Remembering Joe Light, a KOIL Good Guy

Normally I post about specific songs and the details that led to production, distribution and popularity, but today I want to write about my upbringing—specifically, the influence of a certain AM radio station on my understanding, awareness and love for music.

I received a transistor radio for one of my early birthdays. It was smaller than today’s smart phone, but about three times thicker—mandarin red, with a single 2.5-inch speaker, earphones and a tiny tuning wheel that picked up every AM radio station, near and far, with the best fidelity the era’s technology allowed. I carried it with me, day and night, and replaced many a 9-volt battery.

This is when I discovered “The Mighty 12-90, K-O-I-L.” I was fortunate to grow up in a market where the AM radio station for kids was playing the popular singles as well as the obscure 45-rpm releases from lesser-known artists (some soon to become well-known superstars) and B-sides.

KOIL had a diversity in music (as the weekly “surveys” displayed below reveal) that crossed genres and tastes. The jingles, bumpers and stingers were also a part of the playlist. And there were always contests to keep the audience engaged with the station.

But what made the station fun were the disc jockeys, the KOIL Good Guys. They were smart and clever, and they would spar with one another on the air, setting up conflicts and referencing each other throughout the day, which generated an urgency to tune-in later to find out what was said in response. It was brilliant marketing by Don Burden’s Star Stations.

One of the great KOIL DJ’s was Joe Light. He was irreverent (in a safe way, there was still a strict FCC he had to contend with) and quick-witted. He had running gags (as I type, his Hamburger Winner award for that day’s stupid person in the news comes to mind) intermingled with insipid jingles that mocked radio promotion (the young female chorus singing a cappella: “Joe Light’s best, Joe Light’s best, Joe Light’s good and Joe Light’s best”), but most important he talked with you—he made you feel like you were in on the joke. I spent many days after school laughing amid the soundtrack of my childhood.

And so I was saddened to learn that Joe Light died in Sacramento on March 28, 2013, four days before his 80th birthday. He had worked in Indianapolis, Denver, Portland (Ore.), Los Angeles and many other cities. But I fondly recall my memories when he was at KOIL in Omaha, Nebr.

Before social media, before today’s talk of having “friends” who aren’t physically present in our lives, there were radio disc jockeys. I followed Joe Light. I Liked him. “Light’s out, everybody.” Rest in peace.

KOIL radio Omaha music survey with Joe Light May 14 thru 20, 1970

KOIL radio Omaha music survey with Joe Light and Roger W. Morgan August 11 thru 19, 1970

KOIL radio Omaha music survey with Joe Light August 20 thru 26, 1971

KOIL radio Omaha music survey with Joe Light May 13 thru 19, 1972

About poppaculture

I am a seasoned consumer of modern (and not so modern) culture.
This entry was posted in '60s Music, '70s Music, Music and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Remembering Joe Light, a KOIL Good Guy

  1. Roger says:

    I had what sounds like the same transistor radio, loved listening to Joe Light, Mike Bradley, Roger W. Morgan, Sandy Jackson, on “WONDERFUL 129 KOIL”. In later years the great host of “Shindig” , Jimmy O’Neil would take over the mike. I remember “Pookie Snackenburger” In the unidentified garbage truck, etc. Need I say more to prove that mentally I was in the studio day and night, but never physically. I dreamed of growing up to be a “KOIL Good Guy”, but by the time I had grown, Koil was gone. How sad. I still see the old original studio on highway 92/275 in Co. Bluffs, the “South Omaha Bridge Road”.

  2. W. Laughlin says:

    Joe was an original, but what really amazes me is how many superb WLS-Chicago personalities came THRU Omaha via KOIL. From another site: “Kris Erik Stevens was known as Johnny Mitchell while was part of the legendary KOIL, Omaha staff. The KOIL staff also included Fred Winston, Gary Gears, Sam Holman, Lyle Dean, and Mike McCormick.”

    I remember “Mitchell” — great voice, not there very long. I don’t recall Winston, but he was a chi-town fave for a long time (I’ve read a history of WLS, which I preferred at night to KOIL– even while living in the Big O.) Lyle Dean had a voice to die for, the kind everyone strove for.

