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.