High School to 91-derful KISN
This is the third and final article in a series focusing on the years “World Famous Tom Murphy” spent at KISN radio. (Click on these hyperlinks to read Part 1 or Part 2 of Tom’s KISN story). This installment describes his early years — from high school to becoming “Tiger” Tom Murphy at KISN. It includes funny stuff, mishaps and calamities when he was in the very public KISN “Window on the World” studio in downtown Portland. Tom Murphy is a well-known jock, who worked at several major market radio stations across the country. In the Pacific Northwest he was hugely popular at KISN in Portland-Vancouver, KNEW/KJRB in Spokane and at KJR & KOL in Seattle. Many of the photos and airchecks featured in this series are from Tom’s personal collection. Tom’s friend and former colleague, Gary “Shannon” Burleigh in Seattle, assisted with this article. Your editor is Steven L. Smith of Puget Sound Media.
A Kid in Radio
“My first experience ‘on the radio’ goes back to High School in 1957. A fellow student, who was a friend of mine, suggested I check into becoming a DJ on KFOJ. It was a small carrier current station he ran out of his home. The signal was directed into power lines near the kid’s house and the range was about six blocks in either direction. I decided to join in the fun and I agreed to take on an air shift. In the beginning I was pretty straight and tried to sound announcer-like. One of the highlights of my whole radio career actually took place at that tiny station. I am referring to my first ever celebrity interview. When he was in town, I spoke with none other than the great New Orleans jazz trumpeter Louis ‘Louie’ Armstrong. I always figured there’s nothing quite like starting out with one of the most important and beloved musicians of the 20th century. Louie was super nice to me and did me a favor. My dad was a huge Louis Armstrong fan and in the photo I’m holding a microphone and a Louis Armstrong album. Satchmo autographed that very record and I gave it to my dad as a gift. Looking back on that day, I probably didn’t do the best ever interview. Geez, I was just a kid fiddling around on a carrier current radio station, so what did anyone expect of me? For the record, I want you to know that at no point did I say ‘Mr. Armstrong, do you like playing the trumpet’?
“My first paid radio job came in late ’58 when I was hired to work weekends at KPDQ-AM — a Portland day timer that ran religion in the morning and rock ‘n’ roll the rest of the time. I always thought that was the greatest radio format ever, EXCEPT they had it backwards. Instead play the rock music first and the religion afterwards. That change of sequence would have saved wayward souls from the evils of ‘That Music.’ I became more personality oriented at KPDQ than I had been previously. However, the job ended abruptly when the station went all religion in the springtime and management imported another full time person. Two of the weekenders were laid off, one of whom was me, after the new full time guy arrived.
“The legendary and rather notorious Don Burden bought KVAN in March 1959 and on May 1 of that year KVAN became KISN. The early KISN air staff included Hal Raymond, Steve Brown, Jim Tate, Chris Lane who was the PD and hired me, Dick Drury, Wally Thornton (aka J. Walter Beethoven) and Bill Jackson. The first local Portland jocks hired to work KISN were Wally Thornton and yours truly. I was quite inexperienced and at first they wanted me for weekends only. Three weeks later a full time opening came along and, since I was ‘handy,’ I got the job.
“Compared to the KVAN sound, KISN deejays were high energy/high profile. I didn’t knowingly copy any of the other guys on the staff, but just being at KISN ‘upped my game.’ Without adapting a style or an ‘act,’ I did what seemed to fit me on-air and began adding in humor. Of course, over time I developed my own distinct personality.
“I had been hired by KISN in June 1959 — only five weeks after Burden acquired KVAN. Up until Thanksgiving, when the plush KISN Corner Studio and sales office opened in downtown Portland, all of the KISN jocks originated their shows from the KVAN studios in Vancouver, WA. Historically, I am on record as the last KISN guy to do his show from the original KVAN studio.
Developing My Own Style
“I was naturally wired to go on-the-air and to just be myself. You could say my style varied depending on the music I played. Also, I fooled around a bit with some of the commercials. As I began to find my personality, the KISN PD at the time, Hal Raymond, said he liked what I was doing and that kind of positive feedback really boosted my confidence, attitude and overall outlook. Even back then I realized my style was different than most Top 40 jocks. My individual style and brand of humor stood out. Once a Portland PD /DJ, who was a competitor I greatly admired, came up to me at a cocktail party and said, ‘You are VERY funny.’ Those words meant a lot to me. I thrived on creating fun and excitement in the five and a half years I spent at KISN. It was a great radio station and I’ve always felt proud and blessed to have been part of it.
