Tuesday, January 03, 2017


Lisa Wheeler with Bob Washington, the voice of K-tel. (2004)

2016 was a rough for pop culture icons, but two that may have slipped past your radar were more behind the scenes.  If you're a regular listener of Shuffle Function you probably know that K-tel records are pretty important to us.  We created the game Shuffle Function Radio Roulette around them, and it has become a favorite regular feature on the show.  The source material that we use for Radio Roulette comes from Shelley's huge collection of those records.  We draw numbers to determine which record we play, flip a coin to determine the record side, and roll dice to determine the track.  The song selection is completely random, and since we use K-tel records it's also completely dangerous.  Those records are a minefield.

K-tel records also helped us meet Lisa Wheeler, a record collector and fellow music geek.  She's written extensively about the label over the years, and she also shipped a good chunk of her K-tel collection to Shelley to help build up the Radio Roulette stockpile.  Lisa blogs about radio station promotional records on radiouseonly.com (you can find our theme song 45 posted there), as well as records from Colorado on northofpueblo.com and pueblocitylimits.com.  She's also written for publications like Goldmine, so not too shabby.

SKIP TO THE POINT:  This last year saw the deaths of two major players from K-tel.  The biggest loss to the K-tel world was Philip Kives, the founder of K-tel International, who died in April.  Not only did he pioneer the marketing of gadgets and gizmos "as seen on TV", but he also came up with the concept behind K-tel records.

Lisa with Philip Kives, founder of K-tel!

The most iconic loss to K-tel, as well as to the world of voice over artists, was Bob Washington, who passed away in December.  You might not know him by name, and you probably wouldn't recognize him on the street, but you would certainly recognize Bob's voice.  He was THE voice of K-tel, and you could hear him in dozens of television ads for various K-tel products exclaiming NEW FROM K-TEL!

In 2004 Lisa had the chance to interview Bob Washington, and she wrote an article about him.  Bob even recorded a promo for a website she was running at the time!  Lisa allowed us to publish her story on our blog, and we hope you enjoy it.  Thanks, Lisa!

But Wait, There’s More…”
An Interview with the Voice of K-tel, Bob Washington

In the mid 1960’s Bob Washington was a morning show disc jockey on Winnipeg radio station CKRC, when one day Philip Kives, the founder of K-tel, walked into the building. “He asked if we could put some spots together for him.” Little did Washington know at the time, that simple request would turn out to be an almost 15 year gig as the main voice behind memorable TV and radio commercials for everything from salad spinners and fishing gadgets, to music compilations.

“All the sessions were interesting because for the most part while I was doing the voicing (fellow CKRC employee), Harry (Taylor) was running the boards and Kives was overseeing the production. Phil would come in with a neatly typed script and then we would sit down and start voicing it.” But he admitted that things usually didn’t start out as neatly as they began. “He (Kives) would get these ideas and start writing on the script. Before too long I was having to read hand-written text that was going up one side of this neatly-typed script and down the other.”

On average, Washington said he would record five or six different spots an hour, packing in close to 150 words in one one-minute commercial. The partnership resulted in so many commercials, even he didn’t keep track. “I have no idea how many total we did,” he said.

His voice could be heard not only in the United States and Canada, but also in England and Australia. “Burton Cummings (lead singer of the Guess Who) would often tell me when I saw him that he always felt at home when he was on tour and would hear a K-tel commercial on the television in his hotel room.”

After 42 years in broadcasting, Washington retired in 1991, but he still looks back fondly on his days as the voice of K-tel. “I felt quite honored to be part of company that was so successful. Who would have guessed that a boy from Wadena, Saskatchewan would have been a part of something like this.”

SCTV poked fun of K-tel and Bob Washington on their show!

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