Sunday, November 30, 2008

Radio Legend Dies

Bill Drake has died--from lung cancer in Los Angeles at age 71.

His impact on radio, great radio, is undeniable. KFRC in San Francisco (among many others) stands as one of the greatest radio stations of all time--at least to me.

Check out this KHJ Los Angeles tribute to Boss Radio

Wikipedia has his history. (They note the article might require some clean up and revision)

Bill Drake (1937-2008), born Philip Yarbrough, was an American radio programmer. He chose his last name from among his relatives' surnames, because it rhymed with "WAKE", the station in Atlanta, where he worked as a programmer and disc-jockey in the late 1950s. Later, Bartell Broadcasting, who owned WAKE that he had programmed to number one, transferred him to KYA in San Francisco, which also became number one. It was later at KYNO in Fresno, California that he met Gene Chenault, who became his business partner. Together, the pair developed highly influential radio programming strategies and tactics, as well as working with future "Boss Jocks" (their new name for on-air radio talent).

Drake-Chenault perfected the Top 40 radio format, which had been created by Todd Storz, Gordon McClendon and other radio programmers in the late 1950s, which took a set list of popular songs and repeated them all day long, ensuring the widest possible audience for the station's music. Jingles, news updates, traffic, and other features were designed to make Top 40 radio particularly attractive to car listeners. By early 1964, the era of the British Invasion, Top 40 radio had become the dominant radio format for North American listeners and quickly swept much of the Western world.

Drake streamlined the Top 40 format, using modern methods, such as market research and ratings demographics, to maximize the number of listeners. He believed in forward momentum, limiting the amount of disc jockey chatter, the number of advertisements and playing only the top hits, as opposed to less-organized programming methods of the past. Drake created concepts such as 20/20 News and counter programming, by playing music sweeps, while his competitors aired news. Drake-Chenault controlled everything from the specific DJs that were hired, to radio contests, visual logos, promotions and commercial policy. Drake essentially put radio back into the hands of programming, instead of sales. Drake hired the Johnny Mann Singers to produce the Boss Radio jingles, ensuring a bright, high-energy sound that engaged the listener, while providing a bridge from song to song, as well as a smooth transition from songs to commercials.

After turning around the fortunes of Fresno's KYNO, Drake applied similar tactics to take KGB, from 14th to 1st in San Diego. KGB's owner, Willett Brown, suggested to his fellow RKO board members, that Drake could turn KHJ around.

In the Spring of 1965, Drake-Chenault were hired to turn KHJ in Los Angeles, from a financial and ratings loser into a success. Drake hired Ron Jacobs as program director, Robert W. Morgan in the mornings and Don Steele in the afternoons. KHJ quickly jumped from near-obscurity, to the number one radio station in Los Angeles. "Boss Radio" moved faster and sounded more innovative than the competition, making it the #1 choice over competitors in Southern California.

Bill Drake also programmed KFRC in San Francisco, WOR-FM in New York, KAKC in Tulsa, WHBQ in Memphis, WRKO in Boston and 50,000 watt CKLW, in Windsor, Ontario, across the Detroit River from the city of Detroit.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Drake and Chenault formed Drake-Chenault Inc., marketing the format in the form of similar customized Johnny Mann jingle packages used on KHJ. These jingle packages were sold across the US and overseas. They also marketed "automated" radio format packages such as "Hit Parade", "Solid Gold", "Classic Gold" and "Great American Country". Disc Jockey voices heard on those formats included: the legendary Robert W. Morgan, Charlie Van Dyke and others. Drake also conceived the pioneering 48-hour radio special, The History of Rock & Roll, first aired in February of 1969 on KHJ and later voiced an updated version, that was broadcast on over 400 stations nationwide. Other radio specials followed, but none were arguably as successful as The History of Rock and Roll. Drake-Chenault was sold and eventually dissolved in the mid-1980s, but their radio specials are still available from a variety of sources.

In 1973, Drake left KHJ, along with Steele and Morgan, to program KIQQ-FM ("K-100") in Los Angeles. Bill Drake was a member of the nominating committee of the Hit Parade Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame in 2007.

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