Jay “Hamilton” Himmelsbach had a long radio career in the Pacific Northwest, including stations in Moses Lake (KSEM), Bellingham (KPUG & KBFW), Seattle (KOL in the rockin’ sixties & Country Music Giant KMPS-FM in the 70s and ’80s). Jay also worked in Eugene & Portland OR, Ventura CA, Austin TX, and Missoula & Great Falls MT, among other markets. Recently Jay was introduced to readers at Puget Sound Media. He contributed his personal comments on the PBS “Country Music” series. Read Jay’s blog posts by clicking here.
This editor worked with Jay at KBFW in the early 70s. Fred Danz of Sterling Recreation Organization (SRO) owned the station and our studio was above an SRO owned drive-in movie theater. Jay was PD/music director and the midday jock. I was a 20 year old part-timer putting myself through college by working radio on weekends and evenings in the summer. Jay had been in the biz for several years. He knew the ropes, was a positive influence on the staff, and was good to work with. His motivation for choosing radio as a career was unique compared to many of us who entered the field. Jay has had some interesting and unexpected detours along the way during his life in radio. What follows is Jay’s personal story told in his own words.
Small Town Kid
“First, let me answer the question I most often get from non-media folks, when they discover James (Jim) Himmelsbach and Jay Hamilton are one and the same. ‘So, why did you choose the radio name Jay Hamilton’? The simple answer is I wanted to keep my same initials; JH. Of course, there’s a long involved story of why I chose that particular name, but it’s not all that interesting, so let’s move on.
“Long before I even thought what the heck a radio name (air-name) was, I was the 3rd of four kids, all born in the same hospital in Yakima, WA where my parents met. My mom, a registered nurse and my dad, one of her patients. My father worked for the Northern Pacific Railroad. His work took us to a number of places before eventually landing in the small Yakima Valley town of Mabton. The town’s claims to fame are ‘The World’s Largest Hop Ranch’ and (classmate and friend of mine) Yankee pitcher/Mariner pitching coach, Mel Stottlemyre.
“Like all small town kids of that era you had to be involved in sports, which I was, but my main focus, from an early age, was attending Saturday afternoon matinees at the Mabton Theater and the music on the radio. My aunt was a piano teacher, so I got free piano lessons and I played drums in the school band. These influences led me to deciding early on that I wanted to be a performer of some type. Being that small-town kid, I wasn’t sure exactly what that involved. How does one become an actor, a musician, a singer/songwriter? But through ads in my dad’s ‘Popular Mechanics Magazine’ I became interested in magic and ventriloquism…eventually purchasing an inexpensive ventriloquist dummy.
“In the 1950s almost every town in the valley had a Lion’s Club fundraising ‘Kids Talent Show.’ Some older Mabton boys did a comedy duo singing act, so after honing my ventriloquist skills and because I wasn’t old enough to have a driver’s license, I began hitching rides with them to most of these Talent Contests. The older boys (St. George & Telford) always won 1st prize doing Homer and Jethro songs (like ‘When It’s Toothpicking Time In False Teeth Valley’), while I normally came in a modest 2nd or 3rd, with a prize often consisting of a photo of your performance and a nominal cash award. My idea was never to make ventriloquism my life’s career, but I enjoyed performing and this afforded me that outlet. Besides, it was a fun way for me to make a little extra cash.
Rock ‘n Roll Is Here To Stay
“Just as the Beatles would in the mid-60s, Bill Haley & the Comets, Elvis, Gene ‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’ Vincent and the like, cast a spell on many a teenage boy (including me) in the mid-50s. I quickly noticed that some of these performers wrote their own songs. Eddie Cochran, Paul Anka, Carl Perkins and so on. My mother bought me a $12 Silvertone guitar from the Sears and Roebuck catalog as a birthday gift and I was off and running. I performed frequently at school functions and eventually I was in a number of Rock ‘n Roll bands in Eastern Washington, but that’s a story we’ll get into later.
