As the rest of us adapt to a relatively new century,Da Boogieman
is holding tight to the previous one.
When Boog, who prefers to keep his given name under wraps, started in radio during the late '70s, he spun the black circle -- generally seven-inch 45s, but occasionally twelve-inch long-players as well. Today, during his evening turns at KOOL 105, Denver's most popular purveyor of rock oldies, he launches pre-selected, digitally stored songs using a touch-screen computer that tracks their progress to the second. Yet his exuberantly nasal delivery evokes the sound of decades past, and so does his fast-paced blather. "Coming up is Little Peggy March, and I mean little. She was only three inches high!" he declares one mid-June evening, illuminated in the black-and-white glow of a muted television airing the 1948 Cary Grant comedy Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.
Boog knows all about dream houses. He lost his own perfect pad at the dawn of the '90s, after being shown the door at another Denver station, KIMN, a year or two earlier. Unemployment also prompted a bankruptcy filing and a fiscal crisis so severe that he was forced to peddle his incredible collection of vintage vinyl. "I owned probably close to 3,000 albums and about 5,000 or 6,000 singles," Boog estimates. "The whole upstairs of my townhome in Littleton was lined with oak shelves, and I filled them to the brim with my music. Then the bottom fell out. It killed me to let them go, but I had to have some money, and it was the only thing I could do. It was just like selling a relative."
His inability to land another radio post hurt even worse. For the better part of ten years, Boog made ends meet driving buses or tracking them as a supervisor for RTD. All the while, he fantasized about getting into the broadcasting booth again, even though he knew that jock jobs were drying up faster than Colorado reservoirs during the current drought. Corporations acquired thousands of stations around the country when he was out of radio, and in pursuit of more black ink, managers used technological advances such as voicetracking -- prerecorded segments that sound live but aren't -- to shear staff and shrink expenditures.
Under these circumstances, Da Boogieman had a better chance of winning American Idol than getting paid a decent sum to play "American Pie." Even so, he eventually executed the unlikeliest of comebacks. After toiling at two lower-profile outlets beginning in the late '90s, he signed up at KOOL in early 2002, and of late, he's revitalized the 7 p.m.-to-midnight weeknight slot. According to the latest Arbitron report, an interim update known in the industry as a "trend," Da Boogieman attracted more listeners between 25 and 54 -- KOOL's target demographic -- than any other personality or show in the city over the late-spring test period. In the age of Britney and Xtina, this balding, seriously rotund 56-year-old is the ratings equivalent of a love magnet.
Not that he's taking his renewed success for granted. "I think I'm part of a dying breed in a lot of respects -- still able to get by with my chitchat and pitter-patter," Boog says in a rare moment of melancholy. "I'm in a great place, so I shouldn't bitch. But the business has changed so much that part of me wonders how much longer there'll be room for me and what I do."
A Denver native, Boog was in elementary school when he first heard Little Richard's rendition of "Tutti-Frutti" -- an epochal moment for him. As pop music changed, he didn't. "I listened to Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul & Mary, but I liked songs that were more fun," he concedes. In 1965, the year Dylan went electric, Boog and another kid got into a fight at the Littleton Platter Parlor over the last copy of "Action," by Freddy "Boom Boom" Cannon. "The lady at the store came over and said, 'Enough! Neither of you can have it!'" he recalls.
If this scrap sounds like a scene from director George Lucas's American Graffiti, so do Boog's teen years as a whole. While attending Englewood High School, for instance, he spent the money he earned as a sacker at Bi-Lo Groceries to soup up his dad's old Studebaker, which he used at area drag races. It's only appropriate, then, that following a stateside stint in the Army, he turned himself into Denver's version of Wolfman Jack, the raucous radio host who makes a cameo in Graffiti. In 1974, shortly after the movie's release, he started a mobile-DJ operation built upon what he calls "a Wolfman Jack shtick." This side project supplemented income he earned working at a plumbing company, a pizza parlor and a slew of other modestly salaried gigs.
