Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bill Drake 1937-2008

The radio industry lost a giant on Saturday when Bill Drake died.

For any kid who grew up in the 60s, radio was a huge part of their life. It’s not like today. Back then if you were a teenager, radio was your constant companion. You had a favorite station, knew all the disc jockeys, could sing their jingles. It was a shared experience.

And one station revolutionized top 40. KHJ Los Angeles became “Boss Radio” in April of 1965. Its streamlined approach and exciting presentation captured the imagination of an entire generation. Within several years there were “Boss Radio” clones in every market in the country.

Bill Drake, along with Ron Jacobs (both pictured right), created that format.

Bill Drake became not only the most influential man in broadcasting but the music industry as well. Getting a record on KHJ could make a career. There by the grace of Bill Drake go the Doors, Byrds, Mamas & Papas, Sonny & Cher, and a hundred other 60s rock icons who might otherwise be making Blizzards at Dairy Queen today.

He was also a literal giant. Probably 6’8” with a deep commanding voice. If God did station liners that’s who He’d sound like. And Bill was rarely seen (also like God). In those heydays when he was the czar of the industry he’d camp out high in the hills in his Bel Air mansion and communicate via hotlines. It was the Zeus management style.

He later created automated music formats that ruled the nation’s FM dial for most of the 70s.

I worked for him in 1974. By then he had left KHJ and was trying to duplicate its success on FM. His star disc jockeys from Boss Radio, Robert W. Morgan and the Real Don Steele were brought over to start K100. And amazingly I was hired as well. Okay, so I was fired shortly thereafter… by Bill Drake. But my admiration for the man is so great I never held it against him.

A few years ago when my partner and I were doing research for a radio themed screenplay I called Bill and asked if we could have lunch with him and pick his brain. Generally a very private man, he graciously sat with us at Monty’s in Woodland Hills. It was a six-hour audience with the king whereby he gave us an absolute master class in the art of mass communication.

I am devastated by the loss and very blessed that I got to know him. Bill Drake was one of the most important influences of my life. And maybe yours too, even though this may be the first time you’ve ever heard the name.

To paraphrase one of his classic intros:

Bill Drake is… “number one then…and number one forever.”

67 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Ken. Very well written tribute to Bill. He was one of those I thought would be around forever. A reminder to cherish the times we have with our friends and loved ones. When I write for OC Register on Bill's death, I will ask to share some of the comments you have posted here.
Gary Lycan, 4:25 am Sunday.

Buddy Scott said...

When Bill Drake fired you Ken, what were his exact words? "We don't need you here at K-100, you little smutmeister...someday you're going to grow up to be a pornographer..."

David K. M. Klaus said...

In St. Louis in 1965, we listened to the Top 6 Plus 30 Hits on KXOK, 630 on the AM dial, with first Ron Elz and then the late Don Pietromonica as successive Johnny Rabbitts (who invited us to call in and Blab It To The Rabbitt), and we could pick up our weekly copies of the Top 6 Plus 30 list "at all five St. Louis area McDonald's restaurants."

Verification word: gratzes. I guess I should be grateful.

Anonymous said...

Ken,

Wonderful tribute!
He was quite simply, the best to ever program a radio station.
He was my teacher and hero.

Scott Shannon
DJ

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Damn. He was the greatest.

Now, Rock 'n' Roll Heaven will be Boss forever.

Buddy Scott: funny line! I bet Drake would have laughed...

Thanks Ken. Fine tribute and insight to a man who shaped our culture and brought us some fine, Boss times.

Anonymous said...

Here in Atlanta I just heard the news and am so so sorry to hear of the loss of someone that in earlier years meant soo much to my husband and myself. My husband worked for Bill in Atlanta at WAKE and were very close. When my husband died, Bill interrupted his honeymoon to fly to Atlanta to be with my daughter and myself. Can't tell you what that meant to me. I agree with you, I always thought God would sound like Bill Drake. I'm sad to know that voice is forever still, but we do have audio so he won't be forgotten.

Alan Maretsky said...

I started my television career at KHJ-TV in the late 60's. KHJ Radio was just across the hall - Morgan, Steele, and all the rest, true legends. But the greatest legend of all...and master of AM radio was Bill Drake. I was saddened to hear of his death. However, I along with others are lucky enough to hear Bill Drake's voice live on on XM 60's on 6.
God Bless You Bill and you are an unreproducible talent.

Jack Friday said...

I'll again echo the sentiments of many. Having the association with Bill Drake while at RKO's KFRC during the RWM and RDS days at KHJ, was attaining the badge of radio professionalism that is almost impossible to find today. He was the standard bearer of radio. Bill Drake gave the tools to success to those few who were talented enough to use them well. (tympany)"Ladies and Gentlemen...take a moment and remember one of the great men of radio."

