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Tom Donahue: 300 Pounds Of Solid Sounds

DJ and freeform radio pioneer, Tom Donahue didn't invent the concept of Freeform Radio, but he certainly put his stamp on his story....

Although he certainly didn't invent freeform radio programming [the first freeform programs were broadcast on KPFA in 1949, with KRAB & WBAI picking up the ball in the 60's] it was the brain-fried child of Tom "Big Daddy" Donahue. Playing long album tracks he initiated an unsuspecting young audience to the joy of eclectic radio programming. A former Top 40 jock on Philadelphia's WIBG-AM, Donahue migrated to San Francisco fleeing the record industry payola scandals of the late 50's. San Francisco was at that time primarily used as the setting for movies such as The Maltese Falcon, Frisco Kid, Hitchcock's Vertigo and The Birds, and various Charlie Chan movies [and much later the Dirty Harry epics.] On any given night you could dig Paul Desmond at the Black Hawk or Gerry Mulligan at Basin Street West. Alan Ginsberg shocked and revolutionized the literary establishment with his reading of "Howl" in a small gallery in November 1955..

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the Negro streets of dawn looking for an angry fix, angelheaded hipsters.."

Along came Kerouac, Burroughs and the realization that Frisco was the "weirdo capitol of the world". Then between the years of 1958-1961 the scene seemed to take a dive. Topless bars sprang up all along the Columbus-Broadway area. Carol Doda will be remembered forever as the cocktail waitress who bared her breasts and made "The Swim" an instant hit. In 1962 Tony Bennett sang "I Left My Heart in San Francisco", Merv Griffin was in the first season of his talk show and Phyllis Diller was ready to go national. There were sporadic Top 40 hits on the radio like Vince Guaraldi's "Cast Your Fate To The Wind" and Johnny Mathis' "What Will My Mary Say'. This was fertile ground for Donahue and he talked the management of WKYA into letting him program his own shows. Billing himself as Tom "Big Daddy" Donahue "300 Pounds of Solid Sounds" he played gritty R&B and delivered to his audience an irreverent broadcast style.."I'm here to blow your mind and clean up your face"....

Between 1963-1967 Donahue promoted concerts and in 1964 opened Autumn Records. The second single on the label was a hit by Bobby Freeman, "C'mon & Swim" written by a $100 a week assistant named Sylvester Stewart a.k.a. Sly Stone.

In 1967, according to Jim Ladd's book "Radio Waves", Donahue and his young wife Rachel were listening to the Doors first album, while rearranging their brain cells via Dr. Tim's magic snake oil. The playing cards were starting to melt, and it became increasingly difficult to tell the hearts from the diamonds, when through the haze of incense and acid, [Tom Donahue] shifted his enormous bulk and posed a fateful question: "Why in the hell aren't we hearing any of this on the radio?"

*On April 7th, 1967 Donohue started broadcasting on KMPX, ignoring pop charts and playing long album sides, regardless of length.

*On November 4th, 1967 Vin Scelsa debuted his "The Closet" radio program Midnight-6am on WFMU's first truely freeform show.

*On March 18th, 1968 Donahue and the entire KMPX staff go on strike soon moving over to KSAN.

*2005: The eclectic format coupled with public affairs & news continues on 91.9 FM WNTI.

Article made by Bob Mickey Spillane, The Dangerous R&R Show/2014
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doug denslowe said...

Tom Donahue was the coolest of the cool.Hippest of the hip.....his radio personality will be remember by all who heard his baritone voice.He has as much to do with San Francisco's being the center of the universe,during the sixties, as Bill Graham,Ralph J.Gleason and the Jefferson Airplane.

Metamind said...

I knew Tom jr. and was wondering if anyone knows his present whereabouts. We shared a house in Ross for a while with Terry Flynn and Ron Wonder. A magnificent time we had. Anyway, if Tom out there, this is Marty.