Dan Donovan (Blaine Harvey) aka “The Geezer” Dies

Dan Donovan passed away over Labor Day weekend. I grew up listening to Dan in the Twin Cities: first on KS95 (KSTP-FM 94.5) and then on KOOL 108 (KQQL-FM 107.9.) He was one of the best. Known as “The Geezer” or simply “The Geez” during his tenure on KOOL, Dan always performed a very energetic afternoon show. He was definitely an “old school” jock with tons of personality. As a kid who aspired to be on the radio when I grew up, Dan was one of my influences. I rarely missed “the Donovan Disaster.”

Prior to his arrival in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Dan worked at legendary AM Top 40 outlets WMEX-AM 1510 in Boston and WFIL-AM 560 in Philadelphia. He will be missed.

WHEO-AM 1270 Stuart, Virginia Signing Off for Good

Another independent hometown radio station bites the dust. WHEO-AM 1270 in Stuart, Virginia will be signing off permanently the end of this month. Patrick County will be losing it’s only radio station.

Reason? You guessed it: ad revenue has declined to the point where it is no longer feasible for the station to operate. WHEO has been on the air since 1959, providing local news and information. Sadly, 55 years of broadcasting will come to an abrupt end this coming Sunday.

Radio Geek Heaven Has Moved…Sort Of!

It’s summer cleaning time here at RadioGeekHeaven.com. You may have noticed that our URL has changed slightly. We are now simply http://radiogeekheaven.com. Easier to remember. Easier to type into your phone and other handheld devices.

If you’ve been accessing us from www.radiogeekheaven.com, you don’t need to do anything. You should be forwarded automatically to the new domain.

If you have been using drewdurigan.com/radiogeekheaven, you will need to update your bookmarks and other related stuff.

If you’ve found our homepage through the search engines and are encountering a 404 error when attempting to access another page, simply change http://drewdurigan.com/radiogeekheaven/example to http://radiogeekheaven.com/example on your web browser. Of course, “example” being the name of the page that you are looking for.

Thanks for your patience as I do some long overdue maintenance and overhauling of this site. The end result will be a “new and improved” RadioGeekHeaven.com for all to enjoy!

-Drew (Geek in Chief)

The King of Countdowns is Gone: Casey Kasem, Dead at 82

I am heartbroken. One of my biggest radio idols has passed away. Casey Kasem died earlier today. He was 82.

When I was 9 years old, I discovered American Top 40 while visiting my grandparents in North Dakota. I was riding my bike, tuning the dial on my red and white Arvin Bike Radio when I came across something I’d never heard before: a DJ counting down the Top 40 songs from #40 to #1. The station airing this amazing program was KNOX-AM 1310 in Grand Forks. Even though I was only 9, I already knew the difference between local disc jockeys and nationally syndicated programs. After I got back home to Minnesota, I anxiously scanned the dial for Casey’s voice but couldn’t find it anywhere. Our local station KDWB-AM 630 did not pick up American Top 40 until the first week of January, 1974. Finally, I caught a segment of the broadcast on KOIL-AM 1290 out of Omaha. The KOIL signal was tough to hear since it received interference from stations on the same frequency in Peoria, Illinois and Dayton, Ohio. Still, I was able to catch enough to identify each song and it’s number in the countdown.

From that moment, I was hooked. Each Sunday night, I was glued to my radio from 7-10. Make that 7-11 after the show expanded to 4 hours in October, 1978. I had a dedicated Spiral notebook in which I would write each song, artist, chart position, and change from last week’s chart position. Later, I began recording and saving the shows. My weekly allowance didn’t provide for enough blank tapes to record every show, but I managed to save quite a few. I still have them, including several which I originally archived onto 8-track tapes! The biggest American Top 40 event was the annual Top 100 of the year. It aired in 2 parts over Christmas and New Year’s weekends.

When I started at my first radio job in 1983, I was thrilled to learn we were an AT 40 affiliate station! It was then that I discovered the show was sent to stations on vinyl records. I also learned from the cue sheets that the American Top 40 theme music was actually called the “Shuckatoom Theme.” Since the following weekend’s show usually arrived at the station by Thursday, I now knew what the #1 song was 2 days before anyone else. I thought having access to this “inside information” was VERY cool!

