I’ve only just discovered that the legendary Bill Drake passed away last Saturday. Drake was the man responsible for making music the centerpiece of radio rather than the announcer. He was an early pioneer of the Top 40 format.
Drake streamlined the Top 40 format, using modern methods, such as market research and ratings demographics, to maximize the number of listeners. He believed in forward momentum, limiting the amount of disc jockey chatter, the number of advertisements and playing only the top hits, as opposed to less-organized programming methods of the past. Drake created concepts such as 20/20 News and counter programming, by playing music sweeps, while his competitors aired news. Drake-Chenault controlled everything from the specific DJs that were hired, to radio contests, visual logos, promotions and commercial policy. Drake essentially put radio back into the hands of programming, instead of sales. Drake hired the Johnny Mann Singers to produce the Boss Radio jingles, ensuring a bright, high-energy sound that engaged the listener, while providing a bridge from song to song, as well as a smooth transition from songs to commercials.
As we all know, Top 40 has been one of the single most successful radio formats of all time. Mr. Drake’s contributions to that format are one of the big factors in making it so. His pioneering work is echoed on the Internet of today, putting content at the forefront. This one line from the above excerpt sums it up beautifully, “Drake essentially put radio back into the hands of programming, instead of sales.” This is the broadcast precursor to the to content driven age of social media and online communications.
According to the Associated Press, Drake died of lung cancer last Saturday at West Hills Hospital in the San Fernando Valley at the age of 71. He is survived by his domestic partner, Carole Scott. He will be missed as a member of the nominating committee of the Hit Parade Hall of Fame.
Mr. Drake was inducted into the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame in 2007.