Lazy Did Not Run In The Family
“I began to notice many of the local kids, after graduating, (even at the top of their class), were destined to spend their lives pumping gas at the local gas station. Certainly not what I wanted for myself. My parents were kind, thoughtful, loving and fair, but in our household you were pretty much a ‘lazy bum’ if you didn’t have a job for nearly the entire summer. We were allowed to keep all our earnings (in a savings account), but nevertheless I spent my summers, from the time I was eight/nine years old working.
“Attending my new school happily paid off and in 1959 I was accepted at Washington State University (the alma mater of the great Edward R. Murrow), where I planned to major in Radio-TV. My voice was deeper than the average teenager, so it had been suggested to me for years I should seek a career in broadcasting. I reasoned I loved music and they played music on the radio, so here was an opportunity to continue my involvement with music without spending the rest of my life in some smoky bar-room picking tunes. It was definitely the ‘music’ that took me to radio, not so much a deeper voice and the idea of being ‘that guy’ on the radio. WSU had the reputation as one of the best schools in this field, so if I was going into radio…Wazzu seemed (at the time) to be the perfect fit.
Radio Icons In My Midst
“I attended college for nearly three and a half years, when I became extremely anxious to start my career. I had done my share of shifts on Cougar Radio (KUGR) at WSU. I had been given the opportunity to experience some airtime on two Yakima Top-40 stations (KUTI and KLOQ ‘Clock Radio’). My friend Dennis Zerby (air-name Bob Weston) had allowed me to sit in the control room during his air-shifts at Top-40 KUTI and even allowed me to take over the controls and do a few breaks now and again.
“However, my enthusiasm to exit college and begin my Top-40 career was accelerated during one of my many visits to KLOQ, formerly KYAK. This station was Yakima’s 1st Top-40 Radio Station and its staff was populated with radio guys who would become deejay icons. In the late ’50s, there was a jock named Paul Berg and a young Yakima announcer named Jerry King. Paul, of course, became KJR-Seattle’s legendary Pat O’Day and Jerry, needing to alter his name to Kaye at KJR, so as not to be confused with Seattle’s KING Radio.
“This was the epitome of inspiration for a young aspiring radio deejay. During one early evening visit to KLOQ, because they knew I had some on-air experience, I was asked if I would jock while they had a staff meeting. Although Paul Berg had already exited KLOQ for KAYO-Seattle, these still were pivotal moments, at least for me. These hallways still hummed with the excitement of fun Top-40 radio.
Going First Class
“I was additionally influenced, a year later, after the exit of these future KJR jocks and then KLOQ’s format changed. KIMA became the city’s new Top-40 station and they had this wacko new disc jockey named Don Steele…which I will debate ’til the end…that he used ‘The Real Don Steele’ moniker while there, because I’ve heard others insist that he never used that moniker at KIMA. It’s an absolutely clear memory of mine! But I digress. My point is all this made me super anxious to become part of this Radio ‘n Music world.
“Some of the KLOQ jocks told me about William B. Ogden’s Radio Operational Engineering School in Burbank, CA. They said if I acquired my FCC 1st Phone I might have an easier time finding a full-time radio gig, as many stations required a 1st Phone as a condition of employment. I began school at Ogden’s in the spring of 1962. Ogden’s course was not so much a memory course. He emphasized two things. First he taught basic radio engineering stuff, but he also emphasized how to interpret the FCC exam. The exam, written by bureaucrats, often had test questions from outdated textbooks leading to outdated answers…but as far as the tests were concerned, ‘correct answers.’ There were a number of legitimate radio engineers in my class who had attempted the exam several times but failed, due to these discrepancies in the exam. Ogden had also taught us how to recognize these ‘bogus’ questions.
“I met Richard’s then wife, Faye, who stood 5’4” at the most. Richard confided in me that he did not want tall children, thus the petite wife. At the time it seemed a reasonable theory to two 22 year olds. Richard and I would infrequently communicate, mainly by letter, through the years and then years later we met for lunch when I returned to live in LA for a time. I remember, while at Ogden’s, when I asked him if he would allow me to try on his sports jacket and it fit me like this huge-baggy-oversized raincoat and I’m just over 6 feet tall! Sadly, my friend Richard died in September, 2014. Watch a short video montage of some of Richard’s movie scenes (films referenced above), and an appearance on the Monkees TV series, by clicking here.
