BY Steve Rudman 08:42PM 05/07/2017

Seattle media icon J Michael Kenyon (1944-2017)

Legendary Pacific Northwest journalist, talk-show host, media character and wit J Michael Kenyon passed away April 26 in Port Orford, OR. at age 73.

J Michael Kenyon, a legend  in Pacific Northwest media, died April 26 in Port Orford, OR. / National Wrestling Hall of Fame

J (no period) Michael Kenyon, who worked four stints at the old Seattle Post-Intelligencer as a general columnist and sports reporter between the mid-1960s and early 1980s, died Wednesday in Port Orford, on the southern Oregon coast, at 73. No cause of death has been disclosed, but Kenyon had congestive heart failure for the more than a decade. No services are planned.

Kenyon, whose given name was Michael Glover, grew up in the Lake City neighborhood of Seattle, and graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1962 before briefly attending the University of Washington, where he participated in scrimmages with the men’s varsity basketball team. He was the first Post-Intelligencer beat reporter assigned to cover the NBA expansion SuperSonics in 1967 and also the paper’s first reporter assigned to cover the MLB expansion Seattle Mariners in 1977.

During his career, Kenyon worked for numerous media outlets, including The News Tribune in Tacoma, the Pasadena (CA.) Star News, Baltimore Sun and Yakima Herald. While at the Star News, toiling as a layout editor, he famously published a series of unflattering photographs of then-President Richard M. Nixon with the accompanying headline, “Would you buy a used car from this man?” That made headlines nationwide and came to define the former president in advance of his Watergate scandal.

In 1980, Kenyon became Seattle’s second sports radio talk show host, following KIRO’s Wayne Cody, on rival Seattle station KVI. He quit that job over disputes with management, which constantly sought to tamp down his often-controversial opinions about, well, everything and anything.

During his KVI career, Kenyon loved to secure guests and surprise them on-air with compromising and embarrassing questions, over which he would chuckle for days. More than one of his guests stalked out of his studio in disgust/horror in mid-interview. J Michael relished chaos in all its forms.

Kenyon either quit or was fired from the P-I four times. One firing occurred, according to what J Michael told friends and colleagues (and he told them many conflicting things), after he wrote a TV column that ripped the 1969 moon landing, which deeply offended his managing editor, Jack Doughty, a patriotic World War II veteran. J Michael’s final exit from the P-I in 1980 stemmed from his reporting on the Mariners.

Kenyon wrote frequently, and almost gleefully, about the “Jewish Six-Pack,” a reference to the team’s original ownership group, headed by entertainer Danny Kaye. Although P-I management repeatedly warned him not to use that phrase, Kenyon persisted and somehow slipped his work past editors.

As a result, the Bon Marche department store (now Macy’s), an executive of which had a stake in the Mariners, yanked its advertising from the newspaper. Despite hiring, at great expense, a big shot from the Washington Post to win back the account, the morning daily was beset by revenue problems. Its owner, the Hearst Corp. of New York, eventually agreed in 1981 to a joint operating agreement with the afternoon Seattle Times that allowed it into the morning market.

While he labored along with the expansion Mariners, Kenyon became the best beat reporter to cover the team, still true today. He could produce a game story in 10 to15 minutes, which enthralled P-I editors, and nailed the content. He could knock out riveting, well-researched feature stories in a relative blink.

But he also once turned in an $800 expense account for a champagne breakfast at a Detroit hotel to celebrate a birthday that included an ambulance ride to Tiger Stadium (never fully explained), exasperating those same editors.

By 1985, Kenyon was gone from the Seattle newspaper scene. He subsequently developed a spectrum of eclectic interests. He became an expert in thoroughbred horse racing, auto racing, hydroplane racing, rodeos, croquet and professional wrestling. He even delved into the esoteric history of semi-pro basketball in the Northwest prior to the arrival of the Sonics, publishing dozens of articles on a subject of minimal public interest.

He worked in those endeavors as a promoter, publicity director, fan, paid researcher and unpaid volunteer. For a time in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he lived in England, working as a horse-racing tout at Ascot and Epsom Downs. In 2010, having switched gears entirely, Kenyon was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, apparently for writing a riveting history of the “sport.”

“He was a famous wit, a radio talker, right-winger, golf nut, trivia expert, marriage enthusiast (five or six times) and spicy journalist,” wrote the late Emmett Watson, a long-time P-I/Times columnist, in 1993.

According to one-time P-I colleague Dan Raley, who profiled Kenyon in 2007 after he had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, Kenyon was one of the most memorable characters in the history of Northwest media, an assessment with which no one who knew him will disagree.

“He often became a better story than the one he was writing,” wrote Raley, who worked alongside Kenyon at the Post-Intelligencer. “He changed jobs, wives and watering holes (he once built an entire bookcase out of Amaretto bottles he claimed to have consumed) so frequently it was hard to keep track of him. He was lovable and despicable, all in one. He was talented and self-destructive. He was the city’s own Hunter S. Thompson, the sports edition.”

Kenyon told hundreds of stories about his life and adventures/misadventures, many of them changing from listener to listener, to old friends and perfect strangers, without prompting. That made it practically impossible  — fact-checking a J Michael anecdote was virtually impossible — to verify exactly what was true. Kenyon seemed to enjoy the discrepancies and inconsistencies immensely, but his tales were always spellbinding