Pat O’Day, whose voice was well known for decades throughout Seattle as a disc jockey and an announcer at the Seafair races, has died at 85.
He passed away at his home in the San Juan Islands, his son Jeff O’Day wrote in a Facebook post.
“The Pacific Northwest will always seem a little empty without the legendary Pat O’Day,” Jeff O’Day wrote. “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. “
At one time, Pat O’Day owned the afternoon airwaves, averaging 35% of the after-school and drive-time audience at a time when traffic was growing dramatically. Teenage car culture was in its heyday. Around the time the Lake City branch of the legendary Dick’s Drive-In opened in 1963, O’Day’s listenership peaked at 41%. And his company, Concerts West, was one of the major concert-booking agents in the nation.
“O’Day’s name became synonymous with KJR, the station he ran for a decade and built into an empire,” according to a 2001 entry on HistoryLink. “To understand his impact one has to consider the power of that station – it was not uncommon for KJR to boast of a 37% rating, an unheard of dominance by a radio station. Today (2001) that rating would be more than the market share of the top seven local stations (KMPS, KUBE, KVI, KIRO, KBSG, KRWM, and KWJZ) combined. O’Day was eventually promoted to program director and, by 1968, to general manager. He oversaw the production of each week’s Fab-50 playlist – inclusion was virtually the only way a record could become a hit in the Seattle area.”
The son of a coal miner turned preacher, O’Day was born Paul Wilburn Berg in Norfolk, Nebraska, in 1934.
When he was 7, his father accepted the pastorate of a Tacoma church and soon landed a regular radio ministry show on Tacoma’s KMO 1360, one of the state’s pioneer stations. “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.”
O’Day graduated from Bremerton High School in 1953.
When he enrolled in broadcasting school in Tacoma and began perfecting his delivery, he says, he realized the secret to his father’s success as a speaker was being “one-on-one” with his listeners. “Whenever I was on the air, I’d look at the microphone and envision one person and talk to her or him,” O’Day told The Seattle Times.
When KJR-AM switched to a Top 40 format, O’Day landed his dream job and was later named the top program director in the nation in 1964 and 1965 and “Radioman of the Year” in 1966.
After leaving KJR in the late 1960s, he became one of the biggest concert promoters in the country, presenting tours for Jimi Hendrix, Elvis, Led Zeppelin, Chicago, The Beach Boys, The Eagles, Neil Diamond, Paul McCartney, Frank Sinatra and many others.
He recalled a pool party where Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey of The Who told their wild-man drummer, Keith Moon, to lighten up after a set-ending smashup because drum kits were more expensive to replace than guitars.
He also became the announcer for hydroplane races on Lake Washington back when Seafair was synonymous with summer in Seattle.
O’Day, who was a public figure in the region, was also open about his struggles.
After a family intervention in 1986, O’Day went to Schick Shadel Hospital for rehab and became its voice in commercials.
“Schick changed my life – maybe saved my life,” he said last year.
When he was 77, he survived the removal of a meningioma, a benign tumor that was pressing against his brain. He was happy to talk about it after news about the tumor spread to his thousands of fans, who posted well-wishes on Jeff O’Day’s Facebook page.
His son wrote that he could not have imagined a better father: “He will be in my thoughts every day for the rest of my life.”
Pat O’Day’s advice near the end of his life was simple: “Stay busy! You only get one shot on this Earth. How can you waste one day of it?”
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