Don Sherwood

“The World’s Greatest Disc Jockey”
September 7, 1925-November 4, 1983

Elected to the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame, 2006

You either loved Don Sherwood or you hated him. But either way, you listened to him.

He was born and raised in The City’s Sunset District, christened Daniel Sherwood Cohelan but known to listeners within the sound of KSFO’s signal as “Donny-babe.” Heavy-smoking, hard-drinking and reckless living, Don Sherwood set the standard for every radio bad boy and shock jock to follow in his wake for decades to come.

Don Sherwood (Photo)The product of a broken home — his father’s funeral was the only memory he had of his old man — and a failure in school (“It took me five high schools to get through the eleventh grade,” he recalled, “majoring in recess and tea dancing”), at sixteen Don lied about his age to join the Canadian Tank Corps as World War II accelerated. After it appeared that his regiment would be shipped off to combat in England, he quickly admitted his real age and headed back to San Francisco.

Now a confirmed high school drop-out, Sherwood began attending classes at night while driving a lunch wagon during the day to make a buck. It was at night school that he would receive advice that would change his life forever: the prescient principal advised him to enter radio school, where his smooth, mellow voice would serve him well. He enrolled in the Samuel Gompers Trade School on Bartlett Street in the city, later boasting that he graduated in only a few weeks so that he could go after his first job in broadcasting.

With his radio school diploma in hand, however, he was unable to find a station in the city willing to hire him. He enlisted in the Merchant Marine, serving until he was nineteen years old, then returned to San Francisco where KFRC offered him the break he was looking for: a temporary job as an announcer. The job was short-lived, but it inspired him to head to Los Angeles in search of radio work there.

After a year of frustration and little employment in Southern California, he came home once again only to find the job market as bleak — if not worse — here. He accepted a six-month hitch as radio operator on an Army transport ship, and then found himself back in San Francisco once more, unemployed.

Desperate for work in his chosen field, he made the rounds of the city’s handful of radio stations, failing until KQW — headquartered in the stately Palace Hotel; it would become KCBS a few years later — offered him a foot in the door: a daily ten-minute program, from 5:50 to 6 a.m., during which he could play a few records, talk a bit and read the news. He would then hang around the station each day until 2 p.m. to announce the station identification and read the news headlines. It wasn’t much, but it was a real job at a real radio station.

Out Of The Mud Grows The Lotus

To be continued…


Presentation includes textPresentation includes audio — Exhibit includes text and audio. Presentation includes audio — Audio presentation only.

Don Sherwood on KQW, Undated (45 seconds) Presentation includes audio

A brief but historic moment, as Sherwood signs off his Saturday noontime platter party with a mention of his sponsor, the Patricia Stevens Models and Finishing School, and that “This is the Columbia stations.”

Don Sherwood on KSFO, November 22, 1960 (8 minutes) Presentation includes audioHH

With traffic reports from Bill Dana as José Jiménez, subbing (reluctantly) for Hap Harper, who is missing from the plane…

Don Sherwood on KSFO, March 3, 1961 (1 hour) Presentation includes audio

Don Sherwood on KSFO, Circa 1962 (25 minutes) Presentation includes audioFair-to-poor audio quality JG

Sherwood heads into the home stretch of this morning’s program with a Yami Yoghurt spot, a letter from Parkey Sharkey and a brief in-studio visit before the top of the hour with Al Collins, who offers Don’s kids some licorice…

 KSFO: “The Great Race,” 1962 (8 minutes) Presentation includes videoNH

A video presentation of the famous footrace between KSFO’s Don Sherwood and Jim Lange, from Stinson Beach in Marin County to the Ferry Building in San Francisco. Narrated by KSFO newsman Aaron Edwards and produced by Norm Howard, the film also includes cameos by Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons, with classic title art by Tom Nuzum.

Don Sherwood on KSFO, October 1964 (19 minutes) Presentation includes audioFK

Featuring Sherwood as “David Nice Guy, formerly known as the Lone Rabbit,” as well as a “Man On The Street” interview conducted by Carter B. Smith.

Don Sherwood: “It’s Quarter To Seven,” Undated (30 seconds) Presentation includes audioBFT

Don Sherwood: “Chesterfield … Or Sofa,” Undated (3 minutes) Presentation includes audioBFT

Featuring Aaron Edwards

Don Sherwood: Farmers Market Spots, Undated (1 minute) Presentation includes audioKA

A series of radio commercials for the Farmers Market at Hillsdale Shopping Center in San Mateo, featuring Sherwood doing versions in various dialects plus voice impressions of Jack Benny and Liberace.