Although I never had the chance to meet Casey Kasem, I feel as if I knew him. I guess that’s what happens when you spend 3-4 hours each week with someone for over 20 years. He was one of my earliest and biggest on-air influences. With the possible exception of John Records Landecker from WLS/Chicago, this man inspired me more than any other to pursue a career as a radio broadcaster. Although American Top 40 lives on with Ryan Seacrest, there will never be another voice, another host, another talent like Casey Kasem. Thanks for the memories and for all you’ve contributed to radio over the years.

And the countdown continues…

The Big Move to Iowa: KKEZ-FM (Z94) Fort Dodge 1986-87

On the third Friday in August, 1986, I arrived in Fort Dodge, Iowa. After checking into Super 8 for the night, I woke up early the next morning to begin my new adventure. This was back in the days when it was inexpensive and easy to find a place to live. You didn’t need to submit to a credit check, a criminal background check, or pay an exorbitant deposit. I went to the radio station, grabbed the want ads, and began making phone calls. By that afternoon, I was living in my new home: the upper half of a house that had been converted into duplexes. It was just a few blocks from the radio station. My rent was $185 per month “plus lights” (electricity.) The landlady said “You look like an honest young man. You can pay the deposit ($100) after you get your first paycheck.” This was a good thing. I had a total of $300 to my name at that point. After unloading my stuff from the car (Rule #1 of radio: NEVER own more stuff than you can fit in your car), I walked up to the station and met a couple of the weekend guys. When their shifts ended, they took me to Godfather’s for pizza and beer. Welcome to Iowa!

Monday, August 18 was my first night at KKEZ. At this point, we were still “Fort Dodge’s Hit Radio 94, KKEZ.” Two weeks later, we would become the hot rockin’, flamethrowin’ Z94! This could easily have become an uncomfortable situation: several long-time airstaffers had recently been fired in order to accommodate the format change. A few others had been “reassigned” but were still in the building. I’ve always said that one of the greatest benefits of working nights is that you don’t have to deal with the office politics! By the time I showed up at 6PM, all the “day people” were gone. Plus, I was so excited about being at a new station in a larger market that I didn’t care. I just got on the mic and gave it all I had to give!

I was still very “raw” and inexperienced on-the-air. Yet, Jim Davis (my Program Director) believed in me. He gave me a ton of freedom to have fun with the listeners and develop as an air personality. Jim was an experienced broadcaster and programmer. He had worked for KOIL-AM 1290 in Omaha and KIOA-AM 940 in Des Moines. Both of these were legendary, heritage AM Top 40 stations in the Upper Midwest. Jim was very good to me and taught me well. KKEZ was the station where I learned to do good, solid phone bits. It’s also where I became serious about airchecking and reviewing my air work. EVERY show was recorded. After work, I would listen back to the entire tape at home, making mental notes about what to correct and how to improve for the following night’s broadcast.

I made some good friends at KKEZ and sister station KWMT-AM 540. Jane E. Morgan, Phil Jaye, Jim Davis, and Duane Murley are still in radio today. We keep in touch. In fact, Jane and Duane are still at KKEZ/KWMT. It was a great place and a great time to be working as a broadcaster. I was being paid fairly well, had a great boss, and was cultivating a loyal nighttime audience that enjoyed what I was doing on the radio. I was really happy here, as evidenced on this composite aircheck.

All good things must come to an end. In March, Jim Davis announced his resignation. He received a job offer too good to pass up at WLLR-FM 101.3 in the Quad Cities. His replacement was Doug MacKinnon. Doug had a long radio history in Des Moines, stretching back to the 1950s. Our General Manager reasoned that because of his experience, he would be a great candidate for mornings on-air and Program Director. Doug had some “different” ideas regarding the future direction of KKEZ. Shortly after his arrival, he called a mandatory staff meeting to outline the many changes and new rules which he had implemented. He told me “You are no longer to put callers on-the-air.” In response, I told him this was an important and essential element of my show. I was the night jock at a high-energy FM CHR station. My callers were a large part of what made my show fun and interactive. Doug’s response: “We don’t do that here. We’re not a talk station.”

