Bill Drake, KHJ and . . . ‘The History of Rock and Roll’

Originally posted May 1, 2019


 

It was maybe the biggest thing to happen to rock and roll since Bo Didley, Bill Haley or Chuck Berry, discounting Elvis and the Beatles.  It’s a definitive historical account of the transition of rhythm & blues to the most marketable genre in radio.  It still stands as the longest and most listener-impacting documentary of any American medium.  The History of Rock and Roll was so successful it was produced in numerous versions over three decades.

The HRR was conceived by Bill Drake (left), who with Gene Chenault (right), created some of the most successful radio programming formulas and a format called Boss Radio.  Drake recalls it was in 1968 when he came up with the idea of producing a detailed history of rock ‘n’ roll . . . .

Drake’s big idea (Running Time :48)

Drake-Chenault Successes

Drake’s inspiration evolved into groundbreaking broadcasts that were as iconic as the music genre they described. From its earliest version, nothing like The History of Rock and Roll had been done before. Although in 1969 there was a Los Angeles market foot race to see who’d release the first such rock history program.  RKO-owned KHJ, a Drake client, won that race, and competitor KRLA lost. Thus began one of many Drake-Chenault successes.

Drake&Ron Jacobs (R)

Bill Drake was a well-grounded Georgia radioman and later a successful Southern California deejay in the early 1960s.  While consulting Fresno’s KYNO Radio, he went head-to-head with cross-town rival KMAK, programmed by equally talented Ron Jacobs.  In 1965 the two joined forces in building powerhouse KHJ in Los Angeles into a much-imitated godfather beacon for a number of Drake-formatted Top-40 stations — and legions of copycat rockers all over the country.

Drake hired Jacobs as KHJ’s program director,  Robert Morgan for mornings and Don Steele afternoons. Under Drake’s guidance, KHJ climbed from  obscurity to  the market’s  number 1 position.  He streamlined Top-40, limited jock chatter, played only the top-rated songs and stressed a constant, repetitive jingle package. That formula, tied to the Boss Radio moniker, took off on the west coast and spread quickly eastward.  He countered critics by pointing at dramatic ratings jumps at stations which adopted his methods.  In the years that followed, Drake pretty much redesigned successful rock radio in America.

Bill Drake

Few radio tacticians were like Bill Drake.  His ratings turn-around skills were unmatched and considered the country’s best through much of the 1960’s and ‘70s. True, many called his no-jock-personality formula stilted, robot-like and counter-creative.  But his success list was like a rock station Who’s Who : KYNO  Fresno,  CKLW  Windsor-Detroit; KGB  San Diego; WUBE Cincinnati; KHJ Los Angeles; WRKO  Boston; KFRC  San Francisco; KAKC  Tulsa; WOR-FM  New York; KIQQ  Los Angeles; and WHBQ  Memphis.

At one point Drake was doing business with over 350 radio stations and consulting six different formats.  The number of successes would be much greater, totaling several hundred more stations if all “fake Drake” and other  copycats were included.

The first HRR was produced by Jacobs and written by Pete Johnson, who at that time was the music critic of the Los Angeles Times.  In addition to the music, it included historical detail and comprehensive interviews never before heard in a single production.  Completed on a crash seven-week schedule and after extensive LA area promotion, the 48-hour rockumentary debuted on KHJ in February ’69, followed just days later by airings on CKLW (Windsor-Detroit) and other RKO-owned stations.

Robert W. Morgan

One of KHJ’s big-name deejays was called in to do the voice work.  Robert W. Morgan did the narration, which amounted to about 50 minutes of each hour including music, allowing 10 minutes for spots and news breaks.

The original 1969 version, a landmark broadcasting feature, ignited a stir across the nation’s pop music radio world.  Here’s an edited sample, which includes several segments.  You’ll hear Bill Drake’s introduction and a time sweep of big hit songs over a metronome-like time sounder ticking off the years into Robert W. Morgan’s narration . . . .

HRR ’69 with Robert W. Morgan (Running time 9:00)

Humble Harve

That first HRR  broadcast from Feb. 21-23 was such a ratings smash KHJ aired it again (with a narrator change) six months later.  That second original version had only minor edit changes. It was narrated, as was the syndicated version later, by Humble Harve Miller, who at that time was KHJ’s afternoon jock.  Both Robert W. Morgan and Don Steele were off the air because of contract disputes with KHJ management.  By some accounts, the second airing scored higher in audience surveys.

