As difficult as it may be to believe, Dr. Don Rose was not a licensed medical doctor.
“I studied medicine in Cairo,” he explained to the San Francisco Chronicle in 1975, “I’m a chiropractor.”
Get it? If not, read the quote again. Slowly.
With his constant barrage of double entendres, wacky sound effects and a cornball cast of characters that included a drunk, a dog and a leering cow, Dr. Don — born Donald Duane Rosenberg, a proud native son of North Platte, Neb., in the heart of corn country — would appear to have been a poor fit for the sophisticated San Francisco listener. Instead, he attracted a large and fiercely loyal morning audience unmatched since the days of the homegrown king of Bay Area radio, Don Sherwood.
Although he got his first taste of broadcasting at age 15 (reporting on his trip to the Boy Scout National Jamboree in Valley Forge, Penn., for KODY in North Platte), Dr. Don Rose began his professional radio career in 1955 at KWBE in tiny Beatrice, Neb., while majoring in accounting at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. He moved to KLMN/Lincoln shortly thereafter, and then was hired by KOIL/Omaha, a job that appeared to be so promising that he quit school in the midst of his senior year. He was fired by the station four weeks later.
(Despite his short tenure at KOIL, it was here that a creatively thinking program director, Chick Crabtree, shortened “Rosenberg” to “Rose” and adapted the disc jockey’s initials, D.R., to create his doctoral persona.)
His next job, at KTSA/San Antonio, also lasted only four weeks. Returning to Nebraska, he held an announcing position at KRNY/Kearney for about fifteen months before being pink-slipped again. His next employer, the Union Pacific Railroad, offered only manual labor — pounding spikes into the railbed — but he continued to pursue work in radio, and finally landed a job at KTUL/Tulsa.
His next stop in radio’s minor leagues took him to historic KWMT/Fort Dodge, Iowa, where he first spiced up his corny one-liners with cowbells and other barnyard sounds. His stay in Fort Dodge wasn’t lengthy, but it did bring him a wife, Kae, to whom he remained married for the next 45 years of his life.
From Iowa it was on to WEBC/Duluth, Minn., followed by his first taste of big-market success, as morning host at WQXI/Atlanta (“Quixie In Dixie”), his fame made ever-lasting by his inclusion as the 1967 entry in the popular series of “Cruisin’” LP records. Originally hired for the nine-to-noon slot, he was shifted to morning drive shortly after his arrival, and soon became the number one deejay in town.
Dr. Don moved on from Atlanta in 1968 to even greater acclaim as the morning star at WFIL/Philadelphia, once again hosting the top-rated morning show in town. In October 1972, he suffered a heart attack that kept him off the air until June 1973; the botched heart surgery that followed the attack would bring him continual pain through the rest of his life. Despite his poor health, he was named Disc Jockey of the Year for 1973 by Billboard.
While at the Billboard convention to receive his award, Dr. Don encountered RKO Radio programming chief Paul Drew. Within weeks, Rose had packed up his wife, kids and cowbell and headed for KFRC in San Francisco as the Big 610’s new morning man in October 1973. He remained at the station until 1986 — through the end of its days as a Top 40 station and its transition to the nostalgic “Magic 61” in August of that year — building a large and devoted following that could hardly consider waking up any other way than with Dr. Donald D. Rose.
His departure from KFRC was followed by a short stint at KKIS/Concord-Walnut Creek beginning in 1987, where his son, Jay, was chief engineer. (For audio from Dr. Don’s first day on KKIS, scroll to the bottom of this page.) After a failed attempt at buying the station, Dr. Don moved to mornings at K101/San Francisco; four months later, he suffered a heart attack while on the air. He never returned to broadcasting on a fulltime basis.
Continually beset by medical problems throughout the latter part of his life, Dr. Don required eleven surgeries to his knee as the result of his failed 1972 surgery; he ventured to the religious shrine at Lourdes in 1978 in search of a cure, and believed that his afflicted leg had begun to heal. However, he stumbled over a log while on a camping trip in 1984 and broke the leg, which led to its amputation.
Dr. Don had battled pneumonia for several months before he died on March 30, 2005, at his home in Concord. He was 70.
In recognition of his contributions to local radio, Dr. Don Rose was inducted into the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame in 2006 as a member of the first class to be enshrined.
Dr. Don Rose On The Air:
Doctor Don’s second show at The Big 610 (October 16, 1973; 8 minutes):
This article was written by David F. Jackson, and was originally published on the Bay Area Radio Museum website.
Those were good times — even though we bitched from dusk to dawn, telling management the opposite was true. Of course, then, we did not know how good we really had it. Wasn’t it William Bell who said you don’t miss your water until your well runs dry?
The times? They were good, great, fantastic — at times — even orgasmic! We did not have iPods, MP3s, DVDs, DVRs, PVRs, PDAs, PCs, SatRad, online radio, cell phone radio, TiVo, Satellite TVs, 500+ channels, or other New Media marvels. KFRC was top banana! The head-on competition was great: KYA, KSOL, KSFX, K101, KDIA, KLOK, LIVE 105, KMEL (with the two humps).
