As KTLN’s music director and one who contributed record information to the industry’s barometer of hits, Bill Gavin in San Francisco, I began receiving telephone calls from national promotion men, there were few females, urging me to add their latest releases to our stations playlist. Top forty radio offered a great variety of music, everything from Lawrence Welk’s “Calcutta” and Bert Kaempfert’s “Wonderland by Night” to Ricky Nelson, Roy Orbison, Elvis and Pat Boone sharing the Hit Parade with theTokens and folk singers like the Highwaymen. Many years later programmers found a need to “blend,” we instead offered a great variety in the music mix.
Early on I would hear our afternoon drive jock, who was also our program director, George Wilson, featuring his own records that were not on the KTLN playlist. Denver, with no urban or black music radio station then, was being given a healthy dose of Chess, Checker and Argo music, a Chicago label known for black releases. In questioning George he replied, :”Don’t worry about it, it’s none of your business.” Then one day George introduced me to his friend Marshall Chess, a student at Denver University and I accepted George was just helping his friend achieve some airplay in Denver, though none of the recordings he exposed, sometimes once an hour, were on the national charts.
A few months went by and upon arriving at KTLN I was summoned into the owner/General Manager’s office, Dick Wheeler, who informed me George was no longer employed there, had been “let go” due to some payola accusations and a new program director from Cleveland, Joe Finan, would soon be arriving to replace him. Finan had made the news as a major part of the payola scandal a year earlier. When I asked Mr. Wheeler if he was aware of Joe’s past, he said, “he’s learned his lesson and you can learn a lot from him.”
Joe Finan was a wild man. I learned from him, most of it what not to do in the future. Alcohol was his fuel both on and off the air and though he was married with kids at home he had a room always available for a bevy of young ladies at the Heart of Denver hotel, where KTLN was also located. He brought with him from Cleveland, a newsman named Al Julius, who was very good. In time Al would accept my offer to join me at KQV in Pittsburgh where he became a celebrity newsman at both KQV and KDKA.
Upon Joe’s arrival, several national promotion men found Denver for the first time, with one especially famous for discovering recording artists, Little Anthony & the Imperials, the Chantels and Frankie Lymon was George Goldner. While Joe was on the air Goldner invited me to his hotel room to “sample some new stuff.” Opening the door to his room was two young ladies, a blonde and a black female as George smiled and said “take your pick to some candy Johnny, chocolate or vanilla.” I turned, excusing myself with all three giving me a frown of disbelief. Arriving at the station a day later I was summoned into Finan’s office with Joe asking, :”you ain’t queer are you.”
Joe did teach me the value ot “music excitement” as he often sold new releases with two or three plays in a row. One of them, “Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport” by Australian Rolf Harris was a recording I had first given my listeners a few years earlier at KOBH in South Dakota. It was #1 in requests then and I decided to give it some exposure in the much bigger Denver market where it leaped to the top of the Hit Parade both there and across the nation in 1963 once it was reported to Bill Gavin in San Francisco. Epic records presented me with my first gold record, it would become one of 72 I was awarded during my days of breaking the hits.
In that same year I was named program director of the legendary KQV in Pittsburgh. Within a month or two George Golden arrived to “welcome you to the big time.” He had been in Detroit, Cleveland and
Philadelphia attempting to gather some airplay for several new recordings that were still unreleased and on an acetate. Sitting in my office with a look of frustration, his frown soon turned to a smile as in giving all five of the recordings a listen, I said “they are all smashes George.” I promised to give each of them airplay as George went hyper with excitement. “Gheez Johnny, no one gave them the time of day until you came along.”
As each topped the chart in Pittsburgh and spread nationally, the Shangri Las, “Remember, Walking in the sand” and “Leader of the Pack”; the Jelly Beans, with “I wanna love him so bad” and the Dixie Cups with “People Said” and a hit that’s still an anthem at wedding’s today, “Chapel of Love.,” sold more than a million and topped the charts nationally. George Goldner returned to Pittsburgh to present me and the KQV DJ’s five gold records as a token of thanks. After the photo session George asked me to walk with him to his car. On the way he said, “you gave me five fu-king hits Johnny and it didn’t cost me one damn dime.” Arriving at his Cadillac he opened the door with two young ladies smiling in welcome, one black and one blonde. “I don’t suppose I could interest you in some candy again Johnny,” as I laughed and walk away.
A few years would pass with my programming fame spreading nationally I created John Rook & Associates, a radio consulting firm. Joe Finan had become manager of KTLN, now called KTLK. Sitting in my Northridge California office one day I received an inquiry of my availability from the new owner of the stations, Harrison Fuerst, a Cleveland lawyer. I said I was on my way to New Orleans to consult a client with Mr. Fuerst suggesting Joe Finan could meet me there to discuss my consulting KTLK. Joe hadn’t changed much over the years. I was never one attracted to alcohol but Joe insisted we meet at a bar on Bourbon Street. As he downed several drinks he noticed an attractive female nearby and excusing himself he returned to say, “I got a hot one” as he and the young lady departed the bar for his hotel room and Joe saying, “let’s meet back here in an hour.” I wandered around Bourbon Street taking in the sights and an hour later returned to the bar to wait for Joe’s return. Shortly he entered with a red face and very angry, “that chick was no damn chick, it was a guy in drag,” he said.
Taking on KTLK as it’s consultant I soon suggested the owner terminate Joe Finan as manager of the station. He would return to Ohio as a talk show host in Akron.