Bobby Hattrik Gave Listeners The Rock Hits They Wanted
More than 50 years before KWK - FM 106 / AM 13.8 billed itself as "The Rockin' Best", the station's precursor debuted. KFVE was introduced to the St. Louis airwaves on AM 1280 in 1925, but had to share its frequency with two other stations. Two years later the owner changed KFVE's call letters to the simpler KWK. In 1928 the station's frequency was re-assigned to AM 1350, where KWK and WIL were briefly forced to share air time before the FCC relocated WIL down to AM 1200. In 1941 KWK was again moved to a frequency it would occupy on and off for more than 40 years: AM 1380.
The station made national headlines in January, 1958 when station manager Robert Convey executed a "simple weeding out of undesirable music" with a "Record Breaking Week" where various rock and roll records were given a "farewell spin". DJs would play each record and then smash it. This is shown in the documentary "This Is Elvis" where a DJ announces "Rock and Roll has Got to Go, and Go It Does Here on KWK". Randy Raley occasionally played that clip on KSHE during the mid 80s.
KWK eventually returned Rock and Roll to its playlist as it competed with KXOK in the 1960s. The station spent a good part of that decade more focused on its legal troubles. The FCC received complaints that a couple of Treasure Hunt contests were rigged. This resulted in a weaker signal and then a license loss in 1966. KWK enjoyed a successful return in 1969 as a hit soul station. (See KWK's Soul History.) Ownership issues led the station to go dark in 1973.
Doubleday Broadcasting resurrected KWK in November 1978 on AM 1380 using separate transmitters for the daytime and nighttime broadcasts (an issue left over from their FCC troubles in the 60s). They hired Bobby Hattrik (whose real name was Robert K. Oxenhandler, but often was often reffered in the media as Bobby Hattrick, misspelled with a 'c' in the last name) to program music and F. Craig Magee as the station's General Manager. Hattrik, who had previously been a weekend on-air personality on KSLQ under the name Jerry Hattrick, was a young guy who had charisma, talent, intuition and a determination to make KWK #1 in St. Louis. The competition included KSHE, a nationally respected progressive rock station, KSLQ, a hit station focused more on rock than disco, and to a lesser extent rock station KADI.
Doubleday and Hattrik knew being the #1 music station (there was no delusion of beating KMOX-AM) meant broadcasting on an FM frequency. Doubleday purchased FM 106.5 WGNU in Granite City, a country format station owned by Chuck Norman who changed the format to paid religous programming when he sold it. That format continued until Doubleday launched 106.5 as the FM component of KWK in March, 1979. (Much of the religous programming went over to WCBW 104.9.) The owners wanted both stations to carry the KWK call letters, but the FCC refused, citing their rule that stations east of the Mississippi River must start with the letter "W". The official call letters were WWWK, but the DJs commonly referred to it as "Stereo WK". A 1982 court decision finally allowed Doubleday to officially name their FM frequency KWK. Surprisingly the call letters weren't officially changed until September 1987, three years and two owners after Doubleday sold the station.
Since the AM and FM stations were licensed in different cities, KWK was only allowed to simulcast on both frequencies for a portion of the day. John Hutchinson remembered "when the AM and FM broadcasts were split, the FM jock would play the playlist from the top of the page down and the AM jock would play tunes from the bottom of the page up. When the time came to simulcast we would pick a tune over the intercom and try to begin the tunes at the same time so that we could flip the 'simulcast' switch and purportedly no one would detect the merge. Of course this did not always happen smoothly.....causing much hilarity amongst the air staff."
Hutchinson hosted one of the most memorable programs on KWK: Underground. Hattrik teamed the young Hutchinson, working for the first time outside his native U.K., with morning man Beau Raines to produce this musical biography. The first show featured Fleetwood Mac. Doubleday was impressed enough with Underground to syndicate it to many of their other stations including WLLZ in Detroit, WAVA in Washington DC and KPKE in Denver. Hutchinson also hosted another show on KWK AM called "Free Form", which was one of the original shows in St Louis to profile New Wave, Punk and "unusual" music.
