For Fred’s Sake

You’re thinking, “Wait, Tim. You mean Pete’s Sake, right?”

No. I’m going with the insanity happening in the Seattle media market this week and randomly tossing away the name everybody knows for another one.

The change I’m referring to is the call letter change happening at KOMO radio, where after almost a hundred years as KOMO, this week the station will be renamed KNWN.

Originally, I was ticked off at the current ownership, Lotus. But broadcast buddy Gregg Hersholt informs me that Lotus actually wanted to keep the KOMO call letters. However, the evil Sinclair empire decided to spread salt around the Seattle radio landscape and take the call letters with them. According to Gregg:  “The new owners spent months trying to convince Sinclair to sell the call letters. They wouldn’t budge, and it’s their loss because our affiliation was a benefit to them.”

Here’s the news story.

Apparently, one of the things that comes with growing older is you get to see the things you know get new names–Ernst to Lowe’s, the Bon Marche to Macy’s, Payless to Rite Aid, Weight Watchers is now WW, and on and on.

I’ve already blogged about the specialness that came with being a part of the KOMO family for almost five years. You can catch up here.

So, Sinclair gets the credit for taking the call letters and going home. KNWN is supposed to mean K-Northwest News, a phrase that KIRO has already tagged to their top of the hour I.D. as part of the radio wars.

But the bottom line–we’re saying goodby to call letters the area has known since 1926. Yeah, another 100th birthday we’re not going to see.

Back in the day, you wanted to make radio stations easy to remember. So, instead of four letters that all started with a K, you went with names that you could pronounce, like “KOMO” and “KIRO.” That would help them remember what to write down if they had to fill out one of those ratings diaries from years gone by.

These days, it’s all done digitally. People carry around something that logs who they listen to, so they don’t need to fill anything out. 

It saddens me to think of all that history that’s being tossed out. I haven’t been bummed out like this since I found out they were going to tear down the old KOMO radio building, that I haunted from 1980-1984. I remember my little office that I shared with Larry Nelson, the morning guy. Just outside of that office was a wall with a mural of radio stars who had been featured on KOMO over the years. The greats of the 30s and 40s. I believe in the remodeling, that wall was torn down.

With Rip Taylor in front of “The Wall”

It saddens me to watch a place so full of personal memories and that for decades, was a part of the daily life of people in the Puget Sound area. be relinquished to the history books. During my tenure, there was Brian Johnson’s 7:45 Morning Report (when Larry Nelson would head to the bathroom and shave); Bob Rondeau, the voice of the Huskies for so many years, was the “sports guy” who did the morning sports report; KOMO was the on-air home of Paul Harvey, with an abbreviated 5-minute early report at 5:30 and 8am, and then the full “Paul Harvey News and Comment” at high noon. I can still recall when we moved to the new technology, from a phone-line report to a satellite feed. It was like he was in the studio.

That was back in the days of “Destination Radio”, where people came for personalities and other things they just couldn’t get anywhere else on the dial.

KOMO was, of course, your Husky Station, which allowed me to meet so many of the Dawgs of that time, including head coach Don James. He knew me as Larry’s producer but would always greet me like an old friend whenever our paths crossed.

Another big phase was the arrival of AM-Stereo. It was going to change the industry. The announcers were told to start calling the station, KOMO, AM-Stereo-1000. I remember the big AM-Stereo kickoff event we did at some fancy estate up on Capitol Hill.

During my brief tour of duty in the building, I got to know so many people in the radio biz, as well as some of those fancy TV folks down the hall.

On the radio side, (and apologies if I forget you), Larry Nelson, Bob Rondeau, Gary Johnson, Brian Johnson (no relation), Dale Good, Bob Gillespie, Harmon Shay, Jim Reed, Monte Grau, Wanda Hutton, Pat Eisner, Shirley Thom, Kathy Cozu, Leslie Soule, Karen Heric, Rita Carrier, Bob Adkins, Keith Shipman, Eric McKaig, Gina Tuttle, Stan Orchard, Bill Swartz, Michael Hamilton, Roger Nelson, Jim Reed, Keith Johansson, Norm Gregory, Don Chapman, Joe Coburn, Jaynie Dillon, Kirk Lawrence, Rich Osbourne, Melody Tucker, Ted Garlatz, Jr. & Sr., and a host of others whose faces popped up in my head, but whose names escape me. Cut me some slack—that was 40ish years ago.

