Seattle radio legend, concert and hydroplane promoter Pat O’Day died Tuesday at his home on San Juan Island. He was 85.
Pat O’Day loved radio.
His emotional connection to radio, both the entertainment side and the business side, was lifelong, and came through in every conversation I had with him. He knew who was working where, he knew which stations were doing well and which were struggling. He was always suggesting things: “This station should put these two people together on air, that station should change its format, that show stinks, this show is good.”
I’ve yet to meet anyone successful in radio who wasn’t in love with it as a kid. Radio’s ability to enlarge the limited world of a 10-year-old is intoxicating. For Pat, that love never faded.
By the time we met in the mid-1990s, he was selling real estate in the San Juan Islands. “Making real money,” he laughed, “not like the money I made in radio and concerts that kept disappearing.”
But years after he dominated the Seattle airwaves in the 1960s and 1970s — when KJR-AM was all about rock n’ roll and not about sports — with ratings no one saw before or since, he stayed involved in the business he adored by befriending and mentoring dozens of young broadcasters.
Pat and I had our first meaningful conversation one morning in 1995. He and his family were living in a small cabin on the north side of San Juan Island while their new home was being built next door. After breakfast, we talked for a few hours about what it took to be successful.
He told me to always be professional in how I presented myself on the air. We discussed the importance of talking in a way that sounded as if you were talking to each listener individually. He stressed how important it was to make personal promotional appearances. When you did, you needed to make every listener who came to see you feel special. I thought a lot about that last part as I scanned social media this week and noticed dozens of photos of fans with Pat.
“It’s very important that you always be approachable,” he said. Those photos are evidence that he walked that talk.
I asked him about his company, Concerts West, which revolutionized the way concerts were set up, presented and enjoyed. It was the first to move sound and lighting equipment with bands every night rather than rent them in each city. That allowed for bands to develop consistency in how they looked and sounded.
That day, we also had the first of many conversations about hydroplane racing and what, if anything, could be done to bring it back to its glory days. Pat was in attendance at the first hydroplane race on Lake Washington on 1951 when he was 16. That race was so popular among locals that it became a yearly event and spawned the annual Seafair summer celebration.
Pat did his first broadcast of the event in 1968 and was a presence in every broadcast for years after. He owned a boat, hired the first female driver (Brenda Jones) in 1981, and shared his love and knowledge of the thunderboats with me. (Later, we worked on several hydroplane racing broadcasts together.)
I soaked it all up. My wife, Renee, later said that sitting in Pat’s cabin in the woods watching him impart decades of wisdom to me was like watching Yoda explain things to Luke Skywalker.
I wasn’t the only one who had a relationship like that with Pat. Dozens of Seattle media members have posted photos with him on social media, each with comments effusive in their thanks for his friendship and wisdom.
Pat tried to help every young media person he met. He was generous in his praise, gentle with criticism, and always had a story to tell, stories that typically involved a small kernel of truth, a little hyperbole, a little of what the Irish call blarney, and usually ended with the storyteller and his listeners laughing.
His 2002 biography, It Was All Just Rock ‘n’ Roll, had hundred of such tales. Here’s Pat staring down the mob when they tried to muscle in on his concert business. Here’s Pat out-foxing the Baltimore police department when they stole money from his briefcase at a concert. Here’s Pat bullying a cruise ship captain in Mexico to alter the ship’s course so he could take 200 KJR listeners deep sea fishing with a friend in Cabo San Lucas. Here’s Pat standing in the sixth-floor elevator lobby with Jimi Hendrix at the Olympic Hotel in downtown Seattle after a concert when Hendrix thought it would be funny to stop elevators on their way up to higher floors and present passengers with an unfiltered view of himself in his birthday suit.
He had a story for every occasion. His unmistakable voice, expressive blue eyes and willingness to bend the truth a bit made each one funny.
About 15 years ago, Renee and I joined Pat and his wife, Stephanie, for dinner at Roche Harbor. After dinner, a woman walked over and looked at Pat for a moment before turning towards me.
“Are you Mike Gastineau?” she asked.