Don Sherwood on KSFO: “Superfrog,” Undated (3 minutes) Presentation includes audioHH

Featuring Carter B. Smith

 Don Sherwood on KSFO: “Sherwood Sings!” Undated (90 seconds) Presentation includes audioBFT

 Don Sherwood on KSFO: The Russian Dancer (July 2, 1965; 11 minutes) Presentation includes audioCB

Sherwood conducts an in-studio interview with an unidentified Russian dancer … who, as it turns out, is actually comedian Shelley Berman, in town for an appearance at the Fairmont.

 Don Sherwood & Jack Carney: “Man On The Street” Bloopers, c. 1965 (25 minutes) Presentation includes audioJC

From the private collection of John Catchings, a rare and wonderful recording of Sherwood and Carney in their native habitat, conducting (or, rather, attempting to conduct) a series of KSFO “Man On The Street” promos, which deteriorates into utter hysteria. NOTE: Not to be confused with the recording found on “The Other Side” of the “Sound of the City” disc issued by KSFO, which can be heard here.

 Don Sherwood on KSFO: “Just Plain Rosita,” Undated Presentation includes audioBFT

Featuring Carter B. Smith

 Don Sherwood: “Four Moods In Memory,” 1958 (15 minutes) Presentation includes audio

From the LP “San Francisco: My Enchanted City” (Seal Records LS1530), arranged and conducted by David Rose, with words and music by Stephen and Libby McNeil. Four Moods In Memory, narrated by Don Sherwood, comprised the entire second side of the album, and was made up of four sections:

1 — Blue Fog
2 — Sweet Illusion
3 — City Of Sleeping Dreams
4 — We’ll Be Fine Together

According to the liner notes, Four Moods brought “four contrasting expressions of deep emotion — each and all beautifully and affectionately delivered by one of San Francisco’s favorite sons — Don Sherwood — the man about whom Time Magazine said ‘…hit the west like a sonic boom.’ With David Rose’s lush orchestrations as a background, Don Sherwood adds another triumph to his lyric story of a boy’s love for a girl and a city. The result is as personal and intimate as a love letter!”

 In Passing: Don Sherwood, November 4, 1983 (10 minutes) Presentation includes audioFair-to-poor audio qualityMK

Only a month before The World’s Greatest Radio Station changed hands from Golden West Broadcasters, signaling the end of an era in San Francisco radio, Don Sherwood died. KSFO essentially suspended programming for the day to pay tribute to Donnie Babe, airing phone calls from friends, fans and his family. This recording includes a telephone interview with Sherwood’s pal Ronnie Schell, conducted by Aaron Edwards.
BONUS: Hap Harper reminisces with Buddy Hatton and Aaron Edwards on Sherwood’s life and times.

 Don Sherwood Reads “Winnie The Pooh,” December 12, 1983 Presentation includes textPresentation includes audioBFT**

A recording of The World’s Greatest Disk Jockey’s reading of A.A. Milne’s classic children’s story is presented as a special treat for listeners on the final broadcast of KSFO as The World’s Greatest Radio Station. (Exhibit is included in KSFO: The Golden West Years Collection.)

Presentation includes textPresentation includes audio — Exhibit includes text and audio.
Presentation includes audio — Audio presentation only.
 — Edited broadcast or excerpt only.
Fair-to-poor audio quality — Fair-to-poor audio quality.
* — Included in “The Sound Of The City” Collection.
** — Included in the KSFO: The Golden West Years Collection.
BFT — Courtesy of Ben Fong-Torres.
CB — Courtesy of Christopher Bay.
FK — Courtesy of Fred Krock.
HH — Courtesy of Hap Harper.
JC — Courtesy of John Catchings.
JG — Courtesy of Joe Gentry.
KA — Courtesy of Ken Ackerman.
MK — Courtesy of Michael Krupicka.
NH — Courtesy of Norm Howard.


ADDITIONAL SOURCES: Bay Area Radio Museum Collection; “Don Sherwood: The World’s Greatest Disc Jockey,” by Laurie Harper (Prima Publishing, 1989); Hap HarperBen Fong-Torres.

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