Hooper ratings showed both February and August broadcasts got KHJ LA’s highest listener numbers for their time slots, tripling audience shares of closest radio competitors.  Hooper reported KHJ scored a near 32 share on the last day of the second airing on Sunday, August 25.  KHJ management ballyhooed their huge success in the trade mags and many of Southern California’s print media outlets. Drake-Chenault’s production group moved ahead to capitalize on their success by gearing up for the syndication/marketing process.

Mark Elliot

The primary promotion tool was a well-crafted sample Demo, which included the guts of both the Morgan and Humble Harve narrations, plus the national voice-over talents of Mark Elliot.  Here’s Elliot’s opening audio clip of the 24-minute Demo for what many call the most celebrated pop radio production ever. . . .

HRR Demo ‘69  Mark Elliot (Running time  1:07)

The Library of Congress called the documentary “the first aural history of rock and roll music.”

Preemptive Action in Seattle

As Drake-Chenault prepared for national marketing, there were more editing changes and an additional two hours added.  After RKO aired the production on it’s own stations, Drake-Chenault ended up releasing syndicated re-recordings of it three times between 1972 and 1982.

So, what was the reception/reaction to the Drake production in the Seattle radio market?  Despite beliefs to the contrary, few Puget Sound stations carried it.  The bigger story was who didn’t and why.  Keep in mind that no one in rock music radio was unaware the Drake  history rockumentary was in the works.  It would have listener impact and it would hit the Seattle market.

Rock kingpin KJR, which had no intentions of airing the program,  prided itself in staying on top of both opportunities and challenges to its solid audience base. According to the late Norm Gregory’s Radio Scrapbook blog, KJR took preemptive action by producing/airing its own history of rock and roll show. Pat O’Day’s on-air crew at that time (Gary Shannon, Tom Murphy, Norm Gregory, Mike Phillips and Steve West) broadcast their show the week after KHJ’s — which was well before Drake’s project went to syndication.

Seattle Times columnist Victor Stredike panned KJRs program as a “weekend gimmick,” and a “chronological mish-mash not promoted beyond the station’s regular listener base “who probably could tell little difference from any other flashback weekend.” Neither Stredicke’s column nor Gregory’s blog had reaction from Pat O’Day.

Reportedly, KOL ignored the KHJ/Drake program excitement with Lan Roberts hosting a pre-recorded weekend-long Beatles marathon.  Stredicke, according to Gregory, was much kinder to KJR four months later when the station again aired KJR’s own production of rock and roll’s history —that one running 72 hours.

Two local stations that did air the ‘69 Drake production were KFKF-FM and KIRO-FM –- probably because both already carried Drake-Chenault’s Hit Parade Top-40.   KJR’s own program response was much the same as a number of other leading big market rock stations.  They all felt threatened by competing local stations cutting into their listener dominance.  It was no secret RKO-owned and Drake-Chenault-consulted outlets would air it close on the heels of the KHJ broadcast.

Despite those concerns, some program directors were initially nervous in setting aside up to three days of programming time for a 50-hour show whose promoters offered iffy audience-building promises.  That attitude changed in 1978, propelling the Drake HRR to even higher acclaim.

“New” 1978 Production

Gary Theroux

In spite of the HRR’s 1969 success, the adage that no production is a perfect production cropped up.  By the mid-1970s Drake wanted it revised to reflect changes in the rock music landscape.  And, the outspoken Jacobs agreed with critics who complained the KHJ original had inaccuracies and omissions.  So, Drake brought in music historian Gary Theroux, who researched, re-wrote and rebuilt it.  The re-do started in 1975, with Drake working as Theroux’s co-producer.

In April of 1978, the Drake-Chenault production machine released — in stereo — what was probably its best effort.  That 52-hour installment, narrated by Drake, was picked up by about 800 radio stations coast to coast and overseas. It also won Billboard’s “Top Special Program of the Year” award.

It’s argued the ‘78 HRR production, covering the years through 1977, was Drake’s most appealing.  All over the radio –– mostly on the FMs — it was a huge listener ratings builder which established the Drake organization as broadcasting’s rock history authorities.

Here’s edited audio of the 1978 HRR.  Bill Drake opens with a blockbuster reverse time sweep and also gives credit to pop radio’s early role in the dawn of rock and roll . . . .

HRR 1978 Bill Drake (running time 6:25)

Probably the most popular (and most bootlegged) part of the 52-hour production was Drake’s Time Sweep in the final hour.  In the full broadcast, this was a 38-minute montage of all the number one hits.  Here’s an edited sample of a few parts of that historic finale . . . .

HRR  ‘78 Time Sweep    (Running time  3:58)

Like the rest of the country, the Puget Sound area gave the ‘78 version more attention than its predecessor.  It was carried by several Seattle area stations.  In my personal collectables I still have my copy (below) of the KNBQ ad insert cover page from Tacoma’s News Tribune.

