Tuesday

THE WKNR KEENER 13 STORY, PART TWO: JIM SANDERS


WOW! WE HAVE A WINNER!: From October 1963 until April 1972, the suburban Detroit AM radio station known as WKNR Keener 13 set a standard of excellence in broadcasting that has never been equaled, nor surpassed. Since our inception in 1975, Blitz Magazine has repeatedly cited WKNR as the number one inspiration in the development of our own mission statement. In tandem with Blitz Magazine's fortieth anniversary celebration, Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell take a closer look at WKNR's vaunted legacy, with first hand observations from one of the visionaries who assisted in the station's transition from WKMH, James "Jim Sanders" Beasley (pictured above with his fellow Keener Key Men Of Music in a November 1963 edition of the weekly WKNR Music Guide).  (Click on image to enlarge).

THE WKNR KEENER 13 STORY:
PART TWO - AN INTERVIEW WITH
JIM SANDERS

Watch Your Step.

That classic single by Brooks O’Dell debuted at an impressive number nineteen on the third edition of the weekly WKNR Music Guide, which was dated 21 November 1963. Yet if the visionaries who launched the station on the thirty-first of October that year had heeded O’Dell’s advice, it is likely that the Keener 13 story would have been a considerably different one.

In its storied transition from its well programmed and superbly executed middle of the road format and Detroit Tigers flagship station as WKMH to what arguably remains the greatest overall radio station of all time as WKNR, every individual involved in that changeover drew from their respective formidable talents and broke precedent in the process. As a result, WKNR enjoyed the most rapid ascension from relative obscurity to the top of the ratings in the shortest amount of time (three months) in radio history.

As noted in the WKNR Keener 13 Story, Part One, the station did so despite several significant threats to its momentum in those early stages. To be certain, that is very much a testimony to the resilience and creative capabilities of air talent and management alike. Among those developments was an unprecedented “meltdown” on the air by morning man Mort Crowley on 24 January 1964, with virtually no advance warning.

Nothing in Crowley’s resume suggested the possibility of such an abrupt paradigm shift in on air demeanor, either. A veteran of such powerhouse stations as Los Angeles’ KHJ and Chicago’s WLS, Crowley’s upbeat and charismatic delivery was initially an ideal fit for the new WKNR format.

But on that fateful day in January 1964, Crowley reported for his shift, only to learn that the telephone company had demanded that the station was suddenly limited to the use of only one of their numerous phone lines. According to a memo that awaited Crowley when he arrived at the station that morning, the extremely high call volume from listeners was “jamming” the overall phone transmissions. An outspoken advocate for the everyday working individual, Crowley found this development to be unacceptable.

“People are living in fear today”, said Crowley during his final WKNR broadcast, with somewhat of a touch of the prophetic.

“This isn’t the way it should be.

Crowley underscored the point by playing the Marketts’ Out Of Limits single (which was number nine on the WKNR Music Guide that week) and commenting, “I’ve got to hand it to those guys way back there who dumped all of that tea in the Boston Harbor.

“The phone company is also a company that buys advertising to advertise the fact that they’ve got new phones, and so forth”, he continued during the final hour of his shift, as the Marketts’ disc concluded.

“They’re a monopoly, but they still advertise just to keep everything, you know, so it should look alright. So they have threatened us, and we have reacted with typical radio fortitude. They got scared! I’m not. I don’t care. The utilities have got you if you don’t watch out.”

Within minutes, Crowley’s observations turned inward, as he took a hard look at radio itself.

“It’s lovely to have those memos, and nobody tells you about them. That’s right. You’re just the employee, and you don’t count for anything. You know, the old idea, ‘You ought to be glad you’re working here’.

“We had a nice thing here. But who wants to work under those conditions? They’ve already gone into a paroxysm of fear. The phone company said, ‘We gotta do something about our phone lines’….and fine. There goes the voting.”

But from Crowley’s perspective, the real culprit was the original subject of his ire, and he redirected his comments accordingly. 

“That’s like trying to carve a statue, and the guy takes away all your chisels and your hammers”, he continued at the midpoint of his final hour.

