From “The Life and Times of The World’s Greatest Disc Jockey”
By Laurie Harper
Don Sherwood, born Daniel Sherwood Cohelan (1925-1983), is considered by many to be the greatest disc jockey to ever ride the nation’s airwaves, not to mention being one of the most colorful characters in Bay Area history.
San Francisco born and bred, he began his radio career with fill-in jobs at KFRC, KCBS and KGO, after which he was hired by Russ Coughlan at KROW (which later became KABL) as the “Noodnick” half of the station’s “Nick & Noodnick” morning show. KROW rose to number two in the ratings, behind only KSFO.
KSFO noticed. On March 6, 1953, KSFO introduced Sherwood as a solo act: their new morning show host. The San Francisco Examiner presciently noted that the program “could make this boy one of the best known local names before the year is out.” In no time, radio’s original Peck’s Bad Boy became the biggest thing to ever hit Bay Area airwaves.
(You may hear selected samples of Sherwood’s work on the Bay Area Radio Museum’s tribute website, DonnieBabe.com.)
In this excerpt from her biography of Sherwood, Laurie Harper details one his most outrageous on-air stunts, the 1958 armed invasion and liberation of Stockton.
Spring, being that time of year when all mortals are forgiven slight inconsistencies and often downright foolishness, was known to trigger haphazard thoughts and moods in Don.
As spring fever began its insidious assault on San Francisco, Don was inspired to share with his listeners his notion that the city of Stockton ought to be returned to the “recreation area” it once was — referring to its red-light district and open gambling.
It was apparently an idea ripe for the times.
Without warning, the subtle strains of a campaign began to develop. As the weeks went by, listeners commented on his idea, watering the little seed in Don’s imagination. It was such a colorful picture.
Then a letter arrived from Stockton, telling Don to lay off: “Stockton’s a fine city just like it is!”
A red light went off in his brain. The idea changed from “what if “ to “when.” “When I take over Stockton, I’ll return it to the fun place it once was!”
He decided to take matters in hand and hit Stockton with a “blast of artillery” to show them he meant business. Charlie Smith got out his “cannon.”
Don gave the word: “Fire!”
Hap Harper, in his plane doing the morning traffic reports, chimed in, “You need more elevation. Move it ten degrees to the left and put in a couple degrees of elevation. That oughta do it!”
The imaginary attack was on.
Don and Charlie continued firing shots, using Hap as the artillery spotter. By the third “salvo,” Hap announced that they had scored a direct hit.
A few days later, Don received a call from the Chamber of Commerce in Stockton.
Herb Caen reported:
Don Sherwood and his KSFO weatherman, Hap Harper, have been having a ball lately with their threats to “bomb” Stockton, but so many private plane owners have offered to help out that the Stockton Chamber of Commerce phoned Sherwood over the weekend, proposing to “negotiate a truce.” General Sherwood is toying with the idea…
The infamous “Raid on Stockton” had begun — one of the greatest radio stunts of all time — building for several months as it took hold in Don’s imagination.
He was going to “own” Stockton. He would be King of Stockton.
The plans took shape. “Threats” were dispersed throughout the heat of the summer of 1958.
Hundreds of fans began enlisting in the Sherwood Harper Liberation Expeditionary Forces of the Greater Bay Area, Inc. (S.H.L.E.F.O.T.G.B.A.I.) — the KSFO army and air force. Two fans, Gene Babow and Bob Cole, became a self-appointed task force to organize the ground mobile forces. Gene delivered a letter of agreement to Don at KSFO studios, carrying the briefcase handcuffed to his wrist.
Copyright © 1989 by Laurie Harper. All rights reserved.
Reprinted with the author’s permission.