The Milner Coupe said...

He was one of the voices of our youth. Thank you for this tribute, and thanks to the commentors.

Sad news indeed, but what a life to celebrate, huh?

Captainfirst said...

This is a sad day for radio indeed.

Jim Hilliker said...

Wonderful tribute, Ken. Radio was the soundtrack of our lives in the '50s, '60s and '70s. We had just moved to Anaheim from small-town Santa Maria in August of 1965, and I was amazed at how many radio and TV signals we could pick up near Los Angeles. I was only 10-years-old then, but Boss Radio on 93/KHJ was nothing like we had ever heard before. It was on all the time, in my spare time, after school, weekends, vacations, etc. unless I was watching TV, lol. Between the ages of 10 and 14 or so, whne I had KHJ on the most hours, I had no idea who was behind Boss Radio and put so much of his life into it, creating it and making it work. I just knew it sounded good! I still miss it, so it's nice to have so many airchecks of those years on KHJ.

Thanks Ken, for sharing your tribute to Bill Drake. I'm saddened to read about his passing.
KHJ was one of the reasons that made me want to get into radio, if only in a small way over the years.

Jim Hilliker
Los Angeles radio historian
Monterey, CA

Anonymous said...

It’s funny I accidently met the legend at a neighborhood bar in 1996 and we were frequent drinking buddies ever since. With a couple of Jim Beam’s under his belt Bill would swear me to secrecy and tell tales out of school. From Phil Spector to Elvis, he had a million of them.

I sat on his barstool at Casey’s tavern Sunday as news of his death came. As a long time radio guy myself I’ve lived a richer life from knowing him.

B

Anonymous said...

Adrian said...
I loved/hated the man. To explain, I was attending Specs Howard School of Broadcast Arts in 1971/72, and between the time I started and finished school, the entire focus of radio shifted from the DJ to the music, thanks to Bill Drake. For that reason, disillusioned, I put off doing anything with radio for another 25 years. Grumbling aside, there is no way one can dismiss or ignore the absolute genius that Bill drake was. He almost single-handedly reshaped the entire concept of radio in America in the 60's and 70's. What a giant! Yes, I will miss another Icon of my generation. R.I.P., Bill.

Bob Souer said...

Ken,

Thank you for the moving tribute to one of radio's true legends.

Be well,
Bob

VP81955 said...

Bill Drake did a lot for radio. I never heard KHJ aside from a few vintage airchecks in recent years, but he influenced many a station's sound -- even those he himself didn't program.

Growing up in Syracuse, I recall when WOLF, struggling in the ratings, adopted a Drake-style format in 1969, with jocks like Don Bombard (better known now as "Bob Shannon" on WCBS-FM) and blew rival WNDR out of the water. (For you Angelenos, imagine it's 1965, and WOLF is KHJ and WNDR KFWB.)

For those of us who love Top 40 radio, we have lost a legend. Yes, some claimed the Drake format eliminated individuality; not true. A DJ with personality could still fluorish, but he had to be efficient, and tight.

VP81955 said...

Oh, and I also wish someone somewhere would make Drake's "History of Rock and Roll" available online as a tribute.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the beat goes on..."

Anonymous said...

I think we are both around the same age, I'm 52, but I grew up in the midwest, in a suburb of Chicago. For me, guys that talked like that and "automated programming" were anti-music.

My biggest thrill as an angst filled teen was discovering FM radio, with disk jockeys that were more soft-spoken hosts, sharing an evening of great music with you. Whole album sides, followed by a guy so mellow, I think he must have toked the whole time the album was playing, but they connected and seemed more real than those AM guys with their patter and commercialism.

the passing of anyone diminishes us, but I'm not in awe of a guy with a disk-jocket voice, talking over song intros, etc.

MazisINtheHall said...

In my Six-Transistor Juliette Radio Days, I didn't know what 'Boss Radio' was, but I was to discover later, that Bill Drake's programming philosophy, format and his Johnny Mann a capella jingles were a huge component of the Big 8 sound, during CKLW's heydey along the North Coast.

Thankfully, gentlemen such as yourself, and the historians at ReelRadio.com have kept the torch lit and history alive, to recall and interpret what was a huge part of Radio's Golden Age.

Thank you, Ken, for a splendid tribute to a man who had a legendary impact on American popular culture.

If only "The Hits [would] Keep On Coming!"

Jan Walner said...

