A gorgeous Fall day in downtown St. Louis, ten days after The Attack. I still watched the skies apprehensively. And tucked away in a meeting room on the third floor of the St. Louis City Public Library was a huge chunk of STLRadio history, organized and presented by Frank Absher, developer and curator of STLRadio.com. I managed to weasel my way in and herewith present some photos of the occasion.
Watch the slideshow.
Lynn Venhaus' review of the reunion:
Radio days at KXOK revisited
By Lynn Venhaus
Talk about a blast from the past. The station came to life again Sept. 29 at a St. Louis reunion that drew an illustrious lineup of former personnel, first at a panel discussion at the St. Louis Public Library and then at a dinner that evening at the Mayfair Hotel.
The reunion turned into an emotional lovefest, as deejays from the early '60s mingled with the on-air talent of later years, while long-time Operations Manager Bud Connell was continuously heaped with praise. In attendance were Shad O'Shea, Danny Dark, Ray Otis, Bill Addison, Bob Shannon, Casey Van Allen, Steven B. Stevens, Robert R. Lynn, Dick Ulett, William A. Hopkins, Richard Ward Fatherley, Delcia Devon Corlew, Zak Banks and commercial voice specialist Genevieve Bierman Chase.
Those who weren't there-such as the late Nick Charles, Mort Crowley, Bob Shea, Davey O'Donnell, Peter Martin and Keith Morris-were remembered fondly.
Many tributes were also paid to the brightest star of the golden era, Don Pietromonaco, the Johnny Rabbitt from August 1964 to 1969 whose 7 p.m. to midnight show was the must-hear for all area youths. Countless youngsters went to bed listening to "Blab It to the Rabbitt" through the earphone of their transistor radios.
Pietromonaco died at age 61 in 1997. Two of his children, Doug Lyon of Los Angeles, and Dena Duchek of St. Louis, were present. "Since I've been here, people have asked me why I was attending a KXOK reunion, and when I said I was Johnny Rabbitt's son, I'd get a hug and a kiss and 15 minutes of stories," Lyon said. He was so happy to have made the trip, as he was able to meet many of the people his dad had told him stories about. "I have only the memories of my father that he told me the last 15 years we spent together," he said. His father's memories of KXOK were of "the most wonderful time" of his life," he said. As for realizing what his father meant to people, "I didn't know of the enormity of his impact."
When KXOK dominated the marketplace in the mid-'60s, it combined with KMOX (1120 AM) for 52 percent of the entire listening audience in St. Louis. In 1965, Connell said that those two stations were in the top five radio stations across the country. KXOK was owned by Storz Communications. In '66-'67, the operation's expenditures were about $1.7 million while revenues were an estimated $5.6 million.
As a 5,000-watt station playing Top 40, it went after the emerging youth market and built a powerhouse reputation. Not only was the station the destination for older teen-agers, but KXOK cultivated a fan base of younger teens and pre-teens as well as their appealing young-adult parents' demographic. In short, timing was everything, and KXOK both capitalized on and captured an era.
Former promotions director Richard Ward Fatherley commented that KXOK's success as an independent radio operation received major industry buzz in the mid-'60s. Because of its appeal to the youth market and its tie-ins with Vandervoorts, Famous-Barr and Stix, Baer and Fuller, sales reps were able to "successfully lift department store ads from print. Youths also had burgeoning purchase power."
The proud voices of yesteryear shared their thoughts on what it meant to be part of the legend.
Ray Otis, who not only helmed several shifts but also was programming director, called his colleagues "a band of brothers."
"There's genuine affection here, that's what this is all about. We had a synchronicity, all the right components," he said. "I now realize how much this meant to all of us." Otis was program director from 1963 to 1967. He currently lives in Connecticut and does voice-over work.
Delcia, who was a 19-year-old model when KXOK nabbed her to introduce teens to mod fashions, was initially paired with Johnny Rabbitt's live appearances at the department stores; then she became on-air talent herself. As for the reunion, "I know we all really enjoyed it. I think we realize how wonderful it (our KXOK experience) was-how unique it was and how special it was. It was a memorable time."
Dick Ulett called his tenure "the most incredible years" in part, because it was the beloved station of his youth. "What they did for the city and what they did for radio was phenomenal," he said. Ulett now helms Clayton Studios.
"This was a very legendary station," commented Bob Shannon, who had the unenviable task of replacing Johnny Rabbitt in the 7 p.m. to midnight shift in '69. With FM emerging and teens starting to listen to album cuts on the underground radio stations, Shannon began to experiment with some programming. He played the 17-1/2-minute "Alice's Restaurant" a couple nights in a row at 10 p.m., creating a stir and becoming "the talk of the town." He played one entire side of the Beatles' "Abbey Road."
"What we did generated a lot of talk," he said.
Shannon, who can be heard on K-EARTH in Los Angeles and is also an actor who has appeared in more than 60 television episodes and some movies, said this was the first reunion he has ever been at, even high school ones. He and his wife of 34 years, Diane, have four children. He left St. Louis in July 1971.
The music stories were flowing-ask Bud Connell about George Harrison's sister, Louise, who travelled up to St. Louis several times from her home in Benton, Ill., to plead with him to play the music of her brother and his band-mates, the Beatles. He didn't, telling her that teens preferred Bobby Vee and Bobby Vinton. Well, after Cousin Brucie in New York played the lads from Liverpool and the British Invasion exploded, KXOK was quick to add the Fab Four to the playlist. The station even sponsored the Beatles' concert at Busch Stadium in 1966.
Did you know that Johnny Rabbitt treated his alter-ego, Bruno J. Grunion, as if he were a real person? He'd have two cups of coffee sitting in the studio-black for Bruno, the purple-pizza eater, and cream and sugar for himself.
But KXOK was more than music. It was a valuable source of information. After President Kennedy was assassinated, the news guys did round-the-clock reporting, staying on the air until the funeral.
News remained important throughout the station's glory days. The news operation once consisted of four to five people in the newsroom plus the AP and UPI wire services. "It was very competitive at the time," said Bill Addison, who was at KXOK from '65-'66 then back for the talk format in 1988. "We did headlines, a lot of phone stuff, interviews on the street. We rewrote everything that came on the wires."
Steven B. Stevens was a KXOK newsman from 1961 to 1969, moving on to Cincinnati for television news and now is in network marketing. He said the newsroom "hovered between sanity and circus at any given time. Although we always treated the news with the seriousness that it merited."
Some of the men lamented the current state of radio, with its conglomerate ownership and cookie-cutter operations. "We had a format. It wasn't loosey-goosey," Shad O'Shea said. "I'm going to sound like a doddering old codger, but in those days, radio was fun. It ain't no fun anymore."
Casey Van Allen, who now owns two radio stations in the Ozarks and previously worked for all but two St. Louis radio stations, said he considered his KXOK experience unique, and had been influenced to get into the business because of the station. "It was a childhood dream come true." He worked for KXOK from 1972 to 1979.
"Everyone has that one radio station that was the best experience-that everyone's of one mind, one soul, that they're so cohesive, they know exactly what everyone is thinking ... everybody works together. For me, it was KHTR. For these guys here, it was KXOK. Everyone who has a career in radio should have a station like that," Van Allen said.