The sun had set on another hot August day in the Mile High, and with heat rising into cooler air, city lights were flickering as far as I could see when I crested an elevated stretch of the 6th Avenue freeway, headed east toward home in Littleton. Already nostalgic from my last shift at KLAK, a DJ on KBPI casually made the announcement: Elvis was dead in Memphis. Between radio jobs, I had no immediate outlet to talk about Elvis, to honor his legacy or play his music.
Now more than ever, I had to continue with my own dreams. After more than two years at KLAK, I had an opportunity with a relatively new station, broadcasting in FM stereo, and it was playing Top 40, my favorite music. I would have plenty of time, I thought, to show my appreciation for the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Boundless words have been written about Elvis, so I won’t try to compete with them or the nearly 100 books. Below, however, are a few tidbits that are pretty much common knowledge to any casual fan, intertwined with some that even a dedicated follower might not know.
Visitors to his birthplace in Tupelo, Mississippi are more than 100,000 annually, just two miles away 20,000 of them also visit Tupelo Hardware where his mother, Gladys, bought him his first guitar at age 11.
Visitors can and do stand on the floor (the actual worn floor) where Elvis stood while his mother handed him his first musical instrument. It cost $7.75.
“Many people who stop by here become very emotional,” said Howard Hite, the store’s official host. “A couple came all the way from Brazil. After I told the story, I saw tears in their eyes and the man asked. ‘You don’t mind if I give you a hug, do you?’ ” Hite complied. (Quote from TomBigbee Country Magazine). As for Graceland, it attracts more than three-quarters of a million, the second most visited home in the US, behind only the White House.
Early on, Elvis, Scotty, and Bill, failed an audition for the TV program “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts.”
Elvis reportedly drove his Cadillac on the gravel road by the Swan’s back country dogtrot house in June 1955.
His first Las Vegas engagement in 1956 was unsuccessful and cut short.
LBJ visited Elvis on the set of Spinout, in the late 1960s.
Pat Boone often joined Elvis and other stars in touch football. Elvis showed promise for football in HS, but his mother forbade it for fear he would be injured.
Elvis wore a size 11 shoe.
Elvis appeared in a public service announcement asking young people to get vaccinated for Polio. It was a huge success.
Elvis bought FDR’s former yacht and later donated it to the St. Jude’s Hospital for Children.
Elvis heard the Jordanaires on the Grand Ole Opry and was able to meet them backstage after a show in Memphis and told them, “If I ever get a recording contract with a major company, I want you guys to back me up.” They wished him well, but never expected to hear from him or of him again. We know what happened later, Elvis used the Jordanaires for the next 14 years.
The day after Elvis’ first RCA session Jan 10, 1956, a producer called Chet Adkins (renown guitarist) wanting him to do a session with a new “probably wouldn’t be around-long-kid named Elvis Presley, with oily hair, pink shirt … black trousers.” Three months later Heartbreak Hotel was the #1 song in the U.S.A.
Elvis was burned in effigy in Nashville and St. Louis after his second appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956.
Elvis’ first Grammy was awarded for Gospel music.
Aloha From Hawaii, a live satellite broadcast around the world, Jan. 1973 was the most-watched TV program ever, with an estimated audience of 1.5 billion!
Quotes by Elvis from Esquire Magazine:
“ I never tasted alcohol.”
“My mother goes to town, and she buys anything she wants, which makes me feel real good.”
“When I’m pushed to a certain point, I have a very bad temper.”
“I’ve had a pretty good lesson in human nature. It’s more important to try to surround yourself with people who can give you a little happiness because you pass through this life once. You don’t come back for an encore.”
Caroline Kennedy and James Brown saw Elvis’ body in his casket, including about 30,000 others. At Forrest Hill Cemetery, it was wheeled to corridor Z of the mausoleum and placed into the crypt. It took 100 vans about five hours to take the flowers from Graceland to the interment site, according the TomBigbee Country Magazine.
Elvis’ last night was not unusual, according to friend Jim Browder, “Elvis stayed up all night. He entertained friends, played the piano and sang, and even played racquetball in the early morning, just before retiring around 8 a.m. His fiancée Ginger Alden, was staying with him, but sleeping in a different room. She was the last person to see him alive, and she was the person who found him on his bathroom floor at 2 p.m.” (Although this is the generally accepted account of Elvis’ last day, there are variations of the story; this is from the TomBigbee Country Magazine near his hometown, that has been reliable in the past.)