Stories from KISN’s Corner Window
“Our showplace KISN studio in downtown Portland occupied two floors and there was a giant picture window at ground level facing the street. At first the corner window served as the newsroom, but in ’62 it was turned into the live deejay control room. Any jock sitting in that window was very much on public display. I always thought of it as just the “Window On 10th & Burnside in Portland.” But, “Window On The World” was much more impressive and that seems to be how people refer to the corner window today. I was fine with being the guy in that window. I had spent my youth as an aspiring actor performing in children’s theater and school plays. In high school my peers anointed me as the best actor of the Class of 1958 and theater was my main interest at Portland State College. Suffice to say, I was accustomed to being the center of attention. I developed my sense of humor from being around my dad. He was a personable, social guy who could be very humorous. In fact, he had a great sense of humor. Dad was supportive of me — every night he listened to my radio show. My mom and my sister were both teachers, so you might say that none of us in the immediate family were shy and retiring or afraid to appear in public.
‘Smashed’ at KISN
“There are many stories about happenings at the KISN Corner window. I recall people driving by and once in a while flipping me, but that didn’t happen often. Mostly they waved and honked their car horns. Then one night in 1962, I had a scare. I had my back to the window and was putting away records and carts. Suddenly there was a loud bang, an explosion like a bomb went off. I spun around and saw a gigantic hole in the KISN window — which had moments before consisted of two thick panes of glass. Shards of glass were everywhere. It turns out that this fool had found a big hunk of cement somewhere. I know it didn’t come from the sidewalk in front of the studio. He must have brought along his own cement projectile — this was a BYOC event and ‘Tiger’ Tom hadn’t been invited to the party! All joking aside, I felt lucky the huge and heavy pane glass window hadn’t fallen in on me. This is weird sounding when I tell it, but the chunk of cement was wrapped in purple foil. I always considered the gift wrapping to be a nice touch, even though I didn’t much appreciate the gift or the sentiment. The perpetrator was a dumb kid from the University of Portland. It’s a Catholic institution. That is relevant because, during confession, the ‘pavement-tosser’ told his Catholic priest about the smashed window. The priest persuaded the guy to call and fess up to his wrong doing. As to motive, I guess he was a ‘Frat Wienie” — set up, pranked or dared into his crazed behavior by a college fraternity. Boys will be boys and they are not always smart.
Lost and Found Department
“One evening I was presenting my award winning show in the KISN window when some teenagers dropped by. That part of the story, visitors standing outside the window on the sidewalk, wasn’t unusual. The unusual part is they were holding a live raccoon. Hmm, what was going on out there? I put on a long record and opened the front door. The kids explained they had found the masked bandit and he was tame and undoubtedly someone’s cherished pet. They suggested I take temporary custody of the animal and publicize on KISN that I had a lost and found raccoon. This seemed like a workable plan, but I was naive about raccoons and hadn’t considered that behind that cute face could be a rather ‘nasty’ critter. When I was carrying the raccoon into the studio that evening, I never gave a thought to the possibility he might just bite my face off. I announced on-air that in my possession was someone’s missing raccoon, and that I sincerely hoped to reunite it with its rightful owner. About 20 minutes later, the raccoon’s owners were standing on the sidewalk outside the KISN window. The thing that always stuck with me about that incident, and impressed me all the more with KISN, was the way the station was so popular with everyone that the raccoon’s human family was listening. Over the years, DJs read lost dog reports, but I bet I am the only one who did a lost raccoon report. I guess the family figured if anybody knew the whereabouts of their lost raccoon it would be ‘Tiger’ Tom, aka ‘Tiger’ Tom the Raccoon Whisperer.
The Stars Shine in Portland
“A few times pop stars (mainly recording artists that appealed to teens) would drop by the downtown Portland studio. Fans who were standing outside the KISN window at just the right time could catch sight of a favorite celeb. That kind of spontaneity and excitement was important when innovative stations like KISN were inventing the Top 40 format. I am posting four photos of popular recording artists who visited KISN or joined us in the corner window.”
Talking about ‘Tiger’ Tom
Editor’s note: ‘Tiger’ Tom’s friends Gary Bruno and Les Parsons have stories to tell about Murphy. Gary was known as Jack Sunday at KISN and as Gary Taylor at KJRB and KJR. Gary said: “Back in 1963, when Real Don Steele (KISN PD) hired me to do weekends, the first thing he said was ‘Tom Murphy is a star and never forget that.’ ‘Tiger’ Tom was doing 7-midnight and every kid and young adult in the greater Portland area was a listener and a fan. The nice thing was Tom never acted like a star and he treated everyone with dignity. He’s probably one of the nicest guys you could meet. The KISN Corner was a nightly traffic jam of kids in cars driving by and standing on the sidewalk watching Tom through ‘The Window.’ You could really feel the power of ‘Tiger’ Tom.”
