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First "morning" man when KFRC became Drake Station
Program Director, KGW, KFRC, KYUU, K-101
VP/Programming, NBC Radio
P.D. & Architect, K-EARTH
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Tributes from Don Barrett's L.A. Radio Column

SPECIAL THANKS TO DON BARRETT
FOR ALLOWING US TO REPRINT THE FOLLOWING ARTICLES
FROM HIS SUBSCRIPTION WEB SITE, LARadio.com



Mike's Memorial Event: October 29th

Mentor Mike Memorialized

(October 31, 2006) KRTH production director Keith Smith (photo) held a memorial service for former K-EARTH pd Mike Phillips on Sunday. The service was conducted in the backyard of his trendy West LA home. “I thought there should be a gathering to hear and share stories about Mike,” said Keith. “I thought it would be helpful for us to move on.” He said he was honored to host the gathering because of what Mike meant to him.

Keith met Mike in 1983 during a radio internship at K101-San Francisco where Mike was program director. “Mike was always there for people who wanted to know about radio. He was very open to sharing. He had a big impact on my professional life.” Keith moved cross-town to KMEL for five years, then eventually found himself unemployed. It was Mike who brought Keith to KRTH as production director and worked with him for 10 years before Mike’s retirement.  

“My relationship started as a business relationship with a little bit of friend aspect but by the time he retired the business aspect was very small in comparison to our friendship,” said Keith.

On Saturday there was a memorial service in Mike’s hometown of Portland, which Keith was able to listen in. “People shared about the impact that he had on their radio careers but that was dwarfed by how much impact Mike had on their life. Three things come out of the stories: fun, friend and faith.” 

Keith’s wife Collette (right) worked as Phillips’ assistant. “Mike was so secure with his ability and his skills, all he wanted to do was teach people,” said Collette, who was visibly emotional when talking about him. “Mike continued to teach me every day. I’ll never forget the opportunity I had with him. I got to meet The Real Don Steele and Robert W. Morgan. Mike was always there for you whether you were asking for it or not. He would always be there to support you and encourage you in hard times and good times. I feel so privileged to know Mike and to work for him directly.”

Shaune McNamara Steele remembered when she met Mike. She was the music director at KLSX when Mike was looking for a music director when he got to K-EARTH. She was apprehensive because she didn’t know if she wanted to make a change to work for a new pd. “I went to lunch with Mike and it was unbelievable. He didn’t talk down to me. He was mellow but forceful. He knew what he wanted and he knew how to fix K-EARTH. He was very secure in that. I had the most wonderful interview. It didn’t feel like an interview and I went to work with him.” 

Shaune talked about the time when her husband, The Real Don Steele, was sick. “It was just Don and I and I never left the house because I didn’t want to leave him alone for a minute. Mike would call and say he was going to Costco and asked what did we need? He lived far away from us but it didn’t matter, Mike was there for Don 1000%.” 

During the time that Shaune worked with Mike, she recalled a very tense time while promoting a contest, ‘Where on EARTH is it?’ with a $25,000 payoff. “ I goofed up so big time, it was frightening. It was a huge promotion and Mike wrote the clues,” Shaune recalled. “One destination was Odessa, Russia. He was running out of clues as he was trying to narrow it down. I suggested – ‘not in the Western Hemisphere.’ He said, ‘are you sure?’ I said that the Western Hemisphere was North and South American and the rest is the Eastern Hemisphere. That’s the way I learned it and it’s not the truth.” (Photo: Shaune, Mary Griswold, Ken Levine)

When the incorrect clue aired, people were furious. They had been eliminated because of the clue. “Reactions were ‘over the top’ from the disgruntled. I could have committed Harry Carey, but Mike was calm. He said that we must find a dictionary that gives the definition of Eastern and Western hemisphere the way we want it to. We spent a weekend going through dictionaries and finally found one and used that source when people complained. He knew what I felt like and he never said a word. That took a strong person not to flip out over that one – worth $25,000.” 