    Thanks for the memories!

    • poppaculture says:

      Thank you, W.
      KOIL was a great launching site for talent. I tried to stay loyal, but I remember tuning to WLS often after sundown, and in later years, to Beaker Street out of Little Rock.

  3. Mark Simon says:

    I was trying to get into radio in the mid ’70’s and although I didn’t do a very good job at it, I was able to make friends with both Joe Light and Roger W. If you grew up in the Big O around this time you must remember their “feud,” including the Olds that was filled with Concrete! Somewhere I have a photo of that thing with the blown out tires. I heard they needed to call the National Guard to get that thing towed off the Skyview (I think) lot.

    • Usro Nagrom says:

      I know a little about this one. Roger W. Morgan here. Yes, Joe and I had a feud. The line between good humor and serious differences was a fine one. We had a HUGE respect for one another but there was a competitive attitude and occasionally crossed that line. The concrete in the car was one of those.

      Joe and I actually agreed that the “fued” was good fodder for attracting an audience for both of us. We then agreed each to work hard on a practical joke that might add some fuel to the feud. I contacted a concrete company in Omaha and arranged to have the concrete truck make a couple of circles inside the walls of a drive in theater on Dodge St. while Joe was on stage there MC’ing an event for KOIL I asked them to make two circles…just enough to get Joe ad-libbing about what might be up with the truck. He bought into it bigtime..actually delivered some very clever lines about the truck as it slowly pulled up to his car parked near the screen and lowered the spout through the window of his old car. As concrete began to pour into the car, Joe figured out what was up. The tires popped, the tail lights came on and the veins on Joe’s neck grew larger and sweat beads formed on his forehead. He wasn’t amused!

      3 days later, the inevitable task of removing the car began to be considered. The truck that was finally able to carry the load got as far as Dodge before it broke down and dragged the 7,000 pound car for half a mile on Dodge. I understand that Don Burden paid a hefty price for the damage..Joe got a comparable value car (likely worth far more than the one I destroyed”), and our feud continued. We loved each other but it was a love that was punctuated with some mighty nasty actions.I miss that crazy guy more than anyone could know!

      • poppaculture says:

        I am honored and thankful to read your response to Mark Simon’s comment, Roger. Thank you for giving us a glimpse into this legendary prank. Your descriptions following “As concrete began to pour…” are wonderful. I worked at the 76th & West Dodge Drive-In for three months in the mid-70s and getting a 7,000 lb. car out of that lot would’ve been very tricky.
        Thank you again for posting and for being interactive with your audience long before the Internet and social media.

  4. poppaculture says:

    Ha! Thank you, Mark, for the memory of the concrete-filled car. How great that you got to call these two guys your friends.

    I worked as a busboy at a local country club and remember asking my boss if I could stick around to hear Joe Light speak at a sports-banquet event (my only brush w/ greatness).

    I loved the feuds among the KOIL Good Guys (and Roger W. Morgan actually commented on the concrete prank in a 2003 post on a Nebraska Radio bulletin board:

  5. Roger Gunderson says:

    I had the Coronado cigarette package transistor radio with earphone and had it on most of the time listening to KOIL exclusively. Carrying my paper route, lunch room, while I slept at night. I started a sometime before Joe got to Omaha, but I thought he was great. “The staff is in their starting blocks – ready to bolt out the door at 5.” “Don’t worry, the Light will still be on ’til 7”. We also had the in credible crew of Sandy Jackson, Mike Bradley, Don Steele, others I’ve failed to mention and for a while, the one time host of Shindig, Jimmy O’Neil. Wow, Omaha was a great market for radio, AM and FM. I think Steve Shepard was general mgr. That station moved from a studio on Highway 92 in Council Bluffs, Iowa (pretty much the only thing for 5 miles of 92/275) , to downtown Co. Bluffs, to the Aquila Court Bldg. in Omaha and finally out to 120th and something in West Omaha. I went out to 120th several years ago to see a display of KOIL, memorabilia but was told it had been removed, there seemed to be no interest in it. I nearly wept. Lights out everybody.

  6. poppaculture says:

    Thank you, Roger. The Coronado transistor radio! (pretty cool) KOIL was the only thing worth listening to in the ’60s and early-’70s (I had friends who tried to sway me to 15-6 KRCB, but I liked the KOIL Good Guys).
    By 1970, the studios were located on the southeast corner of 90th & Dodge (8901 Indian Hills Drive). In the ’80s, the station had moved to the Twin Towers on Farnam at Turner Blvd.
    Thank you, too, for: “The staff is in their starting blocks – ready to bolt out the door at 5 … Don’t worry, the Light will still be on ’til 7”
    Joe Light was so much fun to listen to.

  7. Randy White says:

    I turned 16 the summer of 1970 and remember listening to KOIL and Joe Light everyday while swimming and sunning at Peony Park. Reviewing the top 50 hits for that month of August reminds me of the same tunes played non-stop on the Peony Park jukebox in the snack bar. Later I worked part time at a local ad agency that was also located in the Aquila Court and had a chance to meet Joe Light a few times. What a dynamic personality. My favorite Joe Light bit was when he would give the time and temperature.” For all you gamblers out there it’s 7:11″. Thanks for the memories.

  8. John Griffith says:

    I remember an ad he did for The Millrose Ballroom in Millard. At the end, he said “It is not tat far away. I know you guys drive more miles between Todd’s and Tiner’s every might. Irreverent, but never crossed the line.

  9. Don Mac (D.L. McPhaull) says:

    I stumbled across your blog highlighting Joe Light and I’m glad I did. My life has been filled with blessings. One of which found my high school dreams of being on-the-air at KOIL actually becoming my reality 1973/74 before leaving to join the air-staff at 1580 KDAY when it switched formats in 1974. Pinching myself is still in order, as I think back to working behind the same microphones that had been used by legendary KOIL Good Guys like: Todd Chase, Sandy Jackson, Frank Coffee-Head Allen, Roger W. Morgan. And, of course, Joe Light, with whom I was also privileged to work during my time at Don Burden’s showpiece, KOIL. Joe Light was one of the “Good Guys.” Many a night we would get together at Arthur’s (I think that was the name of the place not far from the Indian Hills location of the station.) to relax, sip, and talk radio. Joe was a treasure trove of radio knowledge. And, he didn’t mind sharing his experiences, along with his wicked, razor sharp whit. Learning that he passed in 2013, saddens me a bit. But, what memories I have of countless hours we shared at Mighty 1290 KOIL, back when radio was still entertaining, and not a corporate cookie cutter replica of the days of WLS, KHY, KOMA, KDKA, et al. Back when America had real radio stations with creative jocks and supportive GM’s. R.I.P., Joe. Lights off!
    Don Mac (D.L. McPhaull), KOIL Good Guy Alumnus.

    • poppaculture says:

      Hey, Don (D.L.)!
      Thank you for posting. I appreciate your memories. I went through my 1973/74 collection of KOIL music surveys (not complete), hoping to see you in a photo.Did you have the noon to 3 shift?

      Wow! Moving to KDAY when it returned to R&B/Soul. How cool was that? (Hard work, too, as FM stations started increasing market share.)

      I loved reading your words. I can imagine the scene at Arthur’s (you got the name correct).
      Yes, radio was definitely entertaining. You need to keep sharing those stories of creative jocks and mischief.

      Thank you again for taking the time to write. Joe Light was unique, and I am happy he is part of my consciousness.


  10. says:

    I was pretty young when Joe Light was at WISH/WIFE in Indianapolis around 1962. I remember he would occasionally play a booming voice saying “I am the emperor”. I use to have a calendar that had 13 months, He stole days from other months and created a 13th month called “Joe”. Funny stuff. Maybe my favorite disc jockey ever.

  11. Al Gordon says:

    Besides all the WLS talent, others who went through KOIL were The Real Don Steele, Bill Young, Dr. Don Rose, and Gary Owens.

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