Remembering Dwight Case
As a fan of RKO Radio and its former owned and operated radio station KHJ (930 AM), I had of course heard of Dwight Case. Case was general manager of KHJ from 1972 to 1975 and moved up into RKO Radio Division corporate management as President and CEO from 1976 through the end of the 1970s.
But I never knew the varied things he had done throughout his life and career until I started reading all the tributes that have been coming out since his death in early August; Case passed away surrounded by his family and friends August 9th at his home in Los Angeles at the age of 90.
According to Don Barrett’s LARadio.Com, he started in radio at the age of 19 as a copyrighter for KFRE/Fresno. He joined the Navy soon after and served in the Korean War aboard the USS Kepler as a sonar operator, then returned to California and earned a Bachelor of Science degree at the College (now University) of the Pacific in Stockton.
His passion was always radio, so he got right back into it after graduating college. Station highlights include KROY/Sacramento, which he helped lead to the top of the ratings as General Manager in the late 1960s, followed by his tenure at KHJ which included — among other things — the selection and hiring of the legendary Charlie Van Dyke as morning man and programmer.
When he moved up to corporate management at RKO, he oversaw all RKO stations but kept a close eye on KHJ, a station that was always close to his heart. In 1980, he left RKO to launch satellite programming service Transtar, the first 24-hour satellite-delivered programming service, which later became part of Westwood One. After Transtar he was named publisher and CEO of former industry newspaper Radio and Records, at one time the king of radio-related media.
While at Radio and Records, he helped friend Eric Rhodes out by encouraging him to keep trying with the fledgling trade magazine Rhodes had purchased. Case, in fact, thought of the name of one of the columns in the magazine, which eventually became the name of the magazine itself. It still exists today: Radio Ink, which you can find at radioink.com.
Case was an early pioneer in hiring women for major positions at the stations he oversaw, and encouraged others to do likewise. Similarly, he saw the potential of Asian-language programming and launched — along with partner George Fritzinger — KAZN (1300 AM) back in 1988.
Chuck Martin, who worked at KHJ as an air personality and assistant programmer a few years before becoming program director in 1978, told me that Case was “a Prince” to work for adding, “Dwight was a well-respected radio man, someone who was supportive and encouraging.
“He gave me everything I wanted as program director,” Martin continued. “I never had anyone back me to corporate like he did. He told me he felt I was I different from lot of PDs who only went through the motions and who only came for the paycheck … he said he could feel the difference of what it was I was doing.”
When the first ratings results came in showing that KHJ had made a huge jump, “he was the one who had his people put on an unbelievable celebration for everybody the station … he didn’t want the party to end,” Martin remembered.
Asked if Case was one of the primary reasons that KHJ came back to ratings prominence after languishing for years — indeed some called it the Hollywood Miracle when KHJ hit the highest ratings in years — Martin replied with a definite yes:
“No question. Without him backing me and more importantly believing in me, what was done would have been difficult, if not impossible.”
Martin didn’t tell me, but had Case not left RKO while Martin was still programming, I have no doubt that KHJ would have lasted a few more years (at least) as a top-40 giant, in spite of being on the AM band. Once Case left, other suits at RKO who didn’t truly know radio were persuaded by record industry consultants to take KHJ country right at the height of the comeback. Ratings never recovered.
Case is survived by Virginia, his wife of 59 years, daughter Jaye, sons Cole, Scott, Craig and Bret, and numerous spouses and grandchildren. A memorial service celebrating his life is planned for October 26th.