Editor’s Note: When I saw Tom’s ratings, it blew my mind. I have to wonder how many jocks have ever opened the ratings book and found they were pulling a 58 share. Granted, the 58 share was a peak rating, but even when Tom was having a bad quarter hour his share was up around 40+.
Les Parsons is yet another radio veteran who worked with Tom at KISN and later at KJR. Gary Burleigh asked Les to tell us about a few of his memories of Tom. Les said he remembers a crazy promotion in which KISN listeners mailed or delivered donations of string to ‘Tiger’ Tom.
“The promotion Les mentioned was called ‘String into Spring’ from 1961,” Murphy explained. “It was kind of a put-on. Listeners were told I was collecting string and when we got enough I would tie it to the front door of KISN and we would ‘string it out’ as we walked all the way to Seaside. Of course Seaside was about 70 miles from Portland, so we didn’t have that much string. But everybody knew it was all just for fun anyway. We received lots of balls of string but a huge ball came from a guy who worked for, I guess, a string manufacturer. The morning I took off with my string collection, in theory on my way to Seaside, several teens from Portland and Vancouver tagged along. The young people who listened to KISN and participated in our promotions and stunts were terrific. Along the route we dropped by the KGW studios (our main competitor) and I tied the string to their front door and then we moved on.”
Editor’s note: Les Parsons was also an admirer of ‘Meet Your Neighbor’ — 28 different comedy sketches that were written and produced by Tom and KISN newsman Bill Howlett. In the prior two parts of this series, we have featured three of those humorous comedy interviews from 1961. Below is yet another episode — ‘The Doughnut Dunking Champion’ — which has not been heard since the early ’60s.
Meet Your Neighbor — Flip Feeney, Doughnut Dunker (Run Time 3:12)
A Dog’s Life
“Fellow jock Johnny Williams, (I told you about him in Part 2 of this series), came up with one of the best KISN promotions ever. He announced on-air that he was giving away Tom Murphy. Listeners were told to send in letters explaining why they should be selected to take possession of Tom Murphy. A girl named Sally Nunn wrote a very clever letter and she won Tom Murphy. In case you’re wondering, she didn’t win me. This Tom Murphy was a beautiful Irish Setter with pedigree papers, which Tom Murphy the DJ didn’t have. He was officially Tom Murphy III. I was actually Tom Murphy Jr. In her entry, Sally mentioned all the great attributes she had. But the clincher was the last sentence which I still remember: ‘And finally I should win Tom Murphy because he deserves me.’ We presented her with the dog at the Fox Theatre. As I understand it, Tom Murphy the canine lived to be about 17 years-old and he had a wonderful life with Sally. ‘Broadcasting Magazine’ picked up the story.”
The Forever Memory
“In the course of a lifetime, most of us experience at least one tragic event that becomes an ‘indelible memory.’ The explosion of the space shuttle Challenger and the 911 terrorist attacks were such events. For my generation, the first of the awful memories began with the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Those of us who were alive, and not infants back then, recall where we were when JFK was shot. In my case, I was a Portland resident and I’d worked the KISN evening shift the day before and I was sleeping. Actually I was sleeping at my folk’s house, because I was between apartments. The phone rang, which woke me up, and my dad was on the other end of the line — he gave me the bad news. Like everyone else, I was stunned. So I got myself up, watched TV for a while and then turned on KISN. Almost immediately after the tragedy began, we were airing a direct news feed from KLIF radio in Dallas. Don Burden, KISN’s owner, was a friend of KLIF owner Gordon McClendon. Post haste they put together a deal, so we could run the live broadcast from Dallas. (That broadcast from Dallas was anchored by KLIF news director, Joe Long, and McClendon himself. Click here to read more about Joe Long and his role in the Kennedy assassination coverage).
“That time in November ’63 is still kind of a haze — so much happened so fast with Kennedy’s assassination, Oswald’s arrest to follow, and then he was shot by Jack Ruby. It was a day or two after all that when we ceased running the KLIF news feed and shifted to playing generic and nondescript twaddle music. Probably you could classify some of the alleged music as ‘dirges.’ Along with the subdued music, the jocks would occasionally intervene with low-key station breaks. That phase went on for a few more days, then KISN went back to playing Top 40 hits. However, even to getting back into our normal routine, the music director had to put lots of thought into what we were going to play. For example, for the time being we eliminated from the playlist the popular Ray Charles’ record ‘Hit The Road Jack’ and Murray Kellum’s ‘Long Tall Texan.’ To my surprise, I learned that a brief audio clip from my evening show, recorded in the days following JFK’s death, has survived to this day. You can hear it below.”
