Robin Mitchell on the air in Kalispell

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Robin Mitchell on the air in Kalispell

Postby radiofan » Wed Sep 14, 2011 8:51 am

Radio man has long career in industry

Image
Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake

By LYNNETTE HINTZE/Daily Inter Lake

Robin Mitchell attributes his success in the radio business to two simple strategies: Give the people what they want and don't be afraid to take chances.

Mitchell, 66, is the guy with the velvety voice who hosts the afternoon shift at KGEZ in Kalispell, where the rock-and-roll hits of the 1950s and '60s rule the airwaves.
It's a genre Mitchell knows intimately because he cut his teeth the business when those tunes weren't classics - they were on the Top 40.

Mitchell, a Portland native, was still in high school when he got his first-class radiotelephone license. Having a license was a "leg up" in getting a job in those days, he said, because stations didn't want to hire both a licensed operator and a DJ. It allowed announcers to be the sole operators at some limited-power radio stations.

Mitchell's first on-air gig was at KKEY in Vancouver, WA in 1964. He made the rounds to various stations in the Portland and Eugene, Ore. areas in the mid- to late-'60s when the Beatles and The Beach Boys were busting out hits left and right. "‘Eight Days a Week,' ‘Help Me, Rhonda,' I played when they were current tunes," he said.

Mitchell developed a smooth, sought-after style almost immediately, and even a bad car accident in 1966 that left him with a compound fracture in his leg didn't keep him off the air. He was in a full-length leg cast and couldn't move during his broadcasts, so the station hired a newsman to assist him, a novel move back in the day.

Mitchell's philosophy as a DJ was simple but effective.

"My idea is if you really satisfy people," they'll keep listening, he said. "And people want variety. There are a lot of songs that are overlooked nuggets."
While the Top 40 reigned, Mitchell took it upon himself to mix up the hits with music in other genres.
"We played Henry Mancini to the Beatles and everything in between," he recalled. "You have to excite people. With today's radio it's almost like wallpaper, consistent, with no surprises."

To this day Mitchell gets the credit for making a hit out of The Moody Blues' "Nights in White Satin." It was the B-side of the Blues' 45-rpm hit, "Cities," and more than seven minutes long.
It had all but been forgotten when a colleague told Mitchell he'd promote the song if Mitchell played it, so they did. When Mitchell moved to Boston in 1972 to take a job at WRKO, "they were playing it as Top 10," he said. "I had taken a song four to five years old" and made it a hit.

That kind of intuition and savvy set Mitchell apart from more mundane DJs.

"I always asked, ‘Would we be noticed if we did this?'" he said. "It's not brain surgery. It's taking a chance.

"Even if you stumble, you're falling forward. You have to take chances," he said, referring to a lesson he learned long ago at a time-management seminar.

People in the business took note of Mitchell's following early on, and it wasn't long before KOL in Seattle wanted him for the 9 to midnight shift. He went to work there in 1967, then circled back for another stint at the station in 1970. "It was kind of like being a gun slinger," he recalled about his innate ability to adapt to the radio business. "I became more fluent as time went on."

Another element of his success was telling his listening audience exactly what they were listening to.

"We say what we play, every song, every day" was his mantra.

"How is it we knew who John, Paul, Ringo and George were?" he asked, answering his own question. "Because radio told us that."

Mitchell made the rounds in radio, first jumping cross-country from Seattle to Boston, then to stations in Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Denver and Ventura, Calif., through the 1970s and '80s before settling into KWJJ in Portland from 1993 to 2000.

While he started as a DJ, Mitchell soon elevated his status to a sought-after program director.

He became a consultant for radio stations along the way, too, and at one point wound up consulting and concurrently working as vice president of an entertainment company in Los Angeles. After seven years in L.A. in was the early 1990s and Mitchell realized much of his time was spent in traffic, ordering fast food from clerks who could barely speak English.

He noticed a station in Portland "with a great signal, but no great ratings." It was a country-western station and it was the cusp of the Garth Brooks era. Mitchell wanted the job as program director at the station, KWJJ, so he'd send teasers on neon-colored paper to the station's general manager, imploring him to hire him. He signed the letters "Mystery Program Director."

"I wanted to move home and simplify my life," he said.

Mitchell got hired and within three months the station was top-ranked in the Portland area.

"I programmed them for years, but it got to be about owning real estate," he said about the changing radio business. "It went the way of American industry, consolidation, combining jobs."
Consulting work eventually became frustrating, he said, with fewer owners to work for.

Mitchell rubbed elbows with many of the great country singers at promotional events. He liked some and tolerated others. In Los Angeles he had gotten his fill of celebrities who often were full of themselves.
"I got away from being star-struck early on," he said.

Mitchell retired in 2000, but not really. He continued to dabble in radio, running KWJJ as an interim program director when new owners took over in 2003, and teaching at a community college.

