Seattle World’s Fair Winner – KJR or KOL?

One of the hallmarks of Seattle’s history was the Century 21 Exposition, commonly known as the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. The extravaganza event on 74 acres south of Queen Anne Hill put Seattle (and the state of Washington) on the map. The fair ran from April 21 to October 21, hosting nearly 10 million visitors. And Seattle broadcasters threw their all into the opportunity to attract bigger audiences. Some were successful in making big impacts.
Here’s a two-part composite aircheck featuring KJR and KOL. The KJR segment is from June 19, ’62 — the fair’s 60th day — beginning with a Wally Beethoven newscast highlighting the fair’s attendance figures. Then it’s Mr. KJR Pat O’Day doing his afternoon drive program, complete with some of those Fabulous Fifty hits from that wonderful summer. You’ll also hear a Tacoma dance ad (the Wailers) from Dick Curtis and other spots about things now long-gone. The second aircheck segment starts with a classic KOL jingle into Ray Hutchinson from Sept. 5, ’62. The newscast intro is a great sample of John Forrest perhaps at the top of his game during what was his 27th year at KOL. The jingle reference to the Terrible Tigers is about the full group of KOL jocks that summer: Al Cummings, Art Simpson, Ron Bailie, John Stone, Gary Todd and Les Williams. Aircheck running time about 5:37.

In many ways, the Seattle World’s Fair was a major milestone and launching pad in the continued success of KJR. With help from languishing competition and Pat O’Day contests/promotions leading the way, KJR leveraged its Century 21 success by moving to the pole position where it roared to its destiny. The now-famous jingle tune “KJR Seattle – Channel 95” first hit the airwaves during the fair. O’Day, who claims to have created it, said he wanted something exciting and new for the fair. That was the beginning of the station’s listener-alluring theme for the next 20 years. Meanwhile, KOL and KAYO, by then predictable numbers 2 and 3 in the Top-40 race, were falling farther behind. The period during and right after the fair saw significant change in Seattle pop music radio. KAYO held a strong hit music position through the late 50’s. But that changed–perhaps in part–with the exits of O’Day (’60) and Mike Phillips (’62), both to KJR, and KAYO’s switch to a country format in May, ’63. KOL, after a successful 40-year run (34 years with the KOL call letters) under the Taft family, shifted to new ownership when TV game show producers Mark Goodson and Bill Todman bought the station–also in 1963. During the two years that followed, KOL sank in the mire of Harbor Island with a programming mix somewhere between what we used to call chicken rock and MOR. Ray Hutchinson, who moved into news, was one of few hangers-on when Buzz Barr and a talented new lineup brought KOL back into the race in 1965. (See earlier post “Space-Age Radio” KOL challenges KJR, 1965.) All of that as the KJR machine gathered new steam with a stellar lineup some say got even better in the later 60’s — Lee Perkins, Lan Roberts, Jerry Kay, Dick Curtis, Bobby Simon, Larry Lujack, Tom Murphy, Jim Martin, Buzz Barr (after ’67), Robert O. Smith, Charlie Brown, Norm Gregory and crackerjack news guys Chuck Bolland and Les Parsons. Make no mistake: the World’s Fair, and events surrounding it, boosted KJR’s market stronghold. And, as they say, the rest is history.

Author: Ronald DeHart

Ron DeHart is a former newspaper and broadcast journalist and a retired Public Affairs Officer from both the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Navy/Naval Reserve. His historical accounts of Pacific Northwest broadcasting are published by Puget Sound Media. View more articles by Ron DeHart  

1 thought on “Seattle World’s Fair Winner – KJR or KOL?

  1. Enjoyable info!….I strongly believe that the advent of the 1962 Century 21 Expo catapulted Seattle into the world of progressive, dynamic cities…It was I believe, the most important civic event of the last half of the 20th century…Don Duncan, a retired writer from newspapers in this area, wrote a good book, years ago, about the formation and execution of the Fair….his last chapter described the last evening of the Fair, with Joe Gandy, the local auto dealer turned Fair president, giving a eulogy of sorts, to hundreds of Fair workers, gathered around the edges of High School Memorial Stadium, holding hands–many of them weeping –as he expressed how proud he was of Seattle, for making it all happen….that was maybe the high point of civic culture in Seattle…just look what has happened since!

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