Naiveté and Chutzpah Prevailed
“My trip to Ogden’s also gave me another memorable adventure in my young life. We had some downtime between taking our FCC exam and receiving our results. One of my older classmates, an LA resident, told me stories of him sneaking into NBC Studios Burbank. He explained it was fairly easy, if you had the nerve. I decided to give it a try during the school’s down time. My instructions were to completely circle around to the back of the NBC complex, through the employees’ parking lot and then around to the employees’ entrance. I was to walk past the guard at the reception desk, acting as if I belonged and offer a friendly wave. The guard looked up, gave me a nod in response, and I continued past him. Just beyond the guard was a doorway leading to a driveway. Across this driveway were a few steps up to a doorway into the main studio complex. Once inside, I made my way down a long hallway that separated a storage/props area from some smaller television studios used for taping nationally televised Game Shows such as ‘Concentration’ and ‘Truth or Consequences.’ In a couple of the studios, show tapings were in progress and from my location I was able to enter their backstage areas and observe the proceedings. Absolutely no one paid any attention to my unauthorized activities. After an hour or so of this close-up look of how they do things in the big time, I decided not to press my luck any further and left the way I came in. I decided to return the next night, but a little later in the evening.
“In that spring and summer of 1962, NBC Television was in the process of moving ‘The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson’ from its longtime New York location to the NBC-Burbank Studios. During this transition there were a number of guest hosts in Burbank for the show, including Art Linkletter, Soupy Sales, Bob Cummings, Mort Saul and Joey Bishop. I made my way from backstage to a position in the wings where I could watch (along with ‘other’ NBC employees) as they prepared the set. Then, the orchestra began to play and that evening’s host, Joey Bishop, was introduced. We watched him do his monologue and introduce his first guest and I was having a ball, but eventually I became nervous my charade would falter and my presence would be questioned. I began my return to the backstage area, in an effort to enter the other studio. Then it happened! My greatest fear was realized when a studio security guard gently grabbed my arm and asked, ‘Pardon me, but where do you think you’re going’?
“Now here’s the crux of this story. I’ve thought about this incident a million times since it happened and I still don’t quite believe or understand the presence of mind I had during this awkward situation. Why I didn’t fall to my knees and beg forgiveness, I’ll never understand! I can only credit the naiveté and chutzpah of a 22 year old. Rather than turning into a marshmallow of pure panic, I easily did the following. I looked at the guard and smiled with the authority of someone who belonged there and said, ‘Oh, I’m working on the ‘Andy Williams Show’ over in the other studio. I really need to get back over there’! The security guard quickly released my arm, apologized for the intrusion and any inconvenience and sent me on my way! I quickly made my way through the dressing room passage.
“By then, Ann-Margret had retreated from her balcony perch and was sitting in the front row of some studio bleachers. It appeared as if the rehearsal was winding down. Looking back, I realize how young we both were. She was approximately a year younger than I was at the time. With my newfound courage I walked over and sat down next to her and engaged her in conversation. I don’t recall much of the actual conversation other than I remember trying to talk what I thought was ‘shop talk.’ She was pleasant and sweet and not at all aloof. Nothing like I had imagined she would be when I’d entered that studio earlier. I guess she assumed I was her peer and part of the crew and basically treated me as an equal, easing any jitters I might have had while talking to such a strikingly beautiful young actress. I was surprised at how long we sat there chatting before I decided not to press my luck and made my exit.
“I am thankful to my classmate for the suggestion and give thanks to my naiveté, which obviously allowed me to pull this off! You have to remember that this was 1962 and I was a 22 year old kid from a tiny town in central Washington state, who had just had a lengthy conversation with a beautiful young actress and had seen the taping of the iconic ‘Tonight Show’ from an NBC employees’ vantage point. I was thrilled! I’m sure, with today’s modern security conditions, it would be next to impossible to recreate my unauthorized 1962 self-tour of NBC anytime soon!
