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Friday, January 25, 2008 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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New online station resurrects Seattle's rich radio tradition

Seattle Times staff reporter

Rainier Radio

Online: www.rainierradio.org

(free registration required)

Sample cuts:For links to sample radio cuts featuring Pat O'Day, The Beatles and Jack Benny, see this story at www.seattletimes.com/localnews.

Listen to the urgency in newscaster Jim Harrison's voice and you might think a war had begun:

"Scores of persons living in the North End were late to work today," he reported, announcing that a car had hit part of the Aurora Bridge. No one was hurt, but get this: "Cars piled up behind the damaged machine for blocks!"

If that riveting traffic report from the 1950s doesn't get your blood pumping, maybe you'd prefer another clip from the same era: Seattle radio legend Pat O'Day announcing a KAYO cash giveaway of — fasten your seat belts — a whopping $9!

Or maybe you'd like to eavesdrop on a backstage session with The Beatles during their 1964 Seattle visit, in which George Harrison predicted the group would stay together "till death do us part."

All those bits of Seattle's radio past — and many more — are now just a few mouse clicks away on a new online radio station called Rainier Radio, introduced Thursday by the Seattle Community Colleges. The nonprofit Web site, www.rainierradio.com, has posted a vast archive of shows, jingles, news, interviews — more than 362 hours so far — and is collecting and cataloging more, dating back to the 1930s.

"This is part of the cultural history of Seattle, and we've been in danger of losing it," said Ross Davis, the general manager. For decades, Davis said, valuable recordings have been lying ignored in basements or attics, or have simply been tossed out.

1964 Beatles interview

At an event to spotlight the station at North Seattle Community College, O'Day, a longtime Seattle DJ and station owner, said, "For me, this is a sigh of relief, to know that these talents and great moments will be saved and stored." O'Day said he expects that broadcasting students now and in the future can learn from, and improve upon, what they hear in these samples.

O'Day, 73, is a major donor of the recordings, along with longtime radio host John Maynard, half of the well-known "Robin & Maynard" team (with Robin Erickson), which appeared on four Seattle radio stations over the course of 22 years.

O'Day provided the clip of the 1964 Beatles session. Before the Fab Four took the stage at the Seattle Center Coliseum, they met with a Seattle press corps still trying to figure out Beatlemania. One reporter asked if it bothered the boys from Liverpool that audiences were screaming so loudly no one could hear the performances.

(Short answer: No.)

The importance of collecting these sound clips is to preserve "the Second Golden Age of radio," Davis said.

The first Golden Age gets more attention. That was in the decades before television, when nationwide audiences tuned in to such favorites as Jack Benny, Fibber McGee and Molly, Superman and the Lone Ranger.

When television took hold in the 1950s, some predicted radio would virtually disappear, Davis said. Instead, the medium switched to a local focus — local programming, personalities, news and an intimate connection with listeners.

"Radio reinvented itself and became stronger than ever," Davis said. But few stations kept good libraries of their programs, and much of what people heard on their tinny transistor radios or dashboard decks has been lost forever.

Curious commercials

On some of the old-old clips on Rainier Radio, the commercials may actually seem stranger than the programs. A Dragnet show from the 1950s opens with a commercial stating flatly that "a medical specialist" has determined that Chesterfield cigarettes cause "no adverse health effects."

Listeners can browse the station's content, which is organized by decade, or listen to streaming broadcasts of randomly selected programs or music. College broadcasting students will add locally produced stories and features to keep the station vibrant.

Davis, 67, is a Northwest native who worked in commercial radio for 10 years and as an independent television producer for more than 20. He joined Seattle Community Colleges in 1996, and in 1998 helped found the colleges' cable and Web television station, SCCtv (www.scctv.net).

Among those at Thursday's kickoff was Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed, who said the Washington State Heritage Center, to be built on the capitol campus in Olympia, will include a link on its Web site to Rainier Radio.

John Sharify, a former KOMO-TV reporter, is taking over for Davis at the colleges next month, when Davis retires. Sharify said he hopes other people will come forward with old recordings to donate.

"This is a lost-and-found story," he said. "These were lost, but we're finding them, and we can share them."

Jack Broom: 206-464-2222

or jbroom@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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