I just heard the news from Sharon Nelson, former music director of KHJ during the Drake days.
Bill was my friend long before I went to work at Drake-Chenault helping put together the formats of "Hitparade" and "Solid Gold" for syndication.
He recognized my love of music even though I couldn't so much as carry a tune, and gave me the golden opportunity of working for and with him for several years.
He was one of the best friends I ever had and I'll miss him.

Jan Walner

Bill Earl said...

I was home from 8th grade with a broken collarbone on April 28 and April 29th and listened to the "new KHJ" from the start. (Trust me, it was APRIL 28, NOT May 5th as many wrongly think.)I also recall the promos and wondered just WHO the voice was, "Ladies and gentleman, you're listening to the Roger Christian show, from the much more music station, AM and FM...." The blogsite I help advise dug up an old pic of Drake when he himself was a jock. It's posted on:
http://classicdjradioscrapbook.blogspot.com/ for those interested.
I met Drake at the 1990 reunion. I sat next to KTNQ's "Beaver Cleaver" at the dinner table. Cleaver was on my left.
Because Drake was buttonholed by EVERYONE, I was unable to ask him just WHAT are the ingedients in his favorite alcoholic beverage, a "winkiepoo." If any one knows, e-mail me at: EARLWMF@aol.com, or post it here.
May I now toast an imaginary "winkiepoo" to Mr. Drake.
And the hits just keep on coming!

BiLL Earl
On-the-beach air talent
formerly KFXM-FM (Antelope Valley)
KXOK (Manteca CA)

K.M. Richards said...

As we have lost talented on-air people like Robert W. Morgan and The Real Don Steele over the years, I frequently thought in terms of the Righteous Brothers song "Rock And Roll Heaven" where "you they have a hell of a band."

God has been building one hell of a top-40 station with all that talent, and now that station has one hell of a programmer.

And the hits just keep on coming.

RIP, Phil Yarborough. You were one of the people who really made a mark in the industry.

Scott Segraves said...

Ken, excellent farewell.
Ironically, I was cleaning out computer files last night, and almost deleted a complete folder on Bill. Don't know what it was (probably Watson on my inner-hotline) but something told me to keep it. Now, sadly, this will be the final file included.
I just wonder how many of today's bean counters and cookie cutters even know what they missed.

Gary Mack said...

It's good to see so many of Bill's friends and RKO/DC alumni here tonight -- Scott Shannon & Seagraves, Sharon Nelson, Jan Walner, et al. He would have loved this gathering.

And Bill Earl, he would have hoisted a bourbon and coke.

There are some people who are supposed to live forever, and Bill Drake was one.

Thanks Ken.

Tom Howard said...

I as well was sad of the news I got a e mail late last night from a fellow aircheck collector that Bill Drake had gone up with the Real Don Steele and Robert W. Morgan, and Frank Terry and Bobby Trip and the Chucker. I moved to Buena Park, Ca in 1963 and remember Los Angeles radio when there was KFWB and KRLA.
I enjoyed KHJ everyday Robert W. Morgan in the Morgan and Steele every afteroon. I would spend my summers in Detroit so I hear CKLW and WXYZ, WCAR and WKNR.
I asked my grandmother to tape me CKLW, which she did from Farmington, I remember getting a tape in the mail Jan. 1968 I will never forget after the 1966 Golden song "Mellow Yellow, I hear "And The Hits Just Keep On Coming CKLW the Motor City, It's 4 O Clock Mike Rivers show time and Bill Drake say later on the tape on CKLW then Number one then and number one now.
I met Bill Drake at the KHJ 25th. Boss Party in 1990 in Los Angeles, I met Paul Drew, Johnny Mann, and most evrybody from KHJ. That was a night I will never forget, I will never forget hearing "And The Hits Just Keep On Coming, if it was on 13/KYNO Fresno, CKLW the Motor City, or KAKC Tulas, or KFRC, ot KHJ Los Angeles, I sure miss KHJ, and CKLW and KFRC, Bill R.I.P, thankis for all the great show's

Informixx said...

This is really a very sad news.

Magic Matt Alan said...

I Enjoyed the honor of quaffing a few(?) with the GREAT Mr. Drake at the now defunct Candy Canyon, strategically located next to Toys R Us in Woodland Hills.
Every young broadcaster should have spent at least ten minutes wit this icon. Perhaps radio would be less sucky today.
Aloha Mr. Drake
Cheer's,
Matt
www.outlawradiousa.com
SiriusXM 70's on 7

Magic Matt Alan said...

P.S.
I never worked for him but I'm certain that he would have fired me too!!

Ed Hill said...

I grew up in Camarillo California which is about 55 miles north of LA.

