KPUG Disc Jockey Draws National Attention to Bellingham

A look back at various radio stations

KPUG Disc Jockey Draws National Attention to Bellingham

Postby StevenSmith » Thu Dec 15, 2016 10:22 am

1962 - KPUG Disc Jockey Draws National Attention to Bellingham, WA

Image
Michael T Forney 1962

On a fall night in 1962, KPUG disc jockey Michael T. Forney made the national news by playing, over and over again, the newly released single “Telstar.
Image

Forney, the regular evening deejay at 1000 watt A.M. radio station KPUG in Bellingham, was in his early 20’s, and a student at Western Washington State College.

Make no mistake about it, in small town America, the memorable events of that night were the stuff of local legend. Even now, 54 years after the Forney/Telstar incident, a number of old-time Bellingham residents indelibly remember that night. That’s not surprising, back in 1962 Bellingham was a quiet, small town.

There were four radio stations in the county, one of which was a daytimer only and another was an F.M. This was the era prior to F.M. stations having significant listenership. KPUG was one of the two most popular stations.
Image
1962 KPUG Top 70 Survey

Here’s how events unfolded: After Forney’s air-shift began, he chose to play exclusively Telstar. The repetitiveness of that night’s playlist (can you say Telstar?) was broken up only by deejay talk, advertising spots and news. Early on, it was clear that something strange was taking place. Intrigued listeners called their friends, word spread fast that the announcer was repeating, over and over again, the same song. Radios were turned-on and people were glued to KPUG to see what was going to happen next.

At least indirectly, that night’s events in Bellingham were related to the recent launch of the first experimental American communications satellite, Telstar 1. Across the ocean in Europe, the news of the success of the Telstar satellite inspired record producer and songwriter Joe Meek.

His far-out and “spacey” instrumental production, performed by the Tornados, would become the second ever British release to reach #1 on music charts in the U.S.A. Meanwhile, back here at home, people were optimistic about life. John F. Kennedy was the new and young President. The American public was excited about the future. This was the dawning of the space age!
Image

I have always wanted to know more about the circumstances that led to this unusual event at KPUG. What motivated Forney? Was he really putting his job on the line when he chose to break format? When I worked at KPUG in 1974, longtime listeners would ask the same sorts of questions. There was speculation that Forney blindsided station management, suggestions by some people that the powers that be had no clue their disc jockey would hijack the station for a few hours. There were other rumors that Forney’s actions that night lead to his, eventually, being fired by longtime station general manager Jim Tincker.
Image
Jim Tincker

In light of the number of unanswered questions, fading human memories, and few conclusive answers, it is difficult to guess Forney’s motivation. In an effort to gain insight, I contacted Dick Stark, KPUG’s leading historian. As to Dick’s credentials, at the top of this page there is a grainy B/W photo of Mike Forney. Well, the accompanying photo of Dick Stark looks exactly the same and that’s because it was clipped from the same article, in the same old publication, where I obtained Forney’s picture.
Image
Dick Stark 1962

In his 43 years at KPUG, Dick worked in sales, in management and ownership, production, and he has been a prominent sportscaster of statewide renown. Dick was at KPUG back in 1962, he was a friend of Mike Forney and, for many years, a professional colleague of general manager Jim Tincker. At my request, Dick Stark provided his recollections of that night.

Steve,

I believe that Mike Forney originated the idea and Jim Tincker bestowed management approval. The intent was to build excitement around Mike's evening show. They certainly got their wish.

I remember that night well. With little explanation, the staff had been instructed to plan to vacate the building by 6 pm. I know that, shortly after that time, all of the windows were covered over, from the inside, with butcher paper. The popular notion was that Mike played Telstar because he liked it so much. But, as I recall, at one point, he said that he was not fond of the record and he wanted to play it to death.

The listeners were involved in the happenings of that night. Early on, Mike stated that the show could not continue, or at least he could not play only Telstar, without listener approval. In response, typical of live local radio of the era, an avalanche of telephone calls came in at the station.

Periodically or hourly at least, Mike asked the audience to vote on whether or not he should keep playing Telstar. In theory, so management could not get through to shut everything down, he asked only his supporters to call in. That way, any call received was counted as a “yes” vote for continuing on with Telstar. Usually, and ostensibly to eliminate the potential for management interference, Mike wouldn’t put the phone to his ear: He would answer it by lifting the handset and then immediately hanging it up. To further shield against any meddling by station management, he asked listeners to drive out Sunset Drive and to park outside the station. Soon the KPUG parking lot was full of cars.