Memoriam for JFK: Tom Murphy’s evening show, November ’63 (Run Time :44)
Bits and Pieces
Editor’s note: Tom was known for his funny on-air bits. Many recorded pieces of his bits are still with us today. In the aircheck below, first there is “The Want Bird,” then ‘Tiger’ Tom is canned by Mr. KISN, and finally teen advice counselor “Granny Grogan” makes an appearance. Tom explained:
“These cuts go back to the early sixties. The ‘Want Bird’ was a mythical Huge Bird I just made it all up of course. Anything the bird wanted he would just say: “Want___________ (fill in the blank)” and then he’d reach out and grab it. As I recall, he usually wanted the very attractive female pop star Jackie DeShannon. Bill Howlett drew a cartoon of ‘The Want Bird’ which we gave away. Then there was dear ‘Grandma Grogan.’ She gave out probably the most worthless advice ever offered to teens.
‘Tiger’ Tom Aircheck: #1 The Want Bird; #2 Canned by Mr. KISN; #3 Grandma Grogan, 1962 (Run Time 3:12)
Winding Down the Years: Christmas ‘64
“Christmas was always a big deal at KISN. We had the KISN Carol Tree (more on that below). My last Christmas at KISN is one I will always remember. Students from a Vancouver high school, actually kids from the school newspaper, asked me to write something inspiring and clever about Christmas. I promptly agreed to do so. Of course, I totally forgot about my commitment until the kids called the station one evening and told me they were ready to publish and would come by the next day to pick up my piece. Whoa there, ‘Holy Shit,’ what could I do? I had written absolutely nothing! Being on-the-air at the time, I couldn’t possibly focus on hurriedly writing anything of merit. Plus, I had no idea what in hell I would write about anyway. Then I realized that reliable help was available. I called my friendly newsman Bill Howlett, who was presenting his newscasts from the transmitter site. Bless Bill, you could always count on him. He volunteered to write something for me and to drop it by the Portland studio that very night. Bill wrote a truly great Christmas message and then delivered it to me. The students picked it up the next day and ran the piece in their newspaper. I was eternally grateful to Bill for bailing me out of a jam. On my Christmas Eve show that year I read his Christmas message. That was not a one-time deal. For many years to come. I read it at KJR and KOL in Seattle, WCFL and WMAQ in Chicago, WIXY in Cleveland, and at KIIS AM & FM in LA. I even shared it on Satellite shows I did for DMX. Below is the script of the Christmas message Bill Howlett wrote for me 55 years ago.”
“There’s something special about Christmas…even more that the vacation to catch up on your loafing and the goodies under the tree.
Christmas means different things to different people.
To the mailman, it means thousands of packages with insufficient postage, addressed mostly in Egyptian hieroglyphics with a dull pencil and a 65 pound bag to carry on his 12 mile walk through the rain.
To the gift shop proprietor, it’s something that should happen 6 or 8 times a year.
To the toy-wholesaler, it’s a hassle that started last u and wound up just before Halloween.
To the airlines, it’s a mad scramble to get everybody on the 5:15 flight Christmas Eve.
To the traffic policeman, it’s millions of motorists trying to get home at 70 miles an hour and two cars ahead of everybody else.
To Dad, it’s that wild period of deficit spending between back-to-school expenses and income tax filing time.
To the long distance phone operator, it’s her switchboard lighted up brighter than the tree down in the lobby.
To the average shopper, it’s trying to find that last minute gift that LOOKS expensive, with the store shelves looking a little sparse and 1100 other shoppers with the same idea.
To the small fry, it’s that long, L-O-N-G four weeks after Thanksgiving, where the weeks have 11 days in them at least…
To the pastor of your church, it’s just the beginning and he wishes you’d come back often and hear the whole story.
To the old gentleman in the red suit and whiskers, with the eight reindeer transport, it’s a problem in navigation, logistics, bookkeeping and parking spaces.
But to most of us, it’s that special season of smiles and surprises—-getting together with friends and renewing old acquaintances. It’s a time of peace and promise and the wonderful joy of giving.
Merry Christmas to you all.”
The End was Near
“In my five and a half years at KISN, I had been treated very well by the station and certainly by its listeners. The last couple of months I was employed at KISN were really nice. I emceed the Dave Clark Five concert and served as the official ‘lighter’ of the 1964 KISN Carol Tree. The display consisted of hundreds of red, blue and green lights. It had pretty sophisticated electronics, especially so for the era, that controlled the lights — they pulsated and changed colors and intensity in sync with the music we were playing on KISN. It was spectacular. The first Carol Tree went up in 1961 and the tradition carried on for many more years. Every Christmas it was placed at a prominent local store or mall. The Carol Tree was another example of Don Burden recognizing a great promotion. In the photo, that’s me pushing the button to light the KISN Carol Tree.