K-EARTH all-nighter Dave Randall was hired by Mike in July 1994. “I went on the first night without mishap and so it began.” Dave had warm memories of his time with Mike and how they still resonate today. “Every time I go to the job, and every minute I’m on the air, I use something that I learned working for him,” said Dave, certainly the best-dressed of everyone in attendance. “I knew that he was a modest man who didn’t have much to say whenever I said something laudatory about the work that he did or something extraordinarily thankful for the opportunity he gave me.” 

Ken Levine represented all the listening fans of K-EARTH. “I was like a radio geek in L.A. growing up hearing the people on KHJ and hearing Mike Phillips on KFRC-San Francisco. Mike would refer to me as a peer. He would solicit my advice. He even took my advice when I said stupid things like, ‘hire Shotgun Tom Kelly.’ He was always willing to listen to ideas from other people. I wished I had worked with him.” (Ken Levine and Dave Randall)

Brandon Castillo, now morning show producer at KFRG (the FROG) in the Inland Empire, got to KRTH in 1994. “The first guy I see in the halls is a very grumpy old man named Robert W. Morgan and he yelled at me. The second older person I saw was Mike and he tells me, ‘don’t worry, whatever he tells you, I’m the boss. He can’t fire you, I can.’”  

Brandon said that the years he worked with Mike were wonderful. “Coming in from college, Mike taught me everything. I thought all bosses were like Mike and they’re not! The minute he walked out of the building, it was a whole different radio station. I realized that he was just one of a kind.” 

(Pictured: Mr. & Mrs. Brandon Castillo; and KRTH nighttimer Christina Kelley)

Mary Griswold knew Mike as a really great research person. “He was someone who really got it,” revealed Mary. “I met Mike when I started my consultancy business in 1999 and K-EARTH was one of my clients. I took over the account from Alan Klein, who had been the consultant for the station. Mike was in my first meeting and most programmers don’t sit in on sales research meetings so that was a good sign right away to have a meaningful dialogue going. It turned out to be so much more than that. He quietly asked me after that first meeting if I needed some backup data. Turned out he gave me a disc with six years of marketing data to load on to my computer so I could do historicals. It would have taken me days and he just gave me the disc. We started a great rapport that we held on to for the entire time he was working there.” 

After Mike left, Mary said that the station wanted information on how to position the station versus all the other Oldies stations in the country. “Mike called one morning and said that he would be more than happy to come out of retirement to do some freelance work and help with the project. I was so happy but knew that I couldn’t afford Mike Phillips. I left him a voicemail saying that I couldn’t afford him. I got home that night and there was an email with the message all in CAPS. It said, WILL WORK FOR FOOD. He said it wasn’t about the money but he just wanted to work on this project. He said it sounded very interesting. During this research period it was such a privilege and a blessing to be with someone who was so special. I will miss him.” 



Original Announcement of Mike's Passing

(October 17, 2006) Legendary personality and program director Mike Phillips died yesterday afternoon, following a two and a half year battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 64. Mike moved from his Santa Clarita home to Portland earlier this summer to be with his family.

Mike was one of the original 610 men at KFRC-San Francisco in 1966. Word of Mike’s passing came from his three-decade friend Tom Parker, who was with Mike when he passed away. Parker worked with Phillips starting in 1974 at KGW-Portland, then three stations in San Francisco, KYUU, K101, and KFRC.

“Mike had a great and wonderful career,” said Parker. "He invented the format that eventually became Soft AC with KOIT. A very successful guy with many different formats. What he did with K-EARTH was nothing short of incredible. They were 14th when he took over and kept them in the Top 5 the whole time he was there."

Services for Mike are pending. You can email your condolences to Tom Parker at: parker@easystreet.com and he will be sure the emails get to Mike's family.

(Thanks to Bill Earl for the 1966 KFRC music survey)

"When I got to L.A. in the Fall of 1994," wrote Bill Tanner, "I thought Mike Phillips’ KRTH was one of the best radio stations I’d ever heard. KRTH has missed him sorely ever since he left. He got it."

