This past week, radio folks who spent part of their careers with Seattle’s “The Mountain” had a reunion on Zoom and shared it with the world. It was pretty cool and makes me think we should be doing one of those with the KLSY staff while most of us are still around.
The program director that hired me at KLSY, Chris Mays, posted a nice history of The Mountain on Facebook and all that she accomplished there. That reminded me that its her story that connected two amazing Seattle radio stations. So, I thought I would share her post and then chase it with a few more nuggets about my radio experience.
103.7 The Mountain celebrated our 30th birthday Saturday. It was a very special station, which I created. One of the questions listeners asked was about the history. This is a bit long, but it tells the tale! A lot of people have asked me how I came to create The Mountain. The true story reads like a fairytale! I’ll try to save the details for my book; even so, it’s bit of a long journey. Once upon a time, there was a teenager growing up in the 60’s in Columbus, Ohio. It was the Vietnam and Richard Nixon era. Her parents were liberal and her brothers were draft age. She was very into music. From Carol King’s Tapestry to Grand Funk. FM radio was developing into a freeform rock. She read Rolling Stone and dreamed of moving to the West Coast to work in radio, preferably the legendary KSAN, San Francisco. She graduated from high school in 1970, the spring of Kent State, 2 hours away. Off I went to college to pursue a degree in communications. My stated career goal on graduation was to be a Program Director of a Progressive Rock Station in a major market, (preferably on the West Coast). After graduation I looked at a map of the West Coast and picked Eugene, Oregon. It was between Seattle and San Francisco, and had a college. I moved there, with everything I owned in the back of a pickup truck. I went to graduate school at the University of Oregon until I got a radio job. First was a cool little station, KFMY, then the bigger rock station KZEL. It was a freeform progressive rock station with 50,000 albums. Everyone played what they wanted. I was on the air at night as Chris Kovarik. It was rock and roll heaven! There was this guy who was a Yale graduate, spending his summer fighting forest fires in Bend. He would sit in the forests up in those lookouts, and listen to KZEL. One day he applied for a job. His name was Peyton Mays! He got hired. Ultimately, I became the Program Director and he was the Music Director. We fell in love. We both wanted to move to a larger market. I finally got my interview at KSAN, San Francisco and interviewed at KZAM in Seattle for a position as Promotion Director. I got the job and moved to Seattle. KZAM was in a struggle to retain the format and by the time I joined the staff, they had a consultant and the format was pretty tight. Within a month of my arrival, the guy who hired me (Paul Sullivan) was fired, then the General Manager. I applied for the Program Director job and got it! I worked with Marion Seymour, Kerry Lowen, Matt Reidy, and a ton of other talented people. Meanwhile, Peyton had moved to Seattle and was programming KEZX, a ‘beautiful music’ station. We had worked with his boss in Eugene. David Littrell went from KEZX to ultimately be the guy who booked the zoo, Marymoor Park and Chateau Ste. Michelle shows. This was 1981, a decade before the Mountain. So, in 1983, the owners of KZAM decided to change the format to KLSY, ‘classy’, a soft pop station targeted to women. They invited me to stay. On July 10, 1983, KZAM signed off with The Beatles ‘Golden Slumbers’. KLSY signed on with Eddie Rabbit’s Driving My Life Away. The audience was furious. I went home and cried. Next up, Peyton Mays changes the format at KEZX to a cool softer rock format with David Littrell. I hired Bruce Murdock, Tim Hunter and Delilah Rene, among others, and the station was very successful. It was the first time I had ever had a budget that included marketing, personalities and BIG promotions. I learned a lot about real radio basics from George Johns and Dana Horner. Prior to that, it had all been about the music for me. The final chapter. I left KLSY in February 1990 and was working for Broadcast Programming when KEZX changed their format back to ‘easy listening/beautiful music’. Now there were TWO of these formats. Entercom brought a man in from Chicago to do something with KBRD. G Michael Donovan interviewed me and asked what I would do with 103.7. They were thinking hip hop. I told him if that was their choice, I wasn’t their girl. Then I wrote a proposal and made a cassette tape of what MY station would sound like. Ultimately, they agreed! We had a dinner where we decided on the name “The Mountain” (The Needle didn’t have positive images). It started out more mellow than I wanted, but eventually I won the trust of Entercom and they let me morph it to what it became. There was an indisputable hole in the market for a high profile, liberal leaning rock station with incredible personalities. Or so I thought! And there you have it. From hippie teenager with a dream to ‘successful Program Director of a Major Market Progressive Rock Station’. And what a long, strange, wonderful trip it’s been!
