It was probably a year ago Puget Sound Radio approached Mr. Keith James about submitting a read on his life as Keith James, The Broadcast Legend!
From a child growing up in a town called Lexington, Virginia, Keith tells us about the people he met along his journey, those who inspired him, those he admired and respected, and then he shares with us about his move to Canada where he achieved a respected, successful and rewarding career in the industry. Hats off to one of Canada’s leading broadcaster! Keith James
We at PSR Salute you as one of our most admired in the industry…
Thanks for sharing these precious moments with us Keith
Keith James and his road to a successful Broadcast Career – A Great Read!
by Keith James
May 24, 2020
Victoria, British Columbia
I am sure it was my daughter Beverly that first asked for this exercise to happen. As my oldest child, she has more questions about my sordid past. I need to apologize for the rather long delay in my response… I’m really not that busy, so I got off to a great start but suddenly my stupid computer Managed to loose the beautiful full page of dialogue regarding my encounter with Ray Charles….More about him later!
Speaking of meeting famous people, I have met a lot of “Stars” over the years, considering that I have never lived anywhere near the “StarFolks”, like in Las Vegas, LA, or New York City, but when I think of the “Big Names” I have met in person, there were quite a few. The First famous person I ever met was a world famous Professional Wrestler who stayed over at our house in Lexington when I was ten or eleven years old. I don’t remember his name, but he bought me a box of 24 Hershey Chocolate Bars…! For a 10 year old, that was huge ! You’ll notice I never forgot him
For a few years My mother rented out a couple of rooms to Washington & Lee students and occasional other visitors who came to town. Don’t even ask if I met Washington or Lee! But at that time, I worked evenings at a newspaper stand, selling papers to the Army guys who came there for special “Armed Forces Special Entertainment Training”…. They were entertainers who had been Drafted into the army to travel around to Military Bases and training schools teaching other entertainers how to entertain the troops. The number of people involved in entertaining the thousands troops all over the world was huge… The first show business person I remember falling for as a child, was hears on a weekly NBC network RADIO show, “The Red Skelton Hour” …. Red Skelton created many characters, but my favourite was “Clem Caddilhopper”, a slightly drunk, “Country Bumpkin” kind of character that I was crazy about. I studied him very hard and loved to do my imitation of him.
The Red Skelton Radio and TV Show was huge, maybe out rated occasionally by Gun Smoke or Ed Sullivan. For me Red Skelton was Number one! At summer camp evening “Campfire Shows” I did lots of his comedy routines, which I had memorized carefully. I also did a similar character, named Mortimer Snerd but he was a ventriloquist Dummy (Edgar Bergen) and I had to Sit on someone’s lap to do him. I was quite small at the time so if I found a big guy with a fat lap to sit on and it worked pretty well.
I was the only boy in the High school Drama Club… That paid off with a leading roll in nearly every Lexington High School play for the five years I was there. Yes, five! As it included the eighth grade. I was also about the only guy in school that liked to dance. My brother Leslie, 10 years older than me, was an amazing dancer… he looked a bit like, and danced a lot like, Mickey Rooney. When I started first grade with Mrs. Lee, he was doing college at Greenbrier Military School. Mom and Dad took me when they went to visit him on weekends. I always thought he was very cool. He was a very nice person, but never had much time for me. Though when he was in the Army Signal Corps, he always brought home very nice girl friends that did give me a lot of attention. I can’t recall a single time we ever went anywhere or did anything together. He and his wife Katherine (formally my Dad’s secretary) moved to Florida in 1965, following My Mom and Dad’s move to Bradenton. After all those years we then finally got acquainted and I visited him when I went to Florida to see my Mom & Dad.
Even when I was a little kid, I had serious intentions of growing up to be an entertainer, it didn’t matter what, but I would be in some area of “Show Business”. (There’s no business like it) To be exact, I really wanted to be an All Night Radio DJ like Dick Martin on WWL New Orleans…. I listened to him every night, all through high school… Actually just being “ ON AIR” was MY DREAM and it started to come true when I was fortunate enough to get a job in radio…
Keep in mind, Radio was a bigger deal in those days… before TV happened. I started the summer of 1948 and TV didn’t come to Virginia until January 1953… I thought of trying TV, but there were very few jobs… TV programming was almost all network at first. One local announcer was about all they needed. News and weather guys just moved across the hall from their old radio job, as most new TV stations evolved from the old established Network Radio Stations in the cities large enough to support a TV station. When I was 14, a radio station opened in Lexington and my teachers all suggested that I should “Go to the Radio Station and apply to be an “Announcer”! Most of my teachers chose me to do much of their “Reading Aloud” work… In front of the class… So this started My “Acting” training…
I thought they were nuts, until the day I Saw Andy Peterson, the Program Director of Radio station WREL in Lexington, polishing his green, ’47 Hudson Hornet, Four Door Sedan. Even though it was a really ugly car, I offered to help him. A little conversation lead to the fact that last summer his part time “Kid” at the radio station was Fred Lackman. He was the “Class Nerd”. Very smart, with a voice like “God”… and he knew it. I would have given anything to have a voice like Fred. Andy made it pretty clear that he didn’t really like Fred at all and would love to replace him! Now I’m really shining that old car! Soon I just came right out and said “I would really like to audition for you sometime because I always thought I could be a radio announcer… if I ever had a chance!” Much to my surprise Andy said, “Well why don’t you come to the station after nine o’clock tomorrow? We could talk about it and you might get a chance!
