Thursday, August 30, 2012

On the Night John Lennon was Murdered: The Old KGO and Russ Coughlin

Russ Coughlan

I was thinking about the old KGO Radio the other day.

Oddly, a story about John Lennon killer, Mark David Chapman, was the subject matter.

I vividly recall the night of the murder, December 8, 1980. I was attending the Stevie Wonder concert at the Oakland Arena. A security guard in the back office had Monday Night Football on and like millions of others, I heard Howard Cosell utter those dreaded words, "John Lennon has been shot."

I immediately headed home and turned on KGO. Russ Coughlin was hosting. Coughlin admitted he wasn't much of a Lennon fan, but acknowledged his influence and impact on the pop music scene and culture.

Most of all, with a nation and much of the world in total shock, Coughlin provided a forum; a public wake on the radio, if you will, for people to grieve. To commiserate. Like many, I was numb and felt complete sadness. Coughlin, who died a few years ago, was the perfect host on a most unfortunate evening. He allowed callers to vent and express their sorrow over what had just took place outside the Dakota residence in Central Park West where Lennon was gunned down. It was a tough show to do and Coughlin handled it with extreme class and dignity. It was one of his most signature shows.

Moreover, Coughlin, in particular, and KGO, in general, provided the epitome of a community service. An entire nation was in shock. The Lennon tragedy dominated the news that evening and naturally it was the lead story on TV and radio. Here in the Bay Area, like in NY, hundreds gathered outside a makeshift memorial and sang "Imagine."

But mostly, I remember callers, many of them, crying, calling into Coughlin's KGO show that night and reacting to the Lennon murder. It's something that I will always remember. Thank God we had a KGO that tragic December evening.

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14 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing these memories of a tragic night. I was working swingshift at the time, and just before I got off, someone said something about John Lennon, but I didn't hear what it was about. Then when I got home, I turned on the tv and that old overnight talk show was on with an old interview with John Lennon. [I forgot the name of the host, but he had a national talk show, and he used to smoke like a chimney on the show] Anyway, it was a great show with the old interview and it really helped with the tragic news of the night.

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  2. 9:21, I think you're referring to Tom Snyder on NBC pre-dating Letterman.

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    1. Yeah, that's who it was. I couldn't think of his name! Thanks for letting me know! 8-)

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  3. I still have this Russ show on tape somewhere

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  4. the beauty of the old KGO was the *sense of community* when news was truly breaking, when 'breaking' was not just a tease. if there was an earthquake, for example, people would call in from their various locations describing what they felt during the quake, assessing any damage and estimating it's magnitude. quickly we would have a sense of what was really happening before any 'official' news came down the pike.

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  5. I remember I was covering a game in Seattle for the radio station I worked for in that town. It was a Sonics' game, with about 25,000 people attending at the Kingdome. At halftime, everyone rushed into the media room to watch the single TV that was carrying Monday Night Football. Got to give Howard Cosell credit where it's due on this one, as he was the first to break the story and he had the reporter's
    sense to realize that this was something you couldn't just gloss over because you were broadcasting an NFL game. He did a good job that night. Hard to believe that was 32 years ago!

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  6. The larger point is that the old KGO provided a place to gather after major events.
    Not today, I think.

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  7. How times have changed. Can you imagine a news story as big as John Lennon being shot breaking on Monday Night Football today! And yes I still recall hearing Howard say those words.

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  8. I remember a k101 woman jockey say John Lennon was shot "The poor slob" she added..something like that And she laughed. It might have been that female shock jock who also was a good looking red haired woman..I forget her name.

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    1. Or "That poor schmuck"..in that line's direction.....And I think it was a giggler. Dark humor live.

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  9. Old KGO was great, but so was most radio back then.
    With the internet we now know more news sooner almost in real time, than we did back in 'the good olde days'.
    Frankly I prefer the interactive nature of today's news. Radio today is more 'info on the go'. As soon as I'm home or at work it is cable tv and the internet.

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  10. Who is Mark David Chapman? Everyone knows Stephen King killed John Lennon!

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  11. I recall going through multiple earthquakes in San Francisco, tuning to KGO, and hearing Bernie Ward's gravelly voice. It was a known voice, and it was comforting. I know he's a pariah to many, but in those times he was the best at offering comfort, commiseration, and information. He would have Bruce Bolt of Berkeley immediately on the line to give stats, then go back to frightened callers who just wanted the community, and to share stories. This was an invaluable community service.

    This is why so many mourn the death of KGO.

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  12. I remember listening to Russ Coughlan on the night that John Lennon was assassinated. I couldn't believe how unsympathetic Russ was to people's grief. He didn't understand Lennon's popularity and questioned the man's songwriting skill. His complaint--the lyrics to "Just Like Starting Over" didn't rhyme ("Our life, together, is so precious, together . . ."). Good grief, couldn't Russ have just said, "Rest in peace"? I still remember the radio broadcast to this day.

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