- Allen W Kepler
THE FATHER OF THE SMOOTH JAZZ RADIO REVOLUTION HAS DIED
It has been said that success has many fathers and that is true for the Smooth Jazz radio format. If Bob O'Connor was not the "Father" of the format, he certainly inspired all of the others who may attempt to lay claim to the title. In the mid 1980's, Bob's passion and knowledge of music created a radio station that turned heads from Los Angeles to New York to San Francisco. Everyone was talking about 98.1 KIFM San in Diego. Something was happening there that was different from the 'normal' radio choices. Music without singing, instrumental pop, contemporary jazz, whatever you wanted to call it - this was fundamentally different from what any commercial radio station had ever succeeded with in a major radio market. The radio station had thousands of loyal followers and the ratings success caught the attention of radio ownership across the US. Two of those fans included my sister Pam Meredith and her husband Greg and that's where my "Bob" story begins.
In early 1985 I went to visit my sister in San Diego. Pam and Greg picked me up at the airport and when the car started I distinctly remember hearing Grover Washington Jr.'s "Winelight". I asked; "Is this a tape?". They quickly replied, "No, this is the coolest radio station 98.1 KIFM." I listened the entire time I visited. Having studied music and media in college, I was a huge fan of this style of music and little did I know that Bob O-Connor, and this one week of my life would change it forever. I went back to my home in Kansas and told everyone that I was moving to San Diego and getting in to radio.
By the time I got there and started working at KIFM in late 1985, Bob had moved on and started his consultancy. His presence around the radio station was still felt and EVERYONE LOVED BOB. Then, in August of 1987 I was changing over on-air shifts with night host Kelly Cole and she showed me the RADIO and RECORDS headline "Bob O'Connor to program WNUA in Chicago." I had to go, so I packed everything I owned into my small car and drove from San Diego to Chicago. I wasn't stalking Bob. I promise! I had another job, but figured this would be an amazing opportunity should the other job not pan out. Long story short, Bob hired me in February of 1988 as a board operator for their night program "Lites Out Chicago" hosted by Chicago radio legend Danae Alexander. Bob was an immediate friend to me and we ended up living just a couple of buildings away from each other in downtown Chicago. I even babysat his daughter Jenna. Bob and his close friend Michael Fischer brought me into the programming department and taught me how to take my passion for the music and turn that into a radio station that many others could also enjoy. We had only a couple of years together there, but I always look back on those great times and I am grateful for them.
Bob O'Connor was a kind and gentle man. He was confident, yet humble. He inspired others and was charismatic without even trying. In fact, I always felt that Bob was a bit shy. Often, I shared the podium with him speaking on panels at radio conventions - and then afterwards and during the weekend of events, we'd jokingly ask around "Have you seen Bob?". Bob O'Connor sightings were always a highlight at the various industry conventions.
Through the work of many, Bob's inspiration spawned a radio format that dominated ratings throughout the 1990's and into the 2000's. If you are a fan of jazz, smooth jazz, contemporary jazz (or whatever you would like to call it) and have listened to the music on a radio station or stream - please think a good thought and God's speed for my friend and mentor Bob O'Connor today. My life, and maybe yours, would not be the same today were it not for his vision and passion for music.