The listeners were involved in the happenings of that night. Early on, Mike stated that the show could not continue, or at least he could not play only Telstar, without listener approval. In response, typical of live local radio of the era, an avalanche of telephone calls came in at the station.

Periodically or hourly at least, Mike asked the audience to vote on whether or not he should keep playing Telstar. In theory, so management could not get through to shut everything down, he asked only his supporters to call in. That way, any call received was counted as a “yes” vote for continuing on with Telstar. Usually, and ostensibly to eliminate the potential for management interference, Mike wouldn’t put the phone to his ear: He would answer it by lifting the handset and then immediately hanging it up. To further shield against any meddling by station management, he asked listeners to drive out Sunset Drive and to park outside the station. Soon the KPUG parking lot was full of cars.

Image
Longtime KPUG studio and Transmitter site, 2340 E. Sunset Drive

At one point, a telegram came in from the Blaine Air Force Base: “All of our service men support the deejay’s decision to keep on playing Telstar.” Personally, I found Forney’s show particularly amusing that night. Even after the repetitive nature of the evening’s playlist was well-established, he kept coming up with tongue in cheek introductions like “Here’s a new hit” or "Here's one you might have heard before called Telstar.”

On occasion, I still run into old timers who recall this very memorable Bellingham night. Personally, any time I hear Telstar as an oldie, I am transported back to that November night in 1962.

P.S. Mike was not fired by KPUG. And the Forney/Telstar incident was carried, across the nation, as a feature news story.

Dick Stark

Image
Dick Stark, present day

Author comments regarding the accompanying historical aircheck: About 1977, I was at KBFW radio in Bellingham. The station program director came in with a friend – the man was introduced to me as a Los Angeles based board engineer for KHJ’s Real Don Steele. While holed up in the production room, the two radio guys were listening to tapes that belonged to the engineer.

At one point, I heard the distinctive sound of Telstar and a jock identifying himself as Mike Forney. I realized that this was a rare find for a collector, maybe the only tape of its kind. After obtaining permission to do so, I copied the tape and it was kept in a drawer in my office until the mid-1990’s. At that time I gave it to Dick Stark.

Many years later, I regretted having given away my only copy of the tape. Upon my request, Dick promptly supplied a replacement copy. The original reel to reel recording was muddy and nearly spoiled by hiss and white noise. That tape has since been cleaned up and then scoped to make it shorter in length. I think you will agree that it sounds good for a 54 year old local aircheck.


ImageMichael T Forney - KPUG November 15, 1962 Aircheck

Final notes: Periodically, I have been asked questions about Michael T. Forney’s career and activities post KPUG. Did he stay in broadcasting, is he still around? Dick Stark told me that, by the 1970’s, Mike had left broadcasting and he was an executive at AT&T. Dick says that Forney was involved in an international telecommunications project shortly after President Nixon normalized relations with China. Since that time, I am unable to provide additional information. Other Forney contemporaries, at least those I have been able to talk to, have not been in contact with Mike. So if Michael Forney, or any of his family, comes across or discovers this article, please contact either me, KPUG historian Dick Stark, or leave pertinent updates and comments about Mike at the comments section of this blog post.

ImageImage
Mike Forney (milking cow) with Dick Stark and Dick Stark, spinning the platters at a March of Dimes charity remote broadcast, downtown Bellingham, 1962
StevenSmith
Member
 
Posts: 14
Joined: Fri Apr 22, 2016 12:51 am

Re: KPUG Disc Jockey Draws National Attention to Bellingham

Postby radiofan » Thu Dec 15, 2016 12:41 pm

Thanks to Steven Smith from Bellingham for researching and putting together this piece of Northwest radio history and for sharing it with us. Looking forward to future contributions from Steven regarding
radio stations in Northwest Washington State!
Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who couldn't hear the music.
User avatar
radiofan
Advanced Member
 
Posts: 9804
Joined: Sun Apr 16, 2006 2:24 pm
Location: Pitt Meadows

Re: KPUG Disc Jockey Draws National Attention to Bellingham

Postby Firedog » Thu Dec 15, 2016 9:05 pm

What a great find. Thanks Steven for sharing a little bit of the stuff that early D.J.'s got away with (or didn't).