Vietnam was killing my friend's brothers, the rage was on, but for
a kid in suburbia, life was sweet and expectation was at an all time high!(I stole that from a Real weather rap! Never forgot it!) I was living the SO Cal dream.

KHJ was it.Sunshine, 79 degrees
and The Real on the radio.

My sisters, (who are ten years older than me) always listened to it.

I can still hear the jingles.

Used to ride as my sis's yellow VW bug cruised PCH North past Mugu Rock to county line and hang out with my sister's friends.(They were all cheer leaders!) KHJ was always playing loud at the beach in 68. Still have sand on the vinyl radio cover!


In the 80's I worked in radio in San Diego with the likes of Chris Cane and Shotgun Tom and never really knew how great these guys were.

They were Drake guys. I owe a lot to a lot of guys and I never really knew how much Bill Drake affected everyone.

Including me.

Thanks Bill. Listening to your station made me happy and brings back some pristine memories.

Connie Szerszen, "Top Rock Girly Jock" said...

What a shock! I always admired his "way of the clock" -- how to streamline a format and program music to its most exciting, entertaining state. Here in Chicago, whenever I had the opportunity to program the music for a show, it was the Bill Drake method I strived for. He was definitly a radio gift to the country.

Alan said...

Ken, a very nice tribute to Bill Drake. For some reason, I'm reminded of Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi" -- "Don't it always seem to go / That you don't know what you've got / Till it's gone." In addition to KHJ, I got to hear the legendary 610 KFRC. My best to his family and friends.
- Alan Oda, correspondent, LARadio.com

Steve Hunter said...

Another "thanks," Ken -- your comments captured some of the generosity of the man. I suspect that my brief story will resonate with many other former Drake jocks, even though it goes far afield. I was brought to one of the greatest of the Drake Format stations, Detroit's CKLW, by Jim Oldham/"Jim O'Brien," in 1968 to extrude my big, loud personality-component through the carefully-crafted holes in a finely tuned music machine. I also discovered that I really had known nothing about my craft; for me it was something akin to being a successful witch doctor who then discovers medical school. Drake maxims like, "people don't sense a music sweep with less than 3 songs," or rules on how to stack the commercials in a "stop set" so that it ended just before most listeners would tune away, were based on serious study rather than inspired guesswork or intuition and ego. Now, fast-forward 40 years to today: the decisions that I make daily in the national business that I now run, which is not even remotely related to radio, are much influenced by the thought-structures of Bill Drake. After all, sales and business is about presentation, about formatting your "show" in life such that a wide range of folks share an ongoing experience with you and don't tune out to an alternative. Just create a winning format. Obama did. And Warren Buffett. Thanks for my life lessons, Bill Drake; and your beat goes on.

Anonymous said...

I was really sorry to hear of Bill Drakes passing. I grew up in NE Ohio in the 60's listening to the Drake format on CKLW. I have the Bill Drake ID's on my desktop from the CKLW site, it's like a time machine. Thanks Bill for making radio happen for our generation. The hits will keep on comin!

Jim

Ted Atkins said...

Thanks for the kind words, Ken. When I was Program Director at CKLW, KFRC and KHJ, working for and with Bill on an almost daily basis, he became my mentor of a lifetime. I'm shocked and deeply saddened at his passing.

Ted Atkins

Jeff Prescott said...

As Ken, myself, Joe Klein and Tom Straw imitated Boss Radio in high school, we knew Drake, Morgan and Steele were Gods.
(I use a Drake ID for my cell phone ringer.........)

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Beat Goes On.........

Joe Klein said...

The style and quality of production at the Drake/Chenault stations, particularly KHJ, were a source of inspiration and training for me as far back as my pre-teen years. I so wanted to be a Boss Jock as a teenager!

As Jeff Prescott recalled in the very first comment to this post, I, too, remember fondly those high school days attempting to emulate KHJ at the high school station I helmed (where you, Ken, were a great guest deejay). That station, and the influence of "Boss Radio" spawned several highly successful radio and television careers.

I also remember the times you and I "traded jingles" and other production elements I copied from "the vault" at KYNO in Fresno.

An inspiration to so many, Bill Drake's star will most definitely continue to shine and his legend will live on for decades to come.

(By the way, Jeff, I use the "20/20 News" musical logo as my Skype ring-in tone!)

Malcolm said...

Never knew Bill, but those of us doing freeform on FM didn't dig him or his formats. Trackback at: http://legendarysurfers.com/ffr/blog/2008/12/bill-drake-1937-2008.html

Anonymous said...

so what is boss radio exactly? "streamlined approach and exciting presentation" is not really a description of anything.

