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.”