It lists the complete song-by-song rundown of every hour, from the Penguins Earth Angel  in 1954 to the Eagles Life in the Fast Lane  in 1977.

This partial list of the ‘78 HRR’s hourly rundown (mine’s pretty dog-eared) has become nearly as collectable as the highly prized audio program.  There are unconfirmed claims the Drake-Chenault shows were nearly as heavily bootlegged as some of the Beatles early recordings in England prior to 1964.  (See 1964, the Beatles and KJR )

Drake died at age 71 in 2008. He’d sold his part of the Drake-Chenault  business in 1983 before it dissolved three years later.  Chenault was 90 at his death in 2010. The HRR name was never trademarked.  So unauthorized sales of products carrying the name continued for years, as did bootlegged audio versions — tape, vinyl and compact discs.

KHJ’s original version was licensed for broadcast only and first given or loaned to company-owned stations of RKO’s and Drake-Chenault’s choosing.  Stations that broadcast it were required to either return the tapes or forward them to other stations.  Some, like KHJ, made copies, promoted and gave them away as listener prizes and then rebroadcast the show later.  Drake-Chenault’s HRR was never offered for direct public sales.

So for R&R music fans, a good radio receiver, reel-to-reel tape recorder and lots of recording tape was needed if the original History of Rock and Roll was to become a part of your music library.  I recall what a major undertaking that was, capturing all 52-hours, much of which many of us later converted to digital.

In 1981 a third major release of the HRR hit the air waves.  Bill Drake, with those smooth and authoritative skills, was again the narrator.  The following audio is in two parts:  another strong Drake open with a reverse time sweep of hits starting in 1980, and a great final hour introduction which included one of the largest selling R & R songs of all time . . . .

HRR 1981 Drake in two parts (Running time   3:21)

Based on the success of The History of Rock and Roll, Drake-Chenault created a country music version called The History of Country Music.  Produced and syndicated to radio stations in 1982, the 52-hour documentary was hosted by nationally known deejay Ralph Emery, and had features similar to the rock and roll version.

The released HRR production in 1981 was the last primary edition, though there were other shorter, 12-hour versions, carried by stations on weekends.  But most rock music fans and critics agreed none of those were audience-grabbers like the ‘69 and ‘78 versions.  Several sources say there was an edited installment (no jingles) of the last Drake release still in syndication in 2006.

KHJ, Drake-Chenault and hundreds — if  not thousands — of radio stations all made history themselves by simply broadcasting The History of  Rock and Roll.   Pop music historians call it one of the most defining landmarks of the hugely successful rock and roll golden era.   And, of course, what radio WAS in those days made it a fond remembrance soundtrack for millions of people who grew up with the pop music genre.   For many, hearing it was like re-living much of your life over again — especially that famous 38-minute time sweep of all number 1 songs.

Many of us have vivid memories of where and what we were doing when first hearing the HRR.  I missed the original, just barely clear of U.S. Navy active duty when KHJ first unleashed its rocumentary on the world.  But in the first week of April, I recorded the ‘78 version from Salt Lake City’s KALL-FM. I recall being impressed with Drake’s solid delivery and the program’s three-decade scope and depth.

KALL-FM ran the full 52-hours non-stop.  I missed a lot of sleep that weekend.  But wow, what a broadcast…!!!   Do you have a History of Rock and Roll  memory to share?

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  

41 thoughts on “Bill Drake, KHJ and . . . ‘The History of Rock and Roll’

  1. I downloaded the complete KHJ history of rock and roll probably 11-12 yrs ago off the internet and edit it down to about 17 hrs with tunes I reminisce with the most. Some of the background history was great and the stories, I traveled a lot on the road so 17 hrs burn a day up quickly. I had it on the first iPad 2010 I believe (big /w no camera) and it’s way out dated now the version on it is 5.1.1. Incompatible. I can’t copy it to transfer it to my computer. I tired by follow some instructions online, there was a warning that any purchased music would be deleted. It took me hrs to download all the music I had on that 1st iPad. In doing so I decided if there is 1 or 2 song that would be ok. I click on it and all my music is gone, nothing left. is there a site I can download it again. It actually is harder searching for a legitimate site with the actually recording. Dick Ellington gave some sites to download the history but you have to download an app to be able to work with the download. I’m looking for the actual recording that I used 11-12 trs ago. I’m sure that site was probably taken down but since then someone must of put it back up like they do with pirate bay. Set up someplace else. I’m better at editing than searching. I forget what I’m searching for or get distracted by some of other site (xxx), I’m kidding, I’m to old, I’m kidding, I’m not that old. I’m retired now I have nothing but time to do things like that. Any help will be appreciated.

