By Scott Westerman – Curator Keener13.com
He had the job we all wanted, the foot in the door at the greatest radio station in town. In the world that was radio back in the 1960s, the overnight shift was the proving ground, the place where the program director tested new talent, and the assignment from whence stars were often born.
Some loved the lifestyle and made overnights their brand. WJR’s Jay Roberts was one of the most famous, helping us drift off to sleep for over two decades as the captain of “Nightflight 760″.
Jim Jeffries had a different idea. When he came to Detroit from Keener’s Battle Creek sister station, Jim knew that even with WKNR’s highly directional nighttime signal, there were thousands of people out there who depended on the overnight guy to keep them awake and entertained.
These were the night owls who worked the third shift at Ford, patrolled Dearborn’s streets from behind the wheel of American made police cruisers, baked Silvercup Bread and brewed Stroh’s beer. These were the countless security guards who kept watch over Hudson’s, Federal’s, Cobo Hall and Olympia, and the union jacks who delivered Motown’s newspapers from the presses to the hundreds of street corners where young boys and girls piled them onto bicycles to prepare a slowly awakening Motor City for the new day.
This was Jim Jeffries domain. For the bulk of WKNR’s brief prime, he sat behind the controls, the solitary human presence at 15001 Michigan Avenue, and entertained his unique and demanding audience.
The show was, of course, different than what we heard during other day parts. The intensity was turned down a notch, and you’d hear a bit larger swath of music than was typically found on the tight 31 song WKNR Music Guide.
But all the rest of the Keener magic was there. The contests, the promos, and the personal relationship that still puts WKNR in a special place in our memory.
“Even though our shifts and schedules only allowed for minimal day to day contact (beyond regular DJ meetings) , Jim was one of a very tight fraternity,” remembers long time WKNR program director Bob Green, “And whether you happened to be a listener or an insider, there was no question that Jim enjoyed what he did. That element of ‘fun’, so much a part of what made Keener special, was highly evident… from the man and from his on air presence.”
Jim finally moved on, he was too good to stay on overnights in Detroit. He continued to polish his game at WQXI in Atlanta and then, like many others in the trade, became a promoter for the record companies that plied their product to music directors in a hundred different markets.
“He was head of Epic and Associated Labels Promotion in the mid 70′s,” recalls former CBS Records exec Mark Westcott. “He had hits with Dan Fogelberg ‘Part Of The Plan’, Minnie Riperton ‘Loving You’, Michael Murphey ‘Wildfire’, Lou Rawls ‘You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine’ and the Isley Brothers’ ‘Who’s That Lady’. Jim also contributed to the success of Philadelphia International artists like the O’Jays and Harold Melvin and The Bluenotes success.”
Keener’s Scott Regen remembers Jim as a kind heart. He wrote me recently saying, “I was just thinking, radio made each of us, the station staff and the audience, a family. It happened in a way that did not, could not exist before the electronic age. We were the players on that electronic stage. That, I think, was and still is what radio can do best: bring people together in a common purpose .”
To Jim Jeffries, family was the most important dimension of life. The itinerant broadcasting road game often made it hard to sustain a long term relationship. Not so for Jim Jeffries. He found true love with Debbie and together, they built a family over a 32 year marriage that ended only when he left us suddenly, at age 66, on November 17th.
Jim Jeffries will always be remembered, along with Dick Purtain, Mort Crowly, Swingin Sweeney, Ted Clark, Jerry Goodwin, Bob Green, Gary Stevens, Scott Regen and J. Michael Wilson as the greatest of the Keener Key Men of Music.
The guy all us aspiring DJs wanted to be.
Aircheck: Jim Jeffries 5/31/65