Kirk Wilde was a popular sixties and seventies disk jockey in Oregon, Washington and Colorado. The above photo of Wilde is from 1962. He was 19 years old and working the board at Portland’s KLC, a student radio station affiliated with Lewis & Clark College. A few years ago, I wrote an article on Wilde’s introduction to radio broadcasting. Read that story HERE. This time around, Kirk tells more of his story and discusses his imaginary on-air character Julius Funkley.
Wilde told Puget Sound Media, “In 1961 I was a freshman at Lewis & Clark College, stumbling to coffee in something like the KISN jock look: clean-shaven, white collar, skinny black tie. This other guy, a sophomore I think, came up to me and said, ‘You look like you should be a disk jockey. Come with me (to KLC).’ I said, ‘I c-c-c- can’t do that. I’m-m-m- a s-s-s-stutterer.’ But went I did, and speaking into the mike with earphones on, I DIDN’T STUTTER! I was hooked.
Despite Wilde’s initial reluctance to speak on the radio, he got into it and spent more than a decade in the business. Kirk’s style was Top 40 and modeled after KISN’s high-energy presentation. He rocked ’em in Klamath Falls and Corvallis OR, in Washington at KPUG-Bellingham, KRKO-Everett, and at Seattle stations KOL, KSND (as Kirk Allison), and KING. His notable colleagues, at KPUG alone, included Danny Holiday, Gary Shannon, Steve West, Charlie “Harvey” Brown and Norm Gregory.
In the early ’70s, Wilde transitioned out of Top 40 radio and took a job at soul station KDKO in Denver (Littleton) CO. He was pleased that KDKO’s predominantly African-American listening audience fully accepted him as the morning drive personality. Those of us in the Pacific Northwest, who listened to Wilde in the mid-sixties when he was the music director at KPUG, aren’t surprised that he had a good ear for soul and R&B. In Bellingham Kirk played and charted a number of records by black artists who were largely ignored by other Top 40 stations.
Kirk described his on-air style: “sometimes talking to myself, sometimes insulting the artists I had to play (“Herman’s Turkeys,” “Diana Ross can’t rock”), sometimes teaching grammar or correct pronunciation (the noun is PROtest; the verb is proTEST). Claiming to have been first with the faux-outrage “WHATTT?” and to have used whispering on station promos. I employed my Magic Twanger (Jew’s harp) sparingly because it took both hands off a board I wanted tight. So bam to a hit, rapid-fire to the post (talking over an instrumental lead up to the vocal). That was an admired skill in those days. When I arrived to a second tour of KPUG, I asked the boss why I was rehired. The general manager, Mr. Jim Tincker, surprised me with a petition of 1300 listener signatures asking for my return. Tincker said he had never seen that kind of demand.”
Wilde sought “exciting” radio versus “funny” radio. However, his occasional on-the-air sidekick was one Julius Funkley. In a high-pitched screech, Julius would belt out a few memorable phrases. Most often heard was his screech “That’s RIGHT!!” One of Wilde’s stunts had unexpected consequences. As a lark, he promoted Funkley as a write-in candidate for student body president at Bellingham High School. It must have been a compelling campaign platform because Funkley was victorious. A funny thing happened though, the imaginary winner never showed up to serve even one day in office. Despite Julius being a political dud, his escapades live on in the memories of mid-sixties radio listeners in Whatcom County.
Puget Sound Media asked Kirk to describe his relationship with his enigmatic associate: “I used Julius as a king uses a ‘yes’ man. I’d give an opinion and he would chime in with ‘That’s RIGHT!!’ Occasionally, he would chime in in the midst of a song that was expressing an opinion. Sometimes, I’d let him sing a little nonsense piano ditty. I didn’t try to run that up the KPUG hit chart. Some radio guys have wondered where I got Julius’ voice. It was off a Stan Freberg comedy record. Most of what I used was from his single ‘The Great Pretender,’ a brilliant spoof of The Platters’ original. His lines were recorded on a tape cartridge.”
It’s time for some archival audio. It begins as that “yes” man Funkley screeches “That’s RIGHT!!” when Kirk refers to Herman’s Hermits’ latest as the worst record of 1966. That also fits with Kirk’s remark that he sometimes insulted artists he didn’t like. The next track is Kirk playing his Magic Twanger. Then there’s Kirk whispering on-air. He mentioned doing that previously. Finally, you’ll hear a Pepsi Generation spot by Martha & The Vandellas. In radio lingo it was a “donut” jingle: After Kirk’s rapid-fire delivery of local copy in the donut opening, he had time to holler “One more time, Martha.” Boss Jim Tincker didn’t like that kind of hyper production, but the kids listening loved it anyway. Next up is a slice of Bellingham radio history.
KPUG 1966 audio montage: That’s Right! by Julius Funkley; Magic Twanger; Whispering Wilde w/Bob O’Neil’s voice on the spot; Pepsi Generation (run time 1:37)
Up until July 2022, there were no audio cuts of Kirk Wilde. The tapes were in a box in his closet. Prior to his passing in June 2022, Kirk sent those tapes to Puget Sound Media. What follows is a scoped aircheck, a compilation of two of his shows from the summer of 1966. It includes the songs of the era and commercials from back in the day. The ads have been left intact due to their nostalgic value — as in how cheap everything was in the sixties. It includes a cool spot for Merrilee and the Turnabouts and plenty of vintage KPUG jingles.
Summer 1966: Other voices are KPUG’s Dick Stark (Moonlight and Motorview Drive Ins) and Bob O’Neil KPUG’s longtime P.D. (Taco Treat). The rest of it is all Wilde. (run time 8:38)
As I was writing this original article a few years ago, a KPUG fan from the ’60s, unearthed a recording featuring Julius Funkley. It ran on KPUG in 1966, shortly after Wilde had departed the station. Here’s the supposed scenario: The weekend DJ, Harry Lewis (radio broadcast engineer, owner of Lewis Electronics in Bellingham, and a ham radio operator of renown), found Wilde’s stash of Funkley audio tapes in the KPUG basement. Lewis, who referred to himself as the recording engineer in the on-air bit, then imagined that he had engineered Funkley’s latest recording session. That recording is below Harry’s photo.
Harry Lewis & Julius Funkley imaginary recording session (run time 3:13)
Kirk Wilde left radio in 1975. By then he was looking for a career that provided job security and benefits (health care, retirement, etc.) that were seldom offered by radio stations of the era. After his departure from broadcasting, Wilde drove a school bus for 27 years. Retired and residing in Denver, Kirk always kept up to date with musical trends and innovations. He will be missed by his family and friends.
Click on the names below to read about these broadcasters who were popular in Bellingham and Whatcom County, including nearby Canadian legend Red Robinson:
Danny Holiday (KPUG)
Dick Stark (KENY & KPUG)
Kirk Wilde (KPUG)
Gary Shannon (KPUG)
Mike Forney (KPUG)
Jay Hamilton (KPUG & KBFW)
Bob O’Neil & Marc Taylor (KPUG)
John Christopher Kowsky (KPUG)
Haines Faye (KVOS & KGMI)
Tom Haveman (KENY & KVOS)
Red Robinson (Vancouver B.C.)