Radio Waves: February 11, 2022

Howard Hesseman Passes; played DJ Dr. Johnny Fever on television’s WKRP in Cincinnati

I was going to do a tribute to Howard Hesseman — aka Dr. Johnny Fever from television’s fictional AM radio station WKRP/Cincinnati —  anyway, just due to his realistic portrayal of a DJ on the television show that more accurately portrayed the operation of a radio station that many managers want to admit.

Hesseman passed away last week at the age of 81.

As a radio geek, WKRP was my must-watch show when it ran on CBS television from 1978-1982. There are numerous stories circulating how the station’s characters and antics were based upon people and situations that actually existed and happened; ask anyone who’s ever worked in radio and they can tell you how they worked with pretty much every character on the show.

Even the music was authentic, though at least one observer got that part wrong in their own tribute to Hesseman, stating that WKRP was presented as a top-40 station but actually played album rock. For those alive at the time listening to such stations as Ten-Q here in Los Angeles, the music played on WKRP was absolutely representative of post-bubblegum top-40 radio of the late 1970s. But I digress.

What helped deal the deal for Hesseman to play the part of Fever on the radio was that Hesseman himself was a DJ, though not for long. Bay-area residents may remember hearing a DJ named Don Sturdy playing music on early FM freeform rocker KMPX circa 1967. The stint didn’t last long, but it did give Hesseman an intimate look at radio, and like WKRP, a station that — due to FM rock radio’s infancy — struggled financially and was always on the edge … in fact,  legend has it that the father of freeform radio Tom Donahue got the idea for playing the music on KMPX when he called the station and the phone was disconnected.

Hesseman was among his first hires.

Hesseman (upper left corner) with the KMPX staff circa 1967

Dave Beasing, former programmer of The Sound (now KKLQ, 100.3 FM) and currently the man behind podcast and marketing company Sound that Brands, had this to say: “Somewhere “town to town, up and down the dial”, everyone in radio either worked with a Dr. Johnny Fever or was one.

“They were talented, each originals in their own way, and just as rich as the TV character on air and off. A few of them were on the right station at the right time and became beloved local icons. Long before Tik Tok, they brought us together and made us feel cool to belong to something our parents didn’t understand. As new generations increasingly access audio on national platforms instead, those Dr. Johnny Fevers are passing, and most won’t be replaced.”

Rest in peace, good Doctor.

A Good Sign

The news that Ted Stryker has joined Alt 98.7’s Chris Booker for the new “Afternoons with Booker and Stryker” airing weekdays from 3 to 7 p.m. is great news. Not just for Stryker, Booker, or even Alt. It actually is a good sign that at least one programmer understands it isn’t just the music that attracts an audience. Indeed, as my podcast partner Michael Stark always says, “what’s between the records is the important part.”

Stryker is a tremendously talented and among the best personalities on local radio. His on-air style is refreshingly upbeat, positive and funny. I think this will be a great addition to Alt, and I think that KROQ will ultimately regret letting him go.

It also puts him back on afternoons, where he shines. The email I’ve received so far agrees, with letters such as this one from Daniel Klatte stating emphatically, “I love the new (Alt 98.7) afternoon show. The problem is that there are too many shows I love. Kevin and Sluggo, Woody, Klein and Allie, Heidi and Frank. This is one of the best times I can think of for comedy radio!”

A very good problem to have … for both listeners and the radio industry itself. It’s a great move on the part of Alt management.

Happy Birthday

Rez Radio KPRI (91.3 FM) turned 11 years old last week; the station is a service of the Kupa Pala Rez Indians, and broadcasts a low-power signal that covers a small portion of Southern California. You can hear it easier using any smartphone radio app or through the station website at RezRadio.FM

Station manager John Fox recently talked of all the programs the station offers in addition to playing a huge variety of album rock and other music. “We are free of the constraints and demands of commercial radio’s need to cater to advertisers, so the full 60 minutes of every hour are devoted to informing and entertaining. We don’t even browbeat listeners for donations for a solid week every three months like other non-commercial stations.

“Thank your tribe for that.”