Mikel Hunter Herrington
radio legends category
By Brad Kava
San Jose radio pioneer Mikel Hunter Herrington was a guy who broke the
rules, and in doing so, taught people new ways to program radio
As Captain Mikey, from 1966 -1969 he held crazy contests and snuck
guests into the nighttime studio, making Top 40 KLIV-AM (1590) the
first San Jose station to beat its San Francisco competitors.
He brought the branding he learned from AM radio over to rocker KOME-
FM (98.5) from 1977-1983 making that station one of the most well-
known in the country. You only have to look today at the station
bumper stickers and T-shirts still around, to know how strong a brand
it was and still is.
"He taught me that a radio station is more than music," says Jang.
"Before him, FM radio was about DJs being almost musicologists. There
was no imaging, no production pieces, no promotions, other then
giving away copies of the latest album."
But Herrington had chicken flying contests, with birds pushed out of
mailboxes with a toilet plunger. On April Fool’s Day he told
listeners to cover up their telephone receivers because the phone
company was cleaning out the lines and would be blowing dust through
them. And he led his whole staff to the homes of listeners to crash
He mixed irreverance with a keen ear for music, always teaching that
radio had to have attitude to be remembered.
"Consider that KOME – a radio station – became one of the Bay Area’s
premier brand names and, to this day, enjoys tremendous recall long
after the station’s lights were switched off," says Bob Ray, who was
morning man at KLIV when Herrington was on KOME.
"At that time, there wasn’t simply a scent of change in the air
regarding the state of radio. It was a fucking hurricane and the man
at the center of that maelstrom in San Jose - and the Bay Area – was
He was as original as the spelling of his first name, and as
bouyantly chameleonlike as the host of aliases he appeared on the
San Jose mostly knew him as Captain Mikey and Lefty, but in
a career that took him to both coasts, the south and the southwest,
he was also Mikel Hunter, Motorcycle Mike and Hot Rocks Hunter.
Herrington was immortalized in the movie "FM," a movie written by
Ezra Sacks, one of his former staffers at Los Angeles’ KMET, who
based the character of the fictional program director on his former
"He had the reputation disclosed to me after he left, of not paying
too much attention to the rules" recalls KLIV owner Bob Kieve. “He
had guests in the studio constantly at night, which was against the
rules. I call him a man of the sixties. He changed his appearance
about once a month. He was a cynical guy, and bright, very bright.
He was born Marion Elbridge Herrington in Florence, South Carolina
and died of leukemia in 1997 at the age of 62. An itinerant radio
devotee, he worked at radio stations in New Bern, North Carolina;
Jackson, Mississippi; Dallas; Boston; Tucson; San Diego; Los Angles;
Phoenix; Philadelphia, Iran and Napa.
Mikel also promoted San Jose recording artists Syndicate of Sound and
People by performing both booking and management duties as well as
record production for both acts while on Capital Records.
And he discovered, trained and influenced radio talents who have gone
on to their own glory, including KFOX program director Laurie
Roberts; KEZR and KBAY program director Dana Jang; KLIV manager John
McLeod; DJ and wildman Dennis Erectus; KUFX ad salesman Mark
Fenichel; KCBS production director, Jack Perry; Rob Singleton,
operations director at Santa Rosa’s KJZY and Kelly Cox, with Westwood
One and KLOS in Los Angeles, just to name a few.
He was a stern manager, who expected his staff to work as hard as
In the words of Bob Ray, a competitor and friend: "We radio folk
share a delightfully dysfunctional dynamic but Mikel wore the chief’s
headdress, hands down with second place light years behind."