“What I want to know is, who gives the telephone company, Ma Bell, this big utility, this monopoly, the right and the privilege to threaten businesses, to take out their phones if one of their lines gets a little bit overloaded? Who gives them that authority? The Interstate Commerce Commission? I wonder.”

As Crowley entered his final moments at WKNR, he did so with a slight undercurrent of melancholy.

“Well, I would like to say bon voyage”, he said.

“It’s been nice. We were reduced to one phone line. Perhaps you were wondering what this was all about as you listened on your car radio as you were coming down here.

“They should tell people these things. After all, you know, we’re supposed to be responsible for something. They should tell us about this a little ahead of time, (instead of) when you walk in here at 4:30 in the morning and see one stinking memo to tell you about this. How do you prepare for that, eh? Sometimes you wonder who the executives are working for around here!”

And with that, Mort Crowley’s brief tenure at WKNR came to an anti-climactic finale. He went on to successful radio ventures in Denver, Colorado and Saint Louis, Missouri before passing away in 1995. On the plus side, his abrupt departure opened the door for the great Frank “Swingin’” Sweeney to succeed him in the 5:00 to 9:00 AM slot, as chronicled extensively in The WKNR Keener 13 Story, Part One.

Crowley’s most dramatic exit from WKNR would have been more than enough to derail the momentum of just about any aspiring radio station. Yet it was actually the second such challenge faced by Keener 13, coming mere weeks after a far more dramatic turn of events that not only put WKNR to the test, but irrevocably altered the course of world history.

The morning of Friday the twenty-second of November 1963 was a routine one at WKNR, if indeed anything at such an ambitious enterprise could be characterized in that manner. Slightly more than a mere three weeks into its new format at that point, WKNR was already beginning to resonate with what was soon to become one of the most devoted listener bases in the history of the medium.

As the noon hour approached, afternoon man James “Jim Sanders” Beasley prepared for his 12:00 to 3:00 PM shift, checking news reports, the new edition (the third) of the WKNR Music Guide and the various tape carts that contained copies of the thirty-two singles featured therein that week. All the while, he had been going over in his mind the nuances of the format that availed themselves. Vaunted morning man Robin Seymour and Sanders were the only air personalities that were retained from the station’s days as WKMH, and Sanders was at that point was still diligently endeavoring to perfect the subtleties in delivery that were indigenous to the new format.

Meanwhile in Texas, President John F. Kennedy had delivered a speech to the Chamber Of Commerce in Fort Worth that morning. After a brief thirteen minute flight to neighboring Dallas, Kennedy, along with his wife, Jackie and Texas Governor John Connolly and his wife, Nellie then boarded the Presidential limousine (a 1961 Lincoln, which remains on permanent display at the Greenfield Village Museum in Dearborn, Michigan) for a parade that would take them through the streets of Dallas. Along the way, they were greeted by thousands of supporters and well wishers.

But  what happened as the motorcade progressed remains one of the great tragedies of the twentieth century. As Kennedy’s limousine passed through an area known as Dealey Plaza, shots were fired from the nearby Texas School Book Depository. Kennedy was hit twice, and died within the hour at nearby Parkland Hospital.

Sanders was little more than a half hour into his shift at WKNR at the time of the shooting. As he played the classic Stax label single, Walking The Dog by Rufus Thomas (which had finished its brief run on the WKNR Music Guide the previous week at number seventeen), Keener news anchor Bill Bonds (later a regular fixture at Southfield, Michigan’s WXYZ-TV) broke into the broadcast booth to announce the tragic news. As a result, Bonds and Sanders were credited with breaking the story in the greater Detroit area; further enhancing the station’s reputation in the process, while retaining an aura of professionalism under horrific circumstances that challenged even the most seasoned newscasters.

As if those two monumental events were not enough, WKNR during its first few months on the air faced yet another potential impasse with the departure of Sanders himself. Initially concerned that his position at the station would not survive the transition between WKMH and WKNR, Sanders had offered his services elsewhere. He was ultimately accepted for a position at an upcoming radio station in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, unbeknownst at the time to WKNR management.