On the TV side, I got to know Ruth Walsh, Ray Ramsey, Bruce King, Kathi Goertzen, Dan Lewis, Dan Ibabao, Dick Foley, Steve Pool and others.

And two great engineer types–Stu Hitchner and Lloyd Jones, a classic character and brother of Seattle’s own Quincy Jones.

In just under 5 years, I packed in a lifetime of memories, not to mention all the life changes that took place while I was in the building. I was hired a week before my wedding and started after we returned from the honeymoon and moving over from Yakima. My daughter was born during my KOMO days, and I found out that my son was on the way the same day I was told I was being laid off.

If you want to read the adventures of KOMO in Seattle radio history, Wikipedia has a nice write-up here.

Management didn’t always make the best choices for the future of the station. It was the original flagship station of the Seattle Supersonics, until they let KIRO swipe them away. I had also heard a rumor while I was there that, at one time KOMO had an FM frequency but gave it away to UW, which became KUOW. I don’t have any verification of that story, but it’s a good rumor.

A radio station isn’t a building, it’s a frequency. It’s that place on the dial that you go to out of habit, so really, changing its name doesn’t really impact anything. When I go to AM-1000, I’ll be reminded of those years, of people who were and some, still are, a big part of my life and my history.

KOMO, I’m sorry to see you go.

Now, I no longer want to live forever. I just want to live long enough to see some company to buy out the Sinclair folks and re-name it “Evil Broadcasting.”

For Fred’s sake.

Tim Hunter

 

Apparently, It Ends At 65

I’ve had a lifelong love affair with fireworks. But after 65 years, I’ve decided to call the whole thing off.

Growing up in Southern California, I was there when “Safe & Sane” fireworks were all the rage. Every year when those firework stands opened up with names like Red Devil and TNT (I mean, how family-friendly sounding can you get?) we would all pile into the car, park in front of that firework stand and dream of getting the biggest pack of fireworks they would sell us. Well, that was the kids’ view. As far as mom and dad were concerned, they’d usually pop for a $15-$20 assortment pack that we’d fight over as to who could hold on to it in the car on the way home.

But all three of us–my two sisters and moi–knew the second we hit the car, dad just had to blurt out his traditional phrase, “I don’t know why we just don’t light a $20 bill on fire!”

I think dad secretly enjoyed lighting off those sparkling fountains and log cabins that smoked. There were the Piccolo Pete’s that would explode if you clamped down on the ‘t’, but of course, we didn’t find that out until we were older. Oh, and Smoky Joe.

You’d put something that resembled a cigar into his mouth and it would actually smoke. Very anti-climatic, especially since during those days, most parents were doing that all the time.

But still in the eyes of kids, it was awesome. We’d enjoy a whole half hour of black or rainbow snakes, a couple of fountains, some sparklers with at least one of us burning our hands and then it was time to pile into the ’59 Ford Fairlane or the ’66 Chevy Impala to go find a parking spot down by Redondo Beach, to watch the bigtime fireworks they would launch off the barge.

There was one summer when we made a family pilgrimage to my mom’s home state of South Dakota during the 4th of July. The reason I remember it is because they actually sold firecrackers. I had never seen any close up. A cousin quickly fixed that by lighting one and throwing it up by my ear. Gee. Great.

The years passed. I became more interested in girls, I went to college, took a radio job in Yakima, got married and then moved back to Seattle to play radio here. There was a stretch where, due to my chosen career, I found myself at those big public displays. There was the Cellular One Fireworks Show at Gasworks Park one year, where we laid back on the lawn and looked up to an incredible show. Same for the 4th of Julivar’s a couple of times along Seattle’s waterfront. However, the drawback of those shows is that by the time they’re over and you walk back to the car and fight traffic, you’re getting home at midnight or even later. I had a couple of those in me, but then we made the switch to the neighborhood displays.