Only a few hours before his death, according to the magazine, step-brother Rick Stanley heard Elvis recite a Christian prayer, “Dear Lord, please show me the way, I’m tired and confused, and I need your help.”
Some of my all-time favorite Elvis songs include Follow That Dream; Wild In The Country; I'll Remember You; Can't Help Falling In Love; Are You Lonesome Tonight; Wooden Heart; Don't Be Cruel; Love Me Tender; Kentucky Rain; The Wonder Of You; Please Don't Stop Loving Me and on and on.
As for my new job, moving to KBPI was a minor gamble for me; and even though she was one of the top pop stations in the market, everybody at the other rock stations was anxious to move up in this very competitive format. I would be on-air just ten hours a week, 10am to 3pm, Saturday and Sunday. But I wanted to be a rock jock in Denver like, seemingly, everybody else.
With a short break between jobs, I was anxious to and did more exploring of scenic Colorado in my new 1977 gold VW® Scirocco with ski racks, sunroof, FM Stereo, and cassette player. Eventually, I had a turbocharger installed. It was a great ride and, after the forced induction, fast. I surprised lots of Datsun® Z cars who tried to keep up with me. I began wearing seat belts when I got the little Scirocco, and have been using them in all my vehicles ever since. It became mandatory in the state ten years later.
It was a great time to be in Colorado. The Denver Broncos were emerging as a powerhouse in the NFL and were immensely popular in a vast region, and eventually made it to the Super Bowl before I left the Mile High City. The Denver Nuggets professional basketball team had just entered the NBA and attracted major talent.
An NHL Hockey team — the only major league franchise within a thousand miles — the Colorado Rockies (now Avalanche) were winning and gaining large audiences.
The capital city had its own major league rodeo franchise — The world champion Denver Stars.* The University of Denver Pioneers Hockey team, winner of several NCAA Division I titles, was a perennial contender with reasonable ticket prices. The DU ski team were winners of a record 24 National Championships since its inception in 1954.
It was no secret the Rocky Mountains around Denver were renowned around the world as a hip locale with a dozen ski resorts, many of them word-class like Aspen and Vail. In the Rockies, the sun shone more than most places with similar climates. It was great for people who loved the outdoors. In the fall, the Aspen leaves were captivating. Colorado was truly beautiful.
I learned to ski in Colorado at the best resorts in the country. I wasn’t a natural, and I did a lot of “snowplowing” before I got my balance and the confidence to ski the black diamond runs.
Then it was just me, thousands of feet above the pedestrian earth, closer to heaven floating on virgin white powder, gliding like an eagle — soaring in freedom. Rocky Mountain high, indeed.
*Transporting the livestock to and from cities like San Antonio, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Kansas City, and other venues proved too costly. I was their promotions and advertising manager and was owed lots of dollars when the Stars went into bankruptcy after just a few seasons.
It was time for me to Rock ‘n’ Roll — literally — Denver’s Don Swan Rocks the Rockies on 107.9 KBPI playing Beast of Burden; Do ‘Ya Think I’m Sexy; Roxanne; Werewolves of London and other great hits. Denver radio was a cutthroat enterprise. There were at least 50 or more DJs here and around the country vying for every position that might become available.
DENVER’S DON SWAN 🎧 NOW ON
I was the deep-voiced rock jock on KBPI every Sat and Sun, 10 am to 3 pm in one of the most competitive and coveted markets in the Country. I became popular on-air and well-received at KBPI spinning You Light Up My Life; Hot Blooded; Life’s Been Go To Me So Far; Too Much Heaven; Tragedy; Bad Girls and all the hottest hits of 1978-9.
Results from below show how DJs (like me) can make a difference:
Oct/Nov 1977 ABR Survey results from KLAK memo for Don Swan Show:
Before Swan leaves KLAK:
Both surveys for 10am-3pm
Oct/Nov 1978 ABR Survey results from KBPI memo for Don Swan Show:
After Swan arrives at KBPI
As a personality on The Rock of the Rockies, I was involved with popular bands, introducing some at concerts or somehow connected.
