After enduring the Great Depression and World War II, the demographics in America saw some dramatic changes.
1946 marked the arrival of the first baby boomers. As teenagers these boomers accounted for a third of the population, and they were making an impact across the country. Their voices became evident in the turbulent energy of the 1960s. The counter-culture fought with social conscience, seeking justice and equality. It was a time to be groovy and experience the free spirit of peace and love, flower power, rock ‘n’ roll music and … dancing.
In Philadelphia, Dick Clark was rolling out the hits on his weekly dance show, the iconic “American Bandstand.” Radio stations across the country were becoming formatted to the popular craze of American rock ‘n’ roll music.
In Roseburg, Pete’s Drive-In was a hoppin’ hamburger joint as kids cruised along Harvard Avenue in what resembled scenes from “Happy Days” and “American Graffiti.”
As for music and dancing, well, thanks to several enterprising individuals, Roseburg was right in step with the times.
Douglas County’s first radio station, KRNR-AM, began in 1935 with a studio at the Umpqua Hotel in downtown Roseburg. It’s not surprising that many of the area’s popular entertainment personalities like Dick Booth and Dave Coplin had ties to KRNR. Elliott Motschenbacher began working for the 250-watt country music station in 1943, during a period when it was owned by The News Review.
In the mid-1950s, Motschenbacher, manager and majority owner, and his wife, Jodi, began a new chapter in Roseburg radio. KYES, the “Lil’ nifty 950,” station was born. Many residents remember viewing the broadcasting live through the windows of the studio at 762 S.E. Pine St. In an agreement with KJR 950 in Seattle, which shared the same frequency, KYES went off the air at 6 p.m. with its popular closing “Timberjack” theme.
Along with its rock ‘n’ roll format, KYES began hosting dances.
“After the Ventures played a successful concert at the fairgrounds, the fair board asked me to do something for the teens,” Motschenbacher recalled.
The station began to sponsor different bands and dances for a teen fair. Admission was free. This eventually led to teen dances at the Elks Lodge.
Former DJ Dan Clemons recalls, “There was a sea of teens dancing. The hall was full with a line over a block long waiting to enter. If you were inside, you were dancing; there was no room for spectators.”
As a teenager, Roy Patterson remembers the dances well.
“You know how when you are young, it’s like the thing was just set up for you … the dances were fun, innocent and happy get-togethers … that removed social barriers,” he said.
Patterson remembers in particular the slower songs of Lesley Gore and Richie Valens alternating with up-tempo music from The Everly Brothers, The Ventures and The Kingsmen.
KYES promotions were off the charts as well. One hot and dry summer, the station held an impromptu rain dance. Sprinklers were set up outside the studio, where the guys and gals danced in swimsuits.
“They literally brought traffic to a standstill,” Clemons says.
In 1964, the station broadcasted live from the Douglas County Fair in a 75-foot “tower of power,” tossing Frisbees out to the spectators. Jodi Motschenbacher’s favorite promo was the Winter Blahs giveaway. Winners received a basket of food and drink intended for a picnic around a fireplace at home.
After selling KYES, the Motschenbachers started KTBR in 1987, playing what had by then become classic rock. They also established the Pepsi Float on the Umpqua River as well as Oregon’s largest Easter egg hunt in Stewart Park. Today, Clemons continues to be around teenagers, but instead of playing music, he lectures on economics at Roseburg High School.
KPIC television introduced its own version of “American Bandstand” with a program known as “Teen Date,” hosted by Dick Booth. Each week, selected students from a different high school in Douglas County were invited to dance onstage during the weekly half-hour evening show. It was co-sponsored by Montgomery Wards and Leroy Hanna, owner and manager of the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. in Roseburg. Twice a year a semi-formal teen dance was held at the Elks Ballroom.
Dick Booth was a natural on camera for the show, which was recorded live. According to former KPIC station manager Dave Coplin, “Dick was naturally friendly and open. He made people feel comfortable in front of the camera.”
Bob Shigley remembers his turn on Teen Date with Douglas High School. They danced at the KPIC studio on Stephens Street.
“It was a small studio and the cameraman (Lee Holmes) worked his way around to get close-ups of each couple. I think there were about 12 to 15 couples dancing,” he said. “Television was still new to us and it was a big deal to be on the dance. I remember our family and friends gathering around the television set to watch the program.”
In addition to “Teen Date,” Booth also hosted the “Speaking of Sports” show live at 7 p.m. Fridays. He would also often emcee school dances and was an actor in the community theater.
Booth moved on to KCBY in Coos Bay. He authored several books and plays before his death on June 9, 2010.
In 1974, Coplin transferred from KPIC to KVAL in Eugene. He now operates the Eugene Flight Center near the Eugene airport.
Ah, the sights and sounds of Roseburg back in the 1950s and ’60s. The talented personalities at KYES and KPIC along with Pete’s Drive-In provided a groovy combination for the teens of the day.
As Roy Patterson exclaimed, “For a small logging town, we were actually pretty hip!”
R.J. Guyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find his newly released book, “Douglas County Chronicles” at the Douglas County Museum and other outlets including thehistorypress.net and amazon.com.