Newman native Dave Luna rises in the pre-dawn hours each weekday to join thousands of commuters on their way in to work - whether their journey is across whatever Central Valley town they call home or over the hill to various points throughout the Bay Area.
They may not always know the face, but Luna’s is the voice loyal listeners hear when they tune their radios to K97.5 KABX and the popular morning show he has hosted for years.
Now a radio veteran of 40 or so years, dating back to his days at Modesto Junior College, Luna has cultivated a faithful following of listeners with his distinctive style and comfortable emphasis on being local - one of them.
“I am fortunate to have fallen into something that I enjoy and can still do. A lot of guys who have been through the business have gone out of radio to do something else,” Luna told Mattos Newspapers. “You have to have fun at what you do. I’m having fun. I can be nutty like I was when I was 17 years old, and still make people smile and laugh.”
Luna hails from a special time in Newman, growing up when the theatre was a true movie house, cruising Main Street (and those of other towns, including Modesto’s McHenry Avenue) was a time-honored tradition and, should one of their circle of friends find mischief, all the parents quickly knew of it.
“There were no real cliques. Everybody hung out with everybody,” said Luna, a self-described class clown who said he stays in touch with many childhood friends. “We all experienced life together in Newman. Fun times, great memories.”
In those years, Luna’s career goals were formed in the automotive shop classes of Orestimba teacher Keith Collins.
Luna, whose mother Esther Luna still resides in Newman, graduated from Orestimba in 1976 and attended Modesto Junior College to study automotives.
His career path changed when Luna signed up for a course on the history of radio and television.
Encouraged by a teacher, Luna switched majors, became involved in the campus radio station and graduated with an associate degree in radio and television.
Plans to continue his studies at Fresno State went by the wayside when Luna landed a job at a top 40 AM rock and roll station, KYOS.
“Back then, radio was live DJs 24/7,” he points out. “I started on the graveyard shift.”
Luna worked his way up to more coveted shifts and eventually into the morning prime time slot.
He moved over to K97.5 when KYOS was sold and converted to a news talk format, and worked his way up through the ranks.
The station had an oldies format at the time.
“I did oldies for probably 20 years on the morning show. We switched to adult contemporary in 2012, and they kept me on because of the audience I had built through the years,” Luna told Mattos Newspapers. “Our ratings shot through the roof because of the variety of music.”
The change was not universally popular, he acknowledged, but many listeners who objected to the change are back in the fold.
“I still get oldsters who complain,” Luna noted. “They thought I was the one who made the switch.”
The day starts early for Luna, who rolls out of bed in his Merced home at 3:30 a.m.
“I have a routine. I usually get about an hour and a half before time to put it together,” said Luna, who is on the air from 5:30-10 a.m.
The early hour coincides with the commute, when his listeners take to the road to begin their day.
In addition to the music and morning show, the station offers traffic, news and weather reports.
Luna believes that his local roots and emphasis on local interests are critical to the success of the morning show.
“I’m live and local. Nowadays, a lot of the shows are syndicated. You’re getting a guy who lives in L.A. They’re good shows, but they are talking about national topics,” Luna pointed out. “With my show, especially in the morning, you’re not an announcer or a DJ, you’re their friend. You are their companion as they make that trip to work or school.”
Luna said he enjoys sharing his own experiences as a native of the coverage area. His listeners, he said, can relate to those experiences.
Luna wears a number of hats at K97.5, which is part of the five-station Radio Merced group owned by Mapleton Communications.
He is program director for the station and remote events and production director for Radio Merced.
He also fills in occasionally with shows for stations in Monterey and Spokane, Wash., which are produced and delivered via computers and voice tracking capabilities.
The new technology, Luna said, allows him to record a four-hour show for those stations in a few minutes.
A strong work ethic has helped pave the way for his lasting success, Luna reflected.
“They always say to follow your dream. That’s what you have to do,” he commented. “If you want something, you work for it.”