In The Mailbox: former air talent Lee Matthews writes us

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Former Seattle & Wenatchee broadcaster Lee Matthews wrote to tell us his story doing on air work & as PD in local radio after researching a former co-worker & discovering a recent column by Victor Stredicke that triggered some memories:

I came upon your website today while searching the internet for a long lost coworker from a Seattle radio station. I found that individual at your site and having worked in the business myself, I glanced to see if I had some small mention. Nope! But that’s OK because I was never a household name in Seattle. I’m from L.A. I moved to Seattle in 1976 to cut my radio chops so that I could go back to the L.A. market with experience under my belt. I never went back to L.A. but moved to Wenatchee . . . because the weather was so much better. Then back to Seattle.  I did one TV spot and Vic Stredicke gave me a small mention or two in “The Times”; otherwise, just another voice in the radio wilderness. In checking out Victor’s material I came across an old “Times” piece that almost made me feel like I was a player in Seattle radio. That piece is attached, marked with red lines. 

Here’s the story, starting with “KLSY and KJR previously battled over a morning disk jockey . . .”

That would have been El Jay, Lock Jock, Gary Lockwood. At the time (1983, I believe) Lockwood worked for KJR. I was a host and program director at a Wenatchee combo with the calls KYJR/KUEN. Tracy Mitchell, who had been PD at KJR, was now working in sales at KYJR/KUEN. At some point Mitchell mentioned the KLSY and KJR squabble over Lockwood and it was suggested that he might come to KYJR/KUEN to ride out his KJR no-compete; mostly to ride his dirt bike in desert and mountain settings but also to keep his hand in the biz by doing some on-air work.  Lockwood (and son Todd) came to Wenatchee one Saturday. Lockwood, Mitchell and I engaged in a “liver demolition derby” . . . and that was the end of it. Lockwood stayed with KJR and KLSY hired Bruce Murdock. A few months later I took an on-air position with Seattle’s lowliest station, KGAA and soon after, Mitchell returned to KJR.

Lee on air at 900 KUEN Wenatchee, 1982

I became PD at KGAA in short order but in even shorter order I learned that the station was a one-way trip to Arbitron oblivion.  During a visit with Mitchell at KJR, I suggested that he blow out Bob Brooks and put me in the midday slot. He wasn’t interested.  KGAA was sold and became KARR, picking up Al Hamm’s ‘Music of Your Life’ format. I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse so I stayed on as operations manager of KARR. The money was good and it was actually a fun place to work . . . for a while.

During the fall of 1985 I stepped down as OD and took on the 6-9 AM spot at KARR; concurrently, I started working weekends and fill-in at KEZX, the “hippest” station on the west coast (some of the original KZAM players). I believe KZAM became KLSY-FM.  I didn’t get along well with KEZX PD Peyton Mays and working two formats (KEZX/KARR) was difficult.  I was only there a couple of months before bailing. I (and Carol Handley?) did weekends, plus I filled in for Peyton in afternoon drive. Paul Carlson was there and Leilani McCoy was in there somewhere. Alice Porter was on traffic. Anyway, working both KARR and KEZX proved too much. I left, then Alice left, and then we reconnected at KLSY. At one point I was doing AM drive at KARR, PM drive at KEZX (fill-in for Peyton), hosting a big band dance for KARR at The Raven, in Ballard and hosting acts at the Ballard Firehouse for KEZX. Plus shooting and editing video on the side.

In the fall of 1985 I quit the KEZX gig but was still doing mornings at KARR. KARR had brought in Bob Rigler as GM and word on the street said the station was on its last leg.  I was hosting a New Year’s Eve party at my house. I signed off the air at 9 AM, told everyone I’d see them in 1986, then headed home. That afternoon I received a call from a somewhat weepy receptionist named Peggy Clark: “We’ve gone DARK!”   At midnight I placed my station keys on a small rocket situated on my deck. I announced that I was officially “Lee Matthews, Radio Superstar, R. E. T Period” and lit the fuse. The extra weight of the keys caused the rocket to tip and slam into a neighbor’s wooden fence, starting a fire which friends and I extinguished.

A week later the phone rang. It was Chris Mays, PD at KLSY asking if I’d like a job. I told her to give me a couple weeks to enjoy my retirement and she did. I started as weekender and drive time fill-in on January 28, 1986 . . . same day as the Shuttle Challenger Disaster.  I stayed with KLSY through to late 1989. By 1988 my main work was proprietary video and audio production, but one day the PD asked if I’d be interested in the daily midday shift. I was certain the gig was mine but it went to . . . Bob Brooks . . . late of KJR. Bob was a great guy and between you and me, KLSY made the right choice.  I pioneered the “Smooth Jazz” format in Seattle via ‘Sunday Brunch’, a program that premiered on KLSY in 1989. The program originated as counter-programming competing for the audience of the popular ‘Musical Starstreams’ airing on KEZXKLSY was a classy pop-rock format but the PD asked me to come up with a blend of pop/jazz to go head to head with Starstreams which aired on KEZX Sundays. I did and the ratings doubled in the time slot that ‘Sunday Brunch’ ran. I don’t think smooth jazz was was a thing in Seattle prior to 1989 but I could be wrong. In any event, behind the scenes we didn’t refer to ‘Sunday Brunch’ as smooth jazz because none of us were familiar with that term. We just called it . . . Whale Music. I left KLSY and was offered a job at KJR-FM. I said no thanks and that was the end of my radio superstar days, more or less. 

Lee on air at KLSY, 1989

 

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Mike Cherry

Author: Mike Cherry

retired broadcaster: on-air, MD, PD, asst PD, Prod Mgr, IT, station technician/engineer, pioneer Internet webcaster, station installation/maintenance; 12 years in commercial radio, 17 years volunteer in campus/community radio in B.C., Alberta & Wash. Amateur radio operator & "DXer" specializing in AM night-time DX, short-wave DX/listening & remote SDR DXing/listening

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