KNX's Bob McCormick worked with Mike at KFRC. "He was about the nicest boss I ever met, though we worked together only briefly. But he never forgot you once you parted ways. And I won't forget the calls I got when I never dreamed I would hear from him again. I just can't believe how at peace he was when I talked to him last week. He must have known it was only a matter of days," wrote McCormick.

"I'm very sad to hear about Mike Phillips passing," emailed "Shotgun Tom" Kelly. "If it were not for Mike, I would not be doing afternoon drive at K-Earth 101. Nine years ago when Mike hired me, he told me this story. He said after The Real Don Steele passed away, he was in his office at K-Earth 101 and said a prayer, 'God please help me find the right guy' and just then a whisper came into his mind, call Shotgun Tom Kelly in San Diego. Mike called me and I said yes."

Shotgun continued: "Mike was one of the most FUN program directors I've ever worked with.
He would call me on the air and say 'that last set you did was great, you sound real good, keep it up.' Mike and I would do impressions of the late Chuck Browning, 'The Chucker' in the halls at K-Earth and we would crack up. Just last week I sent an email to Mike, just to say I loved him and was praying for him and he emailed me back. I will miss Mike."

Mike started his broadcast career at KISN-Portland in 1960, then went to KJR-Seattle for three years beginning in 1962. His first pd'ship was KNBR-San Francisco in the mid-1960s. Mike did mornings at KFRC-San Francisco from 1966 to 1972 and then went to RKO sister station WXLO-New York. After a half decade as pd and air talent at KGW-Portland, Mike was in San Francisco during most of the 1980s. (Thanks to "Shotgun Tom" Kelly for photo of Jeff Kaufner [Dr. Don Rose's board op], Mike Phillips, and Joe Collins)

He worked at KYUU and was vp of programming for the NBC/FM division before moving on to K101, KFRC and KOIT.After a two-year stint at the Research Group in Seattle in 1987, Mike became vp of programming for WTMX-Chicago. His successful strategy at KRTH was to drop hundreds of songs from the play list, tighten up the format with consultant Bill Drake's help, and hire former "Boss" jocks Robert W. Morgan and The Real Don Steele. Mike retired in late 2001.



Mike Phillips – An Oldies Guru Saluted

(February 1, 2002) El Cholo in Santa Monica looked like a radio convention last night as KRTH honored program director Mike Phillips on his retirement. One hundred of his friends and colleagues gathered at a party hosted by gm Pat Duffy and coordinated by Chris Hamilton.

Pat Duffy Mike Phillips, Terry Danner,
Jay Coffey, Tom Parker (b)
Shotgun Tom Kelly, Phillips

Many of the guests came from great distances. Former KFRC jock Howard Clark was in from San Francisco and Mike’s engineer from the Big 610 days, Joe Sullivan (Collins) drove down from Fresno. Traveling the furthest distance was Howard Freshman, former marketing director at KRTH, who was in town from Milan, Italy. Trip Reeb and Scott Mason of KROQ paid tribute to Phillips. Tommy Edwards, pd of “Arrow 93,” saluted his colleague.

Tom Murphy, Gary Owens Mike Phillips, Tommy Edwards Shaune Steele

His oldest friend attending last night was the “World Famous” Tom Murphy. They met at KISN in Portland in 1960. “Mike had to have a perfect show,” remembered Tom. “The jingles had to be right, the levels had to be right, the talk-ups just perfect. He just had to have the perfect show. He had this perfectionism from the very start. He never wanted to make a mistake in a commercial or blow a word or have a record 'wow.' He had to hit the vocal just right. He was a great jock! Great voice. Great delivery.”

Gary Owens described Phillips as “one of the nicest men in the business and a programming genius. He’s also a great dancer. When Mike came into town, he asked if I knew any good proctologists. I told him that Siskel and Ebert were great. They liked Mike so much, they gave Mike two thumbs up,” quipped Gary.