It might be worth noting that Telstar was a C-FUN twin pick hit on survey #138, November 10, 1962. It went to #1 the following week on survey #139.

This is the first time this happened on the Funtastic Fifty. Telstar charted at #1 for four weeks and remained on the chart for nine weeks.
We are running in, when everybody else is running out.
User avatar
Firedog
Advanced Member
 
Posts: 140
Joined: Thu Nov 06, 2008 1:13 pm
Location: North Delta, B.C.

Re: KPUG Disc Jockey Draws National Attention to Bellingham

Postby StevenSmith » Thu Dec 15, 2016 9:28 pm

Radio fan thanks for posting this. I plan to write a number of other articles about Bellingham radio. And I have a number of photos and in many cases audio to supplement the articles. Firedog, thanks for the comments. I had heard about this all my life in Bellingham, was shocked to run across the tape. I suspect it is the only copy around, other than what Dick Stark has. He is a wonderful resource of Bellingham radio having been in the market, mainly at KPUG, for 50+ years. I always liked Telstar and heard CFUN back in the glory years, so your story is interesting. I saw the movie of Telstar, the Joe Meek story. It was not excellent but not bad either. I owned KBFW for 15 years, so I have some really good stuff from there, but I seem to be hung up right now on KPUG...which had jocks that inspired me to get into radio in my youth.
Steven L. Smith
Bellingham
StevenSmith
Member
 
Posts: 14
Joined: Fri Apr 22, 2016 12:51 am

Re: KPUG Disc Jockey Draws National Attention to Bellingham

Postby jon » Thu Dec 15, 2016 9:38 pm

Yes, at least two KPUG DJs moved to Spokane, to work for competing stations there, after working together at KPUG.

Ron Gibson became Shane when he hit the 50,000 watt clear channel airwaves at KGA-1510 in Spokane at the beginning of 1968. Norm Gregory went to KJRB before a very long history at KJR. After KGA switched to Country early in 1969, Shane made a name for himself first in Buffalo, then North Carolina.
User avatar
jon
Advanced Member
 
Posts: 8971
Joined: Mon May 08, 2006 10:15 am
Location: Edmonton

Re: KPUG Disc Jockey Draws National Attention to Bellingham

Postby Jim Walters » Thu Dec 15, 2016 11:34 pm

Radio when it was fun. Great trip down memory lane Steven. I grew up in White Rock and often listened to KPUG in the late 1960s. Jon mentioned Norm Gregory, I also recall a guy named George Ruggles who was there for years. Loved the 11-7 KPUG jingles. Hopefully you'll run across some more old airchecks and maybe even some old KPUG jingles.

In the early 1970s, I listened to KISM a lot when they were the first Oldies FM station in the area.

Great stuff. I await your future posts.
Jim Walters
Advanced Member
 
Posts: 127
Joined: Wed Mar 02, 2011 12:40 pm

Re: KPUG Disc Jockey Draws National Attention to Bellingham

Postby StevenSmith » Fri Dec 16, 2016 9:12 pm

Jon and Jim,
I started listening to KPUG in 1966. Early that year the most prominent jocks were Kirk Wilde (going to do an article on him), Gary Shannon who went in the military and then to KJRB in Spokane, and Harvey Brown who also went to KJRB. Both of them ended up, in the same time frame, at KJR....Gary with the same name and Harvey became Charlie Brown. Charlie was a legend in Seattle, instrumental to the KUBE startup. Other KPUG jocks who came along in 1966, were Steve West and Norm Gregory. Again, both went to KJRB and finally to KJR. Norm worked several other stations including KZOK, KJR fm, KOMO. Steve excelled in programming and management in Seattle, probably better known for that than as on the air talent. He was involved with such stations as KISW, KTAC, KXRX. Later on, late sixties to early seventies, Randy Evans (Hanson) was a standout at KPUG. He went to KJRB and to KJR as Ichabod Caine. He is another Seattle legend, much of his fame earned as a country jock at KMPS. George Ruffles was excellent, I am sure big things were in his future. But he had a congenital heart defect, required surgery, and he died during the surgery...in the time frame when he was working at KPUG. I know he was there in 1967, probably died in 1968. It was sad and a big loss all around.
StevenSmith
Member
 