There I was, married, in my 20s and living in a neighborhood full of 20 and 30-somethings, and boy, they knew fireworks. The annual tradition became gathering in the cul-de-sac and watching each other launch all the not-safe-and-sane fireworks we had purchased at Boom City, up in Marysville. Looking back, it’s a miracle none of us were ever seriously injured. Including that now famous moment when my son lit a mortar that tipped over and shot exploding bombs at the crowd as they dove behind lawn chairs. You may have read that an NHL goalie was killed by one of those this past weekend when he took a direct hit in his chest. He was only 10 feet away and never stood a chance. He was just 24.

There’s something about the 30-to-40-year-old American male that attaches celebrating our freedom by blowing things up.  As kids got older, lifestyles changed and we successfully dodged house fires by bottle rockets landing on our cedar shake roof, you just hit a point where, “OK, that’s enough.”

As a sneak peek at the future for my younger readers, there comes a time when the 10 o’clock TV fireworks satisfy your fireworks Jones. You watch, you turn off the TV and by 10:30, you’re asleep. Well, until the 30 and 40 somethings in the neighborhood get out their illegal reservation fireworks and try to out-do each other.

Our current 4th of July routine is to watch the Macy’s or Seattle fireworks, call it a night and then try to sleep through what the surrounding neighbors have planned. One of the jokes I wrote about this weekend is that 1:30am on July 5th is my favorite part of the 4th of July weekend, because that’s usually when my neighbors run out of things to blow up.

Every year, my wife swears it’s worst than last year. To me, they’re all the same. Geeze, one of them this year actually set off a car alarm in the neighborhood. It was that big of an explosion.

And then, if you have a pet who just doesn’t understand, I’m sure you have learned to hate the holiday even more.

It could be maturity. It might be burnout. Whatever it is and the reasons behind it, the whole fireworks thing ended for me when I hit the age of 65. Nothing sad at all about it, I had my fun, but those days are now behind me. I’d continue to ramble on about the topic, but I’ve got to go chase some kids off my lawn.

Tim Hunter

Spending the Week Surrounded By My Past

I’ve gotten on a recent kick of being sure to make every day count. Alex Trebek is the latest reminder in the news that our time here has its limits and we’ve got to make the most of that precious commodity.

This week has been chock full of little reminders of just how fast it’s all flying by:

Rip Taylor: This crazy funny man who made a living out of wearing a bad toupee and throwing confetti came into KOMO radio twice during my 4-1/2 years there in the early 80s. Back then, as Larry Nelson’s producer, Lar was on the air while I was down the hall interviewing guests and then cutting up the interviews to make it sound like Larry had talked with them. I didn’t mind because he was the star and I got to meet the celebrities passing through promoting their book or theater show or movie. Rip passed away over the weekend at the age of 84, so he had two decades on me. But it seems just like yesterday he was choking me in the KOMO hallways.

Peter Frampton: We’re going to see Mr. Frampton on Wednesday night at the Paramount. Hearing that this was going to be his last tour (yeah, they all say that but he offered up some health news that backed it up)  I felt I had to catch him one more time. We let Elton John get by recently because we just weren’t up to a late night on a work night and driving back & forth to Tacoma. Our justification on that one was that Elton will probably do a residency in the near future down in Las Vegas and we’d catch him then.  I saw Peter a couple of times back in college at the peak of “Frampton Comes Alive” and he put on a great show. We’re talking over 40 years ago and that just doesn’t seem possible.

Linda Botts: Linda has been a longtime friend, going back to my early KLSY days. We were on board the Victoria Clipper watching when they blew up the Kingdome. She was our “Royal Expert” on the Murdock, Hunter & Alice show, who would offer thoughts and opinions on all the royal goings-on in the Princess Diana era. In the small world of things, I knew Linda forever and so did my wife Victoria. When Victoria and Linda got together for lunch, she let it be known she was marrying a disc jockey, and Linda yelled out, “I know him!” Wednesday night, we’ll all be enjoying Mr. Frampton together.

