Blast from Your Past - Book 2 Excerpt 4 - DJ Ken Chase

Rock on in Excerpt #4 from Book 2, Blast from Your Past! Rock & Roll Radio DJs: The Swinging Sixties. Enjoy the moments … again!(TM)

♫Ken Chase Pursued the Ultimate Party Song in The Swinging Sixties
BFYP Book 2, Excerpt #4

BFYP-FM leads you North … stopping short of Alaska, we Watusi our way through the cool green wilderness of the Pacific Northwest.
Cold and rainy he is NOT, and on a chilly day he made someone’s name smokin’ hot! Louie Louie

Ken Chase
aka Mike Korgan
Best known at KISN/Portland, Oregon

Towards the end of the Fifties, Mike cooled his heels at KLMS/Lincoln, Nebraska, waiting to hear the outcome of an offer from Star Broadcasting. It would mark another life-altering change for newlyweds Mike and Carol. Just not in the way they’d expected.
Mike assumed the “big city” of Omaha was calling him. Carol stayed in the car while Mike moseyed in for what he thought would be a brief, uneventful meeting. He would soon learn that Star Broadcasting also owned another station a tad further away.
Still, he was game for anything and barely skipped a beat to say, “OK, I’ll take it,” on the offer of KISN in the Pacific Northwest.
Yes, ladies, he accepted the job without consulting his new bride … “I went back out to the car and said, ‘Well, they want to move us to Portland, Oregon.’
“Portland!” Carol was beyond shock. “She hadn’t even wanted to move to Omaha,” admitted Mike.
Somehow, he would have to convince Carol that Portland was not as far away from Nebraska as Mars; and that the Pacific Northwest’s rainwater is good for your skin.
Carol began to protest, said Mike, and mimicked her feminine voice, “‘But I don’t want to move that far. All my family’s here!’ Then I told her what they offered to pay me, and without missing a beat, she said ‘OK.’”
KISN was the powerhouse station in Portland in the Sixties, with over half the radios in the city and surrounding areas tuned to it.
The station’s DJs alternately enjoyed and detested the notoriety that came with their jobs. Management was well aware of how to capitalize on their DJs’ popularity, which did not involve their respective wives.
“Single” DJs attract more female listeners. So their stipulation on Mike’s arrival was that he could not “be” Mike Korgan. He’d have to choose an on-air name, to keep his married life away from fans.
He was at a loss for a name. What attracts girls to a guy? Looks and money. Right, ladies? 1960 … with a little creativity, he thought, “Ken” of Ken and Barbie fame, and Chase-Manhattan Bank. Mike Korgan became Ken Chase. Clever!
In major radio markets, DJs “back in the day” were celebrities. A fact that awed Mike when he arrived at the trendy station. Coming from the laid-back Midwest, he recalled his first brush with fame.
“You’d go to a supermarket opening and hundreds of people would show up to see you! The day I came to Portland they had this promotion going for about a month, ‘The new animal at the zoo.’ We actually set an attendance record at the Portland Zoo.”
You realize, of course, who/what the “new animal” was—yep, Mike, aka Ken Chase. “I was in a cage in a gorilla suit. I changed out of the gorilla suit and jumped in a convertible with two pretty girls in bikini swimsuits on the back, and KISN radio written on the side. And my wife has never forgiven me!”
KISN’s fishbowl studio faced one of the busiest streets in town. “That was a trip all by itself,” said Mike. “People would come to the window … teenage girls … and hold up notes. They weren’t all requests for songs. [Wink, wink.] You wouldn’t believe some of the things they wrote—and it wasn’t just their phone number!”
[Image: Ken sports the popular flattop hair style (left/middle) gracing KISN’s survey May 6, 1962. Cute stick figures! Courtesy of Ken.]
Okay, let’s give it to ‘em right now!
Mike savors his DJ moments often. “I used to go up [to a spot above the city] and look out over the city and think, wow, over half of these people are listening to my show!”
One 1963 ratings report claimed an 86% audience share for “91-derful KISN, Yours Truly.”
It didn’t take long for Mike and Carol to settle in; and Mike’s interest in radio reached out to making the music he played. Not content to watch the records spin, Mike wanted to produce the vinyl platters.
He was in a good position to meet bands and songwriters with his local teen dance club, “The Chase.” Let’s see, what’s a good song to start with? Something simple … not too many words, lots of guitar work.
A high school band that Mike also managed wanted to record a popular garage band record. He set up the studio and orchestrated their performance. Mind you, the best equipment was not at hand … “make do” was the day’s mantra.
But how hard could it be to record a song with four choruses consisting mostly of one guy’s name?! It’s April 1963 and simple songs were “in.” Richard Berry wrote it in 1955 and first recorded it in 1957. But it took the fresh-faced kids in The Kingsmen to run it up the charts. Have you figured out the title?
Not everyone agreed with Mike’s arrangement ideas for the iconic song, “Louie Louie.” “We walked out of the studio [after recording] and they were so upset with me. [One of the guys said] ‘That’s the worst song I have ever heard in my life. It has a mistake in it.’”
But Mike was adamant. “It’s a fit,” insisted Mike. “I don’t care what you say, it’s a fit.”
The so-called mistake, however, was the least of the song’s problems. Jack Ely’s vocals muffled the words—honestly, could you understand them? And after the governor banned its play in Indiana for indecent lyrics, the FBI took notice. What was he saying? Was it too lewd and lascivious for our innocent teens? (See me laughing!)
“They talked with everybody who had anything to do with the song,” said Mike, “except me—and the guy who sang the song!”
Why was it so garbled and difficult to understand the words? Mike’s explanation is for you musicians … while the rest of us will simply scratch our heads and mutter, whatever.
Snatching up coats, placing them strategically, and moving blankets, Mike totally isolated the bass guitar as much as possible in the tiny recording room. Another thought came to him and he shoved the boom mic up to the ceiling; under vehement protest from the engineer, he prepared a ribbon mic for the session.
He pointed to the boom mic, “I said, Jack, I want you to scream at that thing. The words are not important in this song. It’s the bass. I want you to chant into that microphone. Then I quoted Stan Freburg.” He mimicked the venerable composer, singer and author. “The song is about dancing, ‘If they can’t dance to it they won’t buy the rec-ord! You know that.’” We knew that! He was so right.
Mike went even more technical on me and discussed “tuning drums.” (If you music buffs want to know his take on that—email me.) I think I tuned out until he caught my attention again with an alternative for “mixing it down” to suit the sound to the studio monitors (big speakers), as was common.
Mike went out to his car and grabbed one of the little six-by-nine inch speakers, “You know, like what went in the back seat of a ’57 Chevy,” said Mike. He mixed it down on that little speaker. “This is what the kids are going to listen to.” And the rest is Rock & Roll history.
More controversy surrounded “Louie Louie” as Paul Revere & the Raiders also recorded the song in the same month—in the same studio, with the same engineer—and scored more local fans. But even with its flaws The Kingsmen’s version fared better nationally and scored instant fame for every “Louie” in the country.
[Image: “Louie Louie” finally hit the #1 spot on WKNR/Detroit’s November 21, 1963 Music Guide. BFYP Collection.]
When all was said and done, Mike didn’t disagree about the perceived mistake, and laughed about it. “If you listen to the song, every band in the world [that covers it] repeats the mistake! Thirty years after we recorded it, I got the chance to stand on the sidewalk at the same place where they told me that, and with local cameras rolling and even MTV, I got to say, ‘I told you so!’”
Conflicts and cash?
So you might be asking yourself about now, isn’t a disk jockey producing a record rather a conflict of interest, in the manner of payola? A viable question considering events in the industry at the time.
Says Mike, “When the owner of the station found out I had an interest in a record, oh, he just threw a hissy-fit. ‘Oh, you’re playola/plugola—you can’t’ … blah, blah. Well, OK, so maybe it was a little conflict …”
Mike reflected on the scandal, “I’d been through the payola thing you know, way back then. That was a big issue—I pretty much covered my ass. I didn’t take any money, but they’d [record promoters] bring a bottle of Jack Daniels …”
And what of the FBI investigation? After playing the record backwards and forwards and upside down, they dropped the inquiry. Mike speculates his involvement in the record’s production had something to do with their interest to investigate. “But guess what happened?” Mike asked. “When you ban something, it becomes that much more in demand!”
And it’s still a top request at Boomer bashes!
You better move on …
Mike revels in his KISN days and loves to reminisce with stories of fans and celebs. “About six blocks away from the studio was a kind of bad part of town … the bums hang out, like skid row and occasionally, one of the bums would wander up to the radio station window with a bottle of booze.”
One scruffy fella was particularly memorable. “So one afternoon I’m doin’ my show and I turn around, and this bum is coming through the studio door into my control room. He says to me [Mike lowers his voice with a slight slur], ‘Hi, I’m Roy Orbison.’ I said, ‘Yeah, and I’m the president of the U-nited States. Get outta here!”
You do know what’s coming next, right? “I turned around and everybody in the station was standing at the other window watching this. And then I realized, hey … that really is Roy Orbison.”
Of course, this story and many throughout BFYP requires you Boomers to search your memory banks for a time in life when we weren’t restricted by locked doors and security scanners. You young’uns will need to trust we’re not lyin’.
But even in fiction there is usually truth lurking in the background … here’s one more for ya …
“Another day somebody walked through the door, pulled my chair back (it’s on wheels) and sat down right in my lap and says ‘Where’s the microphone switch, boy?’ [Mike mimics a Southern drawl.] “I pointed, he turned it on and said, ‘Hi folks! I’m Jimmy Dean!’”