The talent was of the Top Gun-variety, including, but not limited to Rick Shaw, Sue Hall, Chuck Buell, Bobby Ocean, Mucho Morales, Dr. Don Rose, Dave Sholin, John Mack Flanagan, Beverly Foxx, Jack Armstrong, Bill Lee, Big Tom Parker, Mark McKay and numerous others.
KFRC management would seek out the talent; they would — in the words of Bush 2 — hunt you down, offer the job to those who fit the mold, those who had kept their noses clean, those who had that “RKO Sound” (whatever that was), while most other stations would wait for the DJ to approach them for a job.
Also, there was bias towards hiring former program directors, talent that knew the inner-workings of the radio business, talent that often times did not require heavy maintenance; however, there were a few exceptions — those rebels who made the General Manager sweat bullets.
Most of us cut our teeth — doin’ the PD thing — in small-to-medium markets. Personally, the PD bug bit me in St. Louis (KWK Radio) and San Diego (Rock 95), where I worked before coming in for the landing at The Big 6-10.
The pay was top-shelf dollars, with actual performance bonuses, phat talent fees and contracts to boot. The company took an affront to talent leaving, as was the case when I threatened to bail, after an L.A. station pursued me for the second time within a year. The company’s top brass moved in to squelch that notion, bringing mo money, and I quickly came to my senses — that’s right, green money is spoken here! BTW, while working (playing) at 6-10, we were given the company-preferred discount when purchasing General Tires (the station was owned by RKO-General). Wow!
Thought I’d never be able to admit it, however, the time does seem appropriate and the statute of limitations had surely been exhausted by now. I, Don Sainte-Johnn, once made an on-air “boo-boo” while working at RKO’s KFRC in San Francisco! During the mid-70’s — when the incomparable Doctor Don still ruled the airwaves — there was a Bay Area sponsor called Shirtique [Pronounced: (1) shirt-ah-Q, (2) shirt-teek]. The name isn’t terribly important, but it is connective to the story.
The closing line for the spot was “get your shirt together!” — which proved to be nightmarish for me one late Saturday night and early Sunday morning at approximately 1:50-ish. After doing two shifts in the same day — an event that was unheard of at the time — I managed to give in to over-exhaustion and replace the “shirt” in the tag line with “sh*t.” It was the most embarrassing moment in my career, up until that moment.
As fate would have it, I did have an ENGINEER-board operator who was America’s #1 prankster, Sir Kent Hedberg, and who somehow managed to incidentally, and quite innocently, I should add, roll tape of the show as I announced to North America: “GET YOUR SH*T TOGETHER!” The tape has surfaced at many Christmas parties and proved to be a thorn in my side for years.
(Doctor: Now that I have done this on-the-couch thing, I feel much better.)
Don Sainte-Johnn was elected into the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame in 2010.
With special thanks to Michael Hagerty, Chris Sharp and Marc Schoenitzer
KFRC launched its Big 610 era in February 1966 with Tom Rounds (photo, right) as program director. Tom left in October 1967 after a disagreement with Bill Drake (RKO General’s national program director) about the unique musical tastes of San Francisco listeners. Tom believed they had some, and his resignation made the front page of the first issue of Rolling Stone (which was published in San Francisco in those days).
Les Turpin had the gig until February or March of 1969, when Ted Atkins was brought in from CKLW/Detroit (Windsor, Ont.). During his tenure, Atkins imported Charlie Van Dyke from CKLW in July 1969, then brought in Marc Elliott (Ed Mitchell) to replace Chuck Browning in March 1970.
Atkins remained at KFRC until the Spring of 1970, when he went to KHJ/Los Angeles and was replaced by Paul Drew. Drew stayed until ’71, when Sebastian Stone came in from WOR-FM/New York.
In the summer of ’73, the longest streak for a KFRC PD began. Michael Spears lasted almost four years, to May 1977, when he left for KHJ. Les Garland from WRKO/Boston took over until leaving to be MTV’s first PD in July 1980. Marvelous Mark McKay, KFRC’s afternoon man, filled in as interim program director until Gerry Cagle took over the position in September 1980.
Cagle stayed until early ’84, when Mike Phillips came in for a year or so. The baton passed to Dave Sholin for the final year as a Top 40 (until August 1986), but he was dealing with consultant Walt Sabo and a desperate “try-anything” attitude from RKO.
When Bad Things Happen To Good Radio People:
Bay Area Radio Digest, Summer 1992 Edition
It happens to welders, auto workers, janitors, computer assemblers, secretaries and clerks.
It even happens to guys on the radio.
It happens, from time to time.
A friendly voice you’ve grown accustomed to at a certain place and a certain time on your radio suddenly isn’t there.
The nature of the business is such that, for whatever reason — bad ratings, lower ad revenues, change of owners or a change in direction — people in radio lose their jobs in the blink of an eye. Being unemployed in 1992 is not a rare thing.
It happens to people in every line of work, in every part of the country. Businesses fail, or money gets tight, and more and more workers are out of work.
But what happens when it happens to you?
John Mack Flanagan, who first gained popularity in the Bay Area in the 1970s while working at talent-rich KFRC in its “Big 610” heyday, had never been out of a job, and admits there were times when he had several offers waiting in the wings.
But in January, following the sale of KSFO and KYA-FM to First Broadcasting, Flanagan became Just Another Number, one of the growing legion of the unemployed.
John Mack Flanagan was named for famous movie cowboy John Mack Brown
The stations were not unprofitable. Business was not in decline. The new owners simply decided to take the stations in a different direction. It’s something that happens in radio on an almost weekly basis, and it often seems like the one thing that never changes in broadcasting is that things always change.
Flanagan, who had just completed a “dream year” with broadcasts from Memphis (where he did his show live from Elvis’ Graceland estate, as well as the legendary Sun Studios and Beale Street), Disneyland, Disney World and SeaWorld, and hosted James Brown and Wolfman Jack on his program, suddenly found himself among 36 KSFO/KYA-FM staffers let go after the sale became final.
Most perplexing to Flanagan was that things seemed to be running perfectly at the stations and, initially, no indications were given that wholesale changes would be made.
“Nobody knew anything, to the end,” Flanagan said. “We were number one and we were profitable, and the whole explanation from Day One was, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ That’s what came out first.”
That all changed on January 27 of this year, when Flanagan and the others had their jobs terminated. For the first time in his career, Flanagan was forced to file for unemployment compensation.
“I’ve been in radio since August 15 of 1964, and I never filed for unemployment before, and I have never been without a job before,” Flanagan said. “I’ve always had people calling me (with job offers), I’ve always had people lined up, saying ‘I’ve got to have you.’ ”
“My wife (Joann) went with me, and I stepped up to file,” Flanagan recalled. “The guy was kind of up there like a judge, on a pedestal. He said, ‘I’m going to need to see a pay stub.’ I laid my pay stub down and he looked at me and said ‘That’s the third one of these I’ve seen today. What are you, like Macy’s?’ It was just a pop-off; Macy’s had just filed for Chapter 11.”
“My wife stepped up and said, ‘Hey, Macy’s filed Chapter 11 because they were losing money. My husband’s company made money.’ And this guy took a step back and went, ‘Okay…’ ”
“It was a bit of an experience, because I was at Elvis’ house in Memphis and at Sun Studios with Carl Perkins and The Jordanaires (Elvis’ backup group), and I come home from Graceland and Sun Studios and Beale Street to $230 a week on unemployment.”
Flanagan’s experience brought a very important message home to himself.
“I had never been through anything like it,” Flanagan noted. “I have to feel like a person who went through the Oakland fire, and lived. I have a love for this business, and for the people in this business, that will never be snuffed out.”
“I’ve always been in this business because I love the music and the people. It’s kind of glamorous, if you want it to be that, but man, do I have a love and an appreciation for the people in radio, and in particular now. I see these people in a whole different light now. There are some good people (in radio), there are some bad people. But they’re all special people; every one of them are special. And I think maybe it took an experience like this to kind of give me a jolt.”
John Mack Flanagan at KFRC-FM (1992)
Because of the twists and turns that occur in radio, changes were being made at KFRC-FM (99.7) in the weeks that followed the reorganization at KSFO and KYA-FM, and a spot opened up in the programming department. KFRC filled the spot with Bob Hamilton, KSFO/KYA-FM’s former program director, who was also among those cut loose in January.
Hamilton, who is also consulting KFRC-FM’s sister station, Magic 61, began putting his stamp on KFRC-FM by bringing in the tried-and-true Flanagan to work the weeknight shift (6 to 10 p.m.). The station’s audience reacted swiftly to the return of an old friend in a familiar place with a continuous swarm of phone calls, something which the personable Flanagan has never been shy about inviting or responding to.
“This is my policy on radio: If I don’t answer the phone by the third ring,” Flanagan said, “I either can’t talk (because of being live on the air) or I’m out of the room. I answer my phones personally. Always have. Even when I have a board operator (assisting in the studio), I take care of the phones myself.”
With his feelings for both radio and its life source — listeners — reaffirmed following his experience of earlier this year, Flanagan offers a simple philosophy on his career.
“It’s onward and upward,” said Flanagan. “The first thing I said to Bob Hamilton about coming here was that I want to remain fresh. I’ve never wanted to be a relic. I never want to hear, ‘Oh god, he was great in the ‘Seventies,’ or ‘He was great in ’64 in Lubbock, Texas.’ I’ve never wanted that. I’ve always wanted people right now to go, ‘Wow! It’s him!’ ”
— Reported by David Ferrell Jackson
John Mack Flanagan is the author of “Tight & Bright: A Disk Jockey · Vietnam Memoir,” available on Amazon.com. John also hosts “The Church of the Hollywood B Cowboy,” a podcast honoring the great “B Movie” cowboys and cowgirls of the 1930s and ’40s.