Dr. Don Rose
WFIL Publicity Photo

Famous 56 Air Personality Dr. Don Rose has passed away in his California home on Wednesday, March 30th. He was named disc jockey of the year when he was here in Philly at WFIL Radio. He won again at KFRC-AM in San Francisco. Rose passed away in his sleep at his Concord house after months of fighting pneumonia. He had bypass surgery, recently, in June of 2001.

He was a master of wild sound effects and one-liners. Born in 1934 in North Platte, Nebraska, Don Rosenberg got his first taste of broadcasting at age 15. Seemed he needed $200 to go to a Boy Scout National Jamboree in Valley Forge, right near us Philadelphians. The area newspaper ran a contest which Don won. He would report for the paper on the details of the Jamboree.

The local radio station KODY (Don lived in Buffalo Bill Cody's hometown) offered him a chance to report for the station instead for the same amount of money. Don said, "I was a terrible speller, so I decided to go for radio. I swear, that's the only reason." He even got to record an interview with Dwight Eisenhower before he was President.

Dr. Don majored in accounting at the University of Nebraska and worked at the campus radio station KNUS. Don always said that no one but him noticed that the call letters spelled backwards were SUNK.

His first real broadcasting gig was at KWBE in Beatrice, Nebraska. Then he went to KLMN in Lincoln. In 1955, while in his senior year at college, he had an offer from KOIL in Omaha. He quit school and took the job. The station's owner, Don Burden, fired Rose after only four weeks. College was gone and so was his radio job. But it wasn't a complete loss. Chick Crabtree, the Program Director said upon hiring Don that the last name was too long. They changed Rosenberg to Rose. His initials were DR, and Crabtree had a thought. He called the kid, Dr. Don... Dr. Don Rose.

Next he went to KTSA in San Antonio. He lasted a month there also. He headed back to Nebraska and KRNY in Kearney. A year and a quarter later, he was fired again. Unable to find broadcast work, he found employment with the Union Pacific line pounding railroad spikes into the road bed.

Finally, he landed back in radio at KTUL in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Then it was on to KMT (AM) in Iowa (Fort Dodge), where he met his wife Kae. They were married for 45 years. In Iowa, he landed morning drive where his one-liners punctuated with cowbells and moos started to draw a fan base. Then he went to WEBC in Duluth, Minnesota in 1959. He was there for 5 years and got to be Program Director. He tried to find a good morning man but couldn't so he decided to do it himself.

Dr. Don told corny jokes, got a cowbell or two and generally went crazy. His WEBC program would eventually evolve into what he'd do in at WFIL. Next came Atlanta and WQXI. While he was hired to do 9 am to noon, he was quickly moved to morning drive. Atlanta was his. He was number one.

In 1968, Famous 56's Program Director Jay Cook hired Don for Philly's wake-up guy. Four years later, he suffered a heart attack and was off air from October 3, 1972 until the following June. However, his top-rated morning show went into good hands when in a stroke of genius, WFIL hired former WIBG legend (and Broadcast Pioneers member) Joe Niagara. The Rockin' Bird was light, tight and bright and the ratings stayed high.

In 1973, he was named Disc Jockey of the Year by Billboard Magazine. While in Los Angeles to accept the award, he ran into rock radio guru Paul Drew. One thing led to another and Drew offered Rose mornings at KFRC in San Francisco.

Dr. Don Rose was here at WFIL Radio from 1968 to 1973. While here in Philly, he also hosted a kids show on local TV, Channel 48, WKBS-TV. Then he went on to San Francisco and the Bay area. His morning program lasted for ten top-rated years.

In 1980, Dr. Don Rose purchased a boat and decided he was going to sail all the way to Hawaii, a 3 week trip. Well, to make a long story short, months later they (Don and his crew of five) sailed off into the sunset. Twenty days later, Don yelled out that there was land. They had made it.

They jumped out of the boat and congratulated themselves and took a stroll along the beach. About a half-mile later, they came across a sign that said:


They ran like crazy to the boat and pushed it back into the ocean and jumped in. Only after they were in the craft did they notice the entire vessel was encircled by sharks. The next day, Don's daughter Kelly spotted land and a more friendly sign, "Port of Honolulu."

After leaving KFRC, he joined his son Jay at KKIS-FM and then drifted over to KIOI-FM where two months into his gig, he suffered a heart attack and had to quit. He spent 33 years in the business.

Dr. Donald D. Rose was a deeply religious person. After his heart surgery in 2001, he said: I wouldn't be here today without the grace of God, and without the prayers of the faithful. You are my brothers and sisters. You are my friends. And, "Friends are angels who lift us to our feet when our wings have trouble remembering how to fly." His favorite Bible verse was Psalm 34:1, "I will always praise the Lord, no matter what happens." He was active in his church, enjoyed Bible Study, and loved playing Scrabble and Cribbage with wife Kae. Don and his wife had five children and nine grandchildren.

Don Rose was a true broadcast pioneer. He had many accomplishments. He was top-rated. He was handsome and smart. But what really brought Dr. Don into our hearts was himself. He woke us up. He played all the hits, but the most important thing he ever did was to make us smile.

On his last day on WFIL, Friday, October 5, 1973, he read something that a listener had sent in. The message was: Once in awhile, we meet someone who stands out from the rest of the flock. Someone who flies higher and faster and further than we ever thought possible. It helps us to do the same. That someone was you, Dr. Don Rose. In 2008, Don Rose was inducted into the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia's "Hall of Fame."

From the official archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
Written and researched by Broadcast Pioneers member Gerry Wilkinson
© 2008, Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
All Rights Reserved

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