My good friend and writer Art Moore and I were discussing how there have been many articles on the passing of the amazing Pat O’Day but none that mentioned “the rest of the story.” So here is how Pat finished the race as told by Art.
Pat O’Day’s untold final chapter
A pioneer of Top-40 radio and concert promotion, legendary Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Pat O’Day was a master innovator and an engaging storyteller. And he had stories to tell after a lifetime of transforming the music and radio industry, partnering with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, The Eagles, Neil Diamond and many others.
When his death at age 86 was announced Tuesday evening, the memories flowed on social media. They came not only from the famous but from countless Baby Boomers in the Pacific Northwest who think of him as part of the soundtrack of their youth. Many remember his distinctive husky baritone and the jingle he wrote for the station he turned into a national powerhouse as a deejay and later program director and general manager, “K-J-R, Seattle, channel 95!”
Hired by KJR in 1959, O’Day, in the words of a documentary, “almost single-handedly transformed what radio was and helped mold the perceptions of thousands of teenagers into what it could be.” He was awarded national “Radioman of the Year” in 1966 – an era in which KJR’s audience was twice the size of its nearest competitor and seven times larger than today’s top-rated stations. In 1967, he began a run of 46 years as the voice of the Seafair hydroplane races. Younger generations knew him as the radio and TV spokesman for Schick Shadel Hospital, which he credited for freeing him from alcohol addiction.
But few know of the last chapter in his remarkable life, which O’Day considered the most important.
Another household Northwest radio name who worked for KJR, Ichabod Caine, recalled sending a lengthy email to O’Day in December.
At the time, O’Day was undergoing treatment for stage-four lung cancer and emphysema.
“I wrote to the godfather of radio like he was dad. Because I think of him that way,” Caine said. “I told him how much I loved him.
”Then I said, ‘Pat, I don’t want to be in heaven without you.’”
O’Day, who lived on San Juan Island, northwest of Seattle, immediately wrote back.
Caine paraphrased O’Day’s reply: “Well, that’s interesting, Icky. Just a few months ago I was sitting in my yard overlooking the water, crying while listening to a hymn.
“At that moment I came to grips with myself. I re-accepted my creator and returned to the faith of my upbringing.”
Celebration of life
Just one week before his death, O’Day was joined by Caine and other old colleagues and friends in a two-hour-plus Zoom video conference call that can only be described as a celebration of his life.
Led by George Toles, the longtime Seattle SuperSonics PA announcer who was hired 50 year ago by O’Day as his assistant at KJR, they traded tales of this exceptionally creative and audacious promoter. Among them – “relics of radio’s greatest days,” as O’Day called them – were KJR on-air personalities Caine, Steve West and “World Famous” Tom Murphy. And there was Merrilee Rush, who recalled in 1968 pitching to O’Day a recording of her song “Angel of the Morning.” O’Day told her, she said: “You’ve finally brought me something. Go down to your car and turn the radio on.”
O’Day contrasted the “restraints” on program directors today – focused on avoiding failure – with the freedom he was given in his day to run with great ideas. Story after story was told illustrating, in O’Day’s words, “the power of radio to get out of the box and do things that are different and exciting and unique, and never settle for the same old, same old, same old.”
“The secret of a great career is to incorporate the word yes,” he said, noting that “no” has “a batting average of zero.”
About halfway into the Zoom call, O’Day told Toles, “George, we haven’t discussed anything about our dear Lord Jesus Christ.”
Toles eventually steered the discussion to that subject.
O’Day, born Paul Wilburn Berg in Norfolk, Nebraska, was the son of a coal miner-turned-pastor in the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church. He was 14 when his father died, and by that time he had become a skeptic.
“I strayed further and further,” he told his colleagues in that July 28 virtual gathering.
But late last year, O’Day said, he heard a hymn one morning “and realized that all I had to do was just say yes.”
“I just said, ‘OK, Jesus, I’m all yours. I’m all yours. I’m sorry that I have kept you out of things for so long. But please come back and forgive me for my errors over the years.”
O’Day said he wanted everyone to know that “it’s simple, not complicated: Let Jesus into your heart.”
If there’s a “must” regarding faith, he said, it’s “your ability to say, ‘Yes, Jesus, I’m all yours. Take charge of me.'”
Art Moore of WND