  2. A couple of things should be noted in this context.

    There is a new version of the series that is now on select stations nationwide…that version is hosted by Wink Martindale, former DJ and best known as the host of “TicTacDough”. It is available over the internet Saturdays at 3 ET on Racketeer Radio ( https://racketeerradio.com ).

    Also, some time back, there was a fan-made attempt at updating the classic Bill Drake series by extending the running time to 73 hours (that is, hours in broadcast time including commercials—which would mean approx. 65 hours without commercials). This fan effort took eight years to complete, using nearly all known material from the two prior versions (1978 and 1981). While this “65th Anniversary Remastered Edition” deletes any material the fan editor considered erroneous and out-of-date, it does include, wherever possible, the extended album versions of some songs in lieu of the single radio edits. Some segments are also bookended with updated material reflecting what has happened to the artists since the 1981 edition, while others have been rearranged to reflect a much better narrative. Many songs represented that were in mono are now presented in full stereo. And finally, the climactic “Time Sweep” has been extended to two hours to bring the story up to date as of the end of 2020, with a more comprehensive opening segment adding the four songs that were Number One between “Rock Around The Clock” and “Memories Are Made Of This”, and the newly created final hour covering the Number One songs between “I Love A Rainy Night” (Eddie Rabbit) and “Willow” by Taylor Swift.

    It was created on mp3 format.

    If you are interested in this edition, email me at:

    zaxxon22@hotmail.com

    1. Is the “65th Anniversary Remastered Edition” of thr History of Rock & Roll still available?

    1. 1. DJ Bill Drake of KHJ Los Angeles – The History of Rock n Roll (0:26)
      2. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 01 – The Birth Of Rock & Roll (52:27)
      3. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 02 – Early Rock & Roll (52:41)
      4. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 03 – Elvis Presley Part #1 (1955 – 1961) (52:44)
      5. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 04 – Elvis Presley Part #2 (1962 – 1969) (52:45)
      6. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 05 – 1950’s R&B (Coasters, Drifters, Ben E. King, and Ray Charles) (53:25)
      7. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 06 – Country Rock (Gene Vincent, Buddy Knox, Buddy Holly & the Crickets, Eddie Cochran) (53:59)
      8. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 07 – Idols (Pat Boone, Paul Anka, Neil Sedaka, Ricky Nelson, and Bobby) (54:24)
      9. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 08 – Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, Dion & the Belmonts, Chubby Checker (52:15)
      10. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 09 – Chart Sweep of the Top Songs of the 50’s – Part #1 (1956 – 1957) (52:03)
      11. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 10 – Chart Sweep of the Top Songs of the 50’s – Part #2 (1958 – 1959) (52:15)
      12. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 11 – Chart Sweep of the Top Songs of the Early 60’s (1960 – 1961) (52:56)
      13. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 12 – Chart Sweep of the Top Songs of the Early 60’s (1962 – 1963) (52:45)
      14. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 13 – Chart Sweep of the Top Songs of the Early 60’s (1964 – 1965) (52:40)
      15. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 14 – Girl Groups of the 60’s and Phil Spector Productions (53:07)
      16. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 15 – The Creation Of Motown Records (52:27)
      17. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 16 – The Four Seasons, The Beach Boys (52:38)
      18. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 17 – The Birth of Beatlemania (53:10)
      19. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 18 – The British Invasion (52:24)
      20. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 19 – The Beatles (1965 – 1967) (52:12)
      21. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 20 – Mid 60’s Sound of Motown (51:55)
      22. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 21 – Folk Rock of the Mid 60’s – Simon & Garfunkel (53:25)
      23. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 22 – The Rolling Stones (52:26)
      24. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 23 – The Beatles (1968 – 1970) (51:00)
      25. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 24 – Post Beatles Solo Songs from John, George and Ringo (51:40)
      26. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 25 – Bob Dylan (52:26)
      27. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 26 – Psychedelic Rock, The San Francisco Sound (51:35)
      28. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 27 – British Rock of the Late 60’s (Hollies, Bee Gees, and Moody Blues) (53:16)
      29. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 28 – Hard Rock of the 60’s (Cream, Steppenwolf, The Doors, and The Guess Who) (52:35)
      30. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 29 – British Hard Rock of the 60’s (The Who, Iron Butterfly, Deep Purple, and Led Zeppelin) (51:40)
      31. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 30 – Chart Sweep – The Sounds of 1966 – 1967 (51:50)
      32. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 31 – Rock Groups of the Mid 60’s (51:42)
      33. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 32 – The Soulful Sounds of the 60’s (52:42)
      34. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 33 – Chart Sweep – The Sounds of 1968 – 1969 (53:09)
      35. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 34 – Chart Sweep The Sounds of 1970 – 1971 (52:28)
      36. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 35 – Chart Sweep The Sounds of 1972 – 1973 (51:53)
      37. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 36 – Chart Sweep The Sounds of 1974 – 1975 (52:48)
      38. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 37 – Chart Sweep The Sounds of 1976 – 1977 (52:18)
      39. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 38 – Singers & Songwriters (Jim Croce, Carly Simon, James Taylor, and Carole King (52:17)
      40. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 39 – Stars of the 70’s (Glen Campbell, Neil Diamond, Crosby Stills Nash & Young) (53:25)
      41. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 40 – Mellow Sounds of the 70’s (52:23)
      42. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 41 – R&B and the Soul of the 70’s (The Birth of Disco (1975)) (52:03)
      43. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 42 – Disco 1975 & 1976 (53:19)
      44. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 43 – Three Dog Night (53:29)
      45. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 44 – More Rock Bands of the 70’s (52:29)
      46. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 45 – The Rolling Stones – 1970’s (50:12)
      47. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 46 – Paul McCartney’s Solo Career (51:57)
      48. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 47 – Stevie Wonder (52:17)
      49. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 48 – Elton John – Part #1 (52:48)
      50. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 49 – Elton John – Part #2 (53:18)
      51. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 50 – Fleetwood Mac and Linda Ronstadt (52:51)
      52. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 51 – The Eagles (52:29)
      53. Bill Drake (Narrator) – 52 – Time Sweep Collage Of #1 Songs From November, 1955 to February, 1981 (55:13)