His wife of 16 years, Darcy Mitchell, who comes from a radio family and is business manager at KGEZ, had longed to move back to Kalispell, where she'd grown up. In 2006 they bought a plot of land on Holt Stage Road that had been homesteaded by Darcy's family. They planned to live in a one-bedroom guest cabin on the property until they could sell their house in Portland and build a new home.

Then the recession set in. Their house in Portland still hasn't sold and they're still living in the tiny cabin. Darcy's former job as an implementation specialist for a broadcast software company was downsized, too, as the economy worsened.

"Our timing was impeccable," Mitchell said with a laugh. "I like to tell my wife, ‘You wanted to move home in the worst way' and it was in the worst way."

Mitchell took note when he read a Daily Inter Lake article in March 2010 about John Hendricks, who planned to return KGEZ to its glory days. The station returned to the air in late January.

Hendricks hired Mitchell just a few days before regular programming resumed in February.

"Robin and I had never met, although we were competitors in the late 1960s or early '70s in Seattle, and then again in Denver in the early 1980s," Hendricks said.

Mitchell has found his groove as the afternoon announcer at KGEZ, coming full circle from those early days in Oregon.

"In a lot of ways radio can be more gratifying in the Kalispell market," he observed. "You can do a lost dog report and it means something. People are so responsive."

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by e-mail at lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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Re: Robin Mitchell on the air in Kalispell

Postby Neumann Sennheiser » Wed Sep 14, 2011 11:04 am

As is often my habit, I google-mapped the location of KGEZ' s studios, located at 2995 U.S. Highway 93 South in Kalispell just to street view what might be there.
A bit of a surprise.
Not that I wasn't expecting a smallish,free-standing chicken shack by the roadside but, what was a bit disturbing was the image of a HUGE "Original 13 Colonies" flag painted on the side accompanied by equally as huge USA letters and a Libertarian Ron Paul campaign sign planted in front.
I can guarantee the storefront does not look this way today as the google street shot was likely taken, as most were, in the summer of 2008 when the station was still owned by John Stokes.
In the spring of 2008, Stokes was sued by Todd and Davar Gardner, who claimed Stokes had slandered them on his show in 2007.
Stokes lost, and to avoid paying $3.8 million in damages, he filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. In April 2009, the Office of the U.S. Trustee asked that the filing be converted to a Chapter 7, claiming that Stokes hadn't disclosed all of his assets and debts. Stokes responded with a request to withdraw the filing. On September 21, an order was issued denying Stokes' request and granting the government's request to switch to a Chapter 7.
The ruling stated that Stokes had failed to disclose "literally millions of dollars" in assets and had not paid taxes in several years. Stokes was in the midst of his show when federal marshals and Flathead County sheriff's deputies arrived to seize the station; he simply thanked his listeners and signed off.

On September 24, 2009 KGEZ went silent.

In July 2010, a local bankruptcy judge awarded a partial settlement to the Gardners in which they acquired KGEZ's assets (license, broadcasting facilities and studio property).
Shortly after the Gardners took over ownership of the station, John Hendricks took charge of KGEZ's programming and operations and KGEZ returned to the air in late January 2011.

John Stokes is currently streaming a radio show on the Internet. He still maintains the site he originally designed for the station.
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Re: Robin Mitchell on the air in Kalispell

Postby jon » Wed Sep 14, 2011 11:40 am

Not quite sure what the various items on the station web site mean: http://www.z600.com/

Things like "To write the FCC to let them know how you feel about our situation... " and "Donations for Legal Fund". I couldn't find any clear explanations on either the web site or in Google News, but just items on the previous owner's situation, including the link on this site from a Dan Sys post: viewtopic.php?f=7&t=9030&p=12803081#p12803081
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Re: Robin Mitchell on the air in Kalispell

Postby Dan Sys » Wed Sep 14, 2011 11:48 am

Jon.....Here's the current website:
http://www.600kgez.com/

Don't know why the site from the extinct Z600 is still floating around on the net.
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Re: Robin Mitchell on the air in Kalispell

Postby radiofan » Wed Sep 14, 2011 11:52 am

Just found the current website and was about to post it, but Dan beat me to it.

It doesn't appear as if they are streaming at this point.
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Re: Robin Mitchell on the air in Kalispell

Postby Neumann Sennheiser » Wed Sep 14, 2011 1:58 pm

Here's the link re-posted that takes you to the local TV story re: the return of KGEZ to the airwaves
http://www.kaj18.com/news/kgez-radio-returns/
Clearly, the new owners have relocated the studios and offices to a different location from the one I found on Hwy 93.
(if the decorative white blockwork on the outside of the studio building looks oddly familiar, just ask bossradio or anyone who worked at CKOK in Penticton.
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Re: Robin Mitchell on the air in Kalispell

Postby radiofan » Wed Sep 14, 2011 3:34 pm

Here's Robin at KOL in November of 1967

http://www.facebook.com/SeattleRadioGre ... 1015444826

This aircheck appears on Kacie Sommers Seattle Radio Greats facebook page.
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