As a youngster, Don Corey fantasized about being a disc jockey. He’d set up a mock studio with his record player and do shows in his room, eventually getting a very low power transmitter and broadcasting to “three or four houses” in his neighborhood. Then, while a teenager, he hit the big time doing overnights on KSHE.
“I remember calling up Don Shaffer at KXOK when I was about 12 years old. I asked him how I could become a disc jockey. He said, ‘Well, first you’ve got to be a little crazy.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’ve got that down.’ He told me about the FCC license I needed and gave me some more details, and I decided that was the job I wanted.”
Originally Corey had wanted to work for KXOK, which was the top station among teenage listeners, but one day he was checking out the local FM stations and he found KSHE. “Being the naïve 18-year-old that I was, I put together a resume and tape using my bedroom equipment and took the stuff to KSHE. Then I went home and waited for them to call. It was about the dumbest thing I’d ever done because I had no real broadcast experience.
“I waited and waited and nothing happened. So I joined the Columbia School of Broadcasting mail order course. About halfway through the course, on Christmas Eve of 1968, my dad came to my room and told me there was a call for me. It was some guy from KSHE asking if I could come in to work. A bunch of their guys were sick with the flu. I told him I’d be there in five minutes.”
Don Corey had done his pretend broadcasts to his neighborhood over a very weak home transmitter, but he knew he wasn’t prepared for the real thing. Still, that didn’t stop him.
“I came in and the guy showed me the studio and he said ‘You’ve run a [control] board before, haven’t you?’ and I said, ‘Oh, yeah.’ Which I hadn’t, but I didn’t want to lose my chance. When I picked up the tone arm for the turntable my hand was shaking.”
Things got easier as the shift progressed and management invited him back to do weekends. That soon became a regular midnight-to-6:00 slot on St. Louis’ first “underground” radio station, making Corey an electronic companion to the all-night crowd. There was no play list.
“You could play anything you wanted as long as it was in the studio. They weren’t afraid to try something different. We played everything but the title cuts because everyone else was playing them.
“I’d play the long songs so I could talk to the listeners who called in. They were really into the music. We used to play a song called ‘Don’t Bogart That Joint’ by the Fraternity of Man, and in the middle of the song the singer goes ‘Roll another one just like the other one.’ I spliced a tape so the word ‘roll’ went on for over a minute and played it on the air without saying anything. The phones went crazy and people were asking what was going on. I played innocent and said nothing was different. I got 30 or 40 phone calls, and I confessed after the record was over.”
Fellow staff members included Steve Rosen, Dick Merkle, Sir Ed (Rickert), John Williams and Prince Knight (Ron Lipe), and the studios were in the old cinder block building in the shadow of the 66 Park-In in Crestwood. Listeners would constantly come by, sometimes to buy concert tickets, sometimes just to talk.
“Sometimes there’d be groups of six or seven people in the middle of the night all standing around outside the studio window just waiting to get a chance to talk to the guy on the air. They made you feel like you were a celebrity. It was really an ego trip for a kid who grew up in Webster. Back then my dating life was awful. I couldn’t charm an old maid out of a burning building. All of a sudden, I’m on the air, and the girls are calling me.”
(Reprinted with permission of the St. Louis Journalism Review. Originally published 07/2003)