Bill Drake, born Philip Yarbrough, grew up in Donalsonville, Georgia and began his radio career at WMGR in Bainbridge, while in high school. He went to college on a basketball scholarship at Georgia Southern in Statesboro and worked at WWNS. In the late 1950’s he moved to Atlanta and worked at WAKE, as a Disc Jockey. His name was changed to Drake because the station wanted a name that rhymed with the call letters. He later became Program Director of the station. WAKE was hugely successful and in 1961 Bartell Broadcasting transferred him to KYA, their San Francisco station, which he programmed. KYA also became number one.
In 1962, after KYA had been sold, he was contacted by Gene Chenault, owner of KYNO in Fresno, California, who offered him a two station deal including KSTN in Stockton, which was owned by a friend of Chenault’s. Both stations quickly became number one, with KYNO getting an incredible average share of 52% of the audience from 6am to midnight. Obviously, more than all 17 other radio stations combined. Drake and Chenault then formed Drake-Chenault Enterprises, Inc. .
In 1964 they went to KGB in San Diego. Drake took KGB from 14th to 1st and an average share of 21.8 in three months. Willett Brown, who owned KGB, had an old college friend, Tom O’Neal, who was Chairman of the Board of General Tire, which owned RKO General Broadcasting. Willett, who was also on the Board of Directors (and one of General Tires biggest stockholders) told O’Neal about his San Diego station. O’Neal flew out to Los Angeles, hired Drake-Chenault and pulled KHJ out of the RKO Broadcast Division to prevent any possible corporate interference. KHJ was called “BOSS RADIO” and was promoted as the “MUCH MORE MUSIC” station. It too was #1 in a matter of months.
Next, in 1966, was RKO’s San Francisco station KFRC. It also went #1 in a matter of months, knocking off KYA which Drake had programmed four years earlier. At that point, Drake was given all of the other RKO radio stations, which consisted of WRKO in Boston, WOR-FM New York, CKLW Windsor/Detroit, and WHBQ in Memphis. All had incredible ratings and revenue success. Drake was featured in numerous mainstream magazines articles including Time, Newsweek, True, Look, Entertainment World, and many other publications.
By the late 60’s and early 70’s Drake-Chenault had become a massive organization offering Sales and Programming Consulting Services, including the famous Johnny Mann jingles and totally automated packages in six different formats, with over 350 full time radio stations.
The Drake-Chenault Special Features Division won numerous awards and included the widely acclaimed 52 hour radio special “The History of Rock and Roll”, which Drake conceived in 1969 and aired on all the RKO stations. A re-written and updated version in 1978 was narrated by Drake and has been aired on over 400 radio stations.
Drake sold his interest in Drake-Chenault in 1983. He and Chenault had been partners for 21 years. Drake-Chenault eventually dissolved in the mid 1980’s, but their Radio Specials are still available from a variety of sources.
Bill Drake passed away November 29, 2008 in Boss Angeles.
Click To see Drake Chenault Brochure
Bill Drake discussing production of The History of Rock and Roll
with Gray Theroux and Mark Ford
Courtesy of Bill Tabb for the exclusive use of the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame
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Life Celebration program and audio tribute courtesy of Jhani Kaye
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