Despite reams of copy about him over the years, perhaps not enough can be said about the man who reached a pinnacle of success most radio and television practitioners only dream of.
It’s with great sadness that we reflect on the loss–and successes–of Paul Berg, better know to all as Pat O’Day. His passing truly brings a close to an unparalleled Pacific Northwest career which touched us all.
From rock ‘n’ roll deejay, to program director, from general manager to broadcast owner. You felt like you knew Pat personally—that unmistakable voice, his distinctive on-air style and the top of the line on-air talent he hired. Then there was the teen dance promotions, his big-name music concerts and his annual Seafair hydroplane race broadcasts.
And from his earliest on-air days he was always the consummate promoter, fully aware that really successful broadcasting was more than spinning hit records and selling ads.
He believed distinguishing yourself from the competition meant “additional value selling” through promotions that attracted and sustained a faithful customer base. In case you missed it, that means a lot more than just playing rock ‘n’ roll records. On-air contests, cash giveaways, treasure hunts, special events, big-name personal appearances—yes, all of those and a lot more. Mr. O’Day was a master of them all! And that didn’t mean you had to be a shyster or con man.
O’Day was arguably the Northwest’s most influential radio personality—ever. At KJR. he was the Pied Piper of Pacific Northwest ‘60s and ‘70s rock, bridging generations and elevating Seattle radio, its music—and himself—to national acclaim way ahead of his contemporaries. (KJR’s Golden Years CLICK HERE)
He was a preacher’s son who got a radio break in Astoria (KAST), on-air grooming in Kelso (KLOG) and Yakima (KUTI and KLOQ) and then hit it SO big in Seattle—first at KAYO in 1959, and then that remarkable 15+year run at KJR, which in the early/mid-1960s enjoyed 37 percent of the listening audience—a feat achieved never before or after in Seattle radio. That happened because of O’Day. And it all positioned him—a teen dance promoter since early in his career—for a huge concert management business (much of which he started while also running the KJR machine) and later his own radio ownerships—KORL Honolulu, and KYYX, KKMI and KXA, in Seattle.
Again, unlike his contemporaries—including both detractors and admirers—he showed a lot of resilience, surviving payola accusations, lawsuits and a near bankruptcy while beating a personal alcohol and substance problem that many thought would be his undoing. Married twice and the father of three sons and a daughter, he capped off his broadcasting and promoting days with a successful real estate career, the second (or third?) major act of his life’s career. And through most of that, it was hard to think of him as anyone other than MR. KJR, a legacy that reverberated long after he’d left Channel 95.
One of the more classic Pat O’Day photos illustrates two individuals of generational contrasts, but mutual professional respect. It was a February 1968 pep assembly at Seattle’s Garfield High School where O’Day was about to introduce Jimi Hendrix, a Garfield dropout, the day after the singer/guitarist’s sold-out homecoming concert at Seattle Center Arena. Hendrix was gone from Seattle for 7 years and was O’Day’s first client—on the brink of international fame—just after the Seattle deejay launched (with KJR associate Dick Curtis) Pat O’Day & Associates, the forerunner of ultra successful Concerts West. O’Day’s radio and promotions successes (and a lot of other little-known details) are best described in his two-edition autobiography It was All Just Rock ‘n’ Roll, first published in 2002.
O’Day’s radio accomplishments won him a number of well-deserved awards: the country’s top program director in 1964 and ‘65, National Radioman of the year in ‘66. Appropriately, he’s in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and received countless local and regional area awards. In late February 2018, at Bellevue’s Eastside Heritage Center, he talked about his career during a fundraiser salute to Lake Hills Roller Rink, a hot KJR dance venue in the 1960s. The audio features a portion of an original KJR aircheck (1966), including a Dick Curtis teen dance spot. . .
> Pat O’Day and Dick Curtis Running time: 3:30
Unlike today’s radio world, O’Day had a keen sense of his local audience. He knew what people wanted and how to successfully promote and deliver it. And regardless of rivalrous complaints from competitors over his style, methodology and concert promotion dominance, one thing is certain: Pat O’Day clearly showed us all how it’s done. Uniquely talented, his multi-dimensional life and many triumphs shall long live on.
– Ron DeHart
The author first met O’Day during Pat’s KUTI and KLOQ days in Yakima, and has contributed several O’Day items here on PSM:
Pat O’Day related articles posted by Steven L. Smith