Growing up in the 1960’s young Pittsburghers listened everyday on their little plastic transistor radios to hear the latest hit singles on Clark Race’s count down show. At 3 P.M every week day they heard his show kick off with the brassy horns and bouncing bass beat of his signature jazzy “String of Trumpets” theme song. Throughout the mill towns of Western Pennsylvania they heard the sounds of the British Invasion, Motown, American Rock, and vocal groups on the powerful 50,000 watt KDKA-AM radio. After school they rushed to the basement record departments of their main street G.C. Murphy’s or Woolworths to buy 45s from the top ten lists of KDKA and KQV. From 1959 through 1970 DJ Clark Race introduced a generation of Western Pennsylvanians to new pop music acts. Clark’s daily show was heard by over 50% total Pittsburgh radio audience.
With a keen ear for spotting hit records and the freedom to choose what he played unrestricted by formats and rotation play lists, Clark Race loved to play new music from many genres every day. He played a smorgasbord of rock, pop, R&B, and standards. On his show one could enjoy the music of the Animals, Little Anthony, Tom Jones, Freddie & the Dreamers, the Searchers, Marvin Gaye, the Kinks, Martha & the Vandellas, Bobby Vinton, the Seekers, and the Beatles. Clark Race was one of the first DJs in the nation introduce black artists to the main steam playing the music of the Supremes, Chubby Checkers, the Dixie Cups, the Temptations, and more.
Clark also broke records from new Pittsburgh artists helping them gain national audiences. He willingly listened to demo records by Pittsburgh musicians and gave them airplay if he liked their music. A young Bobby Vinton walked into KDKA and played his “Roses Are Red” record for Clark. Clark said “I like it..I’ll play it. Clark broke the records of Tommy James and the Shondels, Lou Christie, the Vogues, and Bobby Vinton.
Clark is also credited for breaking the Royal Guardsmen's "Snoopy and the Red Baron", "Because Of You" by Rome & Paris, "It Ain't No Big Thing" by the Electrons, "Cross My Heart" by Billy Stewart, "Hung Up" by the Racket Squad and many others. He played the music he believed his listeners would like. He was not under the thumb of consultants or corporate music directors. He was the dominant DJ of Pittsburgh playing great tunes and his audience loved it. Clark Race and KDKA of the sixties was a golden age of music for young radio listeners and golden age of opportunity Pittsburgh pop music artists.
Clark Race Dance Party
On Saturdays afternoons Pittsburghers tuned into the Clark Race “Dance Party” on KDKA-TV to learn the latest dances like the Twist, the Mashed Potato, the Monkey, the Limbo, the Swim, and the Boogaloo. Clark hosted "Dance Party" from 1963 to 1967. It aired from 1:30 to 3:00 PM. A local version of "American Bandstand” with teenage dancers it featured live appearances of national and local recording artists. Chubby Checkers was a frequent guest leading dances of the Twist and the Limbo. The Supremes, Buddy Holly, The Lovin' Spoonful, The Turtles, the Beach Boys, the Four Tops, the Hollies, Paul Revere and the Raiders, and many other acts appeared on the show. Local musicians on their way to national fame appeared on Clark’s show including Tommy James and the Shondels, Lou Christie, Bobby Vinton, and the Vogues.
Beginnings in Upstate New York
Born in Hudson, N.Y., Clark Race was the youngest of eight children. As a kid he played trumpet, accordion and trombone. In his teens he led his high school band and made demo tapes of his original songs. Growing up in a fundamentalist church he loved gospel music. Clark began in radio as a baseball broadcaster in Albany. Asked by his station manager to play music, Clark shopped at a record store buying singles that he liked and put them on the air. His listeners liked his selections and he became a popular DJ.
In 1959 KQV was challenging KDKA in the ratings with their Top 40 pop singles play list. KDKA brought Clark Race to Pittsburgh to compete. He joined the KDKA staff in 1959 at the age of 26, He began as the all night host, In an interview with the Pittsburgh Post Gazette Clark Race said "I brought my own records in. KD's library consisted of Lawrence Welk records, and I was playing Fats Domino and Little Richard". In March of 1959 moved to the 3 P.M. to 6 P.M. time slot and and took over the Pittsburgh radio market for the next 10 years. Playing a variety of hit pop music and breaking new records every week Clark Race and KDKA became one of the hottest radio stations in the country.
KDKA Tops in the NationIn Feb 1, 1964 Billboard Magazine reported that KDKA-AM was among the top 3 stations in the United States for share of audience in the market. Billboard reported that a key to KDKA's success was its music. The 87 sheet playlist was selected by a music committee that voted on songs in a secret ballot. Billboard highlighted Clark Race's the key time slot for the exposure of music.
"Foremost among the reasons for this outstanding sucess picture is the station's music policy. KDKA in this area has not only kept up with the times but also tries to keep ahead. Its 87-record sheet reflects most the important pop hits and new releases according to local and national sales. ...Music programming on each show is done by a loose formula of 50 percent current and 25 per cent "other" which includes the wide choice of LPs and past hits. ...Each air personality is responsible for picking the records from the playlist and programs according to his own personal feel.
Race to the West
Race left KDKA in 1970, around the time the FM radio was emerging, to work the overnight shift at KMPC in Los Angeles. While working in LA he also hosted the Chuck Barris produced TV game show, "The Parent Game." in 1972. He left LA in 1978 to join station KYUU San Francisco. In 1980 he worked mornings for the contemporary Christian music station KBRT on Catalina Island. He worked at KYXY in San Diego from 1981 to 1986.
Retirement from Radio and Return to Pittsburgh
Disillusioned with formatted rotation Top 40 radio that was controlled by program directors, Clark left the radio business. He was allowed to play want he wanted when he first went to the West Coast. He could play new songs from a variety of styles to create hits and he could play fun novelty songs to entertain his audiences. But as time moved on management strictly prescribed what he had to play and when it was to be played.
Clark and his wife returned to Pittsburgh in 1986 to open a bed and breakfast in Sewickley. In 1993 the couple bought Gabriel's Bed and Breakfast in New Wilmington in Lawrence County's Amish country. On his return to Pittsburgh, some stations wanted Clark to host an oldies show, playing the songs from the sixties that he used to play. Clark turned them down. He did not want to play oldies. They did not understand what he stood for. Clark Race discovered new artists and new songs. He always looked for something new. He was a true music fan.
Clark Race died in 1999 at the age of 66 after a heart attack and a lengthy battle with throat cancer. He is fondly remembered by the generation of Pittsburghers who grew up in the sixties for all of the great music that he introduced us to.