Anonymous said...

Damn--what's happening to my childhood? First Lloyd Thaxton, now Bill Drake.

I guess the (heart)beat didn't go on.

How old am I?

Bill Fortune (w/several aka's) said...

Even though I grew up in Chicago, where the Drake format was never actually planted, there is no question that the historical and radical format change by John Rook at WLS at the end of 1967 was a tribute to Bill Drake. It was this tweaked high energy format that made Larry Lujack sound like a proficient format jock, and I mean that in a nice way. Some “Drakeisms” were also borrowed here and there over the top 40 years by WCFL, where I once worked.

Bill's passing leaves us a legacy that should perhaps wake us up to the fact that most radio today is BLA-BLA-happy talk with morning teams either telling us how to make attractive bookends using a shoebox and brick, or hoping we’re still dropping our jaws at the sound of worn out four-letter words and sex talk. Radio has been ripe for years for the type of no nonsense radio that Bill Drake offered up in the 1960's. When is somebody going get it? We’re going to miss you, Bill.

Connie Szerszen, "Top Rock Girly Jock" said...

The Drake format was very much in play when I DJ'd at WIND - "50's, 60's and Now" - where Robert W. Morgan once did mornings - and later replaced with Ron Britain of WCFL fame. Having also worked as a Talent Coordinator at WCFL in its prime, it was definitely in play there as well. I always thought it was sad that some didn't appreciate the "art" in talking over intros. It definitely is a challenge to offer something interesting or entertaining in the brief instrumental seconds before the vocal starts. Everyone can talk with no time constrictions -- but talking over intros was like becoming a part of the song, with a fresh addition each time. If one wanted to hear just the song, there were records and now CD's for that. But when a DJ unites with the song, she/he isn't ruining the intro -- but adding a message -- just as the lyrics do. Otherwise, you could say that the lyrics of a song are also ruining its instrumental parts. It's an art form that I loved and miss. Granted, it's not easy -- but at least DJ's in this format didn't sound as if they'd been shot with a tranquilizer gun. Will keep you in our prayers, Bill.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Ken, a most loving tribute.

Rest in Peace, Bill, you will be loved by many eternally.

May the "hits just keep on comin'" always. You are "The History of Rock & Roll"

There ... all in 10 seconds. The way Bill would want it.

Joe Benson

Bobby Rich said...

There were only two times I met Mr.. Drake. First in 1968 at the Billboard Radio Convention in New York. In that session I learned about music clocks and categories. Yes, that was "innovative" in 1968! The second time was when I was working at Drake/Chenault as a format consultant in 1980. I was carrying a arm load of records through the office when I noticed him approaching me. I immediately thought I should find someplace to set them down so I could shake his hand. Before I could do that he spotted me and immediately said "So Bobby, stealing albums again?"
I freaked out and muttered something like "HummaNuh-HummaNah" and he got a huge smile on his face.

I jocked at KHJ in '73 just as he was exiting and turning over the reins to Paul Drew. In spite of his reputation for supposedly not allowing personality--his image was as the original "just read the liner cards" guy to many jocks and PD's--I soon realized that was not his aim at all. He just wanted good content, good positive energy and brevity. Drake was the original "Less Is More" programmer.

Anonymous said...

I had the opportunity to meet Bill Drake - in an elevator, of all places - at an R&R Convention back in the 1980's when he was trying to reinvent himself as an Oldies consultant. He was completely gracious, a true Southerner, and sharp as a tack. To give you an idea of his sense of humor, he always said his greatest gift to Radio was "taking myself off the air". Pretty much everything a music station does on the air today descended from what he and PD Ron Jacobs pioneered in the 1960's at KHJ/Los Angeles. It may seem irrelevant because of everything that's happened in our industry, but this guy was truly a GIANT. Many thanks for a great tribute, Ken!

Frank Bell
VP/Programming
Keymarket Communications LLC
FBell1955@aol.com

Anonymous said...

I told a co-worker today that Bill Drake died over the weekend. He said "Who's Bill Drake"? I told him "he's the reason you have a job". EVERY station that plays hit music today is trying to emmulate the "Drake Format". He invented the modern Top 40 radio station. Scott Shannon, an icon himself, put it perfectly--"the best to ever program a radio station." God bless you Mr. Drake.

Mark in Kentucky

Magic Matt Alan said...

Let's hope that we don't have to do a tribute to Scott Shannon for at least 50 years.
I worked for Scott at Z100 and he, beyond a shadow of a doubt is by far NOW The Greatest LIVING Top 40 Programmer!!

Anonymous said...