Howard Clark, Joe Sullivan Johnny Mann Joni Caryl, Jim Carson

Johnny Mann talked about the high standards Mike set when doing jingle sessions. “He would always come into the studio and hear exactly what he wanted. We love you, Mike,” said Johnny. 

<>This perfectionism led to an error-free sounding radio station that has been recognized as Station of the Year and Mike as Program Director of the Year. In a short ceremony, Pat Duffy thanked Mike for making the station so much money. The funniest line of the evening came from long-time friend Terry Danner. She acknowledged the group. “It’s good to see that Mike has more friends than he has songs on his playlist!”

Mike thanked everyone for coming and in particular those who came from out of town. “Walt Sabo flew in from New York. Dan Griffin from New York. Terry Danner and Tom Parker from Portland. Jim Jordan drove down from San Francisco. It was a great run at ‘K-Earth.’ I really enjoyed my time there and it was fabulous that you all could be here tonight.”

Richard Turnage, Phillips Mike Phillips, Terry Danner, 
Bill Stevens, Dave Randall, Jay Coffey
Phillips, Jay Coffey

Tom Parker, long-time friend of 30 years, said of Mike: “If you know Mike, you are either in a 12-Step Program, or should be in one, or headed for one. He’ll get you there fast.”

KRTH all-nighter Bill Stevens said that Mike was the best boss he ever had!

Jim Carson, KRTH morning man, worked with Mike at KFRC in the early 70s. “On Saturdays, we would spend the day listening to Van Morrison albums and dissect the lyrics. We scared the hell out of ourselves when we thought we had figured out what he was singing about,” remembered Jim.

I asked Mike how he got the radio bug? “I must have been around 7 or 8 years old. I was fascinated by the sounds coming out of the radio. I listened to it constantly. My mother told me that she thought that someday I would be on the radio. I started thinking about that and thought it would be fun.”

Gary Owens, Phillips Dave Randall Tom Parker, Mike Phillips

Mike's first job in radio was at Benson Polytechnic High in Portland, Oregon. “I worked as an announcer and Chief of Staff at its 250 watt AM educational station. During my senior year, I did a jock show on Westinghouse's KEX on Sunday night. Six months later, I was offered a full time job at KISN, the Don Burdon station where I learned jock work, news, production, and copywriting, the whole works.

Mike spent many years in San Francisco. “KFRC must have been very exciting. Not only the city was historically vibrant but the station was incredibly successful. Tell us about the City by the Bay,” I asked. “When I was 19, I drove to San Francisco and heard KEWB and KYA. The beauty of the City took my breath away. And I said, ‘This is where I must work.’ In 1966 I was blessed with the opportunity of working with the Drake organization and was one of the original jocks on KFRC. This was a very exciting time. KYA was number one. The industry said that the Drake format would never work in San Francisco because the city was ‘too hip.’ Well, in just 45 days KFRC was number one and KYA was a distant second.”

One of the highlights of Mike’s career was his appointment as vp of programming for the NBC/FM division from 1979 through 1983. “And keeping K-EARTH in the top 5 for 30 straight Arbitrons,” Mike added.

Vivian Porter Mike Phillips, Pat Duffy Bill Stevens

I asked Mike what it was like winning Program Director of the Year. “I have been blessed at KRTH with having a great programming staff. I think it was a great win for our department. And Robert W. Morgan and The Real Don Steele were certainly a big part of that win.” As far as highs and lows during his stay at KRTH. “The high was talking over a station that was 15th in the market 25 -54. In our first book, we went to 8th place and for the next 30 books we stayed in the top 5. The lows were the loss of Robert W. Morgan and The Real Don Steele. That, combined with the company pulling back on contesting and marketing dollars, made it very difficult.” 

Mike Phillips thanking the group Newest KRTH dj Bob Malik

As far as retirement, “Right now, I'm just relaxing and taking it one day at a time,” said Mike.



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