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!”