I worked at Drake-Chenault in the early 70s... Grew up in LA, so I well know the boss sound. and don't forget the history of rock 'n' roll, produced on the DC premises ... Bill was a mystical presence at the offices. Rest in peace, Mr. Bill Drake.

Anonymous said...

I was a huge Bill Drake fan. I thought he made radio sound bigger than life! I know he was much loved by the way my radio hero Scooter B. Seagraves used to talk about him. I grew up listening ti Scoot and the Drake format. They changed my life forever. After more than 36 years on the air I still go back to those days and try to employ that same exciting sound whenever I can. My name is Bob O'Shea and I have been able to make a career in my hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma where the Rockin' 97 KAKC is still the king!

TechNald said...

very sad!!!

Anonymous said...

I was going to college and working part time at San Francisco's KFRC in the 60's when Bill Drake came in, just after reworking KHJ, and turned an also ran into the #1 station in the market. He was truly larger than life.

Anonymous said...

Bill also did a great job with "The History Of Country Music" heard on then country KLAC in the early 80s.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Sorry, Connie, but I hate it when jocks talk over the music. In a perfect world the dj stops yakking when the first note sounds.

Magic Matt Alan said...

Hey "CAP'n bob up and bite me"
If I piss off one guy like you, who shouldn't be anywhere near a blog commemorating one of the architects of Top 40 Radio. Then, my dear AOR lover, I have done my job......gotta go, T'pau's about to sing!!

Pacquiao VS De La Hoya FREE Live Video Streaming said...

Very sad news.. Condolence to his loved ones..

Gary Theroux said...

Hi, Ken.

You never told me you worked for Bill Drake! So there's another connection we have that I didn't know about.

Bill Drake was my single greatest mentor -- both before, during and after my tenure working with him at Drake-Chenault Enterprises. At the time I joined the company, he was an enigmatic legend -- one who ran things by remote control from his house. Few employees had ever even met him in person -- yet his
aura was everywhere. (For more on this, visit drakechenault.org)

I considered myself to be extremely lucky to meet him not just once but regularly at his house, where we'd confer and kick
around programming ideas. Together with master engineer Mark Ford, we developed formats, series and specials -- most notably the 52-hour version of "The History of Rock 'n' Roll," which went on to air on more than 800 foreign
and domestic stations and win Billboard's "Top Special Program of the Year" award.

Sometime after that, to my surprise, I was abruptly fired by
Drake-Chenault's clueless general manager, who, as it turned out, wanted to give my job to his -- uh, boyfriend. When Drake found out a few days later, he was livid -- and forced the GM to offer me my old job back with a
substantial raise. Unfortunately, it was too late -- as I had already
signed with another firm.

The last time I saw Bill was about a week later, when I delivered to
him a long-planned surprise. It was a gold record award for the
HRR which I had ordered months before. We promised each other at that time that we would work together again -- and we did, after John Rook invited us to both
serve on the nominating committee of The Hit Parade Hall of Fame.

I'd like to share with you the very last e-mail I ever received from Bill Drake. He sent it barely three months ago -- on September 30, 2008.

Hello Gary!

I was thinking about you this week, as I do often. I am constantly bombarded with questions about "The History of Rock and Roll." And that of
course reminds me of you. Then as luck would have it, I was going through some papers today and found a note that you sent me some
time ago. It had been misfiled. As you can probably imagine I am not "Computer Man" so I didn't know what happened.

At any rate it reminded me again of the incredible job you did on
the design, writing, and your working closely with Mark Ford on
the production of the HRR. And I wanted to tell you again how much I
appreciated that and all the other contributions you made at Drake-Chenault. Sometimes we don't let people know just how much we do appreciate them.

And you are right about the corporate politics at D-C. I hated that. It seems that somebody forgot that Sales was never to touch Programming. That was why we were successful in the first place. Unfortunately, it
happened to some other people too and I finally said, "I've had enough. No more. I want out." But it was good for a long time. I guess eventually there were
too many "Um, Good Friends", as you put it, on the payroll. And basic principles suffered.

As far as the project I was working on (The Top 40 Timeclock) I shelved it. I'm fine now but had to have two tumors removed
from my neck. Both were benign, but I said what the hell am I doing? I'm not 30 anymore. It
was designed for satellite with no commercials, but Sirius and XM have been a mess for years. Now that they've merged it's worse. As a result, I've never pitched it to anyone. Sirius-XM stock today is at a pitiful $1.33 a share. XM at one time was over $38 a share. Maybe I'll give the project to
somebody.

I would love to hear from Mark Ford. I feel the same way about
him that you do. Maybe you could give him my e-mail address.

