Rick “Doc” West
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When Fort Wayne’s radio icon Doc West first arrived in Fort Wayne in the summer of 1979, he really had no intention of making the city his home, much less of becoming one of its best known and most beloved media personalities. Drawn to radio by his love of music, West moved to Indiana from a job in Columbus, Ohio where he first experienced the business end of radio.
“I was playing some cool stuff there and in this university city. We had Pink Floyd and a lot of other great music. And then it went away and was replaced by another station with a tighter playlist and more hits. The dream ended and I was doing Top 40 radio for over a year. I introduced the disco era to Columbus, Ohio.”
West knew this wasn’t what he signed up to do.
Finding a job at WXKE, he quickly discovered Fort Wayne was very different from what he expected.
“When I came to WXKE in August of 1979, there was a lot of anxiety at the station. But I also found when I got here that Fort Wayne was a lot hipper than I thought it was. I met the folks at Slatewood Records, which was here before Wooden Nickel, and really thought this was a great music city. They knew a lot about music and loved bands like Yes and Genesis. It was very cool. But I still wanted to get out of here in six months.”
More than three decades later, West is still in Fort Wayne. His primary explanation is familiar to many who take root in this city in spite of other plans – marriage and children. But he also became devoted to the radio station and the city which has embraced him since his arrival. In fact, he found himself hosting a big local event within weeks of starting his new job.
“I got here in August and by Labor Day I was already on the air hosting the Jerry Lewis telethon. I think I’d been on the air for all of 13 days at that point, and here I was hosting this 24-hour telethon down at Southtown Mall. But the people were so nice to me and stayed up with me all night, so I did feel very welcomed in Fort Wayne.”
At first, West was on the air in the afternoons, but eventually he became the voice of morning radio for many on their drive to work. Although WXKE Rock 104 saw significant changes over the years, his presence was a constant and his fan base secure. What was less secure, as it turned out, was the future of the station which, upon the change of ownership, was suddenly on the outs. With Rock 104 seemingly dead forever, West could easily have cashed in his chips. But he stuck it out.
“I believe in leaning forward. In the world of radio you have to look forward, and you can’t change what has already happened. Fortunately, I always embraced new music and was able to accept the format at the new station. It’s definitely a disadvantage for a station which plays classic rock ‘n roll because that audience is now 65 or so. I was on the air with three different radio stations during time and didn’t think Rock 104 would ever come back.”
But for all of his efforts to look forward and his belief that Rock 104 was gone forever, West still asked his program director if there was any chance for resurrection, and was told “Those chances are slim and none.” But West didn’t lose hope entirely.
“I kept thinking there was a glimmer of hope. I thought ‘I’m still here, I didn’t leave. J.J. Fabini is still here, he didn’t leave. Buzz Maxwell is still here.’ People were constantly asking if I thought Rock 104 would come back, and all the characters in this movie were still around.”
It took more than three years, but the powers that be did eventually realize that they had made a mistake when they silenced Rock 104, and thanks to West’s steadfast belief in the station and its format, he finally saw the day when it came back on the air.
“When the Rock 104 Air Force came back, it brought tears to my eyes. It was very emotional.”
His loyalty to Fort Wayne and his determination to bring classic rock to a city which appreciates it has only deepened the respect of the local musical community. His Whammy Award acknowledged that, providing a means of thanking him for bringing Rock 104 back to the city.
“It’s cool that I’m appreciated, and I was really happy with it. And now that the award is named after Stan Liddell, I really think it’s great. Stan was a special guy, and I don’t think we’ll ever see anyone like him around here again. He was one of a kind. The national acts he brought to Piere’s was unprecedented, and it wasn’t an easy thing to do. If something went wrong he would make it right.”
Just as West made right the wrong of denying local rock fans the pleasure of WXKE. While the station faced some early competition from other rock formats, West now looks ahead with guarded confidence to the continued success of Rock 104.
“We’re in a good position right now, probably the best of our lives. This is really our prime time. I don’t take anything for granted, but the future looks very bright.”