Early Top 40 Radio: KENY-Bellingham

Broadcasting Magazine. April 25, 1958

KENY-AM radio in Bellingham, WA. was founded in 1958 by Tom Haveman, a broadcast pioneer who’d had experience at KVOS radio in Bellingham (now KGMI) and KBRC in Mount Vernon. KENY was a 1000 watt daytimer at 930 kc, dual licensed to Bellingham and Ferndale, WA. Since the station had two cities of license, so as to comply with the era’s FCC rules, Haveman maintained two studios — one in each city of license. In the beginning, as did competitors KVOS and KPUG, radio KENY’s format consisted of news and a music library of easy listening pop standards.

Bellingham Herald. May 1, 1959. Celebrating KENY’s first birthday

At the dawn of the 1960s, KENY became Whatcom County’s first Top 40 radio station. Typical of Top 40, the format was a mix of early rock ‘n’ roll and pop music. The disc jockeys who inaugurated the Top 40 format at KENY were Tom Haveman, station owner and experienced announcer. He worked mornings. Paul Schuett, who’d moved to the Pacific NW from Illinois, did middays. From Seattle, 17-year-old Les Beigel handled afternoons. Locally grown Western student Dick Stark had an odd shift. He worked weekends regularly. But on weekdays sometimes he had an afternoon and evening shift, other times not. It all depended on the time of year and when the sun went down. In winter, as directed by the station’s FCC license, Les Beigel signed the station off as early as 4:15 p.m. Dick aptly called his radio show “Stark ’till Dark.” At least he called it that those days that it ran.

Top: Tom Haveman (L), Paul Schuett….Bottom: Les Beigel (L), Dick Stark

Les Beigel was a character and the most popular of the Top 40 disc jockeys. His stock line was: “This is Les Beigel barking at you.” KENY‘s Top 40 deejays played the music that kids and younger adults wanted to hear; therefore, the station achieved excellent ratings. Here is a glance at Les Beigel’s numbers on his afternoon show in May 1960.

Pulse Survey, 1960

Beigel took a job in Seattle Top 40 radio in early 1961. Within a few years, he was in LA — where he had a long career on the radio and as a voice-over actor and narrator in the film industry. During the years Haveman owned the station (until 1967) another local disc jockey at KENY was Mark Williams (real name Tom Cline). Stark was there during KENY’s Top 40 phase. Cline was much too young for that, he began at KENY in the mid-’60s. In his senior year, Tom was student body president at Bellingham High School. After classes were over in the afternoon, he could be seen promptly driving away from the school so he could make it to his afternoon shift at KENY. At the time the station was playing country music. Some of his classmates still teasingly refer to him as “Country Cline.”

Tom Cline, Bellingham High School Shuksan photo. 1968

There are no known airchecks from KENY radio, but recordings of the voices of four of the KENY announcers (these recordings from later in their careers when they were at other radio or TV stations) can be heard in the video below.

KENY, being a daytime radio station and new to the market to boot, had the ratings, but ad revenue did not support the payroll. The Top 40 format lasted about a year, closely coinciding with calendar year 1960. Near the end of the year or very early in 1961, Tom Haveman laid off most of the deejays. He brought in automation (a system with reel to reel tapes and prerecorded music and canned announcer’s voices). Haveman personally recorded many of the voice tracks. The music had changed too, reverting back to a standard pop playlist. The early rock ‘n’ roll music was gone. Of the KENY deejays who had been part of the Top 40 phase, other than Haveman himself, only Dick Stark remained into 1961. The clipping below ran in the student newspaper at Western. The story was written halfway through KENY’s Top 40 run.

Kept on the payroll for his versatility, even after the station had dropped the Top 40 format, Dick continued working as an announcer as needed and he helped sell advertising. In late 1961 or early ’62, Stark left KENY and headed to KPUG. Also in 1961, Haveman himself left KENY to take an announcing job at KVOS television in Bellingham (although KENY’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) license would remain in Haveman’s name until 1967). Historically, the Top 40 music void in Whatcom County was filled by KPUG in spring 1962. KPUG would keep that format alive for 20 years.