The main studios and offices were located on South Hampton, but since the FM frequency was licensed in Illinois, KWK had a studio next to a bowling alley in Granite City, Illinois. This was used for public affairs programming to comply with a rule stipulating a certain amount of broadcasting material had to originate from the city of license. Bobby Day recounted "I remember one Sunday, the power was out on Hampton, so I drove to Granite City and did my show from this funky little studio. Although the audio sounded great, sitting in this modest facility was like being in a radio twilight zone. Very few of the KWK jocks probably ever even saw that facility."
Many who knew him claim Bobby Hattrik was a genius. He was an early pioneer in using outcall research (telephone interviewers to poll listeners) to guide the playlist. According to John Hutchinson, Hattrik's programming methods set the ground for what we now know as 'Selector', the most widely used form of programming software worldwide. "Bobby honed in on tight playlists, high rotations of 'hits', low profile personalities and less talk. There were few 'on air' promotions and he dictated what the sales department could do. Hence, KWK never really made a lot of money." Bob Stevens, who transitioned from DJ to sales, recounted "KWK had a maximum of 8 commercial minutes per hour, fewer than other rock stations of the time: KSHE, KADI, KSLQ and KXOK. KMOX was probably running around 18 minutes per hour. The frustrating part for the sales people at that time was not so much the [long music stretch] 'Freerides', but the lack of ratings in the early days of KWK. Most advertisers did not find the heavy male 18-34 demographic appealing. The competition from KSHE, and the philosophy of not tying the station image to sales promotions, i.e. client promotions and stop-set clutter" added to the aggravation.
While praising his creativity and skills, some who knew him disagreed with a few of Hattrik's actions. Every week night listeners would call to vote for their favorite of two bands in a battle termed "Rock Wars". Supposedly Hattrik would override the callers' votes on occasion and the "winner" would be chosen by him. He was also suspected of calling people in the middle of the night claiming to be conducting research on behalf of a rival station. He did have fun with his competitors, often by sending either a funeral arrangement of flowers or black roses to opposing stations with a card that read "from R.B. Tron", an obvious reference to the ratings book.
Doubleday and Hattrik achieved their goal when KWK became the #1 music station in St. Louis. Their competition reacted in different ways. KSLQ decided to drop their rock hits and focus on a hot adult contemporary format, as did KADI. There was no immediate change at KSHE, as. they had a strong loyal audience that appreciated the deeper album cuts and less repetition of hits, and they never seemed to be more than a point or two behind KWK. In the mid 80s KSHE scaled back the playing of obscure album tracks and started playing rock hits more frequently. Original news reporter Rob Milford (on air as Rob Williams) remembered the initial success, "In the spring book of 1980 we had a 20.3 in the Arbitron for the morning drive and a [very fitting] 13.8 overall for the station, 12+. Not bad for not being on the air 18 months earlier! We won the national awards for best AM, best FM, and best AM/FM three years in a row from Broadcast Management and Engineering... and that was for the facility on Hampton Avenue."
KWK's ride at the top was halted when KMOX-FM, under the direction of Ed Scarborough, implemented their switch from a soft AC format to Contemporary Hit Radio and changed their calls to KHTR. Scarborough knew his St. Louis Hit Radio station would maximize its success by playing more rock songs than CHR stations in other markets were playing. As a result, hits by Def Leppard, Loverboy, etc. were bigger on KHTR than on Billboard's Hot 100 charts and listeners enjoyed hearing these bands alongside Michael Jackson, The Go-Go's and Duran Duran. KHTR quickly blew KWK away in the ratings.
KWK's initial reaction in early 1983 was to add Michael Jackson's "Beat It" and justify its airplay by citing Eddie Van Halen's guitar solo. By the end of the summer "Rock Radio 106" was playing new album rock cuts along with a number of top 40 songs that were more pop than rock and certainly would not have made their playlist based on their sound in the previous year. At times it seemed to be schizophrenic response to both KHTR and KSHE, but as time went on it became obvious KWK was heading more toward a true CHR format. During this time Doubleday decided it would sell KWK, Bobby Hattrik left to start a radio consultancy and Bob Burch was brought in to program the music.
Mark Klose was hired in early 1984 to air the morning drive at KWK. Klose had successfully hosted this slot for years at KSHE before he sought a larger audience at KMOX, in what turned out to be a brief stint. Things were different for Klose at KWK, as many old fans preferred the wide variety of album tracks he played on KSHE to the current top 40 hits. There was also intense competition coming from KSHE's new morning man J.C. Corcoran, who was branded by the local press as a "shock jock". Before the end of the year Klose left KWK and soon was the on-air Program Director for WMRY, an anachronistic loose-playlist progressive rock station. This was an excellent fit with many followers and it gave younger listeners their first chance to hear what FM radio might have sounded like in the early seventies.
On June 1st, 1984 the call letters at 1380 AM changed for the first time since 1941. KWK AM left for good and KGLD, featuring the hits of the fifties, sixties and seventies, debuted in its place. Three months later, on September 1st, 1984, Doubleday sold KWK and KGLD to Robinson Broadcasting. Album rock tracks were stripped and Steve Perun was brought in to program KWK as a true CHR station.
During the summer of 1986, Jeff Cochran started the "Saturday Night Classics", which played a lot of forgotten songs from the Bobby Hattrik days of KWK. Cochran recalled "Steve Butler and Doug Huber always liked my regular show and as we were talking about the Saturday Night Classics, the only instructions were (and I swear I am not making this up) 'Just make it crank!' How could you not have fun at a job like that?" Soon the entire station's programming reverted to a sound that mimicked Hattrik's hit rock music format.
During this time KWK hired Kevin Matthews from WLAV in Grand Rapids to be their morning man. There was a great deal of cryptic advertising in support of Matthews. Billboards stated "Who is this? Jim Shorts?" and some high profile guests, including Joe Walsh for an entire week, were booked on Matthews' show. For a couple of months many old fans experienced pure radio bliss. Having lost The Rockin' Best a few years earlier, there was a stronger appreciation for what listeners were hearing in the fall of 1986, coupled with a worry the programming would not last. These fears manifested themselves when Kevin Matthews was fired (this was good for him as he soon found a huge audience on WLUP in Chicago), the rock format was withdrawn and Robinson sold KWK to Chase Broadcasting. This was all in a short period that concluded on November 1st, 1986. A couple of years later, in 1988, Chase changed the call letters to WKBQ. KWK was finally removed from the airwaves.
In January of 1986, a little more than a year after Doubleday sold KWK to Robinson, Bobby Hattrik was murdered. At the time he was consulting for stations in New York, Detroit and Denver. He was only 33 years old. It's surprising not much can be found about him on the internet, considering the national reputation he built up as he broke new ground in radio programming and helped define the "corporate rock" sound. Critics love to write how this music is of little significance, but KWK's ratings, along with Hattrik's outcall research results, record sales and concert attendance, confirm he was programming music people wanted to hear. It is tragic his life was taken at such a young age and during a time when many feel radio wasn't very interesting. Had he lived, it's very possible Hattrik would have been responsible for another significant revolution in radio.
More History by Gary Stevens, President of Doubleday Broadcasting 1977-1986
Doubleday Broadcasting was formed in 1967, when the book company bought the Trigg-Vaughn group, which had stations in Texas, Colorado, and California, primarily in medium markets (El Paso, San Antonio, Denver, San Bernardino, etc.). I joined in 1970, to manage a new station they had purchased in Phoenix. After I was made President, in 1977, I sold off the small stuff, and put the company into the Top 10 markets (New York, Chicago, Detroit, etc.) In 1985, Doubleday had some financial problems, and we sold the radio company in pieces for a total of over $100 million, a big number in those days. The following year, they sold the publishing business to Bertlesmann.
After KWK went dark in 1973, a bankruptcy cout supervised a bid process for the station, which Doubleday participated in, and won. Because the broadcast tower site had be ruined in the 1973 flood, the signal was vastly diminished. To counter that, we built a separate night site, so that pattern opportunities could be maximized. Even so, once signed on, it became obvious that to truly compete, we needed an FM. After trying (and failing) to buy KCFM, we bought Chuck Norman's Granite City FM, and eventually succeeded in moving it across the river to the Bank building.
While all this was going on, I was still running Doubleday's KDWB in Minneapolis. Hattrik had been working across the street at WDGY, until Storz pulled the plug and went Country. Learning I was slated to run the KWK operation once it was built, he literally camped out in my office. As a former DJ, I have a soft spot for these program guys, and over time, I concluded that he was smart, knew the St. Louis market, and most of all, badly wanted to work at KWK. I decided to hire him. I had done a similar thing with John Sebastian, at KDWB, who developed beautifully, and went on to program KHJ in LA, directly from KDWB. Bobby turned out to be better than I could have imagined, and we went on to build an exciting company with him, but we did burn out. Hindsight teaches us that you have to grow a product. We didn't.
In 1984 Doubleday was losing money, and involved in start ups in New York and Chicago, that were also a drain. I determined it would take another format change in St. Louis, and that was just too much to deal with, especially since there would be no guarantee of success. I put the stations on the block, and there were no takers. Finally, Larry Robinson, and his partners from Cleveland, came along with an offer that was in the ballpark. It was an OK deal for everybody, albeit, a disappointment, after working so hard to put that place back on the air.
Some KWK milestones:
1. The court case which decided we could move a "K" call east of the Mississippi, (KWK-FM was in Illinois), was the factor which caused the FCC to get out of the call letter assignment business in terms of conflicts. Disputes, whether for geography, or competitors objecting, are now resolved in the courtroom.
2. First GSM (sale manager) Jeff Trumper went on to become GM of WLS in Chicago, and subsequently, a major group owner.
3. Onetime KWK GM David Barrett is today CEO of the large TV group, Hearst Argyll.
In the main, we played a small role in the history of that station, but Doubleday did rescue it from oblivion, as well as place the call sign on an FM property in the market.
Even More History by Tom
KWK was known as "Kwik-Soul 1380" in the early 70s and played an R&B format. This was the last incarnation of the original KWK before the owners pulled the plug after the big St. Louis flood in 1973 washed out the old KWK studios on Hall street. After that, they went dark until Doubleday resurrected them.
KWK-AM 13.8 signed back on the air Thursday, November 16, 1978. The first song was "Listen To The Music" by The Doobie Brothers. WWWK-FM 106 signed on Saturday, March 17, 1979. The first song was "FM" by Steely Dan.
KWK Freeform started out on AM 13.8 from 9 - Midnight. It briefly moved to FM during the summer of '82 from 10 - Midnight, but then went back to AM. Freeform ended in early '83 when KWK started simulcasting the FM and AM 24/7. Other popular shows, segments and events included Block Party Weekends, going commercial-free on their birthday, the "4 at 4 Rock Block" daily at 4pm, the "Side Order" at 2am, "NoonRocks", "MoonRocks", the new wave show "Vinyl Cuts" during the later days on Sunday nights, the almost weekly concerts KWK used to simulcast with MTV and sometimes HBO and the simulcast of Friday Night Videos.
The building at 2360 Hampton Ave. is now home to Broadcast Center. The "earthquake-proof" studio that KWK and Q106.5 used has been converted into two practice studios for the students. Jim Atkinson's office is now a student critique room, but at least 75% of that building remains the same way today as when it was home to KWK and Q106.5.