Jimmy turned to Mike and demanded, “Why’re you playin’ this record?!” He reached over and grabbed the record player arm. You know that “whoop” sound a phonograph needle makes as it’s whipped across a vinyl record? Agh!
Mike laughed. “And he said, ‘Now. Where’s “Big John”?* I wanna hear m’record.’” (*Jimmy not only topped the country charts but he charted at #15 with “Big Bad John” on KISN’s December 24, 1961 Fabulous Fifty Hit Parade.)
But it wasn’t only the stars who shook up the DJs—sometimes it was their own kind …
Crazy is as crazy does.
“It was a crazy station,” Mike continued, lost in reverie. “Don Steele had a little too much tequila one night and a whole bunch of us DJs were downtown, and [Mike aped Don’s popular intro] ‘The Real Don Steele!’ picked me up bodily, and carried me across Broadway!”
He couldn’t believe Don’s action, “What the hell did you do that for?” Mike exclaimed. Don says, “I think I love you!”
Mike disagreed, “I don’t think you do! That guy was somethin’. He would sit in a bar, look around, and girls would be around us, and he’d say, ‘I eat pussy.’ The girls would giggle … none of ‘em would admit if it embarrassed them.”
Now remember folks, this is creeping through 1963. We were only a few years past the Stepford society, when everything sexual was behind closed doors—albeit, not necessarily your own.
Mike worked with Don about six months before California called Don back to the Golden State with gigs at KEWB/San Francisco and Los Angeles’ legendary KHJ. Before he left, says Mike, “He bought and sold a bridge a couple of times. Don said, ‘That’s my bridge.’ One day he got out there and stopped traffic. ‘You can’t come across my bridge,’ he told drivers. He was a crazy man!”
Don wasn’t the only wild man. “We all were crazy in those days,” Mike admitted. “I don’t know how we lived through it!”
Making a lane change.
Shortly after “Louie Louie” Mike decided it was time to switch things up and he boogied across town to KGON. He convinced the owner to turn his elevator music station into a Rock & Roll station, giving KISN its first local rival. “We went very hard Rock and picked up not only the teenyboppers, but the Blacks.”
Um, “hard Rock”? Heehee … the Righteous Brothers … “In those days they ‘sounded’ Black. I brought them to town, met them at the airport about 1:00 a.m. with my wife,” Mike recalled.
Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield were hungry. But Portland rolled up the sidewalks early in those days. Food in the middle of the night?! “There’s a bowling alley open … and we took them to Amato’s Lanes. They really liked the food!”
Although KGON nearly put KISN out of business, Mike still counts his wild ‘n’ crazy KISN stint as his most memorable moments. He graciously catered to the stars … Cher was bored and wanted a coloring book … and he never tired of his fellow DJs’ antics … like Bill Western’s marriage to Miss Oregon and three-day stint on a roller coaster.
The listeners were trippy, too. Radio in the good ol’ days was local and personal. KISN gave teenagers from the community an opportunity to show off their broadcasting talent. “We chose a gal from each high school, and they were the fashion reporters—and when you got to be one, you got this little pin—a microphone that said KISN on it.” What a cool collectible to scoop off eBay!
And what of today’s radio? “I can’t name one personality on the radio,” says Mike. “In those days you had to have pretty much what you gotta have now, to be on television. But even the people on TV don’t have that kind of personality …” Mike’s take on today’s music?
“There’s no style. Everybody’s got that whiny little falsetto. [Back then] There was a difference between a Ray Charles falsetto and The Platters’—you don’t find that divergence anymore.”
Today: Although son, Todd, who volunteered his dad’s story for BFYP is immensely proud of Mike’s radio days, Mike didn’t stay in radio. He and Carol soon opted to hone their cooking skills, moving out of the broadcast biz. By 1996 the certified executive chefs opened a quaint B&B, and volunteered as caretakers for the Heceta Head Lighthouse in Florence, Oregon. Their daughter ultimately took over their enterprises, leaving Mike and Carol free to travel, take boo-coo photos (above, c. 2009), and write books about their love of food.
It was a long road from Nebraska to Oregon, but Mike never regretted being kicked out of school to date Carol. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in November 2009.

Blast from Your Past-Book 3 Excerpt #3             Neale Blase
Blast from Your Past-Book 2 Excerpt #2             Jim Higgs (coming soon)          
Blast from Your Past-Book 2 Excerpt #1            Tom & Raechel Donahue reformat radio with Freeform AOR

In case you missed the series intro excerpts from BFYP-Book 1, 1954-1959:

Blast from Your Past-Book 1 Excerpt #5            Ken Chase / aka Mike Korgan
Blast from Your Past-Book 1 Excerpt #4            1955 & the Music of Our Time
Blast from Your Past-Book 1 Excerpt #3            Sandy Deane/Jay & Americans
Blast from Your Past-Book 1 Excerpt #2            Dr. Don Rose
Blast from Your Past-Book 1 Excerpt #1            Ron Riley

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