Category Archives: Drew’s DJ Career Stories

Got A Remote Today? Watch out for the Prize Pigs!

August 5, 2019

Let’s talk about PRIZE PIGS! Every station had ’em, but some were worse than others.

May, 1991. I had just moved to Florida and needed a gig. Was hired to do 7-Midnight at a country station in Ocala. Nearly every week, I had a Saturday afternoon remote.

The station’s “hook” in getting people to come to the remotes was customized T-shirts. Our logo appeared on the front with the sponsor’s logo was on the back. It was a great promotional idea except for one small problem: the PRIZE PIGS!

There was a small but determined group of pests who would show up first at EVERY remote. These enterprising folks always arrived early, just to make sure they got their share. They all demanded shirts, of course. One for Mr. Redneck, one for Mrs. Redneck, and one for each of the 6 kids.

And FOOD! OMG! If you had ANY type of free food at the remotes, these people would be on you like flies on you-know-what. At one of my events, Domino’s had co-sponsorship and gave us 15 large pizzas, designed to last the duration of the remote. They were gone in 15 minutes!

Besides taking all the shirts and eating every morsel of food, the presence of these prize pigs was a deterrent to actual customers showing up at the remotes. Their appearance left much to be desired. As a bonus, they were severely lacking in personal hygiene skills. That unbeatable combination of body odor, stale cigarette smoke, and last night’s beer was always enjoyable when standing in close proximity. Especially in the hot Florida sun.

We eventually implemented an “18 and over” rule and extended our “one winner every 30 days” limitation to remote shirts. The piggies would show up anyway, thinking they could pester us into giving them a shirt. Or, they thought we wouldn’t remember their faces from the previous 9,652 remotes they attended.

Prize pigs are everywhere. But I’m tellin’ ya, nothing beats country listeners in North Florida for tenacity, consistency, and determination!

Disc Jockey vs The Silence Sense Alarm

May 22, 2019

How many of you worked at an automated station which utilized the old Carousel system? The one with music on reels and the spots on rotating “wheels” of carts. These were common in the 1970s and 80s. Most began their lives when an established AM station built a new FM. The FM usually ran a Beautiful Music or similar format which didn’t require the personality and energy of a live jock. In order to save money, the FM utilized this machinery instead of an airstaff.

When FM achieved dominance, the roles reversed. By the late 1980s, it was the FM station that was live. The AM had been relegated to the dark halls of mechanical automation. In 1988-89, I worked for such an operation in Bend, Oregon. Our FM (KXIQ 94.1) was live CHR. Our AM (KGRL 940) was automated Classic Gold aka “Oldies.” It was here that I became acquainted with that nifty little device known as the “silence sense alarm.” When KGRL’s automation malfunctioned (a daily occurrence), the alarm would go off. There is nothing more annoying than being in the middle of a break and hearing that high pitched noise in your headphones. Instantly, your entire train of thought disappears. Your break is ruined. As in completely.

After this happened several times, “someone” decided to stop it by disconnecting the alarm speaker. It was one of those small piezo tweeters from Radio Shack. A few weeks later, the corporate engineer came down from Portland. Upon discovering this, he reconnected the speaker. “Someone” promptly disconnected it again.

The next time the engineer came down, he installed a plexiglass box over the speaker. It was one of those things that office managers put over thermostats during the Jimmy Carter “dial down” era to keep people from turning up the heat. Attached to the wall with multiple screws, it could not easily be removed.

About a week later, I’m on the air. A coworker comes into the studio and says “Hey, the AM has been dead for about 15 minutes!” I said “That’s strange. The alarm didn’t go off.”

Upon examination, I immediately realized why. Someone stuck an ice pick through the slots of the plexiglass cover and punctured the speaker! The poor thing had been stabbed multiple times. Apparently, it succumbed to its wounds and died immediately. No, it wasn’t me who did it this time!

Video may have killed the radio star, but a frustrated DJ killed our silence sense alarm!

