Many prominent disc jockeys of the 1960s and 1970s worked at KPUG 1170 AM. KPUG was Bellingham’s competitive small market top-40 radio station that allowed creative young jocks to develop their skills. The station was a stepping stone, a kind of on-the-job training center, for several air personalities who moved on to large markets. KPUG announcers or “live guys,” in the aforementioned category, include Kirk Wilde (the topic of this article), Danny Holiday (KOL, KBSG, KZOK), Gary Bruno (KJR as “Gary Taylor”), Gary Shannon (KJR, KOMO), Norm Gregory (KJR, KZOK, KOMO), Steve West (KJR, KISW, KXRX), Harvey “Charlie” Brown (KJR, KUBE), Greg Collins (CKLG, CFOX), and Randy Evans (KJR, KMPS as “Ichabod Caine”).
Kirk Wilde was a new hire at KPUG in 1964. Shortly after starting the new job, he left Bellingham to work at stations in Klamath Falls and Corvallis, Oregon. Wilde returned to KPUG in 1965 as the afternoon DJ and music director. The mid-sixties were banner years for KPUG. Other talented announcers, who crossed paths with Wilde at KPUG, were Danny Holiday, Gary Shannon, Charlie Brown and Norm Gregory. Back then I was a 14-year-old Bellingham kid, who constantly listened to rock radio, so I can testify that Kirk was a popular and memorable radio personality — high energy, he played lots of music, and Wilde ran a tight board. His fast-paced delivery was modeled after jocks on KISN in the Vancouver-Portland radio market. During his college years in Oregon, Wilde became hooked on KISN’s brand of power rock radio.
Wilde incorporated humor into his show, but he strived more for “exciting” versus “funny” radio. His occasional on-the-air sidekick was Julius Funkley — a voice recording on a tape cartridge. In a high-pitched screech, Julius would belt out a few memorable phrases. Kirk’s listeners will remember that Julius’ most often heard screech was “That’s RIGHT.” As a stunt, Wilde promoted Funkley as a candidate for student body president at Bellingham High School. Funkley’s write-in campaign led to a victory; however, to no one’s surprise, the imaginary candidate never materialized to serve even one day in office.
As a music enthusiast and a radio station music director, Wilde recognized talent when he heard it. Kirk was the first music director to play and chart Babe It’s Me, a single by The Unusuals — the best known Bellingham band of the ’60s. The duet highlighted the late female vocalist Kathi McDonald and Laurie Vitt — the songwriter and a founder of The Unusuals. The Panorama release reached #1 on KPUG’s top-50 chart. To learn more about Kirk Wilde’s role in promoting the single, and to hear Babe It’s Me, click on the green record label.
In the ’60s, Kathi McDonald and The Unusuals toured the northwest with Sir Raleigh — a regionally popular musician. In 1967, Sir Raleigh (a Canadian named Dewey Martin) became the drummer for Buffalo Springfield. He played on the giant hit “For What It’s Worth.” When The Unusuals disbanded, Kathi moved to San Francisco, became a prominent blues and rock vocalist, and she performed and recorded with Ike & Tina Turner, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Joe Cocker, the Rolling Stones, Leon Russell, Long John Baldry and other stars.
Back when AM radio was king, Kirk Wilde proved that listener’s loved a well-executed and high energy top-40 format. In Bellingham and Whatcom County, Wilde ruled the airwaves with great numbers. KPUG was the only local rock station, even though powerful signals from Vancouver B.C. and Seattle competed for market share. Regardless of the competition, a 50+ year-old Barr Ratings survey confirms the dominance of Wilde’s show. His ratings (red circle) were more than double that of any other local and regional competitors (percentages displayed in the right side columns). Fellow KPUG disc jockey Gary Shannon had exceptional ratings as well.
KPUG’s directional pattern and daytime power (in 1966 it increased from 1KW to 5KW) established reliable coverage into British Columbia’s heavily populated Lower Mainland. Kirk recalls that he received requests from B.C., mainly from the smaller cities: Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Langley, and White Rock. KPUG played the hits and got them on-the-air early. That philosophy paid off. Here’s a ’60s era quote from Canada’s national news magazine Maclean’s: “Sandra Thompson, 16, of Vancouver, has three transistor radios, which she tunes mostly to KPUG in Bellingham, Washington. The same records turn up on Vancouver’s CKLG, she says, but later.”
Typical of the nomadic lifestyle of a disc jockey, Wilde had a disagreement with management and parted ways with KPUG in 1966. He found employment with other northwest stations including Everett’s KRKO, Seattle’s KOL, and KSND (as Kirk Allison), and KING. Wilde spent most of his career in top-40 radio, but he is most proud of his 1972 transition into rhythm & blues radio. In Denver/Littleton, the predominantly African-American listening audience at soul station KDKO fully accepted Wilde as the morning drive time personality.
Kirk Wilde exited radio in 1975. By then he was looking for a career that provided job security and benefits (health care, retirement, etc.) that were seldom offered by radio stations of the era. After his departure from broadcasting, Wilde drove a school bus for 27 years. Today he is retired and living in Denver. Kirk keeps up with music: current hits, trends and innovations. Occasionally he shares, with family and friends, his personal opinions, critiques and knowledge of new music and the oldies he once played on the radio.
Below is a short video montage. It is a 3 minute countdown of the top-10 hits in the Pacific Northwest the week ending February 26, 1966. That chart date reflects the first time I heard Kirk Wilde on the radio. This video includes photos of Wilde and a KPUG jingle from 1966.
Click on the names below to read about these former KPUG-Bellingham deejays and nearby Canadian legend Red Robinson:
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