It has been said that hindsight is 20 / 20. By his own admission, Sanders would have handled those circumstances differently if given the opportunity to do so again. And while that turn of events did reportedly generate a modicum of ill will at the onset, it nonetheless ultimately served in part to open the door for not only the arrival of Swingin’ Sweeney, but the addition of legendary afternoon man, Jerry Goodwin, as well as the return of such WKMH greats as Paul Cannon and Bill Phillips to the station.

Meanwhile, the impact on WKNR’s listening audience and the cultural landscape in general continues unabated more than a half century after its debut. As a testimony to the station’s rich musical diversity, a superb and essential series of reissue CDs has been making the rounds within musicologist and collectors circles in recent months. The twenty volumes of the WKNR Keener 13 Hits CD series are superbly mastered, with many of the cuts in stereo. Each volume includes reproductions of portions of various Keener Music Guides on the front cover, with release year and WKNR chart peaks for every track, as well as a unique WKNR jingle to open each collection.

Some of the richly diverse fare featured in that series includes Tino and the Revlons’ first generation garage rock monster classic Little Girl, Little Girl, Susan Wayne’s euphoric and essential Think Summer, the Distant Cousins’ garage rocking She Ain’t Loving You, the Human Beings’ sublime Because I Love Her, the Emperors’ often copied Karate, Julie Monday’s gorgeous Come Share The Good Times With Me, Bob Seger and the Last Heard’s signature track East Side Story, the Strangeloves’ cover of Bunker Hill’s Hide And Seek under their alter ego of the Sheep, Sam E. Solo’s Ruby label power ballad Tears Keep Falling, Paul Vance’s high drama masterpiece Dommage, Dommage, the Capreez’ hard hitting Soulsation, the Wanted’s superb Don’t Worry Baby, the Third Rail’s hot rod homage Boppa Do Down Down, the Unrelated Segments’ Jack Chekaway-produced Story Of My Life and Where You Gonna Go?, Cody Black’s Northern Soul epic Going Going Gone, and Arnim-Hamilton’s International Artist label classic Pepperman, to name but a few

 
As for Sanders, despite his circumstances, he steadfastly remains grateful for the brief yet highly impacting role that he played in the explosive growth of the greatest radio station of all time. After enjoying a long and prolific career in radio, acting, singing and dance instruction, Sanders is currently retired and lives with his wife, Barbara in Tennessee.

In tandem with our fortieth anniversary celebration, Blitz Magazine recently spoke with Sanders for our multi-part salute to what remains our most impacting and enduring inspiration, the legacy of WKNR Keener 13 and the Keener Key Men Of Music.

BLITZ: Describe what went through your mind during your typical shift at WKMH in the summer and early fall of 1963. How did the impending format and call letter changes affect those who were still on board?

SANDERS: During the summer of 1963, the air staff of WKMH had no idea that any changes were coming. As production director and 12 to 3 show host, I was busy working with the sales department, writing and producing commercials, doing remote broadcasts from the Detroit Race Course, where I often had a show cut short by Detroit Tigers baseball day games and often working double shifts.

Part of my 12 to 3 show duties were to cover Robin Seymour's morning show and the evening show, which was being hosted by Bill Phillips. Bill came back to WKNR to do overnights after I left in January of 1964.

I had grown up in Detroit listening to Robin, and felt like my career had peaked by being on the same station and getting to substitute for him. The morning show was often done from Gene Merollis Chevrolet and required records and commercials to be done by a producer back at the studios.

Producers who supported me and Robin were Tom Ryan, who went on to become part of Detroit Radio and TV history, as well as Art Cervi, who later was a TV clown with great success in Detroit. I had hosted a TV kids show in Kalamazoo and in Columbus, Georgia before coming to WKMH. I recall having dinner often at Art Cervi's home and telling stories about funny things from my TV kid show days.

There was a pride in what we were doing on WKMH under PD Frank Maruca, affectionately called Black Frank by the jocks. We were aware that ratings for the station were not high and suspected that the station might be looking to make changes to the music mix in coming months. We all had our ideas of what needed to be done.

Frank Maruca, a promotional genius, was PD for a couple of years when the station was still WKMH and responsible for what you so correctly described as a well executed middle of the road, non rock station. He hired me a year before WKNR to do noon to three and as production director.

One day, we were told that the owner, Mrs. Knorr had hired a radio consultant named Mike Joseph to do research on Detroit radio. I had previously worked in Kalamazoo for a station that had used Mike Joseph for a sister station in Grand Rapids. I had some notes from him, which were considered and rejected for WKZO, which was an old line station similar to WJR.

Soon a cigar chomping man was hiring assistants to make phone calls and sitting in the office during the week with Maruca. This caused a great deal of anxiety for job security on the part of the air personalities, along with speculation.

I recall telling the producers and a couple of jocks that the ruse of research and learning work habits, shift change times and music preference was the way Joseph was setting the stage to convince Mrs. Knorr to hire him to do pretty much what he had previously done in other markets. I wrote an overview of what his weeks and months of "research" would uncover and put it in a sealed envelope and told a few co-workers that they could check this against the final results to see how close I was to predicting what this con man wound sell Mrs. Knorr.

Thinking back, I remember how immature I was and how I resisted direction and the consultation business, which Mike pretty much pioneered for radio. I also recall that my predictions were about ninety percent on the money, without research or any other expert analysis.

Bob Green and I have agreed in later years that many of us understood what needed to be done and the rigid format rules involving things like counting the number of times the call letters were given each hour were less important than what Bob calls "intelligent flexibility". The glory days of Keener came about when very talented jocks like Dick Purtan, Bob Green and Jerry Goodwin were allowed to bend the rules.

Mike Joseph always held that stations needed to do exactly what he outlined and began to fail when they deviated. During 1964, the dynamics and tension of strong minded people settled in and Keener became much more than another Mike Joseph success story.

BLITZ: Dave Prince maintained a slightly more rock and roll edge when he was still on WKMH. He also played rock and roll during his shift. That did not seem to present a problem in terms of continuity from a listener's perspective. Your thoughts?

SANDERS: I was not at the station during Dave Prince and have no knowledge or opinion on his music. I do recall that my WKMH coworkers had a high opinion of him.

BLITZ: You suggested that what Bob Green eventually termed "intelligent flexibility" after WKNR came into being was something that you strove for at WKMH. Was that a challenge for you to deliver as such with a more upbeat demeanor?

SANDERS: In retrospect, my challenges delivering what I considered an individually unique show under a more tightly formatted and energetic approach were based on lack of experience doing that delivery or working on a highly produced station. Later, when I enjoyed great success in Milwaukee doing higher energy contemporary music radio, I had grown up and I discovered that using Jack Lee as an air name helped me assume a different attitude.

BLITZ:  Describe the final moments of WKMH before the changeover.

SANDERS: Despite my less than ideal secret disdain for what was being done by the consultant, I was brought into the inner circle with Mike Joseph and Frank Maruca to execute the format change in my position as production director. I created the stages and production for a Halloween night Spooktacular, which included wolf howls, scary voices (my specialty), ghost stories and records with similar themes, to be played as if it was the new format.

I also produced the staging for a Mike Joseph special to give the impression that a totally unique Detroit version of hit favorites was being created by pitting records against each other like a boxing match as Battle of the Giants, with listener call ins to vote for the current champion which was played until unseated by a new and even more well liked hit. This continued for what I remember as a week until the new call letters and format debuted.

Maruca produced newspaper ads, events at high schools with Keener book covers and many other promotional tools unlike anything previously done in Detroit radio. I personally believe the kickoff and promotional support were at least as important in the rapid ratings explosion as format execution in the first ninety days.

I was assuming that once the new station launched, I would be out of work. So when I was contacted about the same time by a previous employer about a group PD position, I accepted a job starting in January of 1964. The day before the launch on October 31, 1963, which did not require jocks for several days and was executed by the producers, a memo went to the staff announcing a brand new radio station created from extensive research exactly for Detroit. We were told it would require a totally new air staff. Current personalities would be given the opportunity to use the production studios for one hour to create an audition tape using rough instructions for a hit music higher energy station using new slogans and call letters WKNR Keener 13, featuring the Key Men of Music.

Once the Joseph "research" had determined the top forty direction, Maruca knew Green was the man for production. I had never done high energy top forty, but had started as a radio actor/singer and had some prior management experience.

We were given a chance to cut an audition tape for the new format. Robin had not been previously running his own board and was not happy about having to audition as an established legend. I had him cut a few lines, intros and slogans and I made his audition tape for him the same night I made mine. No one but Robin and I knew that. But I was certain from things I had heard that he was going to stay no matter what.

I knew I had a new job coming up, but was cocky enough to want to prove that I could do any format. I decided to do the audition. Robin Seymour was not in the habit of running the control board and had been using his producer for that whether out on remote or in the station.

Just before I was to do my tape, Robin was scheduled to do his audition. Knowing the owner's appreciation of his legend and years with the company, I was sure he was safe no matter what came out on tape.

I had to show him how things worked in that studio and stayed around for a couple of rough passes on his part. He was not happy about having to audition. I agreed that it was an insult. I had him record the slogans and a few lines and told him to go home and let me put a tight show together as I did mine.

When the memo came out after a weekend, Robin and I were the only ones picked for Keener.

I was also a holdover, mainly because I was working with Mike Joseph producing the Spooktacular kickoff October 31 and the typical Mike Joseph Battle of the Giants record competition, which ran during the first days of WKNR.

Bob Green had been Production Director under Maruca for WKMH before my time. He had left to do his slight of hand in Miami.

My twelve to three time was unchanged. Robin was moved to nine to noon. Lou Sherman, Paul Cannon (who later came back to Keener) and Bill Phillips were gone. Bob Green came back as Production Director, because he was known to be a whiz at top forty. Maruca was named Promotion Director, a new position. Former WLS jock and PD Sam Hale came in as puppet PD to do what Mike Joseph directed.

After an initial confrontation during my first Keener air shift, with Mike Joseph over my sounding too much like the relaxed WKMH, I developed a high energy delivery modeled on what Gary Stevens was doing later in the day.

But I did not want to be cut because I could not do the format. So I did the production and got us into the first day of actual format and started doing my regular WKMH delivery with a little more energy. About twenty minutes into my show, Mike Joseph stormed into the control room and dripped cigar ashes on my turntable while telling me that I was dragging his station into the toilet and that he wanted me to do what we had heard on Gary Stevens’ audition.

After I resisted the impulse to walk out, I took a deep breath, summoned up my actor chops and, expecting to be fired on the spot, did an impression of a mindless screaming teen DJ. No one came in to escort me out.

At 3PM, Gary Stevens came in to take over. I looked at the floor and walked out to find Joseph with the dripping cigar grinning in the lobby. He said, "THAT is what I want."

Within a month, I had an offer to go into management in Milwaukee, effective January 1964. Having proved that I could do the format despite it being outside my comfort zone, I met with Maruca, now Promotions Director, Joseph and the new PD, Sam Hale formerly of WLS, Chicago and told them I would be leaving in a couple of months.

Once I got the word from management that I was working out, I did the format twelve to three for several weeks before advising them that I would be leaving in January of 1964 to go into management. This prompted Mike Joseph to decide to put Sam Hale on the air (he had been an off the air PD, like Maruca before him) and ask me to do midnight to six AM during the rest of December to work out my notice.

Hale and Joseph decided that effective in December, they would save some money by having Sam Hale do noon to three and have me do midnight to 6AM until my departure. Three weeks into this arrangement Maruca, Joseph and the GM took me to lunch and told me ratings were coming in for the first two months. WKNR had moved from twelfth to first, including the weeks I had done noon to three.

They told me that they did not like Sam Hale on air and wanted me to name a price to delay my Milwaukee move and immediately go back noon to three and work through the ratings period in the 1964 first quarter. I declined because I had given my word in Milwaukee to be there the first day of new ownership.

The irony of this is that after eighteen months of managing a struggling day timer, I accepted an on air shift at WOKY, Milwaukee and did the screaming DJ character as Jack Lee for five years, resulting in the market's last ever fifty shares of audience at night, mid-days and then as morning personality before going into management permanently.

