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 THE DISC JOCKEYS


Smilin' Lee Shoblom
 

They call him 'Smilin' Lee, and like many of the others profiled in the DJ pages of Ultimate Oldies Radio, the Good Lord indeed has smiled down on this enthusiastic and successful radio veteran. Lee's radio interest began at age seven when he discovered crystal radio sets and later, at age 12, became a ham operator. The Shoblom saga really gathered steam in San Diego in 1957 when he got hired at KSON radio. He was still a teenager when top 40 music came to town and he wanted to be a part of it. It was called TNT...Tunes, News, Time. Talk about day-parting, the format switched to a Beautiful Music sound at 6 o'clock each evening for the music of 'Cloud Seven', a format voice-tracked by station owner Fred Rabell. After a year of behind the scenes working at KSON, Shoblom finally made it to the microphone. He really had a ball and learned the business from the jocks and other station people, giving him the skill to work his way to management and eventually, ownership. Regis Philbin (of 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire' fame) was Lee's newsman and was News Director of the station. KSON was Philbin's first broadcasting job after serving as a Navy Ensign. In 1958, Lee moved up the street and up the dial to KPRI-FM. By 1959, Lee arrived at heritage Top 40 innovator KDEO. Shoblom spent five years at 'Radio-Kaydeo' and shared a thought from those days.'It was pretty funny. We at Color Radio 91 were aiming our big guns at KCBQ and for me especially, Icon Don Howard. We were number one, they were number one, back and forth. We had absolutely no clue big guns were being aimed at us. Local middle-of-the-road station, old timer KGB switched overnight to the incredibly popular Drake-Chenault format, so successful in other markets including KHJ in Los Angeles. Much more music, zero commercials for weeks and weeks, major prizes, the works. Surprise! They beat the daylights out of both KDEO and KCBQ! Speaking of Howard, I set my sights on him as the brash young upstart at the other station. He was ten years my senior and I figured it was my turn. I was determined to beat him in the Pulse and Hooper ratings (no Arbitron in those days!). I did too, finally but there were a couple of dayparts where I couldn't touch him. He was an awesome competitor. Ironically, we both retired to Arizona and became fast friends and worked together, helping out the local broadcast operations in our respective towns. In 1964, Lee moved to Denver taking a shift at all-news KBTR and sister station KBTV (now KUSA, the ABC outlet there). While there, he created a comedy traffic report series ('The Walt Johnson Comedy Road Reports'). Amazingly it caught on in all 50 states, all Canadian provinces and basically every country in the world which spoke English and had commercial radio. By 1967, Lee switched again to Las Vegas this time, as General Manager of KRAM. At the same time, Shoblom filed for an FCC construction permit to put a station on the air at Lake Havasu City, Arizona on the California/Arizona border. Founded in 1964, the city was later to become known as the American home for the London Bridge which was transplanted brick by brick from England in the early 70's. The 'Smilin' one finally got his own station, KFWJ (so named as a tribute to his syndicated program...Kash From Walt Johnson-KFWJ!), located in a beautiful brand new resort town on a forty five mile lake. That station went on the air in 1970 on the AM dial. That was just the beginning. In '74, he added an FM (KBBC), then in 1984 he added a TV station to the Arizona landscape (TV 45). In addition, Lee says he, 'bought and built several other stations in Arizona, Southern California and one in Maui, Hawaii. He didn't really enjoy the group owner thing so he eventually sold them. 'As the engineer, I went crazy trying to keep them all running smoothly so I did what you are not supposed to do, put all my eggs in one basket, Lake Havasu City. He owned and operated the stations until late 1997 when he cashed out. Today, Smilin' Lee is still smilin' with Lynne, a lovely lady whom he convinced to become his wife in 2000. Lynne owns a successful business in Lake Havasu City and she and Lee are consulting a new community FM station in nearby Prescott, Arizona. Regarding his former jockmates, Shoblom says, 'I was so fortunate to be in our business when I was. There was nothing quite like radio in the 50's and 60's. Don Howard said it best when he said, 'We were all just a notch or two down from movie stars when it came to public support. A half dozen of us literally owned San Diego'. Lee says, 'I really doubt very much that young people coming into the business now will know where their co-workers are, forty-plus years from now. We do! At least once a year we all check with one another and caught up on what we are all doing. Obviously, Regis is kind of easy to keep track of but 'Two-Gun' Noel Kelly (Confer), my former Program Director is alive and well back in Tulsa where he started out...shoving out more funny E-mail than anyone I know. KDEO News Director Tom Schaeffer, after being out of the business for awhile, is back doing news consulting both on-air and on-line. 'Wild Bill' Wade is in San Francisco and Chuck Dougherty is back in Detroit where he started and those who knew him will be pleased to learn he never did grow up! Smilin' Lee is out in the desert, messing around with ham radio again, mostly on 40 and 20 meters (K6ADA) and is having fun with it. He's pretty happy about his career. He was President of the Arizona Broadcasters Association and was inducted into the Arizona Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 1999. He was director of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) for 2 terms representing Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. Lee was also the founding President of the Community Broadcasters Association (CBA), a lobbying organization for Low-Power TV community stations. Does he miss the microphone? Lee says, 'Ironically, I have enough equipment left over from the station sale to literally put together a little FM station which would cover the 50,000 people in my town and play some oldies some Saturday night. However, to be busted by the FCC as an aging radio pirate would probably not be the coolest way to top off an excellent 40 year career.' When he says that however, he seems to have a twinkle in his eye and...what else...a 'smile'! You can E-mail this colorful broadcaster at K6ADA@Yahoo.com.

  

 
     

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