Shortly thereafter, Doug MacKinnon fired me. It was not a friendly parting of the ways. I walked into the KKEZ building shortly before 6PM on Monday, March 30, 1987 to do my show. Doug was sitting there, waiting for me. When I walked up to him, he handed me my final paycheck and said “We no longer have need for your services.” If I had acted on first impulse, I would have ended up in jail on assault and battery charges. I knew better. Instead, I calmly took my paycheck from his hand. I looked right at him and said “Well, I’ll be hearing you across the dial and you can damn well bet you will be hearing me as well!” Then, I turned and walked away. The last words I ever heard from Doug were “What does that mean?” as I moved toward the exit. I said nothing. Just opened the door and walked out. Thus ended my 6 months of radio fun at Z94 KKEZ.

Although my tenure at KKEZ had been terminated, my radio days in Fort Dodge were far from over. There was a new radio station on the horizon. Don and John Linder of Mankato, Minnesota had recently purchased KRIT-FM 96.9 in Clarion, Iowa. The signal had been upgraded to 100,000 watts from a new tower north of Fort Dodge. I knew from my research that KRIT was getting ready to move into Fort Dodge and relaunch as a local operation. I had already promised myself that if Doug were to fire me, I would do everything in my power to become his primary competitor on this new station! This is what I was eluding to when I bid him my fond farewell. Was my quest successful? Sure was! I’ll tell you all about it in the next thrilling installment of “Drew’s Radio Stories!”

A Radio Geek Looks at 50

Two days ago, I celebrated my 50th birthday. It’s true, kids: your author is as old as the Ford Mustang! By the way, I’ve been thinking it would be great to commemorate this occasion by purchasing a new 2014 Mustang GT. If you’d like to contribute to the fund for my indulgence, please let me know! :-)

Most 50-year-olds are looking forward to retirement. I’m not. Instead, I’m searching for a new adventure. I don’t feel 50. Not in the least. I suppose this is because I have never been married and don’t have any kids. I basically live the same way now as I did when I was 25. Minus all the stupid things that I did in my wayward youth, of course.

On my birthday, I thought back to all the places I’ve been, all the accomplishments I’ve made, and how much the world has changed over the past 5 decades. My maternal grandmother lived to be 100 years old. She used to tell me how technology had progressed throughout her lifetime. She had witnessed the birth of the telephone, the automobile, radio, television, computers, and the Internet. Indeed, she was fortunate to have lived during the time of the greatest technological innovations this world has ever seen.

Specifically, I began thinking about all the changes radio has gone through during my life. When I was born in 1964, radio was the dominant medium in the U.S. Television was still in it’s infancy. Not everyone had a TV. But nearly every household had a radio. Most cars had radios. Aside from a few educational, “beautiful music”, and experimental stations, there was no FM to speak of. When someone said “radio”, they meant AM. Amplitude Modulation. Ancient Mary. 540 to 1600 kilohertz. Music of the Beatles had just arrived in America. The radio dial was filled with high energy, personality DJs who brought those sounds into our homes and our cars. The first song I remember hearing on the radio was “Penny Lane” at age 3.

Throughout the 1970s, commercial radio was vibrant and profitable. FM radio became a force to be reckoned with in many markets. In Minneapolis, our first Top 40 FM was WYOO-FM 101.3, known as “U-100.” I remember hearing it in glorious FM stereo and thinking “the music sounds so much better on this station.” CB radio became popular, due to the truckers’ strike and the record “Convoy” by C.W. McCall. Now, the average person could talk to others by using inexpensive 2-way mobile radios in their cars and with “base stations” at home. CB radio was the cell phone and the Facebook of the 1970s and 80s.

In the 1980s, radio remained strong. FCC regulations prohibited any one entity from owning more than 7 AM, 7 FM, and 7 TV stations. This was known as “the 7-7-7 rule.” In 1985, the limits were raised to 12 AM, 12 FM, and 12 TV. So for the most part, radio stations were independently owned and operated. Now, more people listened to FM vs AM. Top 40 was now known as “CHR” or Contemporary Hit Radio. It was very much an exciting time to get started as a broadcaster, as I did in 1983. The future was bright on the airwaves!