      1. I have through part 38 I believe.
        I found these long ago and they are an amazing history of what I listened to as a kid.

        I would be definitely interested in completing my collection.

        Rich

    2. I am definitely interested.
      I listened to these tapes over and over during my 3 years in military. Unfortunately, I did not have access to the tapes.

  3. I have all 52 CD’s of The Original History of Rock and Roll. (An original set). Is that something that anyone would want ? I have no idea of the value.
    Thanks.

    1. Mike,

      Which version of the HRR do you have? The ’78 version or the ’81 update? I have the ’81 update but I always felt like the ’78 version was better.

  4. Although only 11 in 1969, I remember vividly the original airing of this rockumentary both in February and August on Boss Radio 93 KHJ (all the older kids – junior high / high school) were blasting from their transistor radios and junker cars. I wish I could find the entire ’69 original on .mp3 or even CD formats narrated by Robert W

  5. The late Mike Webb, in conjunction with Peter Blecha (NW Rock and Roll expert) produced and narrated a “History of NW Rock” when he was with KVI, back in the 80’s…it featured 126 tunes, some quite obscure, made by various NW groups, beginning in the mid-50s, and into the early 70s. Fascinating stuff, for those who care!..I obtained a dubbed copy of the program, and donated a copy of it to the Shoreline Historical Museum, maybe 10 years ago. Interestingly, I interviewed Webb; he personally did not think the NW music history amounted to very much, compared to what happened in his home town of San Francisco, during the same time period!…I guess every region feels their music was the most important.

  6. I researched, wrote, programmed and, with Bill Drake, co-produced the 1978 “History of Rock ‘n’ Roll” and everything you wrote above is true (Nicely reserached) except for one thing. The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll name was trademarked by me — after no one at Drake-Chenault wanted to bother doing it! And over the 43 years since the 1978 release of the HRR, I have continued to answer e-mailed questions about it. Most recently I have been assembling a new incarnation of “The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll” as a two-hour weekly series of themed episodes. Each is hosted by Wink Martindale who also hosts my annually updated ten-hour Yuletide countdown special “The 100 Greatest Christmas Hits of All Time.” Where will the new “History of Rock ‘n’ Roll” series air in the Puget Sound area? That’s yet to be determined. — Gary Theroux

  7. Hi…i listened to the 1981 version on the radio sometime in 1981 -1985..can’t remember exactly…anyway it was a great show…and if there’s anyway to get a copy of this show..rather it be cassette..or CD…would love to get this in my collection…please contact me at my phone or text..518 5875487…or email me http://www.tntboattops7566@gmail.com...

  8. Hi there-

    I have been searching for a list of songs of this collection? Does this exist anywhere. I see there is a small snapshot in an image above?

    Thanks very much

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