Wayne Newton: I heard a radio commercial that he’s coming up here to perform at a Northwest casino and boy did that bring back memories. Flashback to my days at KOMO where I was Larry Nelson’s producer and we were welcoming Wayne to the Paramount for an appearance. It was such a big deal at that time. We were broadcasting live backstage and Larry was scheduled to chat briefly with Wayne.  Before we get to that, Wayne’s “manager” who looked like he was a stunt double for the cast of Goodfellas told me that Larry was NOT to bring up the recent debacle involving the 4th of July celebration in Washington, D.C.  You see, at that time, the Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, felt the Beach Boys were too hippy-like and so he replaced them with America’s entertainer, Wayne Newton.  So, I went to Larry, told him NOT to bring that up and sure enough, moments later, we were live on the air–with Larry asking Wayne about the incident. The manager looked at me with cold threatening eyes and I thought for sure I was going to be fit with cement shoes.  Somehow, I’m still around to tell that story.

Shirley Thom: Back in my KOMO radio days, there was a young go-getter named Shirley Thom who eventually ascended to Sales Manager at KOMO, AM-1000. This past week, they had an 80th birthday party for her at the Nickerson Street Saloon. More flashbacks to a time that seems like a handful of years ago and all the fun we had at “Your Husky Station.”

That’s Shirley on the far right (not politically)

All these ancient memories flushed to the top of my consciousness in the span of a week. The good news is I remember them all like they were yesterday and hope to hang on to them as long as humanly possible.

Oh, sure, this is just another busy, non-stop week in the life of you-know-who as I create even more memories for that little brain of mine to absorb. But while I live in the present, I equally enjoy looking off into the distance and being reminded of some other really good times in my life.

Living in the present while being surrounded by the past. Basically, the best of both worlds. I am friggin’ lucky.

Tim Hunter

 

Norm!!!!

That’s a yell that was reserved for a beloved member of the cast of “Cheers” on TV. But if you said that four-letter word among Seattle radio aficionados, there would be only one.
Norm Gregory passed away this past week. In this Amazon/Starbucks/Google version of Seattle, his name may not mean much to the techies. But Norm’s presence on the Seattle airwaves will long be alive among those who were lucky enough to hear him back “in the day.”

I first became familiar with his style and voice while I was in the School of Communications at the University of Washington. While I was setting myself up for a career in this field, I was listening to Norm live my dream.

You see, Norm Gregory, as much as he would argue against it, was a legend in this market. He was a familiar voice on KJR-AM, helped launch KJR-FM, was a presence on KZOK and eventually found his way to afternoon drive on KOMO-AM. That’s where I had the good fortune to meet him.

Now, I worked with a local radio legend. This was back in the days when I was the producer for the Larry Nelson Morning Show on KOMO, and Norm entered the scene when the station and their afternoon host Don Chapman parted ways. First off, I liked Don. Unfortunately, he was on the irresponsible side and probably never should have used that station credit card to fill up his boat, but his gravely voice and those Husky Hooper Bus Rides are pressed in my memory forever.

When Norm arrived at KOMO, it was a major leap for that MOR (Middle of the Road) station. I mean, here was this “rock” voice smoothly talking to the conservative masses in a style unfamiliar to their current audience, but it was a voice I was well familiar with. I remember getting some phone calls and letters who first thought of his style as “growling” and “arrogant”, but I recognized it as the sound of the cool, hip and all-knowing voice of the next generation. My generation.

I worked mornings as Larry’s producer, Norm was afternoons. Understand that, at a radio station, those two dayparts are worlds apart. As I told his brother, Brian, I was once assigned to be Norm’s producer when KOMO (because we were the Husky station) was lucky enough to be the local radio station for the final four when it visited Seattle in 1984. I showed up to help Norm; he didn’t need it. He was a self-contained jock, with sheets of show-prep he had written so that he was prepared his way for the broadcast. I handed him my stuff and just watched.

In radio, there are three types of broadcasters–the Self-Absorbed Super Jocks, the middle-of-the-road nice guys (and gals) and the quiet, inward types who turned it on with the mike switch. While Norm may have come off as the Super Jock, he was very quiet and inward. He was all about doing radio the way he felt it should be done and was a presence on the Seattle airwaves we won’t see again. Guarantee it.

Nice obit in the Seattle Times that’s worth a read.

One of the great voices in Seattle radio has gone silent.

