Northwest History: Radio KENY-Bellingham

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KENY-AM radio in Bellingham, WA. was founded in 1958 by Tom Haveman, a broadcast pioneer who had worked 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 ‘50s and early ‘60s KENY was Whatcom County’s first rock ‘n’ roll station. One of KENY‘s popular deejays was the late Les Beigel. His stock line was: “This is Les Beigel barking at you.” Beigel went on to a long career in L.A radio and in the film industry. During the Haveman years, some of the other KENY jocks included Dick Stark (later a fixture at KPUG in Bellingham), and Mark Williams (real name Tom Cline.)

There are no known airchecks from KENY radio, but recordings of the voices of four of the early KENY announcers (these recordings from later in their careers) can be heard by clicking on the video below.  

KENY‘s 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 in the afternoon.

KPUG, an established station that was a decade older then KENY, noticed KENY’s success and switched to a competing rock format. This happened in the early 1960s and KENY began to falter: It was difficult for a daytimer to compete with a full-time operation.

Tom Haveman tested other formats including a syndicated MOR 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 the station and KENY was running automation long before that was a common practice. At one point Tom Haveman personally recorded custom tracks that led to very early voice tracking.

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

In the mid-sixties KENY switched to a country music format. Despite attracting a large audience, the start-up station could not sell enough advertising and it failed. Tom Haveman’s radio station 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.

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.

 

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Author: Steven Smith

Presently editor and historical writer with Puget Sound Media 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.

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