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Tom "Big Daddy" Donahue
May 21, 1928
|Died||April 28, 1975(aged 46)|
|Occupation||Rock 'n' Roll DJ, Record Producer, Concert Promoter|
|Known for||Free-form radio|
Donahue was born Thomas Coman in South Bend, Indiana. His career started in 1949 on the East Coast of the U.S. at WTIP in West Virginia and continued at WIBG in Philadelphia and WINX in Maryland. He moved to San Francisco in 1961 during the payola scandal involving Alan Freed, Dick Clark and several other East Coast DJs. He was brought to San Francisco by Les Crane, former Program Director at WIBG who had been hired to "make a winner out of loser station", KYA. Crane also brought in Peter Tripp from WMGM, New York and "Bobby Mitchell" from WIBG.
While a disc jockey at Top Forty station KYA (now KOIT) in San Francisco, Donahue and Mitchell formed a record label. Autumn Records had subsequent hits with Bobby Freeman and The Mojo Men, and Sly Stone was a staff producer. But Autumn's biggest act was one that Donahue discovered, produced, recorded, and managed, The Beau Brummels, which he later sold to Warner Bros. Records. He also opened a psychedelic nightclub (Mothers on Broadway in San Francisco), and produced concerts at the Cow Palace, the Oakland Auditorium and Candlestick Park with his partner Mitchell (later known as Bobby Tripp in L.A. radio; real name Michael Guerra, d. 1968). Together, they produced the last public appearance of The Beatles on August 29, 1966 at Candlestick Park.
Donahue wrote a 1967 Rolling Stone article titled "AM Radio Is Dead and Its Rotting Corpse Is Stinking Up the Airwaves", which also lambasted the Top Forty format. He subsequently took over programming for a foreign-language station KMPX and changed it into what is considered to be America's first alternative "free-form" radio station. The station played album tracks chosen by the DJs on the largely ignored FM band. This one move introduced progressive radio to the U.S.
In 1969, besides his roles as a DJ, station manager, and live show producer, he also managed Leigh Stephens (former lead guitarist of the San Francisco psychedelic rock group Blue Cheer), Micky Waller (a British drummer who played in the Steampacket, Brian Auger, Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & The Trinity, The Jeff Beck Group, 1968-69), and Pete Sears in the band Silver Metre, and in 1970 Stoneground. Donahue, and his DJ wife Raechel also took over programming of free-form radio stations KMET and KPPC-FM in Los Angeles. In 1972, he moved to the role of general manager at KSAN, where he encouraged DJs to play music from different eras and genres interspersed with interesting commentary.
A re-created example of Donahue's DJ show can be found on the album The Golden Age Of Underground Radio.
Donahue died from a heart attack in 1975. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 as a non-performer, one of only three disc jockeys to receive that honor. In 2006, Donahue was inducted into the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame as a member of the first class of broadcasters enshrined.
Donahue was inducted into the Rock Radio Hall of Fame in the "Legends of Rock Radio-Programming" category in 2014 for his work at KSAN and KMPX.