The Big Move to Iowa: KKEZ-FM (Z94) Fort Dodge 1986-87

June 2, 2019

On the third Friday in August, 1986, I arrived in Fort Dodge, Iowa. After checking into Super 8 for the night, I woke up early the next morning to begin my new adventure. This was back in the days when it was inexpensive and easy to find a place to live. You didn’t need to submit to a credit check, a criminal background check, or pay an exorbitant deposit. I went to the radio station, grabbed the want ads, and began making phone calls. By that afternoon, I was living in my new home: the upper half of a house that had been converted into duplexes. It was just a few blocks from the radio station. My rent was $185 per month “plus lights” (electricity.) The landlady said “You look like an honest young man. You can pay the deposit ($100) after you get your first paycheck.” This was a good thing. I had a total of $300 to my name at that point. After unloading my stuff from the car (Rule #1 of radio: NEVER own more stuff than you can fit in your car), I walked up to the station and met a couple of the weekend guys. When their shifts ended, they took me to Godfather’s for pizza and beer. Welcome to Iowa!

Monday, August 18 was my first night at KKEZ. At this point, we were still “Fort Dodge’s Hit Radio 94, KKEZ.” Two weeks later, we would become the hot rockin’, flamethrowin’ Z94! This could easily have become an uncomfortable situation: several long-time airstaffers had recently been fired in order to accommodate the format change. A few others had been “reassigned” but were still in the building. I’ve always said that one of the greatest benefits of working nights is that you don’t have to deal with the office politics! By the time I showed up at 6PM, all the “day people” were gone. Plus, I was so excited about being at a new station in a larger market that I didn’t care. I just got on the mic and gave it all I had to give!

I was still very “raw” and inexperienced on-the-air. Yet, Jim Davis (my Program Director) believed in me. He gave me a ton of freedom to have fun with the listeners and develop as an air personality. Jim was an experienced broadcaster and programmer. He had worked for KOIL-AM 1290 in Omaha and KIOA-AM 940 in Des Moines. Both of these were legendary, heritage AM Top 40 stations in the Upper Midwest. Jim was very good to me and taught me well. KKEZ was the station where I learned to do good, solid phone bits. It’s also where I became serious about airchecking and reviewing my air work. EVERY show was recorded. After work, I would listen back to the entire tape at home, making mental notes about what to correct and how to improve for the following night’s broadcast.

I made some good friends at KKEZ and sister station KWMT-AM 540. Jane E. Morgan, Phil Jaye, Jim Davis, and Duane Murley are still in radio today. We keep in touch. In fact, Jane and Duane are still at KKEZ/KWMT. It was a great place and a great time to be working as a broadcaster. I was being paid fairly well, had a great boss, and was cultivating a loyal nighttime audience that enjoyed what I was doing on the radio. I was really happy here, as evidenced on this composite aircheck.

All good things must come to an end. In March, Jim Davis announced his resignation. He received a job offer too good to pass up at WLLR-FM 101.3 in the Quad Cities. His replacement was Doug MacKinnon. Doug had a long radio history in Des Moines, stretching back to the 1950s. Our General Manager reasoned that because of his experience, he would be a great candidate for mornings on-air and Program Director. Doug had some “different” ideas regarding the future direction of KKEZ. Shortly after his arrival, he called a mandatory staff meeting to outline the many changes and new rules which he had implemented. He told me “You are no longer to put callers on-the-air.” In response, I told him this was an important and essential element of my show. I was the night jock at a high-energy FM CHR station. My callers were a large part of what made my show fun and interactive. Doug’s response: “We don’t do that here. We’re not a talk station.”

Shortly thereafter, Doug MacKinnon fired me. It was not a friendly parting of the ways. I walked into the KKEZ building shortly before 6PM on Monday, March 30, 1987 to do my show. Doug was sitting there, waiting for me. When I walked up to him, he handed me my final paycheck and said “We no longer have need for your services.” If I had acted on first impulse, I would have ended up in jail on assault and battery charges. I knew better. Instead, I calmly took my paycheck from his hand. I looked right at him and said “Well, I’ll be hearing you across the dial and you can damn well bet you will be hearing me as well!” Then, I turned and walked away. The last words I ever heard from Doug were “What does that mean?” as I moved toward the exit. I said nothing. Just opened the door and walked out. Thus ended my 6 months of radio fun at Z94 KKEZ.