“It was an excellent Christmas season and I enjoyed it immensely. Along with pushing the button that lit the KISN Carol Tree, I will always remember the miracle of Bill Howlett coming to my rescue and composing that wonderful Christmas Story. Later in the year, those two promoters from Portland (Hart and Murphy) hosted a big New Year’s Eve dance featuring our good friends in that great Pacific Northwest band Paul Revere & The Raiders. (There has been a rebirth of interest in The Raiders’ hits since the band was prominently a part of ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ — the new movie by Quentin Tarantino).
“In spite of all the activity and goings on, come January I was rapidly losing interest in KISN. I’ve always said I felt ‘Burned Out’ which was true. How burned out could I have been? Well, I had been at the job non-stop since I was 19…… and I was turning 25. I had always liked LA and had saved up some money. I thought it might be a good time to move on. In January ’65, I quit KISN and moved to LA. Friends of mine were living there and we hung out and had fun. But eventually a personal cash flow problem was developing and I had no prospect of a radio job. My connections to the Northwest kept pulling at me. I called my old friend Gary Bruno, who was at the time PD at Spokane’s KNEW (Call letters later changed to KJRB). He offered me a job doing summer relief and I took it. When summer ended and the Spokane gig was over, I considered returning to LA. Then along came a job offer from KJR in Seattle. In September ’65, I went to work for well-known KJR PD Pat O’Day. That was one of the smartest career moves I ever made. The KJR job was great!
The Last Hurrah
“I returned to KISN, as a visitor only, during Christmas season 1973. That year Connie and I flew from Chicago (where I was working at WCFL) back to Portland to celebrate Christmas with family and friends. I stopped by the station to visit with my buddy Tom Michaels. When I was waiting in the lobby, Don Burden and the longtime KISN general manager Steve Sheppard walked by. They were friendly and Steve asked if my wife, Connie, and I would be able to attend the KISN Christmas Party that very evening. I said ‘absolutely.’ It was an excellent party and we had a great time. I always thought it was nice of Steve to invite us. And that folks was the official end of Tom Murphy’s connection to KISN radio. Since then I have been back a few times to attend KISN reunions. KISN was an excellent and innovative Top 40 radio station and I hope readers of Puget Sound Media have enjoyed these stories from back in the day. Finally, let me say that a big part of what made working at KISN so much fun and so memorable was the staff — what a bunch of fun people and great jocks.”
Editor’s note: This installment completes the three part series of articles on Tom Murphy’s time at KISN Portland-Vancouver. More memories from Tom Murphy will be coming your way in the future. So far, Tom hasn’t said much about his time spent in Seattle at KJR and KOL, or his adventures in Chicago and LA. He has some great personal stories about Larry Lujack and Gary Owens.
“Tiger” Tom or “World Famous Tom Murphy,” as he called himself in Seattle, was a fan favorite and top rated deejay at both KISN in Portland and KJR in Seattle. Having been at both stations in their years of ratings dominance, Tom has agreed to discuss the inner workings of both radio stations. Here’s a question to ponder: If KJR and KISN had both been in the same market, which station would have been on top? Tom will candidly discuss what the strengths and weaknesses of the two legendary Pacific Northwest rock stations. Stay tuned for more of Tom Murphy — coming your way soon at Puget Sound Media.
Credit and Acknowledgement: Puget Sound Media and “Tiger” Tom are in the debt of Gino Rossi, photographer extraordinaire, for allowing us to reproduce his historical photos. It is safe to say that all of the good photos were Gino’s work, and anything less than spectacular probably wasn’t! It is no wonder that all those years ago Gino was chosen to be the official photographer of KISN Radio and Paul Revere & The Raiders. In October 2018, when the KISN deejays and Gino were inducted into the Oregon Museum Hall of Fame, “Tiger” Tom and KISN’s ‘Nightwatch’ legend, Pat Pattee, were able to spend some quality time with Gino. We believe you will enjoy the photo.
Furthermore, for the valuable content and/or assistance provided in creating this series, we wish to acknowledging the following: Stumptown Blogger; KISN Good Guy Radio; PDX Media; DJ Master Control; Radio Disc Jockey.homestead.com; Gary ‘Shannon’ Burleigh, Gary Bruno, Les Parsons, Kirk Wilde, and William Ogden.