I said yes. She went on to tell me that she was with a couple of friends who were big fans of mine, but too shy to come over and say hello. I told her to thank her friends and to tell them they should please say hello before they left. I was bursting with pride. Here I was, in front of my mentor, doing exactly as he had taught me: Making time for a fan.
She started to walk away, then said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t even introduce myself. My name is Mary.” I smiled at her and said good evening while Pat nodded to her.
“Hello Mary,” he said. “I’m Pat O’Day.”
She was stunned.
“You—you–,” she stammered, “you’re Pat O’Day? Oh, my God. Pat O’Day. I listened to you every day when I was a kid. Every day. Pat O’Day? I can’t believe it.”
Mary turned to me and delivered a knockout punch that left Pat and I laughing for years.
“I’ve gotta be honest, I’ve never heard of you. I have no idea who you are. But he’s Pat O’Day!”
More than 25 years after the peak of his radio career, he was still a big damn deal. A giant in the radio business, a DJ so talented he’s in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and a man I was so fortunate to call my friend.
Thanks Mike – Great tribute to Mr O’Day. I’m glad for you to have had that relationship with him. KJR was everything to me for music in the 60’s, and Pat O’Day – introducing me to my roots in Rock n Roll. I will have to check out his book.
KJR used to pull an audience rating share in the mid-30s. Now no station gets more than a six. Huge influence.
I was a ninth grader at Sunset Junior High near Sea Tac. I gathered every ounce of courage I had and called KJR (WE 7-5100), and asked if Pat O’Day could speak to our class? A day later I was summoned to the office for a phone call. I couldn’t imagine who was calling me at school. It was Pat O’Day— sure he could talk to our class! We picked a date and he showed up on cue, parking his Corvette right in front of the school for everyone to see. He greeted me by name (gasp!) and I walked him through the breezeway and into the class room. I can’t remember what he spoke of (this was 1967), but just hearing that voice resonate in person was magic. A few years later, the KJR all stars played a basketball game at our high school. Again, gathering my courage, I walked up to him, introduced myself and said that he had spoken at my junior high. He shook my hand, said he remembered (undoubtedly he didn’t) and asked me how I was doing in high school? I was in a trance. A few years ago, I read his book. What a joy…..KJR Seattle, Channel 95!….Rest easy, Pat.
Pat made a lot of friends and admirers that way.
My first concert at 13.. Pat O’Day’s 60s teen Spectacular at the Seattle Center Coliseum,
With Paul Revere and the Raiders, Don and the Goodtimes, among others..
Graduated from JP Patches to Pat O’Day, on my transistor radio, RIP
We should add some Stan Boreson, Captain Puget and Brakeman Bill on the side.
I knew O’Day was a key player in the development of modern concerts; I had no idea he was the one who started bands bringing their sound and lighting systems with him. Wow. I remember as a kid in the ’70s when KJR was the station all the young people listened to.
I also remember him in the early ’90s filling in at KING 1090 when it was a talk station, and hearing the king of Seattle music radio having cordial conversations with listeners on current affairs. (This was before the onset of Rush Limbaugh, of course.) That showed the mark of someone who really loved the medium. I wonder what he thought of the over-consolidated state of today’s radio.
As with most consolidations, I’m sure he would lament the bleeding out of personalities, and formatted programming.
A fitting tribute indeed. Thanks Gasman. Good to see your byline again. Hope all is well with you and your family.
Many thanks for a fine article. More, please.
You AND WE were lucky to have Mr. O’Day in this area providing entertainment. He really loved his hydroplanes and he explained the turbines were the end. Nothing like the original noise.
I once described one of his boats, the Miss Rock KZOK, as sounding like a blender full of doorknobs. Took him awhile, but he eventually forgave me.
I used to work with Jack Barrie, one of the Miss Rock drivers. A shop hero, of course.
I first learned of Pat during his KYYX days. Since then I’ve learned of his part in Seattle radio history as well as being a major influence in the Seattle music scene. Wish he could have seen one more hydro race. I hope I can see his photo that’s hanging at the Rock & Roll HOF someday.
There’s a whole generation of kids who only know him from his addiction-rehab program.
I wonder if the absence of Seafair was his final straw.
Well done, Gas!