Television? Well, Maybe!
Moses Lake Came Calling
“Now, of course, there always has to be a fly in the ointment. This one consisted of the reality I’d gone to Hollywood and the Radio School to improve my skills as a news-reader. Because my audition tape consisted of little more than news, it gave Gary the impression that this was my strong suit. Being one of only two stations in the market, KSEM was a major local news source and had morning and afternoon news blocks. The first thing Gary had me do moments after I walked into the station, for the very first time, was to rip some news copy off the teletype and do the 15-minute afternoon news block. I didn’t have one second to ‘woodshed’ the copy! I couldn’t refuse his request…how would that look!? I was already nervous as hell, as this was my chance to solidify my first fulltime radio gig. That, plus being totally insecure about my news reading chops…led to one really awful newscast! To his credit, Gary never chastised me one iota. Never said one negative thing to me about the newscast and, I can’t stress enough, how truly awful that newscast was. Gary was always positive and encouraging about everything I did during the time he was Program Director at KSEM. Gary allowed me plenty of time to improve as a jock and, again to his credit, never found it necessary to ask me to do another extended newscast.
“One very odd and unusual aspect of the KSEM broadcast studio was we were located on Marsh Island in the middle of Moses Lake, while the station’s offices and production studios were located in town. I-90 went directly across Moses Lake at this point, giving us access to the island. However, the road to the broadcast studios was precariously nestled on the opposite side of a freeway fence and really quite treacherous at best. I had a number of harrowing winter drives to that location.
I Should Have Known Better!
All the Foul Young Dudes
“I sincerely enjoyed my time at KSEM. When I was in Moses Lake, (or as some of the locals refer to it, ‘Moses Mistake’), Larson Air Force Base was in full operation. So, for a smaller market we had a fairly large and diverse audience. The young airmen had a term, ‘foul dude’ that could mean ‘something good’ or ‘something bad’ depending on how you framed its use in a statement. In the same way the term ‘uptight’ was used in popular usage years later. So just as a goofy on-air bit, I took the term and ran with it, inaugurating The Jay Hamilton ‘Foul Dude Club.’ It was all tongue-in-cheek. Send in a self-addressed envelope, specifying whether you ‘are’ or ‘are not’ a Foul Dude and receive a membership card…good for a host of special offers such as free fries with your order of a coke or allowing your date free entrance to a rock band’s dance. I printed up membership cards (photo) and mailed out dozens, especially to guys on the Base. Most of them choosing ‘I am’ a Foul Dude.
“I was friends and slightly involved, in Moses Lake, with a local Rock ‘n Roll band The Continentals. The drummer’s dad owned the local Lincoln/Mercury dealership and thus the band’s name. I recorded a rough demo with them, in the KSEM Production Studios one weekend, and sent the tape to Seattle record producer Jerry Dennon, along with an introductory letter and a suggestion he bring them to Seattle for a recording session. I believe the title of the song was ‘Gimme Dem Beans.’ At the time, the band had a girl singer named Marsha Maye, who was not involved in the recording. The group changed some band members and eventually their name to The Bards and they had a sizable regional hit with a Dennon production of ‘The Owl and the Pussycat.’
“In addition, I was appointed Music Director. We were right in the middle of the first wave of the British Invasion and as a result the music we were playing on Top-40 Radio was really quite good. Among the first tunes that totally blew me away, while auditioning them during that period, were the first single by The Moody Blues – ‘Go Now’ and Tom Jones’ first single ‘It’s Not Unusual.’ I still love that Moody Blues’ tune. Jones is a great talent but his choice of material, later in his career, made me less appreciative of his style … just as Elvis Presley did with his early versus later musical choices.
