RIP Bill Drake

Bill Drake passed away on Sunday.

Most of you have never heard of Bill Drake.  But, he is a radio programming legend.  In fact, most of the “habits” we all have as deejays today are the result of Drake’s influence.

Drake revitalized Top 40 Radio while at KYNO/Fresno and KGB/San Diego in the early 1960’s.  In 1965, he created the “Boss Radio” format with Robert W. Morgan and Don Steele.  Later, he formed Drake/Chenault Consulting and helped make dozens of radio stations into a success with his concepts.  His resume of stations, both as a Program Director and Consultant, reads like a Hall of Fame of America’s best radio stations over the past forty years.

You can read more about Bill Drake on Wikipedia.

Pull up some Boss Radio airchecks on Reel Radio.

Drake was not a “cookie-cutter” PD or consultant.  He had rhythmic stations, he had mainstream stations, he had adult stations.  The only constant was consistency and quality.

I never had the pleasure of meeting or working for Bill Drake; but, I can tell you nearly everything about his philosophy.  I have been fortunate to learn from some of the best radio programmers in the country during my 23-year career:  Scott Shannon, Jan Jeffries, Steve Davis, Guy Zapoleon, Tracy Johnson, Reg Johns & George Johns, and Pat Paxton.  Every one of those mentors taught me the fundamentals upon which Bill Drake’s formula was built — not because they are restrictive; they make for better radio, better content, a better listening experience, and better deejays.

As a PD, I aspire to have just one idea deemed worthy enough to be copied by just one other programmer.  Bill Drake had dozens copied by nearly everyone:  jock shouts with the Johnny Mann singers, 20/20 News, Million Dollar Weekends, Hitbounds, the use of gold and recurrents in CHR, and the importance of personalities.  Bill Drake had respect for the audience.  His stations had respect for the music.  His format was structured.  His airstaff was disciplined; but, compelling.  Every fifteen minutes was self-contained to represent the best of his station no matter how long or when someone listened.  His stations maintained tempo and had exciting contests.  And, there was a lot of entertainment built into the “hot clock” … performed by well rehearsed and brilliantly focused air talent who learned to captivate the attention of listeners in mere seconds between songs through efficient word economy.

It was, and may be, some of the best Top 40 radio America will ever hear.  Sadly, it’s also a disappearing art form.

Though I never had the opportunity to meet or work for Bill Drake, I’m a passionate fan of radio and feel a personal obligation to pay my respects by reviewing every detail of our stations to see if they would live up to his expectations.  I feel the obligation to remember Bill Drake by finding new ways to be compelling, entertaining, energetic, and uncluttered.

I encourage you to do the same, even if you never heard the name Bill Drake before today.

Think about your next break in advance … what are you going to say, craft a set up, know your out, rehearse it, find a way to say more with fewer words … make sure your break is entertaining and has a purpose rather than just fills a ten second song intro with worthless blabber … be creative … be interactive … be compelling … be concise … understand who you’re trying to reach … deliver upon listener expectations … respect the music … and, be gracious to your audience. They are basic skills you all have or you would not be on the radio at this level.  But, we can all improve by remembering the discpline and focus of the radio Bill Drake pioneered.

If you make a little more effort this week, you will not only have a better show but also pay homage to the memory of an industry legend.  In our thankless business, it’s the only tribute we can really give someone like Bill Drake.  And, it’s one he would enjoy hearing.

Thanks for reading.  And, thank you Bill Drake helping me become a better PD.


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