John Rook

John Rook, the influential top 40 programmer and consultant who took WLS Chicago to No. 1 ratings in the 1960s, died March 1 of natural causes at his home in Coeur d’ Alene, ID according to his website. He was 78.

Born in Ohio and raised in Nebraska, Rook moved to California in the mid-’50s to take acting classes. But after Tennessee Ernie Ford suggested Rook try his hand as a rock ‘n’ roll DJ, he took the air name Johnny Rowe and worked on the air in Wyoming, South Dakota and in Salt Lake City. But it was programming where Rook made his mark, first at KTLN Denver. His success there led him to ABC powerhouse KQV Pittsburgh, where he introduced listeners to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Supremes, among others. By 1967 Rook was programming another legendary set of call letters, Chicago’s WLS, taking the 50,000-watt Midwest monster to No. 1. Rook parlayed that success into a consulting career, working with stations such as Chicago’s WCFL, Miami’s Y-100, Houston’s KRBE and Atlanta’s Z-93. Rook also programmed KFI and KABC in Los Angeles.

Moving to North Idaho in 1983, Rook bought a small horse ranch south of Coeur d’Alene and became the owner of multiple stations, according to the Coeur d’ Alene Press. Known as the “KEY chain,” they included KEY-AM & FM and KEZE in Spokane. He sold the stations in the late ‘90s during the era of consolidation, of which he was a vocal critic. More recently he wrote commentary on his website,, and guested on and consulted talk radio.

“He was one of the most influential radio programmers in the country,” his nephew Jason Rook, who worked with John on radio projects, told the Coeur d’ Alene Press. “He had a tremendous impact on musicians and their careers.”