Harmon’s Histories: Reminiscing about old-time radio personalities
By Jim Harmon/Missoula Current
I don’t know about you, but as I grow older I find myself reminiscing a lot about the past. It’s natural, I guess. We older folks have many more years to look back upon than we have years to look forward to.
I think often about my past career in radio and the wonderful people with whom I worked over the years.
My two years at KOB radio in Albuquerque (1970-1972) hold a lot of memories.
Tom Dunn did the morning show (with me in the newsroom). His 5:30 a.m. opening monologues were works of art. Sometimes, they started with Tom mumbling and shuffling papers, as if he was getting ready but wasn’t yet on the air. Eventually, he’d get to the point and you’d realize it was a completely prepared shtick.
Tom was followed by followed by George “Pat” Reilly and Tom Rutherford.
1972 was quite a year for KOB-AM radio. It was the station’s 50th anniversary and they knew how to throw a party.
The radio station set up the first-ever Albuquerque balloon fest, with 13 hot-air balloons participating. Cowboy movie star Slim Pickens was the celebrity host.
The event took on a life of its own after that, and is now in its 51st year (the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta® is set for October 7–15, 2023.
Others in the KOB radio newsroom in 1972 were Don Madsen and John Redmon (both formerly with KOA, Denver), Peter Wellish (from KYW-TV, Philadelphia) and Sports Director Mike Roberts (voice of the Lobos).
The names of many of those personalities and news people from my KOB-770 radio days will mean little to you, but one will stand out.
About the time I was leaving KOB radio in 1972, heading on to other adventures in radio and TV, Jimmy O’Neill joined the DJ staff.
Jimmy was probably best known for his role as host of ABC-TV’s “Shindig,” which lasted for less than two years, but featured some top performers of the era like Marvin Gaye, Jerry Lee Lewis, Petula Clark and Jackie Wilson.
Even the “house band” included Glenn Campbell and Billy Preston!
The show was created to fill the time slot of “Hootenanny,” which was canceled when the “British Invasion” pretty much killed the folk-music revival of the 1960s.
Acts included The Who, The Rolling Stones, Sonny and Cher, The Beach Boys, and one of my favorites, The Ronettes.
Jimmy O’Neill started his career at the young age of 15. He was a DJ in Enid, Oklahoma and later in Oklahoma City. Jimmy went on to Pittsburgh and, at age 21, he was a No. 1 personality in Los Angeles.
After his time in Albuquerque, O’Neill worked in Omaha for a while before returning to L.A., where he was a popular personality at KRLA, retiring in the 1990s. He died in 2013 at age 73.
His life and career were certainly no bed of roses.
When “Shindig” was canceled, he fell apart. So did his marriage to songwriter Sharon Sheeley.
He told the Chicago Tribune in a 1992 interview that he literally “went crazy” and tried to burn his house down. Then, he said, “I drank and drugged my way through my life savings.”
His obituary noted that he had both heart problems and diabetes in later life.
Jimmy was just one of the notable people whose path crossed mine, if even for a short time.
I’ll probably reminisce about a few more, when the mood strikes me. Stay tuned.
Jim Harmon is a longtime Missoula news broadcaster, now retired, who writes a weekly history column for Missoula Current. You can contact Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org. His best-selling book, “The Sneakin’est Man That Ever Was,” a collection of 46 vignettes of Western Montana history, is available at harmonshistories.com.