Thursday, May 19, 2016

Ex-Chadronite who excelled in radio dies at age 78


John Rook  (1937-2016)
A former Chadron resident, John Harlan Rook, who was widely known as a disc jockey and for his radio programming skills and also developed close relationships with numerous entertainment legends,  died on March 1 in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho, at age 78.

He had lived in Coeur d’Alene since he and partners bought radio station KCDA there in 1983. His group also owned stations in Spokane and Pasco, Wash., and Las Vegas for several years.
Rook may have climbed as high in his chosen profession and received as many honors as any one who graduated from high school in Chadron.

Some of his honors included radio “Man of the Year” by Variety Magazine and “Program Director of the Year” by Billboard. He also was named “Radio Consultant of the Year” in 1977 and was voted by readers of Radio and Records as “one of the most influential programmers of the past 20 years” in 1994.

Four years later, Radio & Records honored him as one of “Radio’s Legends.”

During much of his career in radio he was known as Johnny Rowe.

His father, Gordon Rook, was a native of Chadron and his mother, Della, was native of Kentucky. The children also included Charley Rook, who was one year older the Johnny, and a younger sister, Dottie. Johnny was born in Chillicothe, Ohio, on Oct. 9, 1937.
The family moved to Chadron when the boys were in junior high.  Gordon was a diesel locomotive electrician the Chicago and North Western Railroad. Charley graduated from Chadron Prep in 1954 and Johnny in 1955.  Dottie also graduated from Prep.

While Charley was spending four years in the Navy, Johnny launched his radio career, first at KASL in Newcastle, Wyo., and then at KOBH in Hot Springs.  When Charley was discharged, his brother helped him get a job at KOBH. From there, Charley became a television news director and anchorman at major stations in Chicago and Los Angeles before spending 20 years at KREM-TV in Spokane, where he now lives.

Johnny was “a mover and a shaker” early in his radio career. While he was at KOBH, he was instrumental in bringing some of the nation’s leading hit recording artists and groups to Hot Springs for shows and dances that filled the City Auditorium to capacity.  During one such event in the late 1950s, the performers included The Champs (“Tequila”), the Crests (“Sixteen Candles”) and Jimmy Clanton (“Another Sleepless Night”).

On Oct. 3, 1959, Rook brought Eddie Cochran, whom he had befriended, to Assumption Arena in Chadron for a show that was on the star’s 21st birthday. About six months later, Cochran, whose hits included "C'mon Everybody", "Somethin' Else", and "Summertime Blues," died in a traffic accident in England, where he was performing.

Throughout his career, Rook got to know many show business stars. Wikipedia says he took acting classes with Natalie Wood, Nick Adams and Sal Mineo at the Pasadena Playhouse and later received advice from the likes of Tennessee Ernie Ford and Pat Boone.  It’s reported that he had bit parts in the “Wild Bill Hickok” television series.

After leaving KOBH, Rook was a disc jockey at KALL in Salt Lake City and then began his long career as a programmer at KTLN in Denver, before moving to KQV in Pittsburgh in the mid-1960s. It’s reported that a KTLN rival recommended Rook to KQV after sensing that Rook’s abilities were a threat to his station in Denver.
It was in Pittsburgh that Rook became known for his musical instincts. Wikipedia says he regularly played records before they became hits in other areas and found a way to air Beatles records a week or so before other stations received them. In 1964, Rook had exclusive rights to the Beatles’ first appearance in Pittsburgh.

ABC, which owned both KQV and WLS in Chicago, appointed Rook as the program director at WLS in 1967. The station’s ratings were lagging when he arrived, but within four years it was named “Station of the Year.”

A few years after leaving WLS, Rook formed his own consulting business. One of his early clients was another Chicago station, WCFL, which within a year had higher ratings than WLS.            

It’s reported that dozens of other stations throughout the nation also used his consulting services, helping them shape their sounds.

In 1983, Rook and his partners began buying stations in the Pacific Northwest and one in Las Vegas. The Couer d’ Alene station was the last to be sold, in 2000.

That was not the last of Rook’s association with the music business and some of its stars. Wikipedia says that in 2006, Pat Boone discussed his disappointment at not being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Rook’s investigation showed that numerous other hit-makers also had been overlooked.

Thus Rook founded the “Hit Parade Hall of Fame” that would be open to artists who had at least two nationally charted top 10 songs as determined by either “Billboard” or “Cashbox.” After nominations were made by radio and records industry luminaries, fans voted for their choices on line.

In 2007, the initial inductees included Boone, Paul Anka, Teresa Brewer, Chubby Checker, Jimmy Clanton, Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Doris Day, Connie Francis, Johnny Mathis, Patti Page, Johnny Ray, Neil Sedaka and Frank Sinatra. 

(Editor's Note:  Our thanks to Con Marshall for sharing this story, as well as an earlier story about John Rook's older brother Charles, both of whom had highly successful careers in broadcasting.)