The most famous disc jockey ever to work in Stockton was Don Imus. But there was another big guy — big famewise, big framewise and big-hearted — John Mack Flanagan.
Flanagan, who died March 31, was a star at San Francisco’s powerhouse Top 40 station, KFRC, “the Big 610,” in the 1970s. He was popular at other big Bay Area stations, too.
In the mid ’90s, after his 36-year career had peaked, he worked for several years at Stockton’s KJOY-FM.
“I used to listen to him on KFRC like everybody else,” said Steve Jackson, who worked with Flanagan at KJOY. “When he first came on I was a little bit in awe of him.”
But Flanagan, Jackson learned, “definitely was as nice as they come.”
Johnnie Mack Flanagan (named after Johnny “Mack” Brown, a B Western movie actor) fell hard for Top 40 as a teenager. His mother moved him to the boondocks of Roswell, New Mexico, where only an Oklahoma station, KOMA, reached at night.
“KOMA was vital to my life,” he later wrote. “It was like oxygen. … How I wanted to be a part of that world.”
After a tour in Vietnam in 1968-69, Flanagan used his booming, clear voice, high energy and an indefinable ability to connect with listeners to work his way up in radio.
His stellar turn at KFRC was from 1973 to 1979.
“He had presence, this ability to be on the air with such presence that you could feel him as well as hear him,” deejay Bobby Ocean told a Bay Area paper.
Flanagan was genuinely nice and nicely genuine, added David Ferrell Jackson, founder of the Bay Area Radio Museum (and no relation to Steve Jackson.)
“The moment I met him I became his best friend, and I say that knowing that the next person he met, that person became his best friend and the next person, …” Jackson said.
“He loved radio and he loved radio people and he loved radio listeners,” Jackson went on. “I think that’s why he was able to connect with listeners so long.”
Flanagan also loved celebrity. “I've always wanted people right now to go, ‘Wow! It’s him!’ ” he once said.
But radio is a fickle mistress. Flanagan was riding high at KSFO/KYA-FM in ’92 when, despite his popularity, a new corporate owner cut him loose. He had never been out of a job.
By the mid-’90s he was working at KJOY. He commuted from Daly City — a numbing, 186-mile round trip — every day. “He would have stories every time he came about what went on on the road,” Steve Jackson recalled.
Jackson also recalled Flanagan’s other passion: B Western movies, like his namesake used to star in.
One day in 2000 Flanagan found himself out of radio work entirely. He became a security guard.
“You’ll never know how much I miss radio,” he told rock journalist Ben Fong-Torres in 2016. “My eyes fill with tears at the thought, and the ache goes so deep.”
Belatedly, radio loved him back. In 2016 Flanagan was the first DJ inducted into the National Radio DJ Hall of Fame. The following year, he was inducted into the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame.
When he died in his sleep of congestive heart failure, Fong-Torres resurfaced to quote a deejay who called Flanagan “one of the most brilliantly talented personalities ever.”
Who once piped radio “oxygen” to Stockton youth.
Steve Jackson has a keepsake from Flanagan. “He hand-wrote on a KJOY note pad a ‘Merry Christmas.’ Then he signed it, ‘John Mack Flanagan, 3-7 KJOY.’ I guess it was like he was signing an autograph to me. I still have it somewhere.”
Contact columnist Michael Fitzgerald at (209) 546-8270 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at recordnet.com/fitzgeraldblog and on Twitter @Stocktonopolis.