Bill Drake    Biography

Bill Drake did for Top 40 Radio what Ray Kroc did for hamburgers. The name Bill Drake may not be a "household name" to many in Central Florida, but Bill was the man who developed "Top 40" radio with his "Boss Radio" format. Drake, born Philip Yarbrough, began is career during the mid-fifties as an air personality WMGR-AM 930 in Bainbridge, Georgia. He programmed WAKE-AM 1340 in Atlanta and co-owned KYA-AM 1260, San Francisco, both of which he took to number one. "Boss Radio" would become extremely successful. Personalities like Robert W. Morgan, Johnny Mitchell, and "The Real" Don Steele emerged on KHJ-AM 930 in San Francisco. Part of the "Boss radio" format, was a package of memorable jingles performed by the Johnny Mann Singers. Drake said; "We cleaned up AM radio. We put everything in its place. It was radio that was designed for the listener." 
Drake and station owner Gene Chenault formed Drake-Chenault in 1962. In later years, Drake-Chenault expanded into sales and programming consulting as well as offering several successful automated AM and FM formats. Central Florida stations that subscribed to a Drake-Chenault format included; WEZY-AM 1350, WORZ-FM 101.9, WCFI-FM 101.9, WONN-AM 1230, WTRS-FM 102.3, WTMC-AM 1290, WCFI-AM 1290, WTRS-AM 920, WDOQ-FM 101.9 and WQXQ-FM 101.9. Drake retired from Drake-Chenault in 1982 and died November 30, 2008 from cancer in Los Angeles. He was 71.


December 2, 2008
Bill Drake, 71, Dies; Created a Winning Radio Style 
By WILLIAM GRIMES
Bill Drake, who transformed radio programming with a syndicated format that delivered more music, fewer commercials and high-energy “Boss Jocks” — D.J.’s big on personality but economical with words — died Saturday in Los Angeles. He was 71. The cause was lung cancer, said Carole Scott, his companion. In the 1960s, Mr. Drake, an up-and-coming disc jockey and programmer from south Georgia, revolutionized radio when he and his partner, Lester Eugene Chenault (pronounced Sha-NAULT), decided that radio stations could make a lot more money and reach more listeners if they cut back on D.J. chatter, accelerated the pace of their programs and gave audiences more of what they presumably tuned in to hear: hit songs. He and Mr. Chenault introduced a formula, eventually sold as a syndicated package with prerecorded music, that would revamp — and homogenize — radio stations across the United States. Under the slogan “Much More Music,” KHJ in Los Angeles, an early client, began playing 14 records each hour, far more than the competition. Commercials were limited to 13 minutes and 40 seconds each hour, a third less than the competition had. Station-identification jingles (usually performed a cappella by the Johnny Mann Singers) were cut to one and a half seconds. A new breed of disc jockeys, billed as Boss Jocks, were drilled to keep their patter to a minimum, and to standardize it. The results were startling. KGB in San Diego went from last to first in its market in 90 days. KHJ, with Boss Jocks like the Real Don Steele and Robert W. Morgan at the microphone, leapt from 12th place to first in 1965. In New York, critics howled when Mr. Drake and Mr. Chenault forced out the legendary D.J. Murray the K from WOR-FM, but the station doubled its audience. In its heyday in the early 1970s, the two men’s consulting firm, Drake-Chenault Enterprises, served about 350 client stations with makeover advice and totally automated packages in six different formats. “He took Top 40 radio and turned it into a machine,” said Marc Fisher, the author of “Something in the Air: Radio, Rock and the Revolution That Shaped a Generation” (Random House, 2007).
“He pared it down to the essentials and made it a vehicle for selling advertising rather than an entertainment form, something you tuned in to for music, the news, the time and the weather, all in a slickly designed format,” Mr. Fisher said. “It is common to think of radio that way now, but in the 1960s it was revolutionary.” The standardized formats influenced other AM and eventually FM stations nationwide to lose not just their individualized D.J. stars but also to some degree their independent voices. The comedian George Carlin joked about Boss Radio as early as 1972 on the album “FM & AM”: “Hi gang. Scott Lame here. The Boss jock with the Boss sound from the Boss list of the Boss 30 that my Boss told me to play.” The Boss D.J.’s drew their own followings, however, and younger fans who grew up with them attend reunions to meet their favorites.
Philip Taylor Yarbrough grew up in Donalsonville, Ga., and began working at a local radio station as a teenager. While attending South Georgia Teachers College in Statesboro, he worked the 9 p.m.-to-midnight shift at WWNS, where his sign-off theme was Hugo Winterhalter’s version of “Canadian Sunset.” “If you were a freshman girl and were off campus somewhere and heard that, you knew you were in deep trouble unless you could get back to the college before the song was over,” said Ramona Palmer, whom he married in 1959 after taking a job at WAKE radio in Atlanta and changing his name to rhyme with the station’s call letters. The couple divorced in 1966. Two later marriages also ended in divorce. He is survived by a daughter, Kristie Philbin of Delray Beach, Fla. At WAKE, where he began as a D.J. and rose to become program director, Mr. Drake began tinkering with the programming so successfully that the station’s parent company sent him to California to work some magic on its San Francisco station. In 1962 he was hired by Mr. Chenault, the owner of KYNO in Fresno, who also had innovative ideas about packaging radio. Together they created Drake-Chenault Enterprises, rescued KGB in San Diego, their first client, then struck gold with KHJ. “We cleaned up AM radio,” Mr. Drake told The Los Angeles Times in 1990. “We put everything in its place. It was radio that was designed for the listener. Before us, disc jockeys would just ramble on incessantly.” No longer did D.J.’s introduce songs, or spin yarns about teenage romance, or project a quirky personality, in the style of Wolfman Jack. “His insight was realizing that you could turn these D.J.’s into household names even if they didn’t really do anything on the air,” Mr. Fisher said. Songs got the Drake-Chenault treatment, too. Regardless of the stature of the artist, two minutes was just about the limit, which meant that even Beatles hits were trimmed to fit. The Top 40 list was shrunk to the Top 30. Another Drake-Chenault innovation was to program the news at odd times, like 20 minutes after the hour, so that their stations would be playing music, and enticing listeners, when others were broadcasting the news. By cutting down on commercials, the stations were able to sell advertising at higher rates. “Everybody else was choking the goose laying the golden egg, jamming in as many commercials as they could,” he told www.radioandrecords.com last year. “When our slots were sold, that was it.” Mr. Drake gained a reputation as a ruthless, detail-minded operator. Special phone lines in his Bel Air home allowed him to monitor his client stations by punching in a code and listening. If he did not like what he heard, things could become unpleasant. “When that phone rings, you know it’s death time, man,” a battle-scarred D.J. told Time magazine in 1968. Mr. Drake sold his interest in Drake-Chenault Enterprises in 1983, and the company dissolved in the mid-1980s. In recent years, Mr. Drake developed “Top 40 Time Clock,” a syndicated cavalcade of more than 1,800 hits aimed at the baby boom generation. “It has a great hook,” Mr. Drake wrote in a Web site promotion. “You can’t wait to hear what comes up next. It’s the History of Top 40 Radio without the narration.” In other words, no D.J. chatter. As Mr. Drake told www.radioandrecords.com, “I always said if you’re going to say nothing anyway, say it in as few words as possible.” 
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company


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