Former Spokane DJs and radio staff reunite to reminisce and honor friends

click to enlarge Former Spokane DJs and radio staff reunite to reminisce and honor friends
Young Kwak photo
Paul Freeman was on the airwaves for nearly five decades.

While some media personalities are recognized by their on-screen presence (news anchors and weather forecasters) or their distinctive way with words (print journalists), radio folks are, of course, known for their tone.

Behind a soothing baritone or cheerful conversationalist, however, is a face that many who hear them may never see. Yet during an upcoming meet-and-greet as part of a regional radio DJ reunion, listeners past and present can meet the people behind these on-air voices. The Spokane Radio Reunion on Saturday, June 1, invites anyone to stop by the Park Inn, buy a beer, and meet KJRB, KREM, and other former radio station personalities, including Bob Anthony Fogal and Dan Walker.

"We used to hang out there because the radio stations were predominantly on the South Hill, up on Moran Prairie," says John Maynard Hicks, perhaps better known by his Spokane DJ name, Buzz Lawrence.

Dozens of former Spokane-area DJs and radio personnel who were on air from the late '60s through early '80s gather every couple of years to renew the bonds they formed and remember the friends they've lost.

"That was at the time that radio was in its heyday," recalls Chad Parrish, the reunion's organizer. "We were fortunate to be able to do something at a time that will never be repeated, and it was just an incredible experience."

Parrish's path to radio began while attending Eastern Washington University, when he took an intro to radio and television class. His first radio job in 1967 was at KSPO, a Spokane country music station. In 1980, he bought his own station, 107 FM The Ranch, in Missoula, where he's been since.

"It takes a special kind of personality to be a DJ," Parrish says.

Another radio-made persona is Paul Freeman.

"You have to have a performer kind of attitude," Freeman says, noting that other helpful traits include creativity, enjoying talking to people and a competitive streak.

Since Freeman became a DJ in the 1960s, the radio landscape has drastically changed, losing its competitive edge because corporations have bought stations by the handful and stations aren't vying for ratings like they once did.

Freeman's enthusiasm for radio began when he was about 13 and met KXLY Spokane DJ Jerry Lang.

"He invited me up for a tour of the radio station when he was on the air and I was totally bitten by the bug," Freeman says.

The tour inspired Freeman and a friend to build a station in Freeman's basement. The small transmitter broadcast their sessions around the block. DJs at local stations encouraged Freeman's crew's love of radio and gave them free records and news copy to use.

While a junior in high school, Freeman landed his first gig at Spokane's KPEG with help from Lang. Freeman went on to work at other local stations, including KXLY, where he was known on air as A.J. Knight. He worked the all-night show in Spokane at KJRB from the summer of 1968 to 1969 before leaving to take a job in Salt Lake City. He then spent 40 years at stations around Los Angeles.

"You get to sit in the studio and you get to talk to, in LA, a couple of million people a day. You're playing records for them. You're giving away stuff. You go out and meet all your listeners. You have events you go to. You get to host different shows," Freeman says. "It was just a blast."

Freeman met tons of music icons while in LA, too: Tina Turner, Rod Stewart, Dolly Parton, Ray Charles and Elton John. After an exciting career, he stepped away from the microphone in 2016 and moved back to Spokane to be near family and enjoy retirement.

"My whole life was radio, and it never seemed like I was working a day in my life, because I got to do something I love to do," he says.

John Maynard Hicks, aka Buzz Lawrence, is another guy with the "right stuff" to work as a DJ, and whose love of the format began at a young age.

"I remember listening to the radio when I was 5, 6 [years old], and I was just always enchanted by it," he says. "In Pullman there were signals that came in from Omaha and San Francisco, Los Angeles, Canada — all over. Eavesdropping on these major markets was thrilling. I just gravitated naturally toward radio."

Hicks began working at a Pullman station while still in high school, taking the unwanted, early Sunday morning shift. At 20 he moved to Spokane and started at KNEW, which later became KJRB, and was given his DJ moniker Buzz Lawrence.

"They had a rack of pre-made jingles with different names, and the program director pulled out Buzz Lawrence. I was so intimidated to even start working there I agreed to it," Hicks says.

In Seattle, he spent 22 years on the radio as part of the Robin & Maynard duo. They began by playing music in 1988 but evolved into a talk and entertainment show with celebrity phone calls.

"We haven't been on the air in Seattle for years, but people still go to the website [] and they comment on it," because "radio forged really strong, deep relationships. And they're enduring," he says.

Despite still living in Seattle, Hicks returned to broadcasting (remotely) for Spokane-based KOOL about five years ago.

"Just because it's fun to do," he says. "[Station owner] Bob [Fogal] wanted me to go back to work on KOOL because he felt people might remember me from my five years in Spokane, with that horrible made-up name that was assigned to me that I can't stand."

Music station DJs aren't the only voices being paired with faces at this year's radio reunion.

"The broadcast business was one [of] really strong camaraderie and really good people," says Ron Hardin, a former news presenter.

Hardin grew up listening to KNEW and went on to study journalism and communications at Washington State University. In 1971, he came back to Spokane to work in KSPO's news department. He went on to other local stations and eventually moved into sales.

"Each day would be quite a bit different, and you never knew what to expect," he recalls.

The bond between the region's longtime news and entertainment DJs remains strong, even as the number of regular terrestrial radio listeners continues to decline in the post-COVID era, from 89% of Americans age 12 and up in 2019 to 82% in 2022, according to Pew Research Center.

"It's just really so much fun to share stories with these guys that I listened to as a kid," Hardin says. ♦

Meet the DJs • Sat, June 1 from 6 pm-close • Free • The Park Inn • 103 W. Ninth Ave. • Questions? Email Chad Parrish at [email protected]

Spokane Art School Faculty and Student Show @ Spokane Art School

Mondays-Fridays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through June 28
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