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September 24, 2020 11 min
When Pat O'Day died August 4, I lost a great friend and the Pacific Northwest said goodbye to a genuine legend. Son Jeff O'Day wrote a fitting tribute to his father in a Facebook post: “The Pacific Northwest will always seem a little empty without the legendary Pat O’Day. All we can do is focus on the incredible role he had in making the Emerald City a better place to live, and the difference he made in people’s lives.“ The son of a coal miner turned preacher, Pat was born in Norfolk, Nebraska, on September 24, 1934. When he was 7, his father accepted a job with a Tacoma church and soon landed a radio ministry show on Tacoma’s KMO. “He didn’t pound the pulpit, but he could move people emotionally,” O’Day remembered in a 2018 Seattle Times story. “I knew then that I wanted to be on the radio. Every night I’d go into the bathroom and practice announcing into the bathtub because it made my voice resonate.” While attending radio and TV school in Tacoma, Pat landed his first radio job as a studio engineer at KTAC. After spending three years at small-market stations, he made his Seattle debut on KAYO in 1959. A year later, O'Day moved to KJR, his favorite station growing up in Tacoma. Pat combined rock'n'roll music with the personality, drama and theatrics of pre-TV radio. He was promoted to program director of KJR and felt that all of his childhood dreams had come true. Pat O’Day owned the Seattle afternoon airwaves, averaging 35% of the radio audience. KJR moved into #1 in the ratings and stayed there for almost 15 years. Pat says, "Other stations would attempt to compete now and then, but we had the talent, we had the momentum and we had a tradition. We believed radio had to make people laugh, or cry. It needed to be perpetual motion." Pat was named the nation’s top program director in 1964 and 1965, and “Radioman of the Year” in 1966. Pat began calling hydroplane races on KJR in 1967. That was the beginning of a 46 year stretch broadcasting the hydros on Seattle radio and TV. As Pat explains, "A hydroplane race is like a rock 'n' roll festival with Rolls-Royce engines instead of guitars. Young people were re-energized about the sport because their favorite radio station was right in the middle of it." O’Day & Associates staged teen dances all over the Pacific Northwest, showcasing local bands and touring acts like Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis. In 1967 Pat's dance business became Concerts West, staging shows for Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, Chicago, the Beach Boys, the Moody Blues, the Eagles, Bachman Turner Overdrive, Elton John, the Rolling Stones, and many others. After undergoing treatment at Schick Shadel Hospital in 1986, he became its radio and TV spokesman. Pat always said it was his second passion, and he loved talking about the thousands of lives Schick Shadel helped to save. In 1989, Pat moved to San Juan Island, where he operated a real estate brokerage. I'll always treasure visiting him in Friday Harbor, our lunches at Downriggers and the clam chowder in Roche Harbor! Pat O'Day was among a group of pioneer deejays honoured by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. It was the thrill of a lifetime to be there with Pat, Dick Biondi, Cousin Brucie and many others that day. A guest of honour on my final radio show in 2017, Pat was in vintage form. He regaled our audience with tales of Frank Sinatra's visit to KJR, falling victim to an elaborate Paul McCartney wedding prank, his role in the success of "Wooly Bully"... you can hear them all in my series "The Last Broadcast". In the closing moments of that last show, Pat left me with some advice that still resonates today: "We waste so much time saying 'no', and we accomplish nothing with the word 'no'. But the word 'yes' can open the doors to magic." Thanks, Pat O'Day, for opening the doors to so much magic - and for inviting us in to watch a true magician at work!
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