KWK-AM's daytime towers were on Chouteau Island, Il. near the Chain of Rocks bridge. They had an array of 3 towers lined up north to south. These are viewable from I-270. At nighttime, the AM used an array of 4 towers located in East Carondelet, Il. These are viewable from I-255 near the JB bridge. All of these towers are still used today for 1380 KSLG. WWWK-FM used a 500ft. tower, (located just a few miles east of KWK-AM's daytime towers), in northern Granite City, Il. You can see this too from I-270. It sticks up above WGNU-AM's towers which are only about 250ft. About the same time WWWK-FM became KWK-FM, they put a tower on top of what was then the Mercantile Bank building in downtown St. Louis. At that time it was the tallest building downtown and second tallest structure (to the Arch). KWK promoted their "New Taller Tower" on the air. It was really only about 100ft. taller than the old tower. Not much of a signal coverage area improvement as far as FM's are concerned, but it was closer to St. Louis. That tower is now used as a low-power back up for Emmis' stations. The old Mercantile building is now used by US Bank. It's the 3rd tallest building downtown now. Metropolitan Square and the Bell Tower are taller. I don't think the WWWK tower is being used for anything right now. It was last used for WVRV-FM 101.1 The River. But they now use one in St. Louis, although it might serve as a back-up.
When the rock format returned in 1986, KWK also had a new-wave lean, but the ratings were not good. KSHE had huge numbers, WMRY was gaining quite a following, and the "Best Music Mix" on 93.7 KSD and KHTR were still doing well. When Hits 106's ratings dropped below WMRY's, it was the last straw. The research showed that no one knew what the hell format KWK was anymore or nor did anyone care. This resulted in the change to WKBQ and the start of Q106.5.
The KWK call sign at 1380 was resurrected (sort of) in 1998 as KKWK. It had been WKBQ-AM (simulcast of the FM) since Feb. 3, 1993 when 1380 KASP (the all-sports station that KGLD morphed into) signed off. KASP changed their call letters to KRAM not long after The Rams relocated to St. Louis. It was a syndicated talk station, but did not broadcast the Rams games. After Emmis bought it in a deal with WKBQ and WKKX, they donated the station to a ministry and KRAM became KKWK, which soon became a jazz station with yet another new set of call letters. KZJZ played a lot of old classic jazz, had live jocks 24/7 and won a Marconi Award. Having no money, the station switched to a satellite run Southern Gospel Music station, KSLG, which is 1380 AM's current call letters. In early-mid 2004 they ran mostly Sporting News Network and refered to themselves as "1380 The Team". Zip Rzeppa was the morning guy, Tony Twist had an afternoon show, and the southern gospel music was heard only on weekends. In 2004 AM 1380 was purchased by Simmons Media. They dropped all their previous programming and on July 12, 2004 rolled out "1380 ESPN St. Louis' Sports Station". As of September 2004, they ID at the top of the hour as KSLG, but everything else is "1380 ESPN". They have a local morning show with Brian McKenna, Jeff Gordon and Dave Green. The afternoon show features Malcom Briggs and Howard Balzer. Most of the other station's programming is from the ESPN radio network.
In 1994, top 40 WKBQ-Q106.5 swapped frequencies with Hot Country WKKX-Kix 104.1. WKBQ became Q104 and WKKX became Kix 106.5. WKBQ changed to WALC-Alice in 1996, a female oriented contemporary music station which became the first St. Louis station to air the Howard Stern show in April 1998. That summer they became WXTM-Extreme Radio, a male oriented "Active Rock" station. Extreme Radio signed off Sunday, Sept. 24, 2000 and became WMLL-104.1 The Mall, an all 80's music station, which eventually added 90's to the mix. WMLL signed off in October 2003 and went to all Christmas music format until Jan. 2004 when WRDA-Red signed on featuring a big-band-rat-pack-music oriented format. In early October, 2005 the format changed to hip-hop. Hot Country Kix 106.5 signed off late in 2000 after an ownership change and became WSSM, a successful Smooth Jazz station. On Sunday April 10, 2005, WSSM switched to a 'Jack' like format they called 'The Arch'. Currently they play top 40 and popular rock tunes from the past 35 years, with a heavy emphasis on the 70s and 80s.
KWK-FM's lineage station-wise is WWWK, KWK, WKBQ, WALC, WXTM, WMLL, and WRDA. Frequency-wise it's WWWK, KWK, WKBQ, WKKX, and WSSM. The AM's easier because it's still at the same frequency: KWK, KGLD, KASP, WKBQ, KRAM, KKWK, KZJZ, and KSLG. On a side note, channel 4 was KWK-TV before it was KMOX-TV.
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