I was glad to hear about your family and about your success
after leaving D-C. It's most impressive.

I just wanted to say hello, and to say again, "Thank You."

My Best to you Gary!!

Bill


I feel extremely lucky to have known Bill Drake -- both professionally and personally. Aside from his narrative and programming skills, Bill -- to me
-- epitomized what it meant to be a true friend. We shared the same goals, spoke the same language, loved to break each other up and
took enormous pleasure in pleasing target audiences. In my mind I will always imagine him as he was the first time I met him at his front door. All of my fears about
meeting such a legendary figure vanished a moment after he
opened that door and faced me in his tennis shorts and University of Hawaii T-shirt. With a
big, beaming, gracious Southern smile on his face, Bill cheerfully said, "Hi! Come on in!" We hit it off in an instant -- and that was 32 years ago.

I will miss Bill Drake all the days of my life.

Gary Theroux

P.S. I wish I still lived in L.A. and could attend the memorial tomorrow. Unfortunately, I now reside in Connecticut. I'll be
there in spirit, though.

And so will Bill.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Reading your snippy, stupid comments, Magic Matt Alan, reminds me of the story of the plane flying from New York to L.A. when the captain comes on the p.a. system and says, "Ladies and gentleman, we're losing altitude and we'll have to bail out. However, we are one parachute short so someone will have to stay behind. I leave it to you to decide who is the least valuable person to society."
Immediately, a fight broke out between a used car salesman and a top-40 deejay.

And, Meatheaded Matt, if you read my comment you'd see that I didn't say anything against Bill Drake, whom I've never heard of, but on the egregious practice of some motor-mouthed, ego-tripping d.j. leaking balloon juice all over the music.

Buddy Scott said...

Kudos Cap'n Bob, but you forgot to take Magic Matt to task on his comment about Scott Shannon being the greatest living Top 40 programmer...puleeeezze...

Anonymous said...

Just so you'll know, Cap'n Bob, Bill Drake -- the guy you'd never heard of -- was the man who put an END to, as you so delicately put it, "the egregious practice of some motor-mouthed, ego-tripping d.j. leaking balloon juice all over the music." Yes, before Drake created his "much more music" formatting, there WERE a lot of DJs far more interested in the sound of their own voices than succinctly hosting the hits. However, there were also some truly great personality DJs who found their distinctive styles seriously curtailed by the tightness of Bill's format restrictions. The best of us, though, learned to trim the fat from our talk-ups and still shine within the Drake confines. Long before Bill O'Reilly, Drake kept us all pithy. And, with a few exceptions, we were all better for it. -- Gary Theroux

Dave Martin said...

Bravos, Ken. Well done. The influence of Bill Drake once pervasive is now enduring. The Drake legacy is one of imperishable truths, the inimitable archimage who dared to demand product be inviolate. This intrepid gentleman first became known to me while I was a child. The very savvy S. Carl Mark hired Bill Drake to consult his Tulsa radio stations - KAKC AM & FM. Days after the debut of their new Drake format, you could hear KAKC playing everywhere. The gifted PD, Bill Bayley, hosted Pepsi's Dance Party on local TV, and led a crew that were unlike any other. While the other stations employed disc jockeys, KAKC was home to a cast of entertainers, they instantly became local celebrities, stars. Scooter Seagraves and Beau Weaver were just two of the many KAKC talent who went on to greater success and fame. Bayley went on to LA and working for Drake became internationally recognized as one of broadcasting's respected thought leaders. Decades later I enjoyed the incredibly good fortune of working for RKO during the Paul Drew era. The preux, ineluctable spirit of Drake continued, permeated every decision thanks to Paul (and Dwight Case) who served as keepers of the flame. The legendary Bob Henabery wrote an excellent piece on Drake and Rick Sklar. My sense is this is a must-read for any serious student of radio. Bill Drake = sui generis, we'll not see another. http://tinyurl.com/68w2da

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

And remember, guys, that I love a good, entertaining dj as well as the next jose. I've heard a lot of them over the years and could tell when someone really loved the music and the kids and someone who'd play sounds of kittens being tortured just to collect a paycheck. I'm not a radio insider and my perspective is as a listener. I certainly have no beef with the late Bill Drake. I was only commenting on the seemingly-ubiquitous habit of record spinners talking over the music, which I loathe.

Word Verification Moonif. A Moonie with doubts.

Magic Matt Alan said...

ATTENTION
Mr. Buddy Scott:
No offense to you. I have alway's been a fan of your top 40 programming abilities especially in Chicago, but do you truly believe that Shannon deserves a
"puleeeezze"?
Cheer's,
Matt

K.M. Richards said...

