“The World’s Greatest Disc Jockey”
September 7, 1925-November 4, 1983
Elected to the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame, 2006
You either loved Don Sherwood or you hated him. But either way, you listened to him.
He was born and raised in The City’s Sunset District, christened Daniel Sherwood Cohelan but known to listeners within the sound of KSFO’s signal as “Donnie-babe.” Heavy-smoking, hard-drinking and reckless living, Don Sherwood set the standard for every radio bad boy and shock jock to follow in his wake for decades to come.
The product of a broken home — his father’s funeral was the only memory he had of his old man — and a failure in school (“It took me five high schools to get through the eleventh grade,” he recalled, “majoring in recess and tea dancing”), at sixteen Don lied about his age to join the Canadian Tank Corps as World War II accelerated. After it appeared that his regiment would be shipped off to combat in England, he quickly admitted his real age and headed back to San Francisco.
Now a confirmed high school drop-out, Sherwood began attending classes at night while driving a lunch wagon during the day to make a buck. It was at night school that he would receive advice that would change his life forever: the prescient principal advised him to enter radio school, where his smooth, mellow voice would serve him well. He enrolled in the Samuel Gompers Trade School on Bartlett Street in the city, later boasting that he graduated in only a few weeks so that he could go after his first job in broadcasting.
With his radio school diploma in hand, however, he was unable to find a station in the city willing to hire him. He enlisted in the Merchant Marine, serving until he was nineteen years old, then returned to San Francisco where KFRC offered him the break he was looking for: a temporary job as an announcer. The job was short-lived, but it inspired him to head to Los Angeles in search of radio work there.
After a year of frustration and little employment in Southern California, he came home once again only to find the job market as bleak — if not worse — here. He accepted a six-month hitch as a radio operator on an Army transport ship, and then found himself back in San Francisco once more, unemployed.
Desperate for work in his chosen field, he made the rounds of the city’s handful of radio stations, failing until KQW — headquartered in the stately Palace Hotel; it would become KCBS a few years later — offered him a foot in the door: a daily ten-minute program, from 5:50 to 6 a.m., during which he could play a few records, talk a bit and read the news. He would then hang around the station each day until 2 p.m. to announce the station identification and read the news headlines. It wasn’t much, but it was a real job at a real radio station.
To be continued…
Out Of The Mud Grows The Lotus
Don Sherwood on KQW, Undated (45 seconds)
A brief but historic moment, as Sherwood signs off his Saturday noontime platter party with a mention of his sponsor, the Patricia Stevens Models and Finishing School, and that “This is the Columbia stations.”
Don Sherwood on KSFO, November 22, 1960 (8 minutes):
With traffic reports from Bill Dana as José Jiménez, subbing (reluctantly) for Hap Harper, who is missing from the plane… (Courtesy of Hap Harper)
Don Sherwood on KSFO, March 3, 1961 (1 hour)
Don Sherwood on KSFO, Circa 1962 (25 minutes):
Sherwood heads into the home stretch of this morning’s program with a Yami Yoghurt spot, a letter from Parkey Sharkey and a brief in-studio visit before the top of the hour with Al Collins, who offers Don’s kids some licorice… (Courtesy of Joe Gentry)
VIDEO: “KSFO: The Great Race of 1961”
A video presentation of the famous footrace between KSFO’s Don Sherwood and Jim Lange, from Stinson Beach in Marin County to the Ferry Building in San Francisco. Narrated by KSFO newsman Aaron Edwards and produced by Norm Howard, the film also includes cameos by Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons, with classic title art by Tom Nuzum.
Don Sherwood on KSFO, October 1964 (19 minutes):
Featuring Sherwood as “David Nice Guy, formerly known as the Lone Rabbit,” as well as a “Man On The Street” interview conducted by Carter B. Smith. (Courtesy of Fred Krock)
Don Sherwood: “It’s Quarter To Seven,” Undated (30 seconds)BFT
Don Sherwood: “Chesterfield … Or Sofa,” Undated (3 minutes)BFT
Featuring Aaron Edwards; courtesy of Ben Fong-Torres.
Don Sherwood: Farmers Market Spots, Undated (1 minute)KA
A series of radio commercials for the Farmers Market at Hillsdale Shopping Center in San Mateo, featuring Sherwood doing versions in various dialects plus voice impressions of Jack Benny and Liberace. (Courtesy of Ken Ackerman)
Don Sherwood on KSFO: “Superfrog,” Undated (3 minutes)HH
Featuring Carter B. Smith; courtesy of Hap Harper.
Don Sherwood on KSFO: “Sherwood Sings!” (Undated):
Donnie Babe puts his vocal cords through some early-morning calisthenics. (Courtesy of Ben Fong-Torres)
Don Sherwood on KSFO: “The Russian Dancer” (July 2, 1965):
Sherwood conducts an in-studio interview with an unidentified Russian dancer … who, as it turns out, is actually comedian Shelley Berman, in town for an appearance at the Fairmont. (Courtesy of Christopher Bay)
Don Sherwood & Jack Carney: “Man On The Street” Bloopers, (Circa 1965)
From the private collection of John Catchings, a rare and wonderful recording of Sherwood and Carney in their native habitat, conducting (or, rather, attempting to conduct) a series of KSFO “Man On The Street” promos, which deteriorates into utter hysteria. NOTE: Not to be confused with the recording found on “The Other Side” of the “Sound of the City” disc issued by KSFO, which can be heard here.
Don Sherwood on KSFO: “Just Plain Rosita” (Undated):
Featuring Carter B. Smith. (Courtesy of Ben Fong-Torres)
BONUS TRACK: Don Sherwood: “Four Moods In Memory” (1958):
From the LP “San Francisco: My Enchanted City” (Seal Records LS1530), arranged and conducted by David Rose, with words and music by Stephen and Libby McNeil. Four Moods In Memory, narrated by Don Sherwood, comprised the entire second side of the album, and was made up of four sections:
According to the liner notes, Four Moods brought “four contrasting expressions of deep emotion — each and all beautifully and affectionately delivered by one of San Francisco’s favorite sons — Don Sherwood — the man about whom Time Magazine said ‘…hit the west like a sonic boom.’ With David Rose’s lush orchestrations as a background, Don Sherwood adds another triumph to his lyric story of a boy’s love for a girl and a city. The result is as personal and intimate as a love letter!”
In Passing: Don Sherwood (November 4, 1983):
Only a month before The World’s Greatest Radio Station changed hands from Golden West Broadcasters, signaling the end of an era in San Francisco radio, Don Sherwood died. KSFO essentially suspended programming for the day to pay tribute to Donnie Babe, airing phone calls from friends, fans and his family. This recording includes a telephone interview with Sherwood’s pal Ronnie Schell, conducted by Aaron Edwards. (Courtesy of Mike Krupicka)
BONUS: Hap Harper reminisces with Buddy Hatton and Aaron Edwards on Sherwood’s life and times, including the tale of how Hap, through Don’s intercession, became the world’s first airborne traffic and weather reporter, and the backstory of the fabled “Raid On Stockton“:
Don Sherwood Reads “Winnie The Pooh,” December 12, 1983:
A recording of The World’s Greatest Disk Jockey’s reading of A.A. Milne’s classic children’s story is presented as a special treat for listeners on the final broadcast of KSFO as The World’s Greatest Radio Station. The complete exhibit is included in KSFO: The Golden West Years Collection. (Courtesy of Ben Fong-Torres)
— Exhibit includes text and audio.