This Has Been A Tough One

Each week, I try to take on a different topic in this little corner of the Internet, to share an experience, a perspective, a funny story, whatever.

There were lots of directions I could have gone this week. Saying farewell to the Northlake Tavern in the U-District, a special occasion destination back when I lived just up the hill at Terry Hall at the University of Washington. It first opened back in 1954, but now, after all these years, it’s going to be sold to someone who is going to change it into the newest location of a local chain, Mario’s Pizzas. The amazing part of this story is that the owner and I used to work together in the kitchens at the dorm at Terry Hall.  He was one of a trio of brothers, who had come to the U.S. to attend school at the U.W.. Never in my wildest imagination did I think Abdoullah would graduate and then take over the Northlake Tavern and that legendary pizza. I’ve already reached out to him and said I’m going to do everything I can to get in and see him this month before he closes so he can focus on a health issue.

That tends to happen to us around our age. Man, those U-Dub dorm days seem so long ago….

Or, I could have gone in the direction of the Seahawks after that draining need-a-couple-of-miracles Sunday and the fact we’re actually going to the playoffs. I had an idea for another topic–how there are really two of each of us. The person our friends and acquaintances see us as, and the person we know when we’re by ourselves. I promise, that’s going to be a definite future blog.

But instead, I’ve been haunted by the topic of my last writing and the passing of local radio show host, Dori Monson. To keep new readers up to speed, Dori was a home-grown boy who eventually became the most listened-to radio show in the Seattle area. Every weekday, from noon-3pm, he’d confirm to some that there was someone out there who actually thought like they did; others, he would drive crazy, but yet, they’d continue to listen.

Then, while using up vacation time during the holidays, his heart decided to give out on him at the very young age of 61. (and, as I like to say, getting younger every day)

Over the past week, knowing darn well he was no longer with us, I would still react to a story I heard or read with the feeling, “Oh, I’ve gotta email that to Dori!”

Then I remembered.

One friend let me know she a sorority sister to Dori’s wife. I never knew that.

Another friend grew up across the street from Dori in Ballard and when we started talking about him, she recalled the things they did together as neighbor kids. A version of “Work Ups”, a baseball-type game you’d play in the streets with whoever was available; they rode their bikes together around those “mean streets of Ballard” as he liked to say; they played “Batman”, with Dori insisting that he was the only one who could be the Caped Crusader.

Both, stories I would have passed along to Dori via email and then, he would take the time to respond and thank me for sending.

What bothers me so much about Dori’s passing is the suddenness. Living his radio dream, having a family and friends he loved, all that success and then just having it all just yanked out from under him.

He, like myself, was also quite the workaholic.  If it were a contest, he would win, because after getting a taste of six hours of sleep a night, I’ve come to really like it. But for me, still, most workdays are 12 hours long and the ones that aren’t are longer. Yet, when that 5pm mark arrives, I’ve trained myself to shut down and whatever needs to be done can just be added to tomorrow’s workfest.

One of my long-held beliefs is that there is no way I’ll be able to get everything done that I want to do during my time here, so I constantly feel this sense of urgency to get things done.  I don’t want to leave a bunch of un-finished projects behind. So, if I think of something–a new project, an aspiration, a bucket-list item–I’ll put it on the master list and make sure I eventually take that on.

Even in my retirement years, I’m envisioning finally getting back to those screenplays I wrote, polishing them up and submitting them to some folks I’ve met over the years. I want to put my life story down in writing, not for the world, but for my kids, grandkids and those beyond, so they know what all went on during my time here.

In a way, I believe Dori also knew his time here was limited. His radio shows were all archived, with KIRO playing “The Best of Dori” to fill his time slot until they decide on an heir apparent. To his credit, Dori like to push himself beyond his comfort zone, to try new things, regardless of the results. I remember when he put his one-man show together and I really wanted to go catch one of those productions, but I just couldn’t work that into the calendar.  Fortunately, someone smartly videotaped the last show he did down in Federal Way.

This may be more Dori than you’d be interested in, but he did a nice job of getting up in a theater in front of a bunch of fans and telling stories about his life.  This is from 2019, so coming up on four years ago and before the “great pandemic”, so I’m glad he got it in when he did. You’ll notice he occasionally needs to rest his knee that was starting to go out on him.

I was fortunate enough to have had my path cross his, if only in a minor way, but it had a lasting effect on me and how I do things.

Dori would always get uncomfortable when it came to saying good things about him, but sir, you taught me a lot–about broadcasting, about keeping family important regardless of what happens with your career, and the ultimate reminder that our amount of time he is not guaranteed.

Thank you.

This has been a tough one.

Tim Hunter

PS Fellow KLSY-kateer and cartoonist Frank Shiers did this touching cartoon. He was lucky enough to work at KIRO for a while and with Dori.


And Then He Was Gone

Thinking about it, I don’t think I have the right to call Dori Monson a “friend.” I would say a brother in broadcasting, a peer, and truth be told, I would call myself a fan.

Dori passed away suddenly on New Year’s Eve when his heart gave out, at the getting-younger-by-the-day age of only 61 years old. I can only imagine the grief felt by his wife, his daughters and all those who were lucky enough to work with him because I felt that suddenness when my broadcast partner Alice Porter died just months after our morning show blew up at KLSY. She was only 44.

I did know Dori in several ways. Mostly, as a listener who has followed him the bulk of his radio career in the Seattle market. There are others over the years that I would try to catch, to study their craft and how they played on the radio. The broadcast giant Paul Harvey used to make me stay in my car and listen until his noon report was done, back in my KOMO radio days. I’d also catch an occasional “Police Blotter” with KJR’s Gary Lockwood. I’ll confess, there was a Rush Limbaugh phase in there, but eventually he wore me down and I had to leave. I didn’t discover Bob Rivers until the last couple of years of his show, as he was on the air when I was, but broadcast brilliance. Seattle has been very lucky to have so many major talents.

Dori was a master of his craft and you could hear those years of experience paying off with every broadcast. Back in the early days of his show, he had the pre-recorded voice that would say, “That’s Dori, with an I” whenever a listener got his name wrong. (and they did) From his bits, “You be the Jury” to “One on One Against The Nuns” (where he’d do football picks with a couple of local nuns), his on-air parachute jump and so many other great radio moments, I listened with awe. He chatted with his friends on the air, he talked about his family, how he grew up on the “mean streets of Ballard,” how his father was an alcoholic, that his mom pretty much raised him, I heard how he met his wife, heard stories of the early years of his marriage, how proud he was of his three daughters and the impact of losing his sister.  Oh, and he had a thing for Olivia Newton-John. If you listened to Dori, you knew Dori.

But as our country went down the path of becoming so divisive, so did his show. KIRO was mostly left-leaning, and while Dori proudly proclaimed himself a Libertarian, I’m convinced a consultant told him to be more centrist, if not right-leaning. And as ratings went up, he evolved into quite a Trump supporter in one of the bluest cities in the country. At times, the Biden-bashing became so ruthless, it was unlistenable. Criticism is one thing, but brutal negativity and mocking is just not listenable. In recent months, if I hopped in my car between noon and 3pm, I would flip him on to see how long I could keep listening. Basically, an audio form of bronco-busting.

Before KIRO decided that on-air phone calls were not a good thing, I managed to sneak in on the air with him one afternoon. I don’t remember what the premise was, but he went to my phone call and I got out the line, “If God didnt’ want us to eat animals, why did he make them out of meat?” Dori just let that line hang there, didn’t comment, and then pushed the button to wrap up his show.

Whenever a funny line came to mind involving local news, I would email it to him. He would thank me and life went on. Sometimes I would hear the line on the air.

The photo with this blog is from the time Dori and I emceed the 17th of May parade together in Ballard, his home stomping grounds. Over the years, whenever I reached out to him, he couldn’t have been kinder and treated me like a member of the radio club, even though we had never worked on the air together.

Last year, I reached out to him by email and asked if he’d be up for an interview to talk about KRKO’s 100th birthday. He couldn’t have been more excited and when we finally connected via the Internet, it was like old friends getting together. Again, he couldn’t have been more gracious. You can hear that interview right here.

Knowing him more like a listener than a friend, I had no idea that he had been battling some health conditions. Again, on the air, he was a pro. The audience doesn’t need to hear about all the details of your personal life, just the entertaining ones.

It’s just numbing to think the Dori Monson era in Seattle radio is over.

