Seattle P.I. Obituary/12-31-2005

Lan Roberts, 1936-2005: Top DJ in AM rock's heyday kept Seattle laughing
Saturday, December 31, 2005


Lan Roberts, one of Seattle's best-known disc jockeys in the heyday of the city's powerhouse AM rock stations, died Friday at his home in Texas of complications from lung cancer. He was 69.

"Lan Roberts was the greatest morning disc jockey in Seattle," said Pat O'Day, who was program director for KJR-AM when it ruled the Seattle airwaves in the 1960s.

"He had a childlike imagination that was a thing of beauty. He wanted radio to go beyond the mundane. He wanted to make people laugh every hour."

O'Day said people would stop him on the street and ask what had happened to Roberts 30 years after he had been on the air in Seattle. "That's a sign of greatness."

"He was a real character; he was very creative," added his sister, Mary Ann Lipford.

On the air Roberts could be many characters, including Clyde Clyde the Cow's Outside, Mr. Science and Jimmy, W.A.L. Street Senior, the Hollywood Reporter, Phil Dirt and The Breakfast Pig, O'Day recalled.

Born Lanny Lipford, Roberts grew up in Bonham, Texas, a small town about 90 miles northeast of Dallas. "He's been in radio ever since high school," his sister said.

Roberts attended Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, then worked in towns such as El Paso, Waco and New Orleans before landing in Seattle.

O'Day hired Roberts for KJR-AM in 1962, where he worked until 1968.

After defecting to the city's other major rock station, KOL-AM, Roberts returned to KJR in 1970 for a three-year stint, O'Day said.

He later worked for a station O'Day owned in Honolulu, then at an English-language station in Taiwan.

He returned to the United States and worked in San Francisco before moving to Bonham in 1994, his sister said.

Roberts kept up his connection to his former listeners and colleagues through a Web site on which he posted commentaries, including railing against cigarette smoking.

"He really enjoyed his Web site, writing his editorials," Mary Ann Lipford said. "He loved to write and talk about politics."

On his Web site, he recalled his move to Seattle: "The day I arrived in Seattle it was raining hard and the radio station was a dump. I remember asking myself, 'What have I done?'

"The next day was a different story. When I awoke I looked out the hotel window to one of the most beautiful scenes anybody could ever hope to see. To the south in the mist was Mount Rainer, looking like a giant bowl of ice cream. The view to the west was the snow-covered Olympic Mountains. Down below were ferryboats moving back and forth on Puget Sound. It felt like home from the beginning.

"Over the next 12 years the Seattle radio audience was wonderful to me. Their sense of humor was just about the sharpest that I had ever experienced. It was a natural place to be creative."

One of those creative inspirations was the Lil' Green Thing: "In 1964, as a joke, I mentioned on the air that if listeners would send me a letter then I would send them a 'Lil' Green Thing With a Picture of a Duck on It.' After two days I had received over 10,000 requests so I figured I had to do something quick.

"I bought an entire block of green cloth, cut it up in small pieces and stamped it with a picture of a duck. Just so there would be no confusion, I also stamped 'Lil' Green Thing' on it."

In addition to his sister, Roberts is survived by three daughters from his first marriage and two children from his second. Service arrangements were incomplete.

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