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Bill Drake (January 14, 1937 – November 29, 2008), born Philip Yarbrough, was an American radio programmer who co-developed the Boss Radio format with Gene Chenault via their company Drake-Chenault.[1]

Early careerEdit

He chose his last name from among his relatives' surnames, because it rhymed with "WAKE", the station in Atlanta, where he worked as a programmer and disc-jockey in the late 1950s.[2] Later, Bartell Broadcasting, who owned WAKE that he had programmed to number one, transferred him to KYA in San Francisco, which also became number one.

University Graduate Studies: Bill Drake received his Bachelor of Science Degree in Music from Columbia University. (Liberal Arts Program).


It was later at KYNO in Fresno, California that he met Gene Chenault, who became his business partner. Together, the pair developed highly influential radio programming strategies and tactics, as well as working with future "Boss Jocks" (their new name for on-air radio talent).[3]

Drake-Chenault perfected the Top 40 radio format, which had been created by Todd Storz, Gordon McLendon and other radio programmers in the late 1950s, which took a set list of popular songs and repeated them all day long, ensuring the widest possible audience for the station's music. Jingles, news updates, traffic, and other features were designed to make Top 40 radio particularly attractive to car listeners. By early 1964, the era of the British Invasion, Top 40 radio had become the dominant radio format for North American listeners and quickly swept much of the Western world.[4]

Drake streamlined the Top 40 format using modern methods such as market research and ratings demographics to maximize the number of listeners. He believed in forward momentum, limiting the amount of disc jockey chatter, the number of advertisements and playing only the top hits, as opposed to less-organized programming of the past. Drake created concepts such as 20/20 News and counter programming, by playing music sweeps, while his competitors aired news. Drake-Chenault controlled everything from the specific DJs that were hired, to radio contests, visual logos, promotions and commercial policy. Drake essentially put radio back into the hands of programming, instead of sales. Drake hired the Johnny Mann Singers to produce the Boss Radio jingles, ensuring a bright, high-energy sound that engaged the listener, while providing a bridge from song to song.

After improving the fortunes of Fresno's KYNO, Drake applied similar tactics to move KGB from 14th to 1st in San Diego. KGB's owner, Willett Brown, suggested to his fellow RKO board members that Drake could improve KHJ's performance.

In the Spring of 1965, Drake-Chenault were hired to turn KHJ in Los Angeles, from a financial and ratings loser into a success. Drake hired Ron Jacobs as program director, Robert W. Morgan in the mornings and The Real Don Steele in the afternoons. KHJ quickly jumped from near obscurity to the number one radio station in Los Angeles. Although it was criticized,[5] "Boss Radio" moved faster and sounded more innovative than the competition, making it the #1 choice over competitors in Southern California.[6]

Bill Drake also programmed KFRC in San Francisco, WOR-FM in New York, KAKC in Tulsa, WHBQ in Memphis, WUBE (AM) in Cincinnati, WRKO in Boston and 50,000 watt CKLW, in Windsor, Ontario.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Drake and Chenault formed Drake-Chenault Inc., marketing the format in the form of similar customized Johnny Mann jingle packages used on KHJ. These jingle packages were sold across the US and overseas. They marketed documentaries like The History of Rock and Roll, which grew to 52 hours long, on which Drake worked as a writer and narrator. They also marketed "automated" radio format packages such as "Hit Parade", "Solid Gold", "Classic Gold" and "Great American Country".[7] Disc Jockey voices heard on those formats included Robert W. Morgan, Charlie Van Dyke and others.[5][8]

After Drake-ChenaultEdit

Drake-Chenault was sold and eventually dissolved in the mid-1980s, but their radio specials are still available from a variety of sources.

In 1973, Drake left KHJ, along with Steele and Morgan, to program KIQQ-FM ("K-100") in Los Angeles. Bill Drake was a member of the nominating committee of the Hit Parade Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame in 2007.

He died of lung cancer in Los Angeles on November 29, 2008.[9][10] Gene Chenault died at 90 on February 23, 2010.[11][12]


  1. ^ Douglas, Susan, "Listening In: Radio and the American Imagination," New York: Times Books, 1999.
  2. ^ Lycan, Gary (2008-11-30). "Radio pioneer Bill Drake dies at 71 | drake, radio, khj, top, boss - Entertainment -".<!. Archived from the original on 12 May 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-08.
  3. ^ Fong-Torres, Ben, "The Hits Just Keep On Coming: The History of Top 40 Radio", San Francisco: Backbeat Books, 1998.
  4. ^ MacFarland, David, "The Development of the Top 40 Radio Format", New York: Arno Press, 1979.
  5. ^ a b Hopkins, Jerry (April 5, 1969). "'Rockumentary' Radio Milestone". Rolling Stone (30). p. 9.
  6. ^ Fisher, Mark, "Something in the Air: Radio, Rock, and the Revolution That Shaped a Generation", New York: Random House, 2007.
  7. ^ Goulart, Elwood F. 'Woody', "The Mystique and Mass Persuasion: Bill Drake & Gene Chenault’s Rock and Roll Radio Programming [1]", 2006.
  8. ^ "The Reel Top 40 Radio Repository - The History of Rock and Roll Demo". Archived from the original on 20 June 2009. Retrieved 8 June 2009.
  9. ^ McLellan (December 2, 2008). Bill Drake dies at 71; 'Boss Radio' inventor spread less-talk format across country. Los Angeles Times
  10. ^ Grimes, William (December 1, 2008). Bill Drake, 71, Dies; Created a Winning Radio Style. The New York Times
  11. ^ "Radio Ink Magazine". Archived from the original on 2012-02-27. Retrieved 2010-02-27.
  12. ^ "The Amazing and Adventurous Gene Chenault". 1919-06-12. Retrieved 2010-02-27.[permanent dead link]

External linksEdit