The 1990s were the beginning of the end. “Duopoly” passed in 1992. Radio entities could now own two AM and two FM stations per market. Total ownership caps were raised to 18 AM and 18 FM stations. This profoundly changed the radio landscape in many markets. Now, instead of owning a sole FM station and trying to make it dominant, companies would often use a second frequency as a “flanker” station to protect their cash cow. If your established FM was traditional country FM, you would program “Young Country” or “New Country” on the new station. If your established FM was running a rock format, put “Alternative” or “Modern Rock” on the recently acquired station. The purpose was to “tag team” a direct competitor or to keep another company from launching a direct competitor against you. In 1996, the ownership caps were basically eliminated as the Telecommunications Act was passed. This allowed huge national conglomerates like Clear Channel and Cumulus to purchase hundreds of radio stations and operate multi-station “clusters” in several markets.

The new millennium saw increasing levels of radio consolidation. Many independent owners sold out to the national operators, often for a huge profit. Faster computers and improved Internet/Intranet technology allowed the proliferation of voice tracking. One DJ could now prerecord shows for multiple stations in their cluster and/or for multiple markets. Jobs were cut and live airstaffs reduced as companies realized the cost savings of sharing voice talent among several stations. Listeners soon discovered radio was not as entertaining as it used to be. The local disc-jockey had been replaced by an unknown voice, often emanating from several states away. First listenership, then revenues began to fall in many markets.

In 2014, radio is very much a corporate playground. In all but the smallest markets, the radio landscape is dominated by the large national conglomerates. Nationally syndicated morning hosts have replaced local talents. Radio’s share of the media pie continues to shrink. It has become a downward spiral. Faced with lower ratings and revenues, companies continue to cut payroll costs by eliminating more live personalities. This causes ratings and revenues to sink even lower. The process then repeats itself. It’s a race to the bottom. My last day on-the-air was Friday, May 21, 1999. I saw this “consolidation tsunami” approaching and decided to cash out of the game before the house of cards came tumbling down.

Can the present state of radio be reversed? I certainly hope so. Even though I have been “out” for 15 years, I still love the industry very much. The existence of this website should provide sufficient proof! I would like to get back in the game someday IF the landscape and the outlook for radio’s future were to improve markedly. That’s a big “if.” But all things are possible. Time will tell. Until then, this 50-year-old radio geek still has 5 decades of great memories to look back on.

The Summer of 1986: Two Steps Back

It’s been a few weeks since I wrote the latest chapter in my continuing radio saga. I should make this into a book and title it “I was a Roaming Radio Gypsy” or “Fifteen Years as a Radio Drifter.” I’m only up to station number 3 and there are about 20 left to go! I figure I’ll have this finished by the end of this year.

As I mentioned in the previous chapter, I left KWKR to return to Minnesota and attend college. That didn’t work out as planned. In the preceding chapter, I mentioned that I would come back to KCHK whenever I was “between jobs” and needing an income source. Put these two together and you can guess where I made my next stop on Radio’s Road of Fortune. I went back to New Prague and filled in as needed for a couple of months. Back to playing polka records and reading obituaries on Sunday mornings. It wasn’t all bad, though. My parents lived close enough so they could hear me. I happened to be working on the morning of Mom’s 50th birthday. I played “The Old Lady Polka” and dedicated it to her. Ah, the perks of small market radio! During this time, I supplemented my income by working as delivery driver for Domino’s Pizza. Since I didn’t finish driving until 1:00AM and KCHK sign-on was 5:00AM, there was no point in going home to sleep. It was here that I learned the fine art of sleeping on the control room floor, hoping to get a few hours’ rest before my shift began. Later, I would learn to carry a sleeping bag in the trunk of my car for this very purpose. All for the princely sum of $4.00 per hour. Was I crazy or just plain stupid?

In late June, Bette Bailly called me. As you may recall, Bette was the General Manager at my first station: KNAB AM/FM in Burlington, Colorado. I had talked to her a few months earlier when I decided to leave Mankato State University and get back into radio. Bette had an opening. She usually hired beginners out of Brown Institute. But in this case, the guy who was leaving had been there a few years and was quite good. She wanted someone with experience. So of course, I packed up my reliable ‘ol puke green 1973 Buick Century and headed west. Again. Whereas my first KNAB adventure lasted 9 months, Round Two was over in just 6 weeks. Bette and I clashed on too many issues. Since I now had experience at a larger station, I would question procedures and policies that I felt were incorrect. Bette would have none of it. She was the boss, pure and simple. If I had a dime for every time she said “I don’t give a rat’s ass WHAT you did in Garden City!”, I would be a rich man today. So, I left KNAB for the second time on Wednesday, August 6, 1986.