Although my tenure at KKEZ had been terminated, my radio days in Fort Dodge were far from over. There was a new radio station on the horizon. Don and John Linder of Mankato, Minnesota had recently purchased KRIT-FM 96.9 in Clarion, Iowa. The signal had been upgraded to 100,000 watts from a new tower north of Fort Dodge. I knew from my research that KRIT was getting ready to move into Fort Dodge and relaunch as a local operation. I had already promised myself that if Doug were to fire me, I would do everything in my power to become his primary competitor on this new station! This is what I was eluding to when I bid him my fond farewell. Was my quest successful? Sure was! I’ll tell you all about it in the next thrilling installment of “Drew’s Radio Stories!”

The Summer of 1986: Two Steps Back

May 31, 2014

It’s been a few weeks since I wrote the latest chapter in my continuing radio saga. I should make this into a book and title it “I was a Roaming Radio Gypsy” or “Fifteen Years as a Radio Drifter.” I’m only up to station number 3 and there are about 20 left to go! I figure I’ll have this finished by the end of this year.

As I mentioned in the previous chapter, I left KWKR to return to Minnesota and attend college. That didn’t work out as planned. In the preceding chapter, I mentioned that I would come back to KCHK whenever I was “between jobs” and needing an income source. Put these two together and you can guess where I made my next stop on Radio’s Road of Fortune. I went back to New Prague and filled in as needed for a couple of months. Back to playing polka records and reading obituaries on Sunday mornings. It wasn’t all bad, though. My parents lived close enough so they could hear me. I happened to be working on the morning of Mom’s 50th birthday. I played “The Old Lady Polka” and dedicated it to her. Ah, the perks of small market radio! During this time, I supplemented my income by working as delivery driver for Domino’s Pizza. Since I didn’t finish driving until 1:00AM and KCHK sign-on was 5:00AM, there was no point in going home to sleep. It was here that I learned the fine art of sleeping on the control room floor, hoping to get a few hours’ rest before my shift began. Later, I would learn to carry a sleeping bag in the trunk of my car for this very purpose. All for the princely sum of $4.00 per hour. Was I crazy or just plain stupid?

In late June, Bette Bailly called me. As you may recall, Bette was the General Manager at my first station: KNAB AM/FM in Burlington, Colorado. I had talked to her a few months earlier when I decided to leave Mankato State University and get back into radio. Bette had an opening. She usually hired beginners out of Brown Institute. But in this case, the guy who was leaving had been there a few years and was quite good. She wanted someone with experience. So of course, I packed up my reliable ‘ol puke green 1973 Buick Century and headed west. Again. Whereas my first KNAB adventure lasted 9 months, Round Two was over in just 6 weeks. Bette and I clashed on too many issues. Since I now had experience at a larger station, I would question procedures and policies that I felt were incorrect. Bette would have none of it. She was the boss, pure and simple. If I had a dime for every time she said “I don’t give a rat’s ass WHAT you did in Garden City!”, I would be a rich man today. So, I left KNAB for the second time on Wednesday, August 6, 1986.

During the time I was attending college in Minnesota, Jim Davis had replaced Lee Barr as Program Director of KWKR. I had worked with Jim and he knew of my desire to return to KWKR. He assured me the next air slot to open up would be mine. Burlington was only 170 miles from Garden City. My purpose in coming back to KNAB was to get back on-the-air and draw a paycheck until I could get back to KWKR. After leaving KNAB, however, I had no idea what my next move was going to be. I didn’t have a home phone. This seriously complicated one’s ability to find a new job in 1986 B.I. (Before Internet!)

One week later, I was awakened to the sound of a car horn, frantically blowing in my alley. I lived on the third floor of an apartment building that was locked 24/7. Since I had no phone, my friends would contact me by driving through the alley below and either honking their horn or throwing rocks at my bedroom window. I opened the window to find my friend Betty Boland, yelling through the open T-tops of her ’79 Trans Am. “Some guy named Jim Davis called for you at the beauty shop. He says to call him right away. He has a job for you!” The fact that Jim was able to track me down via Betty’s Beauty Bar was nothing short of amazing. Yay for small towns where everyone knows each other!

Mr. Davis had come to my rescue in my time of need! I threw on my clothes and ran down to the beauty shop to call Jim. I told him I was ready to come back to Garden City! I was so happy to be coming back to KWKR. I could be there tomorrow, if need be. Then, Jim said something I will never forget: “I’m not in Garden City. I left last week. I’m Program Director of KKEZ in Fort Dodge, Iowa. We’ve got 100,000 watts that cover more than 30 counties. We’re Number One! I want you to get the (expletive deleted) up here and do nights for me!”

