With Christmas only weeks away, we're spending a cool, gray Friday afternoon in San Francisco with "Big Daddy" Tom Donahue on Channel 1260 KYA. The station was under the care of a new program director, Bill Drake, who had arrived in October from WAKE/Atlanta to shape the station's sound; Drake's rein as KYA's programming chief would come to a close only a few weeks after this recording was made when Les Crane resumed the role he had previously held. (Drake would continue as the station's morning man for another year.)
This broadcast shows few of the signature Drake formatics made famous in the years to come, but spotlights Donahue's cool, relaxed style and smooth patter. In between popular hits of the day, including "Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen" by Neil Sedaka, "Baby It's You" by The Shirelles and "Goodbye Cruel World" by James Darren, we'll hear Tony Tremayne (born Mel Fritze) with news headlines.
Donahue (born Thomas Coman on May 21, 1928) had been a popular Philadelphia Top 40 radio disc jockey from 1951 to 1961, leading WIBG ("Wibbage") to the top as host of the daily "Danceland" show, while also serving as Secretary of Bristol Township in Bucks County under his real name. Prior to arriving in Philadelphia, his résumé showed stops at WTIP/Charleston, S.C., and WINX/Rockville, Md., as well as a stint as a military policeman in the Philippines.
In 1961, in the wake of payola investigations that had damaged the reputations of numerous East Coast DJs, Donahue — encouraged by reports from his former WIBG teammate Bobby Mitchell — decided to pack up and head west to join Bartell Broadcasting's KYA in San Francisco.
An instant success at KYA, Donahue soon began producing record hops and concerts featuring local and, later, nationally-known performers, in partnership with Mitchell as Tempo Productions. The pair branched out into other related businesses, including a record label, Autumn Records, and Mother's, one of the City's first psychedelic night clubs, located in North Beach. Donahue and Mitchell also pursued one of their other interests, thoroughbred horse racing, by starting Tempo Stables. (Their interest in the ponies is further evidenced by KYA's "Jockey Races" promotion, heard during this broadcast.)
Autumn Records is remembered today mostly for its biggest act, The Beau Brummels, who had two national hits on the label, "Laugh, Laugh" and "Just A Little," as well as an early version of "Somebody to Love" by The Great Society, which would later morph into The Jefferson Airplane. Each of these records were produced by another popular Bay Area disc jockey, Sly Stone (Sylvester Stewart) of KSOL.
Donahue would depart KYA in 1965, remaining in San Francisco to oversee his numerous business interests, which culminated with producing The Beatles' concert at Candlestick Park on August 29, 1966 — the group's last scheduled concert appearance anywhere. (His business partner, Bobby Mitchell, went on to work for the Bill Drake-programmed stations KFRC/San Francisco and KHJ/Los Angeles as Bobby Tripp. He passed away in July 1968 at age 48 from Hodgkin's Disease.)
Donahue's lasting legacy, however, was his role in helping create the "underground" FM radio format, first at KMPX (107 FM) and later at KSAN ("The Jive 95") in San Francisco. He died from a massive heart attack on April 28, 1975, a month short of his forty-eighth birthday. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on January 17, 1996, and into the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame in 2006, as a member of the first class to be enshrined.