After a few weeks doing midnight to 6:00AM, I was offered a "name your price" deal to go back to noon to three immediately and delay my new job move either permanently or for at least ninety days of ratings in 1964, based on the ratings they were seeing from the first weeks when I had done noon to three and the dramatic increase for the station from twelfth to first in the primitive ratings of the day, based on telephone recall. They were also not happy with Sam Hale on the air, soon to be replaced by the great Jerry Goodwin.

I declined the offer, which was flattering but conflicted with the promise I had made to my new employer to be onsite the first day of ownership of a station in Milwaukee.

By the way, the eventual use of Jerry Goodwin to replace Sam Hale was perfect. He was better in the format and shift than I ever could have been, and part of the golden years of Keener.

BLITZ: There are some elements in the basic template of your story that have played out in like circumstances elsewhere. As you might surmise, the pattern became a bit more common several years hence with the onset of the Drake format and the AM/FM wars.

It has been said that you can't see the forest for the trees, and being involved so intrinsically with the process, the insider perspective might differ from that shared by those who were on the listening end. You were on the air during the time that many of those so-called "screaming teenagers" were in school. As such, your demographic may well have been an older one. That was the case when Jerry Goodwin took noon to 3:00PM afterwards, and he was very much aware of it.

But what WKNR’s Key Men Of Music did was not perceived as a "screaming" approach. That "screaming" approach may have been in place elsewhere. But the difference between elsewhere and WKNR was that WKNR's banter was intelligent, as suggested by Bob Green's "intelligent flexibility" maxim. In other words, rather than "screaming", it would seem that a better descriptive term would be either "enthusiastic" or "passionate".

Theirs was not the time, temp and calls dead end of the Drake dynasty. The Keener Key Men had opinions, insights and observations, and the listening audience hung on their every word. Also, consider that WKNR's playlist was the epitome of diversity, which seemed to be sufficient to placate all concerned to at least a reasonable degree.

SANDERS: What Jerry Goodwin did later as part of "intelligent flexibility" was actually much closer to what I was doing that wasn't hot enough for Mike Joseph. I realize now, and came to understand as I voluntarily went back to a higher energy delivery on WOKY, that Mike was probably concerned about my not matching the rest of the staff and sounding too much like my previous WKMH show in the same time slot. He was probably having second thoughts when he burst in. It actually helped me to use a different air name, Jack Lee, in Milwaukee so I could think of it as acting.

Gary Stevens was pretty much my role model for the top forty character. Gary had the ability to open the mike every time and sound like he had just heard a great joke or story and was suppressing the urge to giggle. Gary brokered the sale of a group of stations I was managing in Milwaukee in 1981 and we always connect during Detroit radio reunions.

The variety of music was certainly important. I loved that part of the format and what Mike did with most of his stations in that area. As Bob Green will affirm, Mike was not especially skilled at communicating with or understanding talent. I crossed paths with him several times in later years and learned much from him.

We all learned from each other, and rubbed off intentionally and otherwise. The Wooly Burger gimmick he used in Detroit and later in New York came from our kidding around in the production room. I was a big fan of the country comedy team Homer and Jethro, and played one of their records for Gary one day. There was a line in the record about a sheep. "You little wooly booger, you." He had never heard the term "booger" used affectionately as is common in the south. We started calling each other "wooly booger" for a week or so. Pretty soon he was talking about "wooly burger" on the air as a nonsense term. It caught on.

BLITZ: WKNR introduced a weekly Keener Music Guide on 07 November 1963, with the Kingsmen's Louie, Louie at number one. The thirty-two singles and four albums on that list were indeed extremely diverse, covering a wide variety of genres and tastes, including the Dynamics, Neil Sedaka, the Singing Sun, Dion DiMucci, Wilbert Harrison, Bobby Rydell, Lenny Welch, Brooks O'Dell and others. In terms of the air staff, were all on board okay with the musical diversity?

SANDERS: I do not remember any opinions on the variety of music. I thought it made a lot of sense. There was a repetition of the top thirteen hits over and over each day, which I did not appreciate at the time and certain specific times to play the number one song, which probably coincided with the scribbled legal pads of research about shift change times and traffic flow.

BLITZ: Your WKNR shift was from 12:00PM to 3:00PM. You were on the air on Friday the 22nd of November 1963, during the time that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. It has been said that you and newsman Bill Bonds were the only ones present at the station that afternoon. Describe what those initial moments were like at the station and for you, and what went through your mind when you received the news.

SANDERS:
When I was attending Albion College, I worked full time as PD and announcer on WALM. In 1958, I hired Bill Bonds for his first broadcast job.

In 1963, recently out of the army, I took a job at WPON and reconnected with Bill, who was doing news at WKMH. When an opening came up at WKMH he called me and suggested I get a tape to the station. That resulted in my joining WKMH in late February or March of 1963.

Bill often did news during my Keener show. When the Kennedy bulletin came in, he rushed into the booth and pointed to his mike to have it turned on. I knew how brilliant he was and trusted his judgment. So I dumped out of music and turned him on.

When the news hit me, I realized that most of the playlist like Rufus Thomas’ Walking the Dog, which I had been playing, were inappropriate. I scanned the carts and found The Singing Nun and played that while Bill and I discussed how big this was if the President was wounded or worse. We looked around for a management person to consult and discovered everyone was at a lunch meeting. I told Bill to run back to news wire machines which were ringing with more bulletins and get up to date and come back on the air with every new detail.

I ad libbed a repeat of his story and played the Singing Nun again. I realized I might be fired for deviating from what we already knew was a hot radio station. But I thought of myself as a broadcaster first and disc jockey second.

When Bill ran in with the next bulletin, he and I decided we would go all news. We had confidence in each other's ability to think on our feet and converse. So we discussed what we knew and every couple of minutes he explained that he would be checking the wires while I explained what we knew so far.

After about forty minutes of this, including Bill calling the death and explaining that only one of the two services, AP and UPI had confirmed, management came in and told us to continue doing the all news/talk even past the 3PM end of my shift. I think we stayed in that modified format until after 5PM, when Maruca located some funeral dirge music which played without commercials for a couple of days.

We learned afterwards that Bill scooped all radio and TV stations. Many told us over the years that WKNR was the way they heard the news. My finest hour in broadcasting.

BLITZ: Mort Crowley's brief run at WKNR came to an abrupt end not long into 1964. Did you or anyone else see any signs of what was about to happen? Did he share any of those concerns with any of his colleagues before he went public with them?

SANDERS: I had no idea that Mort Crowley would do what he did. I respected his talent and got a lot of advice about Milwaukee, where he had worked and found a wife earlier in his career. I did realize that he was impulsive and his comedy came off the top of his head with little inhibition.

BLITZ: Mort Crowley's "last straw" was the problem with the phone lines on the morning of his last day on the air. Did you have any such moment that in turn prompted you to also make the decision to leave?

SANDERS: I did not leave impulsively. I had settled into the format and was quite comfortable doing it by the time I left.

BLITZ:
You have subsequently commented that you have re-assessed your decision to leave WKNR, stating that perhaps it wasn't as easy to see the greatness that was to come at that early stage. If you had the opportunity to do it again, what would you have done differently?

SANDERS: The move to management led to a general manager position at a suburban day time station at age twenty-seven. I learned a lot about financial challenges and managing headstrong talent, like I had been!

I have often second guessed my decision to leave WKNR. I would have most likely stayed on the air longer and enjoyed being part of the best years of Keener.

On the other hand, I wound have missed the opportunity to do five more years of top forty and become a number one rated morning show host, PD of number one MOR station, still more my specialty than hit music, market manager for twelve years under four ownerships, eighteen years as consultant and radio association manager and six years as consultant on streaming and online audio. At Keener, I might have ended up as a bitter, on the beach former DJ bemoaning deregulation and wishing for the good old days like so many we encounter today.

My wife loved Keener and thinks leaving was a career mistake.

I hope this is helpful in your coverage of WKNR. I have grown to be proud of my tiny role and rich memories. The best part of Keener was the impact it had on people like you and so many other fans.

I want to tell you what a great job you did. I especially enjoyed the Sweeney interview. Thank you for the great tribute to what I now agree was a great radio station.