Sunday, April 4, 2010

Gene Chenault, 90, Radio Pioneer Dies

Another great, but we missed him by over a month...thanks to Dave M. who definitely helps us stay on the top of things:

"I thought the Gene Chenault story was interesting because it helps explain the subtle but definite transformation of the early KAAY rock n’ roll format to the later ‘70’s KAAY rock format. As a listener you probably didn’t know it was happening, but it just sounded different and “better”. The Drake Chenault combo were brilliant program consultants, and everyone tried to copy their success.

“And now, for another hour of - Much Moo-oore Music! K-A-A-Y”

If you get a chance, look up Gordon McClendan, another radio programming great, but from Dallas –


Thus, below:

A rock and roll radio pioneer, who with his partner, Bill Drake, substantially reshaped the landscape of early rock and roll radio and innovated many devices and systems that could make stations more competitive and grabbing more young ears, died.  he was 90.

A master of  the idea of un-cluttering the rock broadcasts, Chenault built his business from the idea that by packing more music into the same hour young listeners would choose his client's stations to listen to.  It worked.  And, the approach helped craft and make profitable the idea of "top 40" sound.  Although Drake's name was better known, Chenault was an equal partner and a major force in radio.

Here’s the Gene Chenault obit from the New York Times, FYI –


Gene Chenault, Who Changed Rock Radio, Dies at 90


Published: March 3, 2010

Gene Chenault, who with his business partner, Bill Drake, reshaped rock radio in the 1960s with prepackaged programming that delivered more music and fewer commercials to hundreds of stations, creating the automated format common today, died on Feb. 23 in Tarzana, Calif. He was 90 and lived in Encino, Calif.

 The cause was non-Hodgkin lymphoma, his wife, Susan, said.

The programming, using reel-to-reel tapes of tightly spaced Top 40 hits, was primarily designed by Mr. Drake and marketed and syndicated by Mr. Chenault. It raised ratings at station after station and brought a certain big-city sound to many small towns. At the press of a button a local D.J. could jump in with his own boisterous one-liner — no more yarns about teenage romance — or a station-identifying jingle. To maximize the music, the Top 40 were sometimes edited, speeded up and pared to 30.

The new format gave rise to the stock phrases “boss jock” and “boss radio,” which first took hold at KHJ in Los Angeles in 1965. (The word boss was derived from California surfer slang for good, as in “That’s a boss wave.”) Within a year KHJ leapt from 12th to first place in the Los Angeles ratings. Its slogan: “Much More Music.”

“The big idea is to unclutter and speed up the pace,” Time magazine wrote of the Drake-Chenault format in August 1968.

“The next recording is introduced during the fade-out of the last one,” the article continued. “Singing station identifications, which sometimes run at oratorio length elsewhere, are chopped to 1 ½ seconds. Commercials are reduced to 13 minutes, 40 seconds an hour — almost one-third less than the U.S. average.” By cutting down on commercials, the stations could sell advertising at higher rates.

Newscasts were scheduled at unconventional times, usually 20 minutes after the hour, so that when the competition was reporting a local crime, the syndicated station was running a “music sweep” — three or four recordings back-to-back to lure away dial switchers.

It worked. Besides the rise of KHJ in Los Angeles, KGB in San Diego went from last to first in its market in 90 days. In New York an upstart FM station, WOR, brought in Mr. Chenault (pronounced sha-NAULT) and Mr. Drake when it decided to go up against the Top 40 powerhouses WABC and WMCA. By 1967 WABC was still the leading New York station, but WOR-FM was No. 2.

Marc Fisher, the author of “Something in the Air: Radio, Rock and the Revolution That Shaped a Generation” (Random House, 2007), said in an interview: “What Drake and Chenault did in California and then exported around the country was the idea that you could virtually automate the combination of hit music, D.J.’s with bigger-than-life personalities and the overall sense of possibility and danger that the rock revolution was bringing to pop culture.”

Though boss jocks could be raucous, there was a certain homogeneity to the formula. “The positive spin is that they brought a more professional kind of entertainment to places that had been fairly amateurish,” Mr. Fisher said. “But if you look at their work from today’s perspective, they emerge as the founding fathers of predictable, automated music-radio formats.”

Still, by 1975, Drake-Chenault Enterprises, their consulting company in Canoga Park, Calif., was serving about 350 client stations with makeover advice and totally automated packages in six formats. In 1979 the company produced “The History of Rock ’n’ Roll,” a 50-hour documentary that met with phenomenal success. Stations clamored to schedule it, first as a blockbuster weekend special, then in repeat broadcasts of shorter segments.

Lester Eugene Chenault was born in Eldorado, Okla., on June 12, 1919, one of two sons of Leonard and Fannie Burnett Chenault. When he was 4 the family moved to Los Angeles.

Besides his wife, the former Susan Akiko, Mr. Chenault is survived by his son, Mark; his daughter, Carol Moore; and four grandchildren.

While in high school Mr. Chenault got an acting job at a radio station in Los Angeles. On graduating he was hired by KFRE in Fresno, Calif., but was soon drafted into the Army. After World War II he and a friend started a station in Fresno, KYNO; he eventually acquired full ownership.

In 1962 Mr. Chenault hired Mr. Drake, a brash up-and-coming D.J. who shared some of his new boss’s notions of rock ’n’ roll programming. As KYNO’s new program director Mr. Drake, who died in 2008, adopted a jampacked playlist and pared down the D.J. talk. Within a year its major local rival, KMAK, switched to country music.

“Gene Chenault’s name is less familiar than that of his partner, programmer Bill Drake,” the Museum of Broadcast Communications’s Encyclopedia of Radio says of the partners. “Yet behind the impact of Drake’s contributions to the Top 40 format were Chenault’s management skill and marketing concepts. The two men altered U.S. radio and American popular culture in the 1960s.”

I never knew the impact this man nor Bill Drake had on the we know!  Thanks, Dave, for sharing....Bud S.

1 comment:

  1. To be clear about it, KAAY did not subscribe to the Drake Chenault program syndication; rather KAAY "jocks" always played their own music. However many of the techniques developed and used by Drake Chenault were used to help create an energetic and fast paced program for listeners. As pointed out by other KAAY blog contributors, KAAY used a variety of consultants, and each KAAY program director imparted their own ideas and techniques to shape the sound.