Tim Hunter

Wacky Week Podcast EPISODE 153

Doing the St. Patrick’s Day episode, with everything Irish I could come up with from the archives. Scott Burns, Eric McKaig, Dan McGuire, Robert Geller–wait for it–from Emerald Downs and, of course, actual sound of St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland with a little help from radio brother Matt Riedy. Enjoy!

Wacky Week Podcast EPISODE 132

OK, still reeling from the UW Huskies loss last weekend in the desert to Arizona State University. I’m taking you back to the early 1980s, the last time we beat ASU down there, with Larry Nelson, Bob “the Voice of the Huskies” Rondeau and a cast of several. You’ll hear a KOMO Music promo and a couple of Halloween bits we did at 4th Avenue North.

A Day of Sadness

I climbed in the car and began my short commute to work. It was a Tuesday, a day I usually swing by Starbucks and pick up something, but this morning I was running late.
As the car started, the reporter from KIRO was talking about Fisher Plaza. That was odd. It turned out that the channel 4 helicopter had crashed on Broad Street. Several cars passing by caught fire from the jet fuel that spilled, but the two occupants of the helicopter were dead.
Then I remembered that Dan Strothman worked there as a cameraman. Could he have been one of the two people on board?
Dan is the son of a college buddy, Bill Strothman, who wandered around the University of Washington in the mid-1970s along with me and the other Communications Majors.
Some of us concentrated on journalism, others on Radio & TV. Bill’s path and mine collided in the television side of things, back in the days when Channel 9 was on campus and once a week, students would produce a magazine-style show called, “Speakout!”
I probably should remember more details about the TV experience, but what I do recall are those Happy Hours after a shoot at the Pitcher House over on the Ave, with $1 pitchers. The perfect way to wrap up a Friday and head off into the weekend. The Speakout crew was made up of some very talented and determined folks who still run around Seattle today, including Bill and his girlfriend, eventually wife, Nora.
While our paths scattered and after graduation, I headed over to Yakima to play radio, Bill and his camera did quite well and became the go-to guy at KOMO TV. After a few decades of excellence, he decided to venture off and do his own thing as a freelance photographer. I had just exchanged a couple of emails with him a few months ago, hoping that some day we could work on a project together again.
To demonstrate that photographic skills can run in the family, Bill & Nora’s kid, Dan, grew up and followed his dad’s footsteps. There was even a time when Bill was still at KOMO, that Dan found himself working at a TV station in Montana, driving around the old KOMO 4 news truck that had been sold to that station.
Eventually, Dan found himself at his dad’s old stomping grounds, continuing the Strothman legacy. That’s why my heart sank when I first heard about the accident. I skipped the Starbucks run so I could get to work, check on Facebook and see if Dan had posted anything lately.
His Facebook page was a steady stream of “I’m so sorry” and “Our best to the KOMO family” and so I was relieved.  He was alive.  Dan was OK.
A short time later, I found out it was Bill on board.  Apparently, doing a little freelance work as he had hundreds of times before.  The regular KOMO chopper was in the shop, so they had a loaner from Boston.
Just like that. Here. Gone. No chance for a goodbye, other than the usual “See you tonight” as you head out the door.
Even though those days at the UW were 40 years ago, that special group of friends has remained in touch over the years. For a while, I attended Bothell First Lutheran Church with the Strothmans and other college friends, the Ensigns.
The last time I saw Bill? The last time I really had a chance to sit and chat would have been a summer barbecue at my new Bothell House in 2007. It was a perfect day and there were my college friends, just hanging out. The hair was a little grayer, there were more “character lines”, but it was that old gang of mine.
We should have had more of those get-togethers we always meant to organize. The longer you’re around, the reminders become more and more frequent.
Bill Strothman was a pro, a compassionate, caring father and husband and one of the greatest guys you’d ever have the chance to meet. You’ll hear that a lot over the next couple of days.  Anyone who knew Bill had only the best to say about him.
He was also a man of faith and I know that right now he’s experiencing his reward for a life well-lived. I look forward to the day I’ll see him again. Then maybe we’ll finally get around to working on that project together.
God’s peace to his wife Nora, and his kids, Dan and Heidi.

Tim Hunter

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