You can just imagine how thrilled and excited I was when I heard that? No you can’t… It was just Too Much to comprehend ! I get a “rush” now, just thinking about it… That was 70 years ago! Yes, I still remember it like it was yesterday because it was that very moment that my life took on a whole new purpose, now I knew all my dreams just might come true. And they did!
Even after all those years, I can honestly say…”There was never a day when I was in radio that I didn’t love to come to work.” I’ve had a number of other jobs over the years, but they were all boring most of the time…. Radio never got boring for me…I loved it and it got me everything I ever wanted… Girls, cars and Kids… It took me a while to find Carolyn, but the cars and kids have always been good. I should say “Good for Me!” As it wasn’t always good for my family. I was a pretty good “Radio Guy” and I made a lot of money for my employers…. My family suffered and I loved my kids, but I was not a very good Dad. The Job always came first and that is not the way to do it.
Ray Charles has been my all time favourite artist and entertainer since the early 60’s when he recorded “What’d I Say”… If you don’t know the song, Check it out on You Tube… I guarantee it will make you feel good. It’s my favourite song too.
There is a very good reason Ray Charles and that song are so meaningful for me. After Pat and I split up, for the last of several times, I decided to move to Canada. I had a friend who had moved there and liked it a lot . He was program director CKY in Winnipeg for Moffat Broadcasting. Moffatt had stations in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver. They were looking for a Program Director in Edmonton and Vancouver. They flew me up to Edmonton for an interview. I flew up there for a couple of days in January, I never noticed the extreme cold and didn’t know why my ears were itching. It was from
frostbite! It was 17 below zero! They offered me the P D job in Edmonton and I accepted. Only later did I realize Vancouver may have been a wiser choice. However, my 10 years in Edmonton were amazing, we made CHED #1 and did a lot things that got national recognition. It made my name as a programmer across the country… I had many offers and other opportunities but the CHED success was just to much fun to leave. I had Wes Montgomery in Morning Drive and Bob McCord in Afternoon Drive…They were the two Best Drive Time Jocks ever! I stayed there ten years. It didn’t ever get any better than that, except a few years later I had Norm Edwards and Jim Jackson… They were equally good, if not just a bit better. Ratings were amazing, We had 500,000 listeners at CKXL and there were only 350,000 people in Calgary at that time. Our biggest rating success came much later, in Hamilton where we had the highest rated Country Music Radio Station in North America and Cliff Dumas was voted the Number One Morning Guy by the Nashville Country Music Association.
I believe any success I had was totally due to the fact that I was good at selecting, ambitious, talented people who believed they were the best and would work hard to prove it. I tried not to hamper them with too much direction.
After CHED’S initial Ratings success, about 1967, Ron Mitchel, then President of Moffat, asked me “How much money do you think you should be making?” I said “I think a Grand a Year for each year of my age would be just fine!” He agreed and that was that! I was 35 At the time so it made me one of the highest paid Program Directors in Canada and in a couple of years I was Vice President of Programming for all 7 Moffat Radio stations. To my knowledge, It was also the first time anyone from Radio “Programming” was made a Vice President in the USA or Canada. The word got around very quickly and I was asked to speak and serve on panels at conventions and meetings everywhere. The Programming side of radio had never had this much attention. Program guys everywhere were thanking me. They all wanted to know how I made it happen… My answer,,, “I just asked for it…”
In those days most Radio Broadcast Owners only followed the money and concentrated on sales… They just didn’t understand that their “Product” was “Programming” and without innovative Local programming there would be no Listeners and no product to sell , so they settled for whatever share of audience they got and wondered why they could not improve “Sales”. It is probably still true today… Very few Radio Owners have ever been aware of
or understood what they are selling. They are selling an opportunity to reach an audience. Who the audience is can only be determined by a rating company… Today, in Canada that company is Numeris… In the “Old Days” it was “BBM”, The Bureau of Broadcast Measurement.
Wow has this little piece ever gotten wordy…. Time for me to t stop praising myself and maybe somebody else will do it for me…