George O’Donnell – A Tale of the Countdown Kid….
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I was very thrilled to meet up with former Denver schoolteacher and local musician Bill O’Donnell a few weeks ago – I had corresponded with Bill via my Blog but this was our first meeting.
Bill was very kind in lending me a great collection of primarily KIMN and KTLN radio station surveys from 1959 through 1961 (as well as others beyond those years).
The surveys were from the collection of Bill’s younger brother, George O’Donnell – who trailed Bill (and myself) being born in the year 1948. George was a boy after my own heart and a fellow traveler.
When I arrived back at home I eagerly began sorting through the large box of radio surveys – shuffling – sorting – reading and enjoying each one – all treasures as far as I am concerned.
But as I was digging down into the box I realized that there was much more here than a pile of radio surveys – I was delighted to discover the essence of growing up in Denver in the 1950’s and 1960’s escorted through those decades by radio station KIMN – the “Denver Tiger” – “Nifty 950” – as well as many of the challengers.
Beyond the printed formal surveys was a story of a young boy – age 12 to 14 for the most part – obviously enthralled with the music and much more than that.
George was a collector – a statistician – a list compiler – an historian – a lover of those times. So although I can’t be absolutely certain – here is my tale of George O’Donnell – my kindred spirit – and his adventure through a magic time.
Fabulous KIMN – 1959
It appears that George’s adventure began in earnest in the late 1950’s. He, as did so many others, must have tuned in on Saturdays to KIMN Radio to listen to “950’s Top 50” countdown. For George, in the beginning, who was around 11 – printed radio station survey sheets had not yet entered the picture.
So picture George with perhaps his small transistor radio tuned in – George sitting alone in his room – with his “Hytone Composition Book” in hand – ballpoint pen at the ready – Let the Countdown Begin. I wonder if the Hytone was intended for school work assignments or….??? But it was thankfully put to very good use – Homework we will always have with us – but the KIMN Countdown only comes around once a week! George dressed up the inside cover a bit with some baseball transfer decals as well as a sticker celebrating the Boston Red Sox 1918 world championship – their fourth and last until 2004!
Perhaps he took down his first listings on scratch paper and then transcribed them later in the Hytone – I suspect this must have been the case since his cursive penmanship was very impressive and tidy – for an 11 year. One of his earliest lists was from a November 25, 1959 KIMN countdown – when “I Wanna Be Loved” by Ricky Nelson held the top spot – That song managed a number 20 peak position on the Billboard Charts.
I was also a maker of hit record lists starting back in Junior High School when I attended Rishel Jr. High in west Denver. I have written about my first list previously when I teamed up with classmate Kathy Mercer (a very cool girl). Together we attempted to list every single rock and roll song which had been released up to that point in time which was 1960. I came up with a lot of the pop-ish type songs and some solid rock and roll but Kathy was the real rocker! She knew every Buddy Holley, Gene Vincent, Chuck Berry song and more.
Kathy actually didn’t want to work as a team – I was just a bit too dorky for her – so she relieved me of my listing – returning it about three days later – greatly expanded – and much cooler than it ever would have been if I had gone solo.
Sometimes I reflect back and think that my brief ‘partnership’ with Kathy probably spared me from being pounded by the Barnum Gang.
George’s KIMN Countdown Chronology
In the summer of 1959 George would take his first stab at putting together his own survey – this one based on Denver radio station KOSI’s playlist. This was a short-lived endeavor apparently as George, working on a typewriter – only got as far as number 19 of the “Top 40” presented by KOSI. But it was an impressive beginning – with neatly ruled columns and a well-centered header and the notation “Top 30 Tunes supplied by the Denver Record Association – 221 Consecutive Week”. This was the first time I had ever heard of the Denver Record Association.
Next, in early 1960, George creates what I believe to be his very own custom survey – This one containing five selections with Larry Hall’s “Sandy” resting at the top spot. “Sink the Bismark” by Johnny Horton was a choice after my own heart – I was always a sucker for a good patriotic ditty with a marching beat. Numbers 2 and 3 are a real surprise – Here George presents us with a double sided hit – by Carl Smith – “Ten Thousand Drums” reached number 5 Country early in 1960 – the flip failed to chart – but here George has it at an impressive number 3.
Number 4 – “Lovin’ Tree” is also a flip side – this one on the back side of Larry Hall’s “Sandy”. The number 5 position is occupied by Carl Dobkins, Jr.’s “Lucky Devil” – I am starting to think that this list might have been a shot a a Country Countdown.
George only released two of these survey sheets – the second following a week after the first – I like this one – because it does include a “Bomb” of the week with “Turkish Bath” an obscure flop by Felix Slatkin from March of 1960.
In later 1960, October 12th to be exact – George had returned to KIMN with 950 providing the hits and George designing his own survey sheet cover. Here George provides the Denver Tiger with plenty of slogans and accolades. Not sure what the artwork depicts – Thinking that may be Jay Mack sitting at the studio turntables with station manager Ken Palmer looking over his shoulder.
In mid 1961, George showed he was a boy after my own heart. Here on a piece of school notebook paper George was frantically working to capture what appears to be a “Top 100” countdown.
Note down in the right hand corner is a commercial “Coke With Its Bright Zing Is the Most Widely Distributed Product In the World” followed by a curious reference to “I smokim Bulia” or some such thing!???
But the keeper here is the backside of the this countdown – George O’Donnell’s math test with a score of 60 percent! That would put him about 15 percent better than I would have done. I award George with a 99 percent for flying in the face of his math teacher to document the very important and historic KIMN Top 100!
NOTE: Comment From Brother Bill:
“Despite the relatively low score on this paper, George went on to become a high school math teacher.”
George Goes Big Time
That brings us to my favorite discovery when I was pouring through the O’Donnell archives. Tucked away in the bottom of the box was something that was very familiar to me back in my early record acquiring days: A little brown paper bag commonly found in record departments or small records stores – just the right size to hold one of God’s most perfect creations – a 45 RPM Record!
Also tucked into the bag was a genuine KIMN survey sheet. George was never satisfied retrieving a single survey sheet from the local record department. There were times that he would bring home three – four – maybe even a dozen copies of the KIMN “950’s Hit Parade”. In fact, in August of 1961 George brought back over 30 copies of the August 27th survey!
The survey shown here is from January 24th, 1962 – located in the little brown bag. January, 1962 was getting toward the end of George’s radio survey sheet collecting days as he was entering his mid teens.
Now back to that little brown record bag. We haven’t been able to absolutely pinpoint which store George favored on a weekly basis – He was not old enough to drive yet – He probably had a bike. His older brother Bill speculates that the record store may have resided in the University Hills shopping center near their home in south Denver.
Down in the bottom of the bag was the clincher for me – a small cash register receipt in the amount of “.86” cents! Just the right amount for one 45 rock and roll record including tax and appropriately dated January 26th – two days after the publication of the KIMN survey sheet.
Sadly, George O’Donnell passed away in 1985.
I wish I could have met George. We could have exchanged surveys and talked about the Top 50 – Reminisced about the “Denver Tiger” – purchasing 45’s with our allowances – compiling lists. I could have told him about Kathy Mercer and the Barnum Gang – He could have told me about his math teacher.
We could think back to a time that would be difficult if not impossible to describe to a youngster today – a time when a young boy in south Denver and another in west Denver were both huddled over their little transistor radio – safe in their bedrooms – on a Saturday morning both listening to the sounds – the DJ banter – the magic of the times and KIMN!
Two countdown kids – fellow travelers
Rock on George – rock on……
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