P.S. I should note that between us, Peyton Mays and I programmed progressive rock in Seattle for 25 years. David Littrell still programs some of the best shows in the market.
Thanks, Chris. This is where I thank you for hiring me and giving me that break I needed to go where I went, where ever that was.
How did I end up knocking on KLSY’s door back in the days when they were “Classy-FM”?
Due to downsizing at KOMO radio where I had been Larry Nelson’s producer for 4-1/2 years, they let me know on the same day my wife and I found out we were pregnant with our second child that I was losing my job. In fact, I remember not telling her until after the weekend that I was now unemployed, so as not to harsh the buzz about the pregnancy.
After a few months of collecting unemployment and wondering what the heck was going to happen next, I managed to get an interview with Chris Mays and eventually the G.M., “Mr. Classy”, Dana Horner. I impressed them enough take me for a test hire, helping out production guy Jeff Bach with copywriting and production during the work week, and pulling a weekend airshift. At this point, I had been off the air since I had left Yakima in late 1979.
Over time, Chris like what I brought to the party on weekends, enough that she wanted to stick me into afternoon drive. I remember going to a station holiday event, where I met the woman I was going to be paired up with to report on traffic and banter with, Alice Porter. She was being brought over from KEZX–yes, the radio station being run by Chris’ husband at the time, Peyton Mays. I had a lot of fun doing afternoons with Alice and it sounded like it. The station wanted that fun to move to the mornings with Bruce Murdock, aka “Murdock in the Morning” but initially I just didn’t want to partner up with him on the air. I liked where I was. So, they hired a co-host from Chicago named John Thomas and it was a morning show nightmare. The two didn’t get along, had completely different styles and it was such a caustic environment, I remember Bruce, Alice, Dave Sloan and me doing a mock exorcism of his presence after they fired him. By this time, station management really wanted to move me to mornings. So much that I was told everything from, “Well, you know, we won’t really be able to raise your salary much if you stay in afternoons” to “Eventually, you’ll lose Alice and we’ll move her to mornings.” What else could I do but agree to start waking up early again and the team of Murdock & Hunter was born. In time, that became Murdock, Hunter & Alice. That continued until December 17th, 2003, when G.M. Marc Kaye came backstage at the Village Theater in Issaquah to tell us our services were no longer needed. We had just finished doing a live Christmas show. Ho friggin’ ho. That left me just shy of a 20-year run in one place. In radio, that’s like 147 regular job years.
We can all look back on our lives and say, “If only THIS hadn’t happened” or “If THAT hadn’t happened” but the bottom line is that everything occurs as a part of your story. Sure, I wish some of those more unpleasant events didn’t happen, but that’s not our call. The radio bug still is very much alive in me, but rather than depending on it for a livelihood, its now more of a hobby. It’s a part of what I do and my little KRKO morning show is the perfect outlet to satisfy my radio Jones. Chris mentioned of writing a book some day about her radio experiences. Having written 1,031 of these blogs since 2008, my story has seeped out a little at a time, much like a leak at a nuclear power plant. Ms. Mays’ retelling of The Mountain Story was just the inspiration I needed for me to put a bit of my story down while I still remember it.
You know, I’ve seen a lot of radio hearts broken over the years. I have to say that its thanks to people like Chris and Dana that I got to spend 35 years (and counting) of my life doing something I really love to do.
