcast enterprises.

Jensen has remarked on-air about how spending that much lengthy time at home with his 15-year-old dog concerned him, worried that his return to the KSON studios would cause his dog separation anxiety. Turns out his dog is “clingy” happy when he is back at home and doing well.

When asked about the role of country music radio stations within the country music business, Jensen offered intriguing answers.

Kimo Jensen outside Rocky's Crown Pub, one of his favorite Pacific Beach locations.
(B.J. Coleman)

“Country music is relatable,” Jensen said, “relatable to real life. And the radio stations introduce new music to listeners, whether from artists the listeners know or new country artists.”

He added, “Country music stations also serve a role in charitable and community service. KSON was among the first radio stations to do fundraising on behalf of St. Jude to fight childhood cancer.

“Danny Thomas (founder of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital) happened to meet Randy Owen of the band Alabama, who said country music stations should be raising money for the hospital, and country music artists should get involved too,” he said.

(The hospital is in Memphis, arguably only second to Nashville in Tennessee for country music.)

Jensen visited St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital back when the death rate was nearly 90 percent for childhood cancers. He noted that money raised for research by country music stations and artists has plummeted the fatality rates for childhood cancers dramatically.

But, he said, more needs to be done. That is why KSON hosts an annual radiothon for St. Jude in early December, the KSON Country Cares St. Jude Kids Radiothon. Last December the two-day on-air fundraising event was the 34th annually hosted by KSON.

Turning to lighter matters of country music, Jensen said his favorite subgenres of country are “rocking country” (like music from country artist Eric Church) and “bluesy country” (like recordings from the Brothers Osborne).

Which was the best decade for country music?

“Oh, it’s hard to pick,” Jensen replied. He cited the 1980s forward as his favorite decades. Pressed specifically about the 1990s (featured on Sunday mornings on KSON), Jensen spoke about how “country music wasn’t really ready for Shania Twain and her producer Mutt Lang,” who previously produced rock music.

Other current country artists who impress Jensen?

“Luke Combs,” Jensen said. Impossible to argue with that, with the string of number-one singles Combs has had recently.

“Country music is relatable, relatable to real life. And the radio stations introduce new music to listeners, whether from artists the listeners know or new country artists.”

— Kimo Jensen

Jensen became enthusiastic about his favorite concerts.

“Garth Brooks is coming to San Diego in March,” he said. “Have you ever seen Garth in concert? Whether you’re in the top row of a stadium or in a smaller venue, Garth makes you feel like he’s singing only to you.”

Since last November, Jensen has been on-air advertising voice for Draft San Diego located in nearby Mission Beach. The club offers Wednesday night country dance lessons. Jensen appears at those sessions.

“I did 20 years at In Cahoots,” Jensen said of the former country nightclub in Mission Valley.

What does Jensen love about living in PB?

He surfs. He loves the beach. He loves riding bikes around the coast. And he loves the easy drive to Mammoth for snowboarding.

Favorite places in PB?

The Fish Shop on Garnet Avenue, Steak N Fries and Better Buzz coffee drive-thru. Best burger in PB? Rocky’s Crown Pub on Ingraham.

Jensen hosts the drive-time slot on KSON, 3 p.m. through 7 p.m. weekdays. A new contest he conducts is “Four on the Floor,” featuring four country songs with a common theme, and the first listener to call and answer with the correct common theme wins tickets to a local venue.

KSON broadcasts on air at 103.7 FM and on the Audacy app.