As I mentioned, he grew up in Ballard as did my wife and her siblings. Victoria’s brother Kris and Dori were, I think, the same age and I could see that his passing really shook Kris up.

A couple of other Ballard-raised friends also shared their stories about growing up with Dori on Facebook:

So sad to hear this. Dori and I grew up together at Calvary Lutheran Church, Ballard High School (he was a grade behind me and skipped ahead and graduated a year before me!) He married my sorority sister from the U of W. So sad for his family and our community! — Laurie

I am in total shock that Dori Monson passed away on Saturday. His older brother Liel was one of my best friends growing up.  I spent a LOT at the Monson house in Ballard. Dori was 6 years younger than us so he was a ‘little kid” brother until we all got older. He was a child prodigy as far as his “smarts” zipping through school right into the UW at such a young age. Of course, we were all so proud of him when he became so successful in radio. I would only see him occasionally. He looked so much like his beautiful Mom Sylvia. She was so good to all us kids growing up. I practically lived at the Monson house during the summer. His dad, Orville Monson, was so good to us as well. Always rides to school and later gave Liel his Nash Metropolitan which we renamed the Metro, painting it purple and black & putting ridiculously high lifters on the back axle!  We weren’t old enough to drive so Ron Lindahl’s older brother Steve would drive us all down to cruise Golden Gardens. Orville let us take over the whole garage to play around with the “Monson Mobile”. They recently lost older sister Karla who we all loved growing up. I am devastated over this. Dori was a good man. — Norm

And my broadcast brother, Keith Shipman (the two of us were laid off from KOMO on that fateful day back in 1984), had some great stories to share:

I’ve been struggling with what to write about the passing of Dori Monson, a friend of 43 years, who passed away at age 61 on New Year’s Eve.
We first met in college, when broadcasting a WSU-UW baseball game at Tubby Graves Field in Seattle (he for KCMU-FM, I for KWSU-AM). A few years later we began spending evenings together watching the Mariners (occasionally making a small wager on the announced attendance), Sonics and Seahawks at the Kingdome, which strengthened our bond.
Dori and I eventually worked together at KING 1090 and KCPQ-TV as we chased our sports dreams. He soon embarked on a very successful talk show career at KIRO Radio, where over the past three decades he held court with one of the largest radio audiences in the Pacific Northwest (and for that matter, for a locally produced talk show in America). He was a brilliant broadcaster, studiously constructing and executing a daily program that inspired passion from the far left and the far right and entertained most of us in the middle. Was he controversial? Yes. Did he make you remember what he said? Certainly. He was much like former Seattle Post Intelligencer sports columnist Art Thiel in that manner – you remembered what Art wrote and you remembered what Dori said.
Dori was one of the most intelligent people I ever met, and our conversations rarely, if ever involved politics, or for that matter, sports. We talked about marriage, about friendships, about the interesting people we encountered, about our kids and the communities where they were growing up. Away from his day job, Dori connected people – he built communities among those he crossed paths with – those in the industry, those in athletics, those in his village. He once told me that he wanted to be a great husband and father, host a radio talk show and coach basketball. That would be his perfect life. He did all three – and guided the Shorecrest Girls Basketball team to a state title in 2016. It was a great delight for me to call him not long ago to let him know that he is among those to be inducted into the inaugural class of the Washington State Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
Dori was a sensational husband and father and had legions of friends. He was fiercely loyal to Suzanne, his bride of 35 years, and adored his three daughters. My heart weeps for Suzanne, Kelsey, Haley and Keegan.
He was a terrific friend to many. I’m grateful I was among them and shall treasure our friendship for the rest of my days. Rest easy old pal – it was a pleasure knowing you. Much love to you, and the family and friends you’ve left behind.

Dori Monson came into this world and was determined to succeed. In family, in life, and especially in radio. He gave 110% in everything he did, he had his own, unique style and he loved to laugh. Of all the things I’ll hear in my mind when I think of him is that laugh. 

Another broadcast brother, John Curley did an AMAZING job on the first day back after the holidays, hosting a five-hour show featuring clips and stories from his friends and co-workers. You can hear that here.

It’s still not real. It doesn’t feel fair. Dori gave us 40+ years on TV and radio, delivering nothing but his best.

And then he was gone.

Tim Hunter