They included Jimmy Buffett, The Eagles, Neil Diamond, Michael Murphy, Doc Severson with the Denver Symphony, Seals & Crofts, America and Carol King. Then there were the Four Tops, Johnny Rivers, Tina Turner and Dionne Warrick at the Complex, Denver’s Cow Palace, Red Rocks, and other venues. Don’t forget The Captain & Tennille with Muskrat Love; one of the worst songs of 1976? Guess I didn’t know my audience as well as I thought, it went Gold.
As of me mugging with celebrities, I didn’t think you needed to see that many pictures of yours truly. I may appreciate their music or acting, but after congregating with plenty of luminaries or famous people, they are just not a big deal to me. There could also be issues with publishing celebrity photos (in a book potentially for sale) even though they are public figures, I would probably need a release. I don’t have such pictures hanging on the wall of my ego room either.
There were lots of fans who were loyal to “Denver’s Don Swan on 107.9-KBPI.” But how long could it last?
You probably remember the test of the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS) on the radio in the 70s and later. Here’s how it worked: The announcer inserts a cart that begins with twenty seconds of a very distinctive tone of beeps and chirps, a sine wave of 960Hz. Then the prerecorded voice announces, “This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. This is only a test. If this had been an actual emergency, you would receive instructions from this or other stations. KBPI serves the Denver area. This concludes the test of the Emergency Broadcast System.”
By now you know me as one who wants more excitement than the average guy, or at least one to do something a bit different, to get people laughing or thinking.
I wasn’t afraid of a little controversy and had considered taking a dig at law enforcement in Aspen and Glenwood Springs, Colorado, where Ted Bundy had escaped from both jails just a year ago in 1977. After that last break out, Bundy made his way to Florida, where he killed two more women and a 12-year-old girl. But I thought better of it out of respect for the families of a Colorado victims, that lived near Denver. Bundy confessed to the Florida killings just before he was executed.
Instead, I decided one sunny Sunday afternoon to broach a subject less offensive than murder; although, about possible deaths.
I inserted the EBS tape and allowed the tone to play, then I turned off the prerecorded message and did my own version of the announcement. I said in a solemn voice: “This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System . . . If this had been an actual emergency, you would be told to kiss your ass goodbye, likely because of the facility that lies just 16 miles north of us.” (That facility was the Rocky Flats nuclear plant.) Then I played Knock on Wood.
OK, isn’t that a little funny? Not with the FCC, they called the station manager less than 24 hours after my comment and said something to the effect: “Fire this person or be fined $5,000, plus a notation in your file that could be detrimental to the renewal of your operating license.” Ouch!
Guess which option the station chose?
Joke or not, the FCC wasn’t laughing, especially since the Rocky Flats facility near Denver was a nuclear weapons production plant — to the chagrin of many living in the area and beyond — and considered by many to be a very dangerous installation. Also, the FCC required the station to sign a non-disclosure agreement about the incident. Unbelievably, there was no promulgation, no news stories.
Did that make me an early Shock Jock? Why my joke was not free speech; one cannot yell “Fire” in a crowded theater and claim free speech. My statements were not in the context of a DJ saying, “Boy, if that plant ever blows, we can kiss our asses goodbye.” That’s free speech. My comment, however, was made during an FCC required EBS announcement — an official notification.
I’m pretty sure a competitor called the FCC. I can practically hear the person saying something like: “I was so frightened that I began breaking out in hives, and I had trouble sleeping after that bad man made a joke of something that’s no laughing matter — Nuclear Weapons.”
Oh well, I needed more time to concentrate on my studies at DU and for my small ad agency. Soon I would have the hardest job of all — parenthood for two — the twins.
Around 1992, having not played DJ for several years, my enjoyment of popular music was on the decline. Was it an age thing, like the generation before us? I don’t believe so, my love for music was so enduring, I was surprised that it was happening to me.
There were songs I still enjoyed like Tears In Heaven–Eric Clapton; Bohemian Rhapsody– Queen; Have I Told You Lately That I Love You–Rod Stewart; Hero–Mariah Carey; Endless Love–Luther Vandross; Circle Of Life & Candle In The Wind Elton John; I’ll Stand By You–The Pretenders and Un-Break My Heart–Toni Braxton.
The Greatest Hits from my generation begin in Book II, Chapters I & II.