I was excited, but I was also scared. This was a much bigger sandbox than Garden City. Fort Dodge was only 70 miles from Des Moines as the crow flies. With a good radio, KKEZ could be heard in Des Moines. The capital of Iowa. There had to be at least a few hundred thousand people within that signal contour! At age 22, I had an ego that wouldn’t quit. But deep down, I knew I was still pretty “green” and not all that behind the mic. What if I couldn’t cut it? Jim had over 20 years of radio experience, including heritage Top 40s KIOA/Des Moines and KOIL/Omaha. I knew his standard for performance was pretty high.

On the day before I was to leave for Fort Dodge, I received another phone call. This one was from Ron Isham, my General Manager in Garden City. Jim Davis’ departure created an opportunity in the budget to hire another person. They could move some people around at KWKR, making room for me to return. What to do? What to do?

It was the classic choice of risk vs security. KWKR was a known commodity. The company was solid, the operation was successful, and I would have that job for as long as I wanted it. But it was an unrated market in Western Kansas. I knew people who had been on-the-air there for 20+ years. I did not aspire to become one of them. Fort Dodge was a huge opportunity: the chance to work with an experienced programmer and do my thing on a big signal. But it was also risky. I knew nothing about the company or the market, other than what Jim had told me. If I wasn’t as good as Jim thought I could be, I was outta there in short order.

The next morning, I left Burlington. I stopped at the McDonald’s in Colby, Kansas and sat in the parking lot for about 20 minutes, making a decision. This is where the road split: US 24 east towards Fort Dodge or I-70/US 83 to Garden City. I carefully weighed all the pros and cons. Finally, I pointed my car east on Highway 24 and headed for my future: the new night jock on Fort Dodge’s Hit Radio 94, KKEZ.

The Minnesota Maniac is Born! KWKR-FM Garden City, KS 1984-86

June 2, 2019

One afternoon while on-the-air at KCHK, I received a phone call from Lee Barr. Lee was the Program Director of KWKR-FM 99.9 in Garden City, Kansas. This was one of the stations I had sent an audition tape and resume to. Lee made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, so I packed up my ’77 Cougar XR7 and headed for the high plains of Western Kansas.

I arrived at KWKR on Monday, November 12, 1984 to take over the 7PM-1AM shift. The station was barely a year old. However, their AM sister station KIUL was the region’s oldest station, having signed on in 1935. KIUL and KWKR were owned by Harris Enterprises. This was a big deal since they owned many larger stations as well as several newspapers. The equipment and facility was top-notch. Our control board was the Harris Micro Mac: a large stand-up audio board with multiple mix channels. They were in the process of completing a large addition to the building which we referred to as “The Ivory Tower.” We were paid generously and treated well.

Being owned by Harris did present one problem, however: FCC rules at the time prohibited one entity from owning an AM station, an FM station, and a newspaper in the same market. We also owned the Garden City Telegram. So, KWKR was legally not a Garden City radio station. It was licensed to Leoti, Kansas and required to broadcast from it’s “main studio” in Leoti for a minimum number of hours each week. Rick Nulton did the 6-9AM morning show from Leoti. From 9AM-1AM, we used the “auxiliary studio” in Garden City, co-located with KIUL and the Telegram. This in itself was not a problem. The problem was that the KWKR transmitter was located over 30 miles from Garden City. Because of the cross-ownership restrictions, KWKR could not provide a city-grade or local signal strength within the city limits. We had to use a short tower of less than 400 feet and just 61,300 watts effective radiated power instead of the 100,000 watts which the license class would have otherwise allowed. This caused reception problems, especially on poor quality radios and inside of concrete and steel buildings. You couldn’t hear us inside the mall. Doing a remote broadcast required two people: one to be on-the-air and another to stand outside the window with an FM Walkman and cue the jock when it was time to do the live break.