Five years later, Boog was spending his nights howling at the moon and his days stringing cable for HBO when a friend suggested that he audition at long-gone KWBZ, which played oldies. Just prior to his on-air tryout, he saw a KC and the Sunshine Band album that included the hit single "I'm Your Boogie Man" and decided on the spur of the moment to appropriate the handle for himself. Within hours, Da Boogieman was hired, but he remained with HBO for another six months anyhow, convinced his good luck couldn't hold.
It did for quite a stretch. After two years at KWBZ and a stint at another small station, KRZN, he hooked up with KHOW, which was then mainly a music station. In 1987, KIMN lured Boog away. Little did he know that the station was in dire financial trouble. In April 1988, after nine months on the job, Boog joined his fellow yakkers at a meeting with KIMN general manager Wayne Phillips. As he remembers it, "Phillips said, 'I'm sick and tired of all these rumors that KIMN is going country. Well, I'm here to tell you, it's true!'" The station returned as KYGO-AM (it's now the Fan), leaving no room for Boog.
After a spotty attempt to revive his mobile-DJ enterprise and brief stints at Jones Satellite Network, where he programmed oldies for a whopping $50 per week in 1990 and 1993, Boog fell off the radio-biz radar. He spent three years without a steady job, and if it hadn't been for the largesse of a friend, who let him stay in an extra bedroom, he might have ended up on the street.
Finally, a colleague at Jones Satellite suggested that he consider working at RTD. After passing the driving test, he was handed a thirty-hour-per-week split shift at $8.40 an hour.
Over the course of his seven years behind the wheel, "I saw some really weird stuff," Boog says -- especially when he was assigned the notorious 15 route along Colfax. On a memorable Sunday night, "this small Mexican person and a tall American Indian, both drunk to the gills, got on, and before long, the big guy was on top of the little guy, giving him the beating of his life. I pulled over, opened the doors, grabbed the American Indian by the hair and said, 'Take your shit outside or I'll call a cop!' The big Indian got up, grabbed his buddy by the scruff of the neck, took him to the sidewalk and started beating on him some more. I shut the doors and drove off."
Of course, Boog was more than capable of creating his own mayhem. "I was driving the Broadway bus, and I picked up an old friend of mine, Bob Fedde, who's blind, with the cane and everything. After he got in, I put him in the driver's seat and said, 'Okay, Bob, it's a straight shot to Littleton Boulevard' -- and all the other passengers dove out of the bus!" After a booming guffaw, he adds, proudly, "I got written up for that one!"
Months later, Boog injured his back when he hit a massive pothole, ending his driving career. He subsequently became manager at Market Street Station, where he oversaw the pavement-level version of air-traffic control for 155 buses. After three years at a desk, he spied a bus placard advertising KLZ; although the station was owned by Crawford Broadcasting, which specialized in Christian radio, it had recently inaugurated a secular "legends" format. On a whim, Boog called the signal's overseer, Don Crawford Jr. , who put him in charge of a weekend programming block. When ratings climbed, he was given more time on an underpowered sister station, KLVZ-AM/1220, and after its audience grew, too, he moved back to KLZ as a full-timer.
Unfortunately, Boog never quite fit in at Crawford. "I'm not really a religious person," he says. "I'm more spiritual, so I wasn't really a big fan of their philosophy. They'd want everyone to pray before meetings, and if you'd ask, 'How are you?' they'd go, 'I'm blessed.'" After one outburst of profanities, a preacher helming a gospel show in an adjacent studio said, "I'd appreciate it if you would keep your blaspheming down. I can't hear to talk to my flock." Boog thinks his bosses were looking for an excuse to get rid of him, and 9/11 provided it. "After the Trade Centers blew up, Don went, 'Boog, I don't want you on the air. Your show is too up, too fun,'" he says. "Two weeks after that, I was gone."
Unlike his previous dismissal, this one worked to his advantage. Within a month, Steve Keeney, who was then KOOL's general manager, asked him to fill in for the ailing Jay Mack. When Mack died in early 2002, Boog for the first time found himself on staff at an FM station. Keeney was disappeared in late 2003 because of flagging ratings, but his replacement, Keith Abrams, stuck with Boog and is glad he did. "This is an environment where we encourage our guys to do personality as opposed to just reading liners," he says. "That allows people like Boog to let their personality shine through. When the mike is off, he doesn't become a different guy. It's genuine Boogie, 24-7."
Granted, Boog doesn't have the freedom to choose his own songs, as he did back in the day, and he must check requests to make sure they're on the approved list of tunes that rated well in listener surveys. This policy shrinks playlists and limits the number of tunes by even classic artists, but Abrams says doing so is necessary in today's radio universe. "It's really not a sadistic plan to force-feed people the same records over and over," he says. "It's a function of this being a mass-appeal business. These are the songs the majority of people tell us they want to hear."
Within these restrictions, however, Abrams gives Boog a modicum of freedom, letting him play music from the '50s and pre-Beatles '60s weeknights from 10 p.m. to midnight. Most other oldies stations across the country are retiring such fare for demographic reasons. "I'm charged with getting the best 25-54 numbers I can," Abrams says, "and if you graduated from high school in 1968, smack-dab in the middle of this music, you're 54 years old now. That's why you see stations adding newer music, hoping to recruit younger listeners. The problem is, a musical wall exists for a lot of people who love the Beatles and the Dave Clark Five and Elvis and the Supremes; their tastes run up to about the middle '70s, and then they stop. So we're trying to strike the right balance by playing some older things, too -- and Boog's numbers speak for themselves."
As long as his digits remain strong, Da Boogieman will continue to announce vintage hits, not the names of intersections, and he couldn't be happier. "Being away from radio and then getting back to it made me realize that this isn't only what I want to do; this is what I'm supposed to do," he says. "And I want to keep doing it as long as I can."
Museum quality: For proof of how capricious radio can be, look no further than Raechel Donahue. As the evening host for the Mountain, Donahue provided Denver listeners with a killer combination: great pipes, terrific taste in music, and incomparable knowledge gathered in a career that literally spans the entire history of FM-rock radio (Message, January 8, 2004). Nonetheless, relations between her and the station went sour, and on June 21, this deserving winner of a 2004 Best of Denver award was handed her hat. Details are hard to come by. Mountain program director Dan Michaels says he can't comment on the split, and Donahue refers to "creative differences. There are no hard feelings," she says. "We just agreed to disagree."
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Don't shed any tears for Donahue, though. Her future's so bright that even shades won't cut the glare. Just prior to being banished from the Mountain, she received an offer to serve as operations director for Moonlight Groove Highway, a new radio service affiliated with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. "I was desperately trying to figure out how to get out of my contract, so when they told me I was fired, I burst into hysterical laughter," she crows.
Moonlight Groove will broadcast from the Hall of Fame starting around Labor Day. Donahue says the mix of sounds will range "from Leadbelly to Sheryl Crow" and include conversations with plenty of living legends. "I'll work as a producer Monday through Friday, then hop on an airplane to go interview rock stars." In mock distress, she cries, "Please, Brer Fox! Don't throw me in the briar patch!"
That's not all. Donahue and co-writer Judy Steinberg just received a six-figure advance from the publishing giant Dutton to write a book "that's like Sex and the Single Girl for older women." She chortles as she reveals, "The working title was Sex and the Single Sexagenarian." Steinberg is the former wife of comedian/director David Steinberg, "who dumped her for a younger woman, so it'll partly be a revenge book," Donahue says. "But it'll be funnier than heck."
Donahue plans to keep her place in Denver for the time being, but the Hall of Fame offer was too good to refuse. As she puts it, "Now I won't just be old; I'll actually be in a museum. Isn't that great?"