And that’s pretty lucky.
Sent from my iPhone
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I was moved to write a note to tell you how I felt about your blog post…
A friend of mine just said something very hurtful and (I think) wrong about our relationship, and I thought about your post listed above that I read a few weeks ago.
I won’t deny that I had a very different style than Bruce Murdoch. As I understood it at the time (and it is verified in contemporary newspaper articles) I was hired predominantly to add an edgier counterpoint to Bruce Murdoch’s warm and fuzzy approach. I think you completely misrepresented the situation there.
Secondly, even though you characterized my time there as a nightmare, it was not a ratings nightmare, as the ratings that appeared almost immediately after my firing qualified me for two bonuses based on ratings and market rankings. I got a lot of press from spending a day on the top of the Kingdome (a huge media coup covered twice in the paper, on TV, etc.) that got 40,000 people to go to the game that night. I did bits from public transit busses, Lake Washington, etc. Go back and look at the ratings. They just about doubled as an intro to you joining the morning show.
I trust that you’re being honest in saying that you had an exorcism with Dave and Alice and Bruce to celebrating get rid of me. That’s fine. I didn’t know that everyone I worked with hated me. I knew I caused some discomfort because of my volatility, but I didn’t know they hated me.
I didn’t know that you hated me. I tried to have a good relationship with you, involve you creatively, etc.
A lot of my difficulty with adjusting to Seattle as a stranger was underscored in your mean and inaccurate post. Yes, I was from out of town (you specifically mention I’m from Chicago), yes I wasn’t part of the group (behind the back mock exorcism), and you can’t even bother to understand the plight of others. You joke about your mock exorcism party after I was fired just minutes before I was going on vacation, with my suitcases in my car out in the parking lot. Har Har Har for me, with you joining in and leading. But when you’re canned at a charity Christmas party, that’s a breach of decorum that’s cheap and wrong and out of bounds….
That’s the chef’s kiss of Seattle right there…. complete, full, and aggressive xenophobia of others, but cloying, maudlin, hypocritical demand for empathy.
John C. Thomas
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Well, I’m going to start this response with an apology. There is no way I ever meant to say anything hurtful or hurt your feelings. If you remember (and I think we’re in the 30 year time frame of how long ago that was, maybe longer) I was a pretty nice guy. Still am.
That was a messed up time. Absolutely. I had no problem with you or what you brought to the party. I remember the whole convoluted story about how you were a friend of Bruce’s and you liked it so much here, you decided to stay.
The exorcism part was true, not my idea, but one of those things that sounded crazy and just happened. Probably someone saying, “We should….” and someone else yelling, “Yeah” and the next thing you know it’s happening.
Before you were hired, they tried to get me to be Bruce’s co-host. I turned them down. I had a nice afternoon gig with Alice, our numbers were great, bonuses were being paid, etc. But after you were blown out, they came to me and told me I was moving to mornings to co-host with Bruce. Basically, it was “Oh, you can stay in the afternoons, but you’ll never get a raise and we’re going to take Alice away from you. Oh, just do it for a while and we’ll see what happens.” For the next two years, it was all the fun you had during your time there, just stretched out. Clunky as all get out, but it slowly steadied.
I know you don’t have a great feeling about Seattle from your experience, but I think a lot of what you’re talking about above is more radio than market.
Eventually, to blame lower numbers, Dave Sloan was sent packing. They elevated Alice to part of the show, so it was “Murdock, Hunter & Alice”, But two years before the show’s demise, Bruce asked me to go in with him to the PD and demand that we fire Alice (he wasn’t the star of the show, everyone liked her) and when I said, “Not going to do it”, he decided that we were over. So, in August of 2003, Bruce announced he was not going to renew his contract when it expired in February. What does that mean? Basically, he was breaking up the show. So, for the next four months, we stayed on the air together as Bruce auditioned with a new partner, Alice and I auditioned as a new show without Murdock, morning shows from around the country were seen in the lobby and it was a pretty hellish existence.
