As word trickled out Saturday that Gene Burns had passed away, Pat Thurston was in the process of prepping for her show, which is about the only thing worth listening to on KGO.
Thurston was a close confidante to Burns; often times it was her who had the lowdown on Burns health status which had rapidly deteriorated since his dismissal from the station in December of 2011. Burns had suffered a myriad of issues including several minor strokes. The latest one, which had occurred only days before ultimately cost him his life. Burns died Saturday morning.
Thurston was in high gear on Saturday. Before her show, she popped into Michael Finney's show. Finney got a call from Ronn Owens, who announced Burns death. Immediately, word started getting out and Thurston began planning.
Soon, Owens and John Rothmann arrived at the Cumulus KGO broadcast studios. Ever so careful, Rothmann actually asked Thurston if it were OK for him to talk on the air. It's Cumulus, mind you. Thurston obliged.
Suddenly, a stream of former producers and engineers from the old KGO began arriving and phoned in to offer condolences. Mickey Luckoff called. So did Ray Taliaferro and Christine Craft.
What started out as an impromptu hour or so of reminiscing eventually evolved into a mighty, sometimes cathartic three-hour broadcast wake. It was, ironically, sadly, maybe enlightening, the very best three hours of vintage KGO Radio--you know that old KGO where people actually sounded like something and the fact that it had to take Burns death to create it, spoke volumes.
Periodically, audio outtakes of Burns verbal jousts and work were played. The studio ensemble laughed out loud. Hundreds of e-mails poured in as did callers. At one point, Thurston made the dynamic point of saying that Burns demise might have been accelerated by his dismissal from KGO. "I hope this doesn't get me fired", she said half-kidding. A later arrival to the show, Karel, (who can't help making himself the subject no matter what, ) went one step further, (I'm paraphrasing), "His firing probably cost him his life." I immediately tweeted out that I finally agreed with something Karel said, and to his credit, at least he had the guts to say it. As per usual, later on in his own show he resorted back into typical Karel mode injecting his own professional demise. God forbid he stay the course but oh well.
Give Thurston and producer, Lynn Sloan, credit for assembling the masses. It was remarkable auto-pilot radio that reeked of sincerity and sadness. Again, that it took the death of a former legendary host and colleague to pull it off is both compelling and revealing.
I want to make a few points here.
I'm quite happy and give props to Thurston for pulling off the genuinely decent Saturday night broadcast. At first I was bothered by the fact that Cumulus would benefit, (unknowingly), of a host's dismissal. Sure, I know Cumulus had nothing to do with this ad-libbed broadcast but I was still perplexed. Here you have three hours of some of the best radio, (for a change), and yet only hours later, it would all sink back into the abyss.
On Sunday night, KGO broadcast a three-hour tribute to Burns. The program consisted mostly of highlights of Burns various show themes and his back-and-forth with various callers. It was a nice program. Burn's "Dining Around" show was also lauded with a few of his celebrated pitch outtakes and they were both funny and poignant.
There is no word of a memorial service for Mr. Burns. Should one take place I will mention it in a future blog post.
*Follow me on Twitter