Despite the signal issues, KWKR was an extremely popular station. To the north and west of Garden City, coverage was solid. In this area, we were the only “rock station” on the dial which certainly didn’t hurt our listenership. KWKR was where I made the transformation from all-purpose rookie radio announcer to specialized Top 40/CHR night jock. Being just 20 years old, I was in the same age range as most of my listeners. The request line rang constantly. Teenage girls would come to the remote broadcasts to meet me. I was on the radio playing the music that I liked and I was somebody! A dream come true.

At this point, I was still using my real name on-the-air. A few months later, I was running some errands before my shift. While parked at the mall (actually a strip center named Garden City Plaza, but everyone called it “the mall”), I heard our afternoon guy say “I’m Everett Green, with you until 7 tonight. After 7, the Minnesota Maniac Drew Durigan comes in to entertain you until 1AM.” As soon as I came on, the phone began ringing. “Did you hear what Everett said about you? He called you a Minnesota Maniac!” The name stuck. I embraced my new alter-ego and did my best to live up to the name! Surprisingly, Lee Barr and General Manager Ron Isham tolerated my antics. To this day, I am still amazed they did not fire me.

Everett Green was quite a character, by the way. On one particular spring afternoon, I was enjoying the company of a young lady in Scott City. Scott City was roughly 35 miles north of our studios. I happened to look at my watch and realized it was almost 6:30! As anyone who has ever worked in radio knows, being late for your airshift is THE cardinal sin! My shift actually started at 6:53, following the 3 minute CBS Radio Radio news feed at 6:50. I ran to my car and drove “in excess of the posted speed limit” down Highway 83. As I entered the Garden City limits, Everett signs off and the news begins. I’m flying through town, hoping and praying to not be seen by a cop! At 6:53, the network news adjacency commercial ends. Then, SILENCE! DEAD AIR! DEAD @*#&%!! AIR! I’m horrified, thinking E.G. left the studio after his shift. Nobody’s in the building! I’m going to get fired for sure! Then, after what seemed like an eternity (although Everett assures me it was just a few seconds), he starts the familiar “Ninety-Nine-Ninnnnne” jingle, followed by a song. I was saved!

That summer, Everett left for another job. We hired Cindy Olson for nights and I moved to afternoons. In July, we hosted “Hot Fun in the Summertime II“, a large outdoor concert. Attendance was well over a thousand people. Pretty impressive for a sparsely populated place like Western Kansas!

While at KWKR, I also received some valuable advice. One of our part-timers had some peculiar mannerisms. Out of respect, I won’t mention his name since he is now deceased. He was very high-strung and had a hard time keeping it together on-the-air. Occasionally, his hands shook when he talked. We just thought he was weird. One night, he walked into my studio with a cassette tape. “Listen to this and tell me what you think.” It was an aircheck from the early 1970s of a hot Top 40 jock in Kansas City. This guy had it all: energy, timing, good phones, etc. Definitely of major market caliber and easy to see why he was at one of the top stations in KC. I said “This is great! Who is this?” He looked right in my eyes and said “That was me, before I (expletive deleted) myself up. When you get to the big stations, there will be drugs. Wherever you go, whatever you do, don’t do drugs. Just don’t do it. Or else, you’ll end up like me.” That stuck with me, always and forever. I never forgot what he said. I never used drugs. Thanks, buddy, for the most valuable piece of radio advice I ever received. R.I.P.

My last show on KWKR was Friday, November 15, 1985. My parents had been pushing me to go to college and get a degree in ‘something.’ “Go back to school and get a real job”, as my dad loved to say. So, I did. I went back to Minnesota and enrolled in college. I hated it. When the quarter was finished and I had completed my exams, I got in my car and drove 800 miles back to my radio station in Kansas. At 6:00 the next morning, I walked into the KWKR air studio. Much to the surprise of Lee Barr who couldn’t believe I was really standing in front of him. My timing was good since Cindy (who replaced me in afternoons) was going on vacation next week. Would I be interested in filling in for her? Of course I would!

Unfortunately, there was no full time position available for me to slide back into. My “KWKR Comeback” was just a temporary 2 week radio fix. So after completing vacation relief duty, I headed back to Minnesota. I would soon end up back at KCHK and then, back at KNAB! Two steps forward, two steps back. That’s the way this crazy business called “radio” works sometimes. I’ll tell you all about my Summer of ’86 Radio Regression in Chapter 7.