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Airwaves: December 5, 2014

KMET Alumni and other friends planning benefit concert for Paraquat Kelley

Most people remember Patrick “Paraquat” Kelley from his work as a newsman at the legendary KMET (now KTWV, 94.7 FM). His years there included the glory days of the station under master programmer Sam Bellamy, and he is certainly one of the reasons for the station’s success.

Kelley’s training began in his younger years when he landed a job as a delivery boy at the original KMPC (now KSPN, 710 AM). He got to hang out with the likes of Gary Owens, Geoff Edwards, Jack Angel, Ira Cook, Dick Whittinghill and Roger Carroll. He later worked at stations in Palm Springs, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and West Covina.

But it was at KMET where he shined. Perhaps it was a match made in heaven, but the time was right for his style of news on a station that took news seriously. Or at least the type of news that would appeal to the type of person who would listen to KMET.

Most stations felt that the FCC news requirement was a drag. Interestingly, successful stations such as KHJ (930 AM) and KFRC/San Francisco didn’t. Their idea was to make news as interesting as it could be. KMET followed suit.

“We decided to make the news a tune in feature rather than tune out,” Kelley told LARadio.Com’s Don Barrett. “So we’d start off the news with something that was so bizarre you’d go, ‘What?’ How could you turn that off? My lead story might be about a guy that makes jewelry out of quail dung. Nobody was doing this kind of news in the seventies. If you were in your car, you’d have to stop, pull off the side of the road and listen to this guy. That’s how we did it.” 

The Paraquat nickname actually came from a news story about the herbicide of the same name that was being sprayed on marijuana plants in Mexico by the US Drug Enforcement Agency in an attempt to kill the “weed.” Turns out that remnants of the chemical were left on plants and traces were found on marijuana confiscated at the US/Mexico border. Smokers of the tainted weed, doctors were finding, could suffer irreparable lung damage. Kelley was reporting on the story when he quipped “What? Somebody smokes pot that listens to KMET?”

After that he became Paraquat Kelley, which meant that every time the news on the issue was reported, Kelley got free press. Including on competing KLOS (95.5 FM). Ironically, my understanding is that Kelley himself never did illegal drugs, including marijuana.

In 2003, Kelley was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, is a disease in which someone’s immune system attacks the protective sheath (myelin) that covers nerves. Myelin damage disrupts communication between the brain and the rest of the body, causing problems with movement and speech. Another irony: marijuana may have a beneficial affect on MS sufferers.

Kelley is now battling advanced stages of the disease. He is confined to a wheelchair, and the mounting medical bills are putting a lot of pressure on him and his wife, Melody Rogers. So some friends, including musicians and KMET alumni, are putting together a one-night (December 14th) special event at the Canyon Club, 28912 Roadside Drive in Agoura Hills to help raise funds for his treatments.

It’s called The Mighty Met Acoustic Flashback Honoring Paraquat Kelley. Confirmed performers include George Thorogood, Little Feat's Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett and more, but the real treats are the hosts of the event: KMET alumni Jeff Gonzer, Jim Ladd and Cynthia Fox. I’d expect more to arrive as well. Gonzer is retired, but Fox can be heard evenings on The Sound (KSWD 100.3 FM) which is one of the event’s sponsors, and Ladd is playing freeform rock on Sirius/XM satellite radio Channel 27.

Tickets for the benefit concert can be purchased through Ticketmaster (or pay with cash at the box office and save on processing fees) and range from $29 to $58. Go to www.canyonclub.net or call 818-879-5016 for information and to and reserve dinner. Doors open at 6 p.m.; show starts at 7:30.

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Copyright © 2014 Richard Wagoner and Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

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