I met Gary Shannon in 1966 when he was 21 years old and working at KPUG in Bellingham. I was in junior high school, 14 years of age, a KPUG fan with a serious interest in radio broadcasting. It was the summer after completing eighth grade when my friend, Tom Warner, and I walked out Sunset Drive to the KPUG studio. The “live guys” at 1170 AM back then were Kirk Wilde, Larry Dean, Bob O’Neil, Harvey (Charlie) Brown and our subject of today is Gary Shannon.
On a Saturday afternoon, a bold friend of mine suggested that we walk out to KPUG to see if they would let us inside for a tour. We had no clue who might be at the station, other than we knew Kirk Wilde was counting down the week’s Top-50 hits. Hoping for the best from a surprise visit, my friend and I headed out Sunset Drive. Upon arrival, we knocked on the door of the KPUG studio.
Gary Shannon, the “Electric Nose” as he often called himself back then, opened the door and invited us in. Mr. KPUG (Bob Pollack) was on his way from Seattle and we didn’t have much time there, we needed to vacate prior to the arrival of the head honcho. In the production studio, Gary auditioned a few new singles that would be put on “Twin-Pick.” Weeknights KPUG played two songs back to back and listeners would call in and vote as to which tune would advance into the next round. To this day I remember that one song he played for us was “Hooray for Hazel” by Tommy Roe (I was of such an age that I thought it was marvelous) and another was “Just Like a Woman” by Bob Dylan. I know that Gary’s friendly demeanor that day encouraged me to enter the field of radio at age 18. I stayed in radio for nearly 30 years.
In the photo below, Gary is asking a listener if she would prefer to groove to “Sweet Pea” or “Hooray for Hazel.” No, not really!
Gary was a popular on-the-air personality. At KPUG he and the other jocks had excellent audience ratings (Barr Survey below). The station’s numbers in 1966 (highlighted between the red lines) blew away the competition (percentages in the right side columns). It is startling to see these numbers from back in the day, especially so when compared to the small shares that top ranked stations generate today.
Gary departed KPUG not long after my visit to the station. The draft was still in effect and Uncle Sam came calling. The “Electric Nose” went into the military. I lost track of Gary after he left KPUG. Then one day, in the later ’60s, I heard his voice on the leading AM station in Seattle, Channel 95 KJR. Prior to that, he had spent time at KJR’s sister station KJRB-AM in Spokane. At KJR, and at KJRB, Gary worked with his colleague and longtime friend, the late Norm Gregory — another KPUG alumnus. In that era, several KPUG veterans (Gary Taylor, Charlie Brown, Steve West, Randy Evans or Icky Cane) were hired at KJRB and then were promoted to KJR. In the early ’70s, Shannon and Gregory teamed up to present “Levity Limelight.” The pair both worked evening shifts, so they shared five minutes a night telling stupid and zany jokes that had been submitted by KJR listeners.
Gary Shannon, KJR scoped aircheck: New Year’s Eve 1969 Top-10 Countdown and year end countdown to the New Year. (Bubblegum music was alive and well in ’69. Tommy Roe, a Gary favorite, was still Dizzy at #8 on the year end chart)
In October 1975 Gary left the Pacific Northwest. After having been at KJR and KISW-FM, he went off to Atlanta. After Atlanta, he worked several other markets including Miami, Nashville (10 years), Memphis and Asheville. Eventually, about 30 years later, Gary returned to Washington State. His last radio job, prior to retirement, was at 50,000 watt KOMO-AM in Seattle. His on-the-air name at KOMO was his real name: Gary Burleigh.
Several years ago, when Gary was transitioning back to the Pacific Northwest, I received an Email from him through Norm Gregory’s then KJR tribute site. Gary said that one of his most memorable career experiences was working Y107 in Nashville as part of the Morning Zoo with Coyote McCloud. Gary was the news guy, and so much more, using the moniker Rhett Walker.
At the time I was unfamiliar with Coyote McCloud. However, a 1994 video created by California Aircheck came to my attention. The production captured the fun and excitement of mornings at Y107. I can see where that experience would have been a noteworthy part of Gary’s great career. As you will see, Rhett Walker (Gary) played a major role in the success of the Y107 Morning Zoo.
As referenced previously, Gary wrapped up his radio career here in the Pacific Northwest at Seattle’s KOMO radio. In his five years at KOMO, Gary performed the duties of part-time news anchor, sometimes weekend sports presenter, and fill in business reporter. Gary Burleigh is now retired and he lives in Seattle.
.….by Steven L. Smith
Click on the names below to read about these former KPUG-Bellingham deejays and nearby Canadian legend Red Robinson: