Thousands of Northwest radio listeners woke up one last time to Don Riggs’ voice recently during his final broadcast after 55 years in the industry.
“Good morning, 5 o’clock at KMPS FM in Seattle – last time I’ll be saying that for a while,” said Riggs, 71, during his final broadcast with the Waking Crew. “I think it seems appropriate my head phones are not working this morning. Time to go.”
After 55 years in radio broadcasting, 33 of which were spent at 94.1 KMPS country station, Riggs has retired. Listeners have made their trek to work over the years between 5-10 a.m. listening to Riggs’ news coverage interspersed with his wit and sarcasm.
His career spans the broadcasting alphabet. He got his start at KLAN radio in Renton, broadcasting during the weekends while he was a Bellevue High School student. He also worked at KUOW, KFKF and KIRO, to name a few.
At KREN, a radio station housed in the former Renton Inn, the studio was on the top floor, Riggs recalls. During the summertime, he covered the noon news — poolside.
“We took all the mic cord we could find and dropped it down six floors off the side of the building and stuck the mic out,” he laughs. “That was high-tech stuff, but it worked.”
On his last day, song requests poured in from listeners who wanted to dedicate one last song to Riggs. They ranged from the sentimental “Last of a Dying Breed” by Neil McCoy, to songs more suited to Riggs’ sense of humor, such as “Take This Job and Shove it” and “Hit the Road Jack.”
Becky Brenner, KMPS program director who has worked with Riggs for 27 years, dedicated Keith Anderson’s “Somebody Needs a Hug.”
“When I first started working here, no matter how bad your morning was, he always gave everybody a hug when they came to work,” she said.
In recent years, Riggs has still doled out hugs, but only when they are welcome.
“Because I don’t want to see the damn video again for those things,” he cracked of the sexual harassment awareness videos.
Brenner said people have really counted on Riggs for their news. That morning, she stood in the studio while the Waking Crew took calls from some of the thousands of listeners that had called in.
“One woman commented that Don’s like the grandpa of the station and it’s like loosing our grandpa,” Brenner said. “People have grown up listening to him for 33 years so you have multiple generations and we haven’t even touched the surface of how much the listeners will miss him.”
On the KMPS Web site, one listener posted: “I’ve made the trek from Maple Valley to Redmond for close to 20 years with you and Waking Crew by my side. Will miss your voice every day — it’s an old friend.”
“I was on my way to work on 9/11/2001,” another listener posted. “Your calm voice in the beginning of what came to be horrific news was the anchor to keep people calm and that is the true measure of what it is to be a newsman. I will never forget your voice that morning.”
A morning person only by necessity, Riggs said he will not miss setting his alarm clock for 3 a.m. to do his wake up show by 5 a.m.
What will he miss the most?
In a moment of deep sentiment, he gets quiet.
“You know, it’s really an awfully good job,” he says. “You sit around and do this kind of crap and get paid halfway decent and no heavy lifting.”
But seriously, he says, he’s going to miss his talented crew he has worked beside for years. He will also miss the drive from the Eastside to Seattle and the serene Lake Union view.
He looks forward to putting a few miles on his motor home and taking weekend trips with wife, Maria. He will also spend time with his grandchildren.
Stephen Killbreath will be Diggs’ interim replacement.
Carrie Wood can be reached at email@example.com or 425-453-4290.