The King of Iowa

(Edited to add link to WRIT chart.)

We’ve mentioned here before how common it used to be for radio DJs in large markets to get the opportunity to move beyond merely spinning records. At WRIT in Milwaukee back in the day, the morning guy was Lee Rothman, who as was famous for hosting The Bowling Game on local TV as for his radio work. (There was lots of bowling on TV in Milwaukee in the 60s and 70s; The Bowling Game was once the highest-rated locally produced program in the country.) Rothman was followed every morning by Eddie Doucette, would would make his name as the inimitable play-by-play voice of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks for their first 16 seasons.

The night guy was King Zbornik, who, it turns out, has the most interesting career of all. Zbornik started in radio in 1962 and climbed the market ladder, eventually making his way to Milwaukee. It was a much bigger city back then, and Zbornik’s reputation quickly reached beyond it. By 1966, he was popular enough to appear with Dick Clark on American Bandstand, where Clark reportedly introduced him as one of the best rock DJs in the country. He remained in radio until 1976, when he returned to his native Iowa and became a schoolteacher. It wasn’t going to be his second career—it would be his third. In 1957, Zbornik had recorded what is claimed to be the first rock and roll record ever recorded in Iowa: “Janet,” with its flip side “Lovely One.” It was released under the name Jerry Martin and the Sounds on the Fredlo label of Davenport, Iowa.

Fredlo is an interesting tale on its own. Fredlo Studios opened sometime in the 1950s and lasted until at least 1967. Fred and Lois Mauck, the couple who owned it, ran the business out of the main floor of their house and lived upstairs. Fredlo was a bit like Sam Phillips’ Memphis Recording Service, in that aspiring artists paid to record themselves (like Elvis did), but if Fred Mauck liked their sound, he might record the artist at no charge and release the record in hopes of scoring a hit. No Fredlo release ever charted nationally, but several were regional hits, including “Janet.”

Zbornik/Martin later recorded at Chess in Chicago and with Phillips in Memphis, and toured with Frankie Avalon. But he never became a headlining star, and so he bagged performing rock and roll in favor of playing it on the radio. He decided to use his real name instead of his stage name—not a bad move in an industry where, over the years, there have been probably 10,000 Jerry Martins. “King” gave it a dash of DJ flair, much better than his given name, Layton.

(In 1997, Zbornik/Martin was inducted into the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Fredlo Studios was inducted in 2001. Close encounter with fame: Also inducted that year was Coupe de Ville, a band that’s been playing around Iowa since the early 80s, although its nucleus was formed by a couple of high-school sophomores in 1966. I worked with one guy’s wife for a while at a station in Iowa.)

To bring this thing back to our customary Friday topic, here are some of the tunes King Zbornik was slamming on WRIT every weeknight 42 years ago this week. No commentary’s needed for these, except to note that Top 40 radio in the late summer of 1965 bears a striking resemblance to oldies radio in the late summer of 2007.

1. “I Got You Babe”/Sonny and Cher (up from 2)
2. “Help”-“I’m Down”/The Beatles (down from 1)
4. “California Girls”/Beach Boys (up from 6)
6. “It’s the Same Old Song”/Four Tops (up from 9)
12. “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”/James Brown (up from 14)
14. “Heart Full of Soul”/Yardbirds (up from 20)
16. “Like a Rolling Stone”/Bob Dylan (up from 22)
17. “All I Really Wanna Do”/Byrds (down from 12)
20. “Unchained Melody”/Righteous Brothers (down from 18)
21. “Satisfaction”/Rolling Stones (down from 15)

I’m not posting any of these; if you don’t own all of them already, you’re reading the wrong blog.

7 thoughts on “The King of Iowa

  1. Lee Rothman replaced Dick Johnson on The Bowling Game after DJ had a problem with the bottle. That show was on Channel 18 for years. Bowling With The Champs on Channel 4 was the other big bowling show with WTMJ Sports Director Hank Stoddard and Billy Sixty.

  2. Hey, who are you? I just stumbled on this, and I want to thank you for all of the kind words. When you get to be my age you’re sometimes forced tolive in the past, although I must admit my current is working out pretty good. I would like to know just who you are, and do we have any connection from trhe past.

    Thanx Again..

    Z

  3. Dick Young

    I remember King Zbornik well. He was on the air a couple years before I wound up at WRIT doing the same evening shift using the name Ron Richards. I thought he was a great DJ. I remember meeting him a couple times when I was writing Tops with Teens for the Milwaukee Journal. He even had me in the studio one night when he was on the air. That night did it. I was determined to make it into Top 40 radio.

  4. Larry Braby

    Hey King, Its been a long long time. Glad to know you are doing so well. Hope the family is doing well also. By the way, the King is a nice guy as well as talented!!!

  5. Just stumbled on this. I knew Fred and Lois Mauck in the late 80s-early 90s when they lived at Gunflint Lake on the Canadian border. They were a couple of characters and lots of fun to be around. Lois filled in for the famous Justine Kerfoot for her Gunflint Trail weekly report in the Cook County News-Herald in Grand Marais MN. She referred to everyone, in the column and in person, as “Honeybunch.” This included the deer she fed in her wilderness backyard.

  6. Mike Brando

    Hi “King” – Remember you very well from the Milwaukee radio days in the 60’s. I’d like to ask you a question about a 45 rpm record I have. It’s called “I Like It Like That” (the Chris Kenner song) on the Parade record label. It shows the artist as Layton Redell Zbornik Jr. Do you happen to remember what year this was released? Please reply.
    Thank you and God bless, Mike

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