Posts: 14
Joined: Fri Apr 22, 2016 12:51 am

Re: KPUG Disc Jockey Draws National Attention to Bellingham

Postby StevenSmith » Fri Dec 16, 2016 9:16 pm

I have two or three of their old KPUG jingles...but I think there are few out there. I will post one oldie jingle with the Kirk Wilde story I am writing.
StevenSmith
Member
 
Posts: 14
Joined: Fri Apr 22, 2016 12:51 am

Re: KPUG Disc Jockey Draws National Attention to Bellingham

Postby skyvalleyradio » Sun Dec 18, 2016 12:45 pm

Steven - thank you for posting this wonderful material from the heydays of KPUG & we all hope to hear stories & audio from KENY/KBFW as well! Although growing up in Vancouver, I too was a diehard KPUG listener from '65 onward. 73CKLG was fun to listen to, but had a very short, repetitive playlist. By autumn '66, I had also grown tired of C-FUN which to my young teen ears sounded too dated. I was attracted to KPUG by the large 60-entry, then 50-entry entry playlist and heard many songs on Eleven-Seven that never got airplay on LG or C-FUN. Like KJR, there was plenty of homegrown Pacific Northwest bands that charted.

Growing up in the Kerrisdale part of Vancouver, I had to contend with a bone-crunching signal from 50 kW CKWX which seemed to literally radiate from the ground. The ONLY radio that would clearly receive KPUG without 'WX 'splatter' was my trusty Hallicrafters communications receiver & long-wire antenna. My portable transistors just didn't have the adjacent-channel rejection to cleanly hear KPUG. I have some Super Hit Surveys in my collection & believe radiofan has these somewhere on site, as I submitted them a long time ago. And...as promised on another regional radio website, i will try to find my audio clip of KBFW's sunrise sign-on from winter '68.

Regarding George Ruggles, I often wondered why he suddenly disappeqared from KPUG, assuming he had moved on to a big city station as had so many other KPUG jocks. I'm sorry to learn the actual story of George's demise & distinctly recall still hearing him on air in early 1968. Thanks again for sharing your goodies & memories of the mighty Eleven-Seven K-P-U-G!!!!!! (ps - their PAMS jingles were awesome - I still walk around singing them to myself!!) :groovy:
User avatar
skyvalleyradio
Advanced Member
 
Posts: 1096
Joined: Fri Jul 14, 2006 1:16 pm
Location: The Goofy Islands

Re: KPUG Disc Jockey Draws National Attention to Bellingham

Postby StevenSmith » Tue Dec 20, 2016 4:48 pm

I have some great historical material on KENY and KOQT. I did research this summer, including gathering many photos and some audio. I conducted interviews with early owners who were alive. And Dick Stark worked KENY prior to KPUG. Tom Haveman's daughter shared some excellent photos of KENY and her dad. And the KOQT story is real interesting...Founded originally along with another daytimer in Texas by a country music promoter and immigrant named Bamberg...who was quite the character. When I have time I will try to put all the stuff together....Text, photos, audio and video.
StevenSmith
Member
 
Posts: 14
Joined: Fri Apr 22, 2016 12:51 am

Re: KPUG Disc Jockey Draws National Attention to Bellingham

Postby jon » Fri Dec 30, 2016 9:49 pm

Just found this:
Sandra Thompson, 16, of Vancouver, has three transistor radios, which she tunes mostly to KPUG in Bellingham, Washington. The same records turn up on Vancouver’s CKLG, she says, but later. She buys a couple of singles a week, an LP when she can afford it. “I’ve never thought about a record being American or Canadian or English,” she says. But the performers she mentions most are the Led Zeppelin (U.S.), Donovan (British), the Fifth Dimension (U.S.), and the Archies (U.S.).

From the November 1969 issue of Maclean's, page 61.
User avatar
jon
Advanced Member
 
Posts: 8971
Joined: Mon May 08, 2006 10:15 am
Location: Edmonton

Re: KPUG Disc Jockey Draws National Attention to Bellingham

Postby StevenSmith » Sat Dec 31, 2016 1:43 pm

Jon.....Just saw this. Interesting nostalgia from you. I am going thru boxes of my old tapes and I just found at least a dozen clean and clear copies of KPUG and KOQT jingles.They are close to on the air quality. I am quite pleased with the treasures I unearthed.
StevenSmith
Member
 
Posts: 14
Joined: Fri Apr 22, 2016 12:51 am


Return to Radio Station History

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests