October 17, 2006

RIP: Mike Phillips

Jay Arnold sent along word last night that former 610/KFRC morning man and program director Mike Phillips died yesterday following a two and a half year battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 64.

Mike Phillips (1966)Mike was the original afternoon guy at KFRC when the station moved to Top 40 in February 1966, then switched to mornings later in the year. He ended his career as program director at L.A.'s legendary K-Earth 101 from 1990 to 2001, helping to elevate the famed Oldies powerhouse from middle-of-the-pack status to consistent ratings in the top five.

He spent the early portion of his career in the Pacific Northwest, including stops at KAYO and KJR in Seattle, before becoming one of the KISN Good Guys at the Portland Top 40 outlet. From KISN it was on to his first stop in the Bay Area, working at KNBR/68 under program director Al Hart.

Fired by KNBR, he landed on his feet as an original member of the 610 Men at KFRC when the station switched to Top 40 early in 1966. Initially installed as the Big 610's afternoon guy, he moved to mornings later in the year.

After a return to KJR in 1968, he made subsequent stops at WXLO/New York (1973) and KGW/Portland (1975) before coming back to the Bay Area as program director at NBC-owned KYUU/99.7 in 1980. He moved over to program KIOI in 1982, then returned to KFRC as program director in 1984. He then helped create KOIT's signature "Lite Rock" sound beginning in 1986.

Mike Phillips had moved from Santa Clarita in Southern California to Portland earlier this summer to be nearer to his family.

Ron Lyons on Mike Phillips...

The one thing left off his stations slate was KNBR from February of 1965 until sometime in the Fall. Mike Phillips was a star, I believe, at KJR when he was 19, and he and I both were hired by Mike Joseph which could account for the high suicide rate in the '60s.

[Joseph] was a real con artist and had sold NBC a story on market research. We were playing "Satisfaction" and then going into Arlene Francis on "Emphasis." We were giving the time in various Bay Area locations and he had the very old NBC announcers doing (or trying) Top 40 News up to the network join and it was horrific. The whole thing was horrific.

I have an actual memo from Joseph saying "Congratulations on the birth of your daughter. You only gave the call letters 23 times; it should have been 35." NBC was run by the News Division so we had to carry everything including think pieces and press conferences. NOBODY knew what the hell we were.

Mike and I were very good friends then, and I will explain in a bit why I think we didn't stay that way. Anyway, he kept telling management, which was Al Hart, how screwed up it was and doing one liners about it on the air. We were great drinking buddies and he spent a lot of time at the house. He was a little lonely and really angry with how bad we sounded. I kept telling him that no matter how bad it was, it was theirs and he was liable to be fired ... which is what happened ... which is rather funny.

Al Hart was a great guy (still is) and gave Mike the word and said it was his choice if he wanted to work out his two week notice. (We all had great contracts then!) Mike elected to stay on the air and he was on 6 to 9PM. So he goes on the air that night and one of the commercials was for the Columbia School of Broadcasting. I remember listening to him and, really, the only thing he said, VERY tongue in cheek, was that "the security in broadcasting is fantastic." So he was gone.

Like many things in life, it was the best thing. Drake was changing KFRC and it was just the break Mike needed. I remember he was a little dubious but he ended up doing mornings and KFRC is really one of the legends. Mike was also in love with a gal named Carol and they eventually got married.

We drifted apart then. The last thing I remembered was their apartment in Marin and Elvis had just recorded "From Vegas To Memphis" and we listened to the live version of "Suspicious Minds." He and I both had just returned to the market around 1969.

Mike was a great guy who managed to conquer booze. Many don't know it but it was an awful thing for him. We reconnected in 1977, I think, when he and John Hayes were running KYUU. I was still drinking then and didn't quit until 1986. I was working weekends at KNBR and we ended up staying at the same motel. There he told me of some really horrible things he had gone through. He had become quite religious although he never hit you over the head with it. I think it was uncomfortable for him to be around me because I was still hitting it pretty good. I always admired his success as a programming guy knowing what games had to be played and how he maintained his sobriety.

Mike Phillips, as I remember him, was a gentle soul with a tremendous sense of humor.

Sometime during the KNBR/KYUU days, we were walking over to the garage together and I asked him if he missed being on the air?

"Nah," he said, "I've got nothing left to say."

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