This excellent article by Ron DeHart, a Puget Sound Media writer, was composed a few days prior to KZOK’s termination last week of Steve Slaton and Connie Cole. The text has been updated to reflect that Slaton is no longer with KZOK, but his piece does not delve into any of the details of that event. However, in light of what’s happened recently in the Seattle market, this is a very topical feature article………………..Puget Sound Media editorial staff
From disco record destruction to Van Halen’s stripper invasion. Those are the unusual highlights of Puget Sound rock deejays Steve Slaton and Gary Crow. At times co-workers, at times competitors — but always close friends — they’ve each reached 50 years in their careers. But like Crow’s fate a couple years ago, Slaton’s long gig at KZOK came to an end in August, 2019 due to reported budget cuts at iHeart Radio. Slaton’s fate, like Crow’s earlier, marks the close of one of Seattle radio’s more remarkable stories. Slaton and Crow are among the area’s longest-running on-air performers.
Both Pacific Northwest natives, Slaton and Crow are radio survivors. And in today’s world of mostly remote, voice-tracked broadcasts, their long, highly successful careers represent a near end of live, over-the-air radio. Five decades in broadcasting is hall of fame caliber—almost remarkable when it all happens in the same broadcast market. That’s Steve Slaton. And it’s pretty amazing if it’s all accomplished in the same state. That’s Gary Crow.
Both have earned near legend status, particularly with their earlier classic rock associations at KISW (both Crow and Slaton), KXRX (Crow), KMTT (Crow), and, of course, KZOK (both). Slaton’s probably the dean of mostly everything about rock music, and recognized as such far beyond Puget Sound. Crow, the king of the psychedelic ‘60s who’s worked three of the state’s radio markets plus current internet broadcasts, has worked with, or been a part of, some of Seattle’s hottest on-air deejay duos.
For Slaton and Crow, it all started the summer of the country’s biggest rock festival. Steve Slaton’s first time on the air was during Woodstock when, at age 16, he was learning radio on KTOY-FM 91.7 at Tacoma Vo-Tech (later L. H. Bates). A bit later, his first full-time gig was at KLAY-FM in 1972. That same summer of ‘69, Gary Crow started radio at KALE-AM in his home town of Richland, WA. In 1970 he was hired by Steve West at Tacoma’s new rocker KTAC, then moved to KGHO in Hoquiam before his Seattle radio debut at KOL in 1972.
The two became competitors in 1973 when Crow began a four-year stint at KZOK and Slaton began an unbelievable 19-year run at KISW, which was then becoming an FM rock powerhouse. Starting with overnights, then moving to midways, and then early evenings, Steve’s contagious appetite for hard and classic rock attracted a large, faithful audience which, like Slaton, couldn’t get enough of groups like AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Def Leppard, Scorpions, Van Halen and others.
Crow and Slaton worked together for the first time in 1977 when Crow switched to KISW. Program director Beau Phillips matched Crow with the late Bob Hovanes, and later with Mike West. In the ‘80s those pairings were strong complements to the Robin (Erickson) and (John) Maynard morning shenanigans, as well as Slaton’s superior solo show in the evenings and the overall super production and on-air skills of yet another Beau — Mr. Beau Roberts.
The KISW success train rode high and hard—copping some number 1 Arbitron Ratings — until a major derailment in 1987 with the on-air staff walkout of everyone except Slaton and program director Beau Phillips. Below is a mix of audio from KISW (Crow & Hovanes, Robin & Maynard), KXRX (Crow & West, Beau Roberts) and KMTT (Crow & West) from the AOR war days of ‘80s and ‘90s . . .
Audio: KISW, KXRX, KMTT (Running time 7:47)
After KISW, Crow & West, Robin & Maynard, and Beau Roberts all continued their fame at new rocker 96.5 KXRX, which for Crow was a seven-year strint before he left for KMTT 103.7, where West later rejoined him. Steve Slaton stayed at KISW another five years, only to be fired in the fall of 1992 because of lingering creative differences in the years after Lester Smith sold KISW to Nationwide Communications.
Another of the huge success stories for KISW was Beau Phillips. From 1978 until the mid-’90s, he program directed 99.9 through one of its most talent-filled eras. The album rock radio wars of the late 1970s,‘80s and ‘90s saw four or five competing FMs battling for hard/mainstream rock listeners. KISW was always in the thick of it, becoming one of the country’s most influential rockers. Phillips, who later went on to bigger things at Westwood One and MTV networks, scored a KISW show stopper in 1981.
He invited Van Halen to stop by the station to help 99.9 celebrate its 10th on-air birthday. That’s just what happened when the band reached Seattle during its Fair Warning Tour. Van Halen’s entourage was in full party mode with motorcycle escort for four limos carrying David Lee Roth, Eddie Van Halen and other members of the band, a surprise birthday cake, plus a couple of strippers doing their thing on the control room console while Gary Crow was trying to do his afternoon show. It was a three-hour party, Phillips turning the mic over to David Lee and his cohorts, thus giving listeners an audio treat not heard before or since on Seattle’s airwaves.
As for Steve Slaton, he still talks affectionately of his run at KISW, where he hosted about 5,000 radio shows, including “Metal Shop,” “Stump Slaton” and ”Livetime.” It was also at KISW, where his staunch rock music convictions showed when he regularly blew up disco records during the “Disco Destruction” segment of his program.
Audio: Slaton Kills Disco (Running Time 2:40)
Slaton moved to KZOK in 1992, six years before Gary Crow began his second stint at 102.5. Slaton’s 17-year stay at KZOK ended in late 2008 when he took a 22-month hiatus and then resurfaced for eight months at jazz-blues KPLU-FM. He then hosted afternoons at KJR-FM, leaving in the spring of 2016 to begin a second tour at KZOK, taking the midday slot from Crow, who was fired after an amazing near 25 years at 102.5.
At this writing, Gary Crow was still airing his “Psychedelic ‘60s” show Saturday mornings on KZOK and through each weekend on internet nwczradio. (Check it out here). Just prior to his firing at KZOK, Slaton had continued to host “Breakfast with the Beatles” on Sunday mornings. Slaton’s plans from here: uncertain.
Odds & Ends: Looking Back at Slaton, Crow (and Mike West)
Photo Credits: Some photos in this article are from the collection of renowned photographer Darrell Westmoreland, who for several decades captured hundreds of rock music performers in the Pacific Northwest.