During the time I was attending college in Minnesota, Jim Davis had replaced Lee Barr as Program Director of KWKR. I had worked with Jim and he knew of my desire to return to KWKR. He assured me the next air slot to open up would be mine. Burlington was only 170 miles from Garden City. My purpose in coming back to KNAB was to get back on-the-air and draw a paycheck until I could get back to KWKR. After leaving KNAB, however, I had no idea what my next move was going to be. I didn’t have a home phone. This seriously complicated one’s ability to find a new job in 1986 B.I. (Before Internet!)

One week later, I was awakened to the sound of a car horn, frantically blowing in my alley. I lived on the third floor of an apartment building that was locked 24/7. Since I had no phone, my friends would contact me by driving through the alley below and either honking their horn or throwing rocks at my bedroom window. I opened the window to find my friend Betty Boland, yelling through the open T-tops of her ’79 Trans Am. “Some guy named Jim Davis called for you at the beauty shop. He says to call him right away. He has a job for you!” The fact that Jim was able to track me down via Betty’s Beauty Bar was nothing short of amazing. Yay for small towns where everyone knows each other!

Mr. Davis had come to my rescue in my time of need! I threw on my clothes and ran down to the beauty shop to call Jim. I told him I was ready to come back to Garden City! I was so happy to be coming back to KWKR. I could be there tomorrow, if need be. Then, Jim said something I will never forget: “I’m not in Garden City. I left last week. I’m Program Director of KKEZ in Fort Dodge, Iowa. We’ve got 100,000 watts that cover more than 30 counties. We’re Number One! I want you to get the (expletive deleted) up here and do nights for me!”

I was excited, but I was also scared. This was a much bigger sandbox than Garden City. Fort Dodge was only 70 miles from Des Moines as the crow flies. With a good radio, KKEZ could be heard in Des Moines. The capital of Iowa. There had to be at least a few hundred thousand people within that signal contour! At age 22, I had an ego that wouldn’t quit. But deep down, I knew I was still pretty “green” and not all that behind the mic. What if I couldn’t cut it? Jim had over 20 years of radio experience, including heritage Top 40s KIOA/Des Moines and KOIL/Omaha. I knew his standard for performance was pretty high.

On the day before I was to leave for Fort Dodge, I received another phone call. This one was from Ron Isham, my General Manager in Garden City. Jim Davis’ departure created an opportunity in the budget to hire another person. They could move some people around at KWKR, making room for me to return. What to do? What to do?

It was the classic choice of risk vs security. KWKR was a known commodity. The company was solid, the operation was successful, and I would have that job for as long as I wanted it. But it was an unrated market in Western Kansas. I knew people who had been on-the-air there for 20+ years. I did not aspire to become one of them. Fort Dodge was a huge opportunity: the chance to work with an experienced programmer and do my thing on a big signal. But it was also risky. I knew nothing about the company or the market, other than what Jim had told me. If I wasn’t as good as Jim thought I could be, I was outta there in short order.

The next morning, I left Burlington. I stopped at the McDonald’s in Colby, Kansas and sat in the parking lot for about 20 minutes, making a decision. This is where the road split: US 24 east towards Fort Dodge or I-70/US 83 to Garden City. I carefully weighed all the pros and cons. Finally, I pointed my car east on Highway 24 and headed for my future: the new night jock on Fort Dodge’s Hit Radio 94, KKEZ.

Check Out These 11 Abandoned Radio Stations

Usually, when a radio station “goes dark”, all the equipment is removed from the location. The building is either sold to a new business. If it’s in extremely bad condition, the site is bulldozed to make way for new construction. Sometimes, however, the facility is simply abandoned. Years later, it still exists as it was except for the inevitable vandalism and weather damage.

Here are eleven abandoned radio stations. WARNING: If you love radio as much as I do, these photos will be painful to look at. These facilities are all in terrible shape, having been left for dead several years ago.

Interesting story regarding one of the stations: the building which originally housed WGGG-AM 1230 in Gainesville, Florida was later used by Entercom’s WKTK-FM 98.5. Licensed to Crystal River, WKTK required a STL hop of over 30 miles to their transmitter at Morriston. Local ordinances prohibited the construction of towers at the height that would be required for a microwave link at that distance. However, existing towers were grandfathered and allowed to remain. This is where WGGG comes in. Entercom took the lower half of the 1230 transmitting tower and used it to support the large STL dish which pointed SSW towards Morriston. Even though it was a self-supporting tower, the old WGGG stick was guy-wired to provide reinforcement. Because if that tower were to collapse in a wind storm, it could not be rebuilt. WKTK would then have no way of getting a signal from it’s Gainesville studio to the transmitter.

This facility was used for several years with excellent results. Now, of course, modern digital technology has eliminated the need for long distance analog studio-to-transmitter links via microwave. WKTK and sister station WSKY-FM 97.3 now broadcast from a new facility on NW 43rd St. Last time I checked, the old WGGG/WKTK building and tower is still standing at 1440 NE Waldo Road. The large STL dish has been removed.

JoJo Kincaid Lands at Gainesville Florida’s WOW-FM

So, I dial up the streaming link on North Florida’s “WOW-FM” this afternoon and who do I hear? JoJo Kincaid! No, not a shameless imitator. I’m talking about THE JoJo Kincaid, CHR Jock Extraordinaire!

In 1989, I was doing afternoons on Q94 in Bend, Oregon. JoJo Cookin’ Kincaid was doing afternoons at Q106 in San Diego. I would send my friend in San Diego 10-packs of blank 90 minute cassettes. He would fill them up with JoJo’s shows and mail them back to me. His energy, personality, and timing was impeccable.

I’ve been listening to “WOW-FM” (actually WYGC-FM 104.9) for about a month now. These folks get it. They’re doing a personality-oriented approach to Classic Hits. Not the same 400 songs with voicetracks and liner cards. Instead, “WOW-FM” features real, live air personalities who aren’t afraid to have fun on the radio. Like radio USED to be, back when these songs were current hits. What a concept!

Gainesville’s a fun town with a great vibe. They should do well here. Yes, WOW-FM does stream online. Give ‘em a listen when you have the chance!

American Top 40, the 70s/80s Affiliate Station Lists

Did you grow up listening to American Top 40 with Casey Kasem? So did I! Each week, I’d listen to the entire countdown. I’d write down each song, it’s current chart position, and it’s change from last week’s chart position.

A few years later, I began recording and archiving these shows. In the 1990s, I worked at radio stations which ran a “Greatest Hits of the 70s” format. Since I still had all my tapes, I wanted to rebroadcast these shows. They would have fit our format perfectly. But of course, this was impossible due to contractual and copyright laws. In 2006, my prayers were answered when these shows were rescued from the vaults and aired once again: first on XM Satellite Radio, then distributed by Premiere Radio Networks for broadcast on terrestrial stations.

Thanks to the Internet and online streaming, you don’t need a local station to hear these classic American Top 40 with Casey Kasem shows. You can listen whenever you like, to whichever station you prefer. Here are the most complete station lists I know of:

American Top 40, the 70s

American Top 40, the 80s

Both of these lists are updated frequently. This is important since radio stations are constantly changing formats and programming. The exact time and day of broadcast is listed. Also included are notations on whether or not a station plays the “extra” songs at the end of each hour which were not included in the original 1970s/80s broadcasts. Typically, these are songs which were on Billboard’s Hot 100 and moving up during the week of the show but had not yet debuted on the Top 40. Most would go on to become Top 10 hits. Not all stations broadcast these extras, however. If the station has a heavy local commercial load, the extra song will be deleted to meet time constraints. This is why they are called “extras.”

To me, these classic American Top 40 shows are as great today as they were 25+ years ago! Truly a treasure that has (luckily) been preserved through the years. Kudos to Shannon Lynn for taking the time to remaster these shows from their original reel-to-reel master tapes. Shannon does it right. His commitment to quality is evident in every show. Be sure to check ‘em out this weekend when you have time. Until then, as Casey says: “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.”