 It was difficult for daytimer KENY to compete with KPUG and KVOS (whose operations were not restricted to daylight hours). KENY management tested other formats over the years including a syndicated service called “The Big Sound.” It arrived at the station on albums — hundreds of promos, PSAs, and program, news and commercial intros. It was an unusual concept — the format tried to convey the impression that the station was inhabited by Hollywood celebrities. Voices often heard on the air included Jimmy Stewart, Ed Sullivan, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Dean Martin, Bobby Darin and Connie Francis. The discs were copied to tape at KENY and then they ran on the station’s automation system.

The next video presents a brief scoped re-creation (from the original discs) of The Big Sound as heard on radio KENY around 1964. All of the local voices are those of announcers who were heard on the air at AM 930 some 50 years ago.

By the mid-sixties, KENY had switched to a country music format. Despite attracting a large audience with country music, the start-up station was still struggling financially. In 1967, it came to the attention of the FCC that Tom Haveman had remained the legal owner of KENY’s FCC license, but he had been engaged full time across town at KVOS-TV and other parties had been operating KENY for several years without first seeking federal authority. Between those legal issues and ongoing financial problems, KENY went dark in 1967. In a future article I will describe the 1968 rebirth of radio KENY, by Frederic A. Danz, into the station that was known for more than 30 years as KBFW.

Top: Original KENY (later KBFW) control board (L), Transmitter site at King Mountain…. Bottom: Closeup of KENY’s VW van early 1960s

Steven Smith:  The pictures of original equipment and memorabilia from the days of radio KENY, are from my photo collection and that of Tom Haveman’s daughter.

Click on the names below to read about these broadcasters who were popular in Bellingham and Whatcom County, including nearby Canadian legend Red Robinson:

Danny Holiday (KPUG)
Dick Stark (KENY & KPUG) 
Kirk Wilde (KPUG)
Gary Shannon (KPUG)
Mike Forney (KPUG)
Jay Hamilton (KPUG & KBFW)
Bob O’Neil & Marc Taylor (KPUG)

John Christopher Kowsky (KPUG)
Haines Faye & Rogan Jones (KVOS & KGMI)
Tom Haveman (KENY & KVOS)
Red Robinson (Vancouver B.C.)

Author: Steven Smith

Presently editor and historical writer with QZVX.COM in Seattle. Former radio broadcaster and radio station owner, 1970-1999. Journalism and speech communications degrees. I enjoy researching articles and online reporting that allows me to meld together words, audio and video. P.S. I appreciate and encourage reader comments and opinions. View other articles by Steven Smith

7 thoughts on “Early Top 40 Radio: KENY-Bellingham

  1. These posts bring back a lot of memories. My father worked very hard to see his dream of owning his own radio station come true. I do remember Stan vividly. His age fits as I was about 12 at that time and he was college age.

  2. I enjoyed the article on KENY. Our family was friends with the Haveman family at the time Tom was on the air. I personally remember visiting their station office just off of Cornwall Ave. Your writings helped me put some pieces together. My sister and I visited with Diane, Tom’s daughter in Whatcom county this past summer. Thanks again.

  3. Could this be him?

    April 7, 2011 Stanley Tadashi Sakagawa, 69, of Aiea, a self-employed auto detailer and Army veteran, died in Aiea. He was born in Paia, Maui. He is survived by brother Kenneth and sister Edith Shiraki. Private services. No monetary offerings. Donations suggested to charity.

    1. Not sure. Stan was a Thespian involved in theatre at WWSC in Bellingham, also worked at a little pub type place on campus in addition to being on-air at KENY. Would be surprised if he ended up in auto detailing back in the Islands…. but who knows?

  4. Anyone remember Hawaiian announcer Stan Sakagawa, from KENY in the early ‘60s Lived in our basement at 1030 Garden St. He was the one we heard delivering the news, on Aug. 4th, 1962 when it came across his teletype that Marilyn Monroe had died.

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