But as you know, if it’s the holiday season, it’s time to make a change. On December 17th, after doing our “Christmas Show” live from Issaquah’s Village Theater with a live studio audience, we were told backstage that we were fired. Over the next several years, that GM fired several other shows in his building around the holiday season. Must be a family tradition.
I’ll have to re-read what I wrote and I’ll fix it if I said YOU were a nightmare. But it was a nightmare situation. You and Bruce were oil and water. The station brought you in to bring edginess to a soft AC morning show. You brought it. And I’m theorizing here that I heard about every little bicker or snip that happened in the morning since, at the time, Alice was doing split–both mornings and afternoons.
Since you took the time to write (and I sincerely appreciate it), I’ll complete the story. So the station’s solution to Murdock, Hunter and Alice was to just bring in the afternoon team to do mornings at probably a third of what they were paying us. That show lasted just shy of two years, and they were famous for fighting like cats and dogs off the air. Eventually, that was blown up and they flipped to Movin’, which has had quite a successful run.
So, in 2004, we were unemployed. Bruce & I didn’t talk for years and to this day, I still occasionally banter with him, but guarded. I stayed in touch with Alice and were hoping something would pop up in town, but it didn’t. Sadly, I believe she accelerated her drinking to numb the pain and on 4th of July weekend, while at her Hood Canal Place, she turned yellow. Her husband brought her home to the hospital and it wasn’t until a few days before she died that he called me up and said, “If you want to say goodbye, you better come now.” All of her organs were shutting down to a rare form of hepatitis. She died days later. We didn’t tell Bruce, because there was absolutely no love lost between him and us, after he had just tossed away the show and our careers.
Showing complete arrogance, Bruce calls me up and asks why I didn’t call and tell him. Then he insisted on being able to get up at the funeral and say a few words. Alice’s husband Shawn said “No F-in’ way” and said he would punch him if he showed up to the funeral. He didn’t show.
That was the kind of shit that was going on in the background of our thing. I know I didn’t know all that went on between you and Bruce, but from the outside, it seemed like a nightmare. Again, just because the station listened to a consultant who said KLSY needed edgy and conflict which you came to deliver.
So, no excuses, that’s what I remember and I truly regret saying things that bothered you. It was as I remember it. And who knew someone I worked with (OK, I’m doing the math…..just shy of 32 years ago) would read one of my blogs? But I do offer to correct anything factual in there NOT saying you asked me to do it….but just ’cause.
Yeah, radio. I remember one Friday afternoon in August at KOMO radio, I found out I had a baby son on the way the same day I was being let go.
I will say, as an oldster, whenever a negative like that would happen, I tried to grow from it, to learn and improve my sitution…and every time, I landed on my feet doing more of what I like to do. Obviously, writing among them.
So, once again, apologies. If I can reword what I wrote (or remove your name) or whatever, just let me know. The blog is not about pissing people off. I’m trying to make it a written scrapbook from my life. We worked in the same building 32 years ago, and I got along with you but really didn’t know you that well. And all my perspective came from people who apparently didn’t like you.
Not much more to add to this. I hope life has gone the way you had hoped.
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OK, I’m back.
So, here’s what I wrote:
So, they hired a co-host from Chicago named John Thomas and it was a morning show nightmare. The two didn’t get along, had completely different styles and it was such a caustic environment, I remember Bruce, Alice, Dave Sloan and me doing a mock exorcism of his presence after they fired him.
OK, already explained the exorcism. Wasn’t serious. Just a stupid idea that happened.
What happened was a “morning show nightmare.” Not because of you, but because the whole chemistry between you two. He obviously disliked you enough to campaign to get you fired (as he later did with Dave & Alice) and like I said, some of those stories leaked my way. But again, if you’d like me to tweak anything, please let me know. I never intended this to be more of a mention to get to the exorcism story.
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