Remembering WCFL’s Ken Draper


Legendary Radio Programmer Ken Draper passed away this week at age 89. Jim Hampton, who partnered with Draper throughout the 80’s to produce syndicated programs for ABC, CBS and RKO Networks, plus thousands of radio stations around the world; talked with Radio Ink about his friend and colleague of more than 50 years.

Radio Ink: How did you and Ken meet?
Jim Hampton: I met him in1969. I was a DJ in Detroit when I found out he was coming in to program 50,000-watt WCAR. I wanted a job, but I was having a hard time making a connection with him. I heard he was at a convention in Atlanta, and feeling adventurous, I flew down and got a meeting with him. He hired me to be head of production and imaging for WCAR.

After working for Ken in Detroit for a couple of years, I got an offer to go to WLS. He wasn’t happy about it, but I told him I was doing it to get more creds and be more valuable. I put in some time at WLS but then Ken convinced me to join him at Programming DB in Los Angeles with Chuck Blore. I ended up creating a lot of things with them.

Radio Ink: The 60’s radio battle between WLS and WCFL in Chicago is legendary and Ken was at the helm of WCFL from 1965 to 1968. Yet, you never had a chance to work with him there?
Jim Hampton: The only thing I regret is that I never got a chance to work with him at CFL. Instead of me he hired Larry Lujack….I was a little upset about it, but I guess I can’t complain that much.

Radio Ink: Did Ken Draper have a ‘Midas Touch’ when he took on the daunting task of making WCFL a contender in Chicago radio?
Jim Hampton: When he took over, WCFL was owned by its namesake-the Chicago Federation of Labor. He figured if he could just get one half of WLS audience he would be doing incredibly well. So, a lot of the things he pioneered at KYW in Cleveland along with some of the people that were there; he brought them to town. Management gave him carte blanche.

He believed in the talent; he wasn’t going to hire somebody and then tell him to shut up. He wanted them to be who they were…he wanted them to perform. To put on a show. You couldn’t just do a record hop…he sent all of the guys out together to the events, to represent the station. He was very, very competitive.

He believed that News could be just as exciting as any record that was played, if it was presented properly. They had a huge News Department, it was unionized and paid well. He showcased the News and made it into something really important.

Radio Ink: And of course, he had Chickenman!
Jim Hampton: He brought Dick Orkin from Cleveland to Chicago, because he wanted to have a feature on everybody’s show, so he made Orkin Head of Production and Chickenman was born. This was all happening during the Batman craze, which WLS was hooked into with jingles and staging and such.

The success of Chickenman was one of the reasons Ken got fired from WCFL. He made a deal with a syndication company for Chickenman. It was one of the most successful syndicated programs ever, on more than a thousand stations in the US. That got him on the wrong side of the union and that became a point of difficulty. So, he left and continued with his LA consulting company.

Radio Ink: Ken Draper’s move from Chicago to Los Angeles actually put him on a different career path; right?
Jim Hampton: He got out of radio and became a journalist. He got involved with the neighborhood councils in LA. They are like mini councils that interact with city council about issues in the neighborhoods. The city mandated them and there are 99 of them now. He started the first one and helped create the charter for the councils.

I worked with him to help him create and publish ‘CityWatch-Politics. Perspectives. Participation.’ It started as a publication and it’s now a website that has been going for about 20 years. It’s very influential and pisses off a lot of people in city government. So, he went from a Radio Programmer to an activist journalist who wanted to promote people getting involved in government.

Radio Ink: What do you think Ken would like to be remembered for?
Jim Hampton: Ken would feel his greatest accomplishment was what he did with CityWatch because he was influencing government and helping and supporting getting things changed for the better in LA. He was very passionate person who believed at getting involved.

But of course, he was known to most of the world for WCFL. It was like his hit record. He would think-‘Sure I did that…but I’m not a singer anymore’, that was how he looked at it. He thought it was amusing. He was proud of it. He thought ‘Wow these people, 40 or 50 years later are still interested in WCFL’.

Thanks to Jim Hampton for remembering his friend Ken Draper with Radio Ink. Jim Hampton is the creator of a YouTube Series “Jim Hampton’s Radio Recall”, and he has produced a wonderful program on Ken Draper and the Legendary WCFL.

You can View It Here.


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