A voice that shaped Seattle’s past is now part of it. Seattle radio legend Pat O’Day, announcer of the city’s rock scene and the Seafair hydroplane boat races, died at his home on San Juan Island and left behind an immense, intensely local legacy.
O’Day was a self-made man, true to his own style throughout his 85 years. Born in Nebraska as Paul Wilburn Berg and raised as a preacher’s son, he built a glitzier persona, became a hard-living ambassador for a generation’s culture, then beat back alcohol addiction and brain cancer.
His career took off during years when a disc jockey could become a cultural titan to teenage masses for blasting out rock records. Long before teens were streaming music at will, KJR-AM drew a full third of Seattle’s listeners.
O’Day’s influence extended beyond radio, from introducing the Beatles at Seattle Center to bringing the era’s top blockbusters — Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Led Zeppelin — as a promoter to Northwestern venues.
Such was O’Day’s Seattle cachet, in those days, that he was the man who brought Jimi Hendrix home twice. First, he persuaded the emerging star in 1968 to appear before an assembly at Garfield High School, where he had dropped out. Then, two years later, he was dispatched to London by Hendrix’s father to buy a casket and bring the artist’s body back stateside.
Seattle’s rich cultural fabric owes much to O’Day, for who he decided to be and what he decided his adopted city needed.