Remembering My Friend Don Early
by Richard W. Irwin
November, 1997
Updated July 5, 2004

Golden Bear Raceway, 1980 At the left, you see a picture taken in the Winner's Circle at Golden Bear Raceway, at the California State Fairgrounds in 1980.

In the highlighted area, you'll see a couple of guys shaking hands, appearing for all purposes to have something to do with the winning horse.

Those two guys are me, (Uncle Ricky) and my best friend, Donald E. Early.

Richard and Don In reality, Don and I had nothing to do with the winning horse. At the time, I'd only known Don for a few months. He'd just been hired as Promotions Manager at KROY, and we were doing what we continued to do for 17 years, in and out of radio — having fun and doing our best to look important.

KZAP Ashtray Don Early had been part-owner and Sales Manager of KZAP-FM, the legendary '60's Sacramento progressive pioneer - one of the first "underground" stations on the West Coast. Don was part of a group that operated KZAP for the better part of the 70's. Don and his partners cashed out when KZAP was sold again in 1978, the same time I arrived in Sacramento. In 1980, Don came to work at KROY. In 1982, Don and I began a decade-long adventure producing The July 4th Pyromusical Spectacular for KROY, and numerous other stations.

Don, 1992
In between radio jobs, in the 80's, he was in business for himself as ShowPro production services. He was Stage Manager for the 1982 California Capitol Restoration Gala, and produced a number of Sacramento Ad Club Awards shows over the years. He was my last boss in radio as Station Manager of KSAC All Sports Radio (formerly KROY), in 1994.

Don moved to Las Vegas in October of this year to take a job as Entertainment Director for The Oxford Group. I last saw him on October 16, 1997, at a small farewell dinner attended by a few close, long-time friends. On November 6, he wrote me e-mail from his new account in Las Vegas. On November 24, I learned that Don had suffered a heart attack in his apartment on Friday morning, November 21. He was 60 years old.

Don leaves behind hundreds of friends and associates who worked with him in Sacramento radio and media for nearly 30 years. He was one of the most stubborn, determined, energetic, encouraging and positive people I have ever known. I helped Don buy his first computer this last summer, and had taken to calling him "Cyberdude". For a guy with very little computer experience, Don took to the 'Net like a veteran, and a few of his comments are scattered around the Repository.

On August 9th of 1997, Don wrote, in Memory of The Real Don Steele:

We know that eventually all the giants will fall... when it is someone you've shared your life with DAILY, like a favorite DJ, that's when it really shakes you.
Donald, another giant has fallen. I will miss you, terribly, so much.

Rest in Peace, buddy.

PLAY Don Early on KSAC, 10/31/94 (13:17)

On October 31, 1994, 16 years to the day after I started working for KROY in Sacramento, Don Early and I appeared in the last hour of locally-originated English-language radio on KSAC 1240 AM. The station had been sold to a Spanish language broadcaster, and operated as Mexican KSQR for nearly ten years. After a short "dark" period, the station went American in 2004. As of July 5, 2004, it is "TalkCity 1240 AM" - with the Air America Network. I'm not sure what Don would think.

The PM drive host who remained to the bitter end, Mark Hoffman, is heard here talking with Don and me about the station's switch to All Sports in September of 1991. Not only was this the last time I was on the radio, it was one of the few times that Don was ever on the radio, and it was the end of a radio station that had served English-speaking Sacramentans for generations.

Don was proud of our accomplishments at KSAC. Working with him was among the best experiences of my radio career. Having him as a friend was among the best experiences of my life.

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©1997-2004 Richard W. Irwin & REELRADIO, Inc.