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Radio AM to FM: July 13, 2001

Birthdays and Anniversaries

This is a big weekend in Los Angeles radio, with a few big birthdays as well as the anniversary of two huge radio careers.

It was 20 years ago today that Rick Dees made his debut on KIIS-FM (102.7), although many forget that he was originally hired two years earlier to work mornings at KHJ (930 AM).

Born Rigdon Osmond Dees III, Dees came to Los Angeles in April of 1979 to help programmer Chuck Martin save the top-40 radio legend. It didn't work, or more accurately wasn't allowed to work: in November of 1980, KHJ went Country and Dees, a former rising star with a 1976 novelty hit Disco Duck and a "cast of idiots" unlike anything ever heard in Los Angeles radio, found himself out of work.

Eight months later, after turning down an offer to be one of the first VJs on MTV, Dees received an offer from KIIS-FM, which was about to undergo a transformation to traditional top-40, in the style of the legendary AM stations: energetic personalities, fun contests, classic top-40 jingles (based on the classic WLS/Chicago package of the 1970s for you trivia buffs), personal appearances and lots of upbeat music.

The match was perfect, and Dees was hotter than ever. With the highly-promoted Dees and great all-around programming, the station found itself on the upswing. Within two years, KIIS-FM was dominating Los Angeles radio with ratings that would eventually break double-digits -- a feat not repeated by any station since. And Dees was by far the dominant morning show.

An amazing twenty years have gone by since he arrived at KIIS, and Dees is still flying high. It seems that whomever other stations throw his way, he keeps plugging away, waking and entertaining Los Angeles. He's no longer dominant like he once was, but his ratings are consistently among the highest in town. An amazing accomplishment, especially considering his competition.

KIIS-FM manager Roy Laughlin put it this way: "Dees is the first big FM air personality and will never be fully recognized until years after he is gone. His Weekly Top-40 countdown show is heard on stations in 500 US cities and in 70 foreign countries ... nearly 50 million listeners worldwide." Add to that a Grammy nominated album of his bits, a dozen or so Billboard Magazine Number One Personality in America awards and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and you can see that Dees is among the best radio personalities Los Angeles has ever heard.

KRLA (870 AM) afternoon personality George Putnam, on the other hand, gets to celebrate both an anniversary and a birthday: The talk host turns 87 tomorrow, the same day he celebrates 67 years in broadcasting.

Broadcasting on KRLA/KIEV for a remarkable 26 continuous years, Putnam began his career on his 20th birthday in 1934 at WDGY/Minneapolis. He has worked as a newsman, reporter and commentator for most of the major broadcasting organizations in the country, including NBC, ABC, Mutual, Dumont and Metromedia.

He, too, has a star on the Walk of Fame, along with more than 300 awards and citations. On KIEV, he mixes two-way conversations with in-studio guests, newsmakers across the country and his listeners. Putnam is the originator of the "talk back" format, using it both on his radio shows and past television programs.

He is an animal enthusiast and tends to a veritable menagerie at his ranch in Chino. A noted breeder of thoroughbred horses, Putnam has ridden his Palominos in over 40 consecutive Tournament of Roses Parades.

"Undoubtedly, George Putnam is a one-of-a-kind legend in the broadcasting industry," said KRLA programmer Jason Jefferies. "We at KRLA wish him a very happy birthday and many more years of bringing his unique viewpoint to his avid and loyal audience."

Putnam and Dees share their big days with a couple other legends in Los Angeles radio, as former KCBS-FM (Arrow 93.1) personality Bob Coburn and radio and television historian David Schwartz also celebrate birthdays tomorrow. Congratulations to all.


Copyright © 2001 Richard Wagoner and The Copley Press.

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