Instead of arguing ...

Could we perhaps just agree that any contemporary music radio programmer alive today has been influenced at some point in his or her lives by the legendary Bill Drake?

I certainly know I was, and I will be eternally thankful for everything I learned from him, just by listening to the marvelous stations he programmed.

Ladies and gentlemen, the BEAT ... goes on.

Bruce said...

I grew up under the Bill Drake umbrella as well. Being from Toledo Ohio picking up CKLW was very easy, and clearly my station of choice. This was during the late 60's and early/mid 70's when I was anywhere from 8 to 15. As we all know radio was so much more important to us in those days, and a transistor radio was my constant companion. So for the most part, the Drake format was all I knew, and looking back, I can now see how truly blessed I was. Having gotten into aircheck collecting over the past few years, at first CKLW, and later, KHJ (due to Tom Howard knowing I would like it) I was finally able to see where it all began, well, for the most part at least, as it is common knowledge that Bill did his early proofing at a few smaller stations, before being given the reins at KHJ. The work that was done out there first at KHJ, and then later at the other RKO General stations was breathtaking, given the power of hindsight.

And looking back I can now see just how big of an impact he had. I think the reason for his success was he was given the gifts of knowing what to play, and also how to present it. He also knew to surround himself with professionals who could properly execute his vision. He set out to make it hard for us to even want to switch the station, and he was immensely successful at that. At least in my case.

Personally, I don't feel that he impaired the DJ’s that worked for him at all, in fact I think he gave them a platform to succeed at the highest levels. The Real Don Steele is probably one of the most amazing talents I have ever heard. I have heard him outside of the Drake format (KOIL, KISN, etc), and also within it. His amazing talents were even sharper and more finely focused within it.

Gonna miss you Bill.

Tara said...

Phillip Taylor Yarborough was a dear friend from 1979 to 1984. I used to sit on the floor and listen to this great man. I knew him, I thought well, for 9 months before I even knew who Bill Drake really was. When I found out and asked him why he never told me he answered, "Tara, would it have made any difference". I learned so much from him about life and business. I spent hours with him daily for the first two years I knew him. He had Jim Bensi working for him them. He shaped my life in so many ways. I was 20 years old when he told me he was going to tell me the story of his life so I would someday write his memoirs. He sure moved mountains since his days with "Teen Time". I will always miss this man. He was a giant to me when I knew nothing of his accomplishments, and continued to be when I did. Tara Hupp

Anonymous said...

I only met him once when he briefly flew through the halls of WOR-FM in 1972. But, I heard his voice every day of my life as he said "And Now Ladies and Gentlemen... Big Jim Edwards... and later "Bob Evans". It's 40 years later, and I am still proud to have been a "Drake jock".
"Ladies and Gentlemen; the beat goes on".

Anonymous said...

Whether you worked for Bill Drake, or just came up in radio in the sixties and seventies, you were vastly-influenced by him.

There were no Drake-programmed radio stations in Texas when I was in the business, but when Gordon McLendon turned KNUS-99 into one of the first Top 40 FM stations, a format remarkably similar to the Drake format was installed. A lot of us younger guys wanted the chance to work there, but in talking with the PD, Hal Martin (Michael Spears), we were told we needed a lot more experience to understand what KNUS was doing. What they were doing was a somewhat modified Drake format.

I never saw the format as deemphasizing personality. Rather, I saw it as making DJ's a lot more efficient, reducing mindless chatter, and giving listeners exactly what they wanted, more music at the times they wanted it the most.

I can't say Bill Drake was a hero of mine because I didn't really know who he was until after-the-fact. I grew up in Texas, so I couldn't hear KHJ, KFRC, or any of his other programmed stations...I could just read about them in Billboard. I can say I respect him for doing something very few others get the chance to do...by putting his personal stamp on something as pervasive as Top-Forty radio was back when. Genius...maybe. Innovator...absolutely. I'm really sorry to hear of his passing, and offer condolences to not only his family, but any others who were fortunate enough to know him and like him. I'm also one of those who's very curious about what a "winkiepoo" really was...must have been a southern thing.

Dave Michaels said...

I worked in a Drake Station in the 70s and I always admired the man. This isradios loss.

Anonymous said...

I used to see him at the Candy Canyon for a ten year period, a neighborhood bar in Woodland Hills.

While I would rile him by putting on the Beatles Rocky Raccoon when it was time for me to leave, he was always the southern gentleman, talking it up to anyone, and alweays monitoring the radio stations, pulling out his hit list, and making a few calls when things weren't ging well on the astations he was monitoring at the bar. Again, always the southern gentleman.