1917 ~ 2017
San Diego has lost a cherished member of its Radio Disk Jockey family. Jack Vincent (right), who started as an engineer for KCBQ in 1955, passed away over the weekend. Before he retired from KCBQ in 1982, he also helped pioneer its DJ Rock and Roll glory days. (San Diego Radio)
I was fortunate and thrilled to interview Jack in Shotgun Tom Kelly’s (left) infamous pool room, for the BFYP books. Below is the excerpt from Book 1, The First Five Years 1954-1959 (published). I will post his story from the 1960s (Book 2) manuscript (to publish in February), this Friday.
“It never acted like a job. It seemed like I was on vacation all the time.” Jack was a sweet man who will be missed by many.
Excerpt from: Blast from Your Past! Rock & Roll Radio DJs: The First Five Years 1954-1959
With a tug of his mustache and a pound of panache, he puts the cool in cat and the deb in debonair …
Best known at KCBQ/San Diego, California
He could have been Scarlett’s Rhett, dreamy actor Clark Gable, or the suave Errol Flynn, with his trademark pencil-thin mustache.
Jack Vincent is an anomaly in radio. He beat the historically transitory medium and proclaimed himself the “old man” of the radio on KCBQ, San Diego. Jack got his foot in the door in 1955 and never left.
Unlike some DJs with a burning desire to work radio, Jack labored through his youth before setting his sights on the airwaves.
“I was working in heavy construction, about thirty-four years old at the time, and I hurt my back. I thought, well, I can’t do this work anymore, why don’t I find something easy?” Jack and I began his interview side-by-side on a sofa at the home of his good friend, Shotgun Tom Kelly (you’ll meet him in the Sixties).
At ninety-one, the strong, vibrant timbre of his voice belied his age. “Years ago in school, my high school English teacher had a half interest in a radio station. He’d let us go down on weekends and sit in for the guy who was on duty; he’d go downstairs and drink beer while we did the ETs.” (Disks that held commercials and jingles.)
He validated the engineer’s disappearing act as students learning the radio ropes and “it was all public service so it didn’t make too much difference.”
Nursing his back, Jack remembered his brief radio experience as a kid and figured that would be easy enough. He put his Marine Corps G.I. Bill funds to work and enrolled at Frederick H. Spear Radio School in Hollywood. (It’s a different Frederick’s of Hollywood!)
In any new job you have to work the bugs out of your routine. That took on new meaning in Jack’s first radio gig after graduating in the early Fifties. He was hired over the phone by a station in El Centro (California, near the Mexican border), thanks to a tip from his brother-in-law.
Either of those two events—hired over the phone or tip from your brother-in-law—would send most of us running the other way. But winter in the warm southern desert sounded OK to Jack and more of an announcer than a DJ, the work, as he promised himself, was easy.
“I worked until summer time at KXO,” recalled Jack. Come summer, though, El Centro’s agricultural needs required non-stop irrigation, which created a rather unpleasant scene at the studio.
“You couldn’t see through the screen door because it was full of crickets,” Jack recalled. Obviously not the kind often considered a culinary delicacy.
So Jack picked up another gig—over the phone. See what a great voice will do for you? This time he spent a couple of years learning the DJ ropes in a San Bernardino (California) station. Gene Lee at KFXM, hired Jack based on his likability by the office staff. I’ve heard dumber reasons to hire someone!
By the mid-Fifties, much to the chagrin of many women, I’m sure, Jack was married to a lovely lady and they looked wistfully back at San Diego. They needed to go “home.”
You know how sometimes you want something soooo bad, you wish it into reality? (Some business gurus call it “believe and achieve” philosophy.) “Be careful what you wish for,” is a popular admonition that often accompanies the wishful thinking stage.
Jack’s determination to return to San Diego led him to promise the KCBQ program director, “If you need a guy, don’t hire the first guy that comes in. Call me and I’ll be here the next day.”
Wellllll, you know what happened, right? Two weeks later he got the call, “Can you be here Friday?” That was on Wednesday.
“We packed up all of our stuff and moved back to San Diego, with the prospect of getting a job at KCBQ; but I didn’t know if I had the job or not, yet.”
Who could resist jaunty Jack? The PD knew a good thing when he heard Jack’s sample airchecks, and his hiring marked the first of a twenty-seven-year mutual admiration society for Jack and KCBQ.
“This was 1955,” said Jack, “right before Elvis Presley with ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ and ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ and all that.”
Hired as an engineer, he learned the ins-and-outs of KCBQ, just as it was preparing to step into the broadcasting spotlight. Providing the lights are on …
“We had a big generator,” Jack said, “which we’d use if we lost city power [more common back in those days]. One night after I finished my engineer shift the boss said, ‘I have to congratulate you, Jack, for how quickly you got us on the air after we lost power.’ I said, ‘Well, I’d have got us on the air a lot quicker, but my pipe was out.’”
Accidental DJ …
Originally a “network station,” KCBQ broadcast the syndicated shows and Jack’s initial role was that of an extra engineer. But that same year KCBQ was acquired by Bartell Family Radio, adding it to the already infamous Bartell brothers’ broadcast and publishing empire. Everything soon changed for Jack and the Bartells.
With vision, foresight, and more than a little moxie, general manager, Lee Bartell, switched to the Top 40 music format, severing formerly lucrative network ties. The new Top 40 radio broadcasting, the brainchild of Todd Storz with refining by Gordon McLendon, was catching fire throughout radio and proved to dominate KCBQ’s heyday years.
Jack’s jock break came when the night guy who regularly broadcast remotes, took a vacation. Now you and I both know that’s a vulnerable time for any employee. But if you’ve been screwing up anyway, well, chances are your “temporary replacement” won’t be. Temporary that is.
Pat’s Drive-In on El Cajon Boulevard learned what a difference a DJ makes. Jack’s suspicions that the other DJ hadn’t been doing a great job, were confirmed when he showed up and no one was there! The whole purpose of a radio remote is to attract listeners to the site. Otherwise, why spend the advertising bucks?
He hopped on the air and began inviting his listeners to “come on down.” “I had movie stars, and all kinds of people coming out there. By the time the two weeks were up and the other DJ returned, “Pat” didn’t want any part of him. She wanted me to stay on the remotes. The waitresses [carhops] were making more in tips than I was making.”
Lee Bartell was no dummy. His advertiser was happy. He kept Jack on the night shift—and at thirty-eight years old, Jack became a Rock & Roll Radio DJ for one of the most popular stations in Southern California.
“When I first started out, everything was 78 rpm. 45s came in, and I thought, gee whiz, these little teeny things, how’re we going to cue them up? We didn’t have good turntables to start with. Finally got used to them, then liked them, ‘cause they weren’t so heavy and cumbersome.”
We’ll hear more from our Clark Gable of the airwaves as the Sixties unfold. Trust me, you will want to stay tuned for more Jack Vincent stories … like the naked gal on his studio sofa with the bottle of booze …