“I was involved in a number of stunts and promotions at KPUG. Station Sales Manager, Dick Stark (on the right holding the mic in the photo below), arranged for me to spend all night sleeping in a Rambler convertible, in the showroom window at a local car dealership. My reward was a free nightcap and nightshirt pajamas to take home with me after the event. Yippee!
Dancin’ The Night Away
“I was also KPUG’s consistent MC at teen dances at two venues in Birch Bay which featured that era’s major Northwest rock and roll bands, The Viceroys, Merrilee & The Turnabouts among others. Having been in teen rock bands myself, I looked forward to hosting these dances and talking music with different band members.
“At KOL, I was also involved in some of their station promotional events. My favorite was a contest where listeners submitted entries and if selected received a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce morning ride to school with a KOL jock. Older winners won a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce trip, with a deejay, to a big grocery shopping spree. I did a number of the kids to school trips. I waited in the back seat of the Rolls as the chauffeur (dressed to the hilt, like the Queen’s chauffeur!) knocked on the winner’s door and escorted them to the car. The kids were always giddy with excitement! During my time at KOL they were employing a mild reverb during their broadcasts. It took a while to get used to hearing your voice in your headset with that reverb.
“While I was in Seattle my friend Mike Archer, upset by my KPUG firing, gave notice and left for (ironically) KIMA in Yakima. As my vacation relief position was winding down I got a call from Jim Tincker at KPUG. Seems he had fired the PD who had released me and Tincker wanted me back at KPUG to do afternoon drive. When I returned, I developed a friendship with a couple of the members of the local Bellingham rock band, The Unusuals. I’d never stopped playing music at home and writing songs. I had been writing songs since I was in junior high.
A Most “Unusual” Time
“At Mabton’s only drugstore there was a fairly substantial magazine section. Whenever a new issue of a Hit Parader or Song Hits Magazine (see photos) came out, I bought it. They were this small town kid’s favorite access to hit songs and singers. The main features of these magazines were the complete song lyrics to every hit song currently being played in America, plus brief biographies or interviews with recording artists. This is where I discovered a teenage Paul Anka wrote ‘Diana.’ Inspired, as a 7th grader, I wrote (what, I recall, were my 1st tunes) two songs about the two prettiest girls in my class…titled ‘I’ll Never Stop Carin’ For Karen’ and ‘I’m Fond-a Rhonda.’ So, when The Unusuals asked me to write and allow them to record one of my songs at an upcoming recording session in Seattle with producer Jerry Dennon, I thought how cool is this! Laurie Vitt and Harvey Redmond, of the band, came to my house and while I was explaining my method of songwriting in a quick demonstration…I took my guitar and quickly wrote a song…taking 10 to 20 minutes at the most. This became the song they chose to record.
“It turned out that Dennon couldn’t attend the session, so the group asked me to join them in Seattle and supervise their recording. The Unusuals recorded my song, ‘I’m Walking Babe,’ with Harvey on lead vocals, and a song written by Laurie, ‘Babe, It’s Me’ which featured vocals by Laurie and the band’s amazing girl singer Kathi McDonald. (Kathi went on to have one hell of a successful international singing career). The song was released on Panorama Records in the Spring of 1966 and by then I was no longer at KPUG. I had been offered the position of Program Director/Music Director at KASH-Radio in Eugene OR. The Unusuals ‘Babe It’s Me’ was the side preferred by KPUG Music Director Kirk Wilde and it rose to #1 on their Hits Chart. At KASH in Eugene, we played the heck out of ‘I’m Walking Babe’ and The Unusuals made an appearance at Eugene’s teen dance venue, The Tork Club.
“Many years later, while surfing the web, just for the hell of it I googled ‘KPUG Radio/Jay Hamilton’ and to my shock ‘my mug’ appeared on the computer screen! I eventually discovered that Steve Smith (now an editor at Puget Sound Media), with whom I’d worked years earlier at KBFW-Bellingham, had created a YouTube video of ‘I’m Walking Babe,’ linking my connection with the song.
