Remembering radio legend John Rook

Rook was an influence in big markets before becoming local owner

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John Rook got his first start in radio at KOBH in Rapid City, S.D., in 1957.

COEUR d'ALENE — John Rook was tuned in to the radio industry.

Rook, an influential radio programmer in major markets before owning stations here, died on Tuesday of natural causes at his Coeur d'Alene home. He was 78.

"John was a legend in the radio world," said longtime friend and Coeur d'Alene attorney John Magnuson. "He was tireless, gregarious and an eternal optimist. He lived a life with more adventures than 100 people."

Magnuson shared the story of Tommy James of the American rock band Tommy James and the Shondells stopping in at WLS-Chicago with the song "Crimson and Clover," which hadn't been finalized.

James played the song for Rook, who was director of programming, under the condition that Rook wouldn't play it on the radio. But Rook recorded the song with a tape recorder and played it anyway, and the hit then exploded.

Jason Rook, John's nephew who worked with John on radio endeavors, said John helped re-establish the careers of the likes of Kenny Rogers and assisted the Beatles with cracking the American market.

"He was one of the most influential radio programmers in the country," Jason said. "He had a tremendous impact on musicians and their careers."

It was American recording artist and TV host Tennessee Ernie Ford and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Eddie Cochran, Rook's teenage friend, who encouraged Rook to be a disc jockey with the name "Johnny Rowe" to start his career.

Rook worked at stations in Denver, Salt Lake City, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Los Angeles. Under his leadership at WLS-Chicago, the station reached an audience of 3.8 million weekly. While at WLS, broadcasters nationally named him "Radio's Man of the Year" and "Program Director of the Year."

In the 1970s, John Rook and Associates provided programming expertise to more than 30 stations across the country.

Rook moved to North Idaho in 1983, bought a small horse ranch south of Coeur d'Alene and became the owner of multiple stations. There were the "KEY chain" stations of KEY-FM 101 and KEY-AM 1050 of Spokane. KCDA-103, KEZE-96.9 and Z-ROCK 103.9 were later added. As the broadcast licensee of KCDA, Rook was the first in the Northwest to introduce satellite-fed programming to radio stations.

"I was eager to return to the sanity of small-town America," the Ohio-born Rook wrote on his website. "I awake every morning in deep appreciation of my 'little sliver of paradise,' hidden from the harshness of the real world."

He divested himself of the local stations in the late 1990s. Deregulation of the media, he wrote, was even more destructive than he predicted.

"Perhaps it would have been best if regulators had not allowed the monopolization of radio that resulted," Rook wrote. "A feeding frenzy of unethical lawyers devoured anyone offering competition. Within days of congressional passage, the nation's media was gobbled up by three billionaires."

In recent years, Rook offered radio commentary at JohnRook.com and was a guest on and consultant for talk radio. He also created the Hit Parade Hall of Fame and Hit Parade Radio.

Outside radio, Jason Rook said, his uncle was a "saint." Jason said he helped himself and others get on the right path.

"He took in and helped lost souls," Jason said. "The man was a giver and never expected anything in return. If somebody needed a place to stay or a couple bucks in their pocket, he just gave it."

Dot Rook, John's sister, described John as a witty man who desired to help others.

"He helped several young men stay here until they got cleaned up," said Dot, who took care of John in recent years.

There will be no funeral services, per John's wishes.

Jason said he'll never forget John's passion for life and radio.

"When people would go through difficult times, he'd always say, 'This too shall pass,'" Jason said.

John Rook

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