“My curiosity about that song I’d written 50 years earlier was stirred. Over a period of time I discovered this song had become something of a Garage Band phenomenon and appears on at least six compilation albums, including one which used ‘I’m Walkin’ Babe’ as the LP’s title. It’s been recorded (covered) by recording groups in America and Europe, including Greece and Finland and Rochester, NY and New York City! It was even used on the soundtrack of the French-TV Sci-Fi Series, ‘Radio Zone Blanche’ (The White Zone) and for some reason, on their soundtrack LP, it’s listed under the title ‘Yeah,’ by The Unusuals & Jay Hamilton. The word ‘yeah’ is an essential part of the lyrics, but it’s not the title of the song! I continue to marvel at the influence and longevity of the song and the irony that I’ve never received one dime, over the years, in royalty payments.
Shortchanged at KASH
“After joining KASH-Eugene, even though I enjoyed the city and was proud of my deejay staff and the overall sound I’d established for the station, I slowly became miffed with some aspects of radio. Here’s a huge ‘for instance’: At KASH, as their PD, I had to put up with the station owner (a long-time Eugene lawyer, whom I never met or saw) and his drinking buddy (also a lawyer) whom the owner insisted on letting do a daily 15 minute noon time Newscast, which he always pre-recorded to cart (cartridge). First, our Top-40 format didn’t need this newscast (a holdover from the station’s previous MOR format), but the lawyer/newscaster saw it as free advertising for his law practice. Secondly, over the majority of days this guy showed up to record his newscast, he was typically half soused. You could smell the booze the moment he walked in! One afternoon he didn’t erase the cart he used and therefore when it was played on-air the entire newscast was total gibberish with bleed-through from the previous recording on the cart. It sounded like crap, but there was nothing I could do about it. He was the owner’s buddy and I was forced to just ‘deal with it’!
“As a Program Director/Music Director/ jock at KASH it wasn’t a total horror story. I do have some good memories. I had a fun mid-day promotion on my shift, giving away professional baby portraits to new mothers. We did the ol’ ‘Hotline To The Hits’ shtick. We also had a ‘Pure Satisfaction’ contest giving away tickets to The Rolling Stones first ever concert in Portland, with phone-in contestants trying to guess which Rolling Stones’ voice would answer the ‘Stones Phone’ that the jocks dialed for them. Plus, I recall The Unusuals’ appearance at Eugene’s Tork Club, with Laurie Vitt introducing his pet boa constrictor on stage. By the way, even though we played ‘I’m Walking Babe,’ we never mentioned that I wrote the song. I suppose, I didn’t want to give the impression that was the only reason we were playing the song, and it did become a strongly requested tune on its own merit.
“KASH was also involved with the band Them and their lead vocalist, Van Morrison, when they appeared at The Tork, around the time of their hit ‘Gloria.’ I remember hanging out in the dressing room talking to members of the band (fascinated by their Irish accents) while Van Morrison, wearing a heavy woolen black cape, sat in a corner nursing a bottle of wine. The other thing I recall about Van was he seldom faced the audience while performing on stage. Seemed terribly introverted for a seasoned performer. So really, it wasn’t entirely negative times at KASH.
Editor’s note: To wrap up this installment of Jay’s story, we are including a montage of some of his airchecks form his four decades in radio broadcasting. Included here are cuts from Bellingham, Austin, Seattle (his early years at KMPS) and Missoula.
KBFW-Bellingham in 1972, KHFI-Austin in ’78, KMPS-Seattle in ’79, KYSS-Missoula in ’83
In Part 2 of Jay’s article, we’ll hear about his time as an AR guy in the music business and his pursuit of songwriting. You’ll hear the story of how Jay ended up being the “voice” of not one, but of several, of the popular Mattel “Talking Toys” of the era — including “Ken,” Barbie’s boyfriend. Jay will recall highlights of his long career (late ‘70s into the mid-‘80s) at country giant KMPS AM-FM in Seattle. We will see you next time around at Puget Sound Media…….Steven Smith
Click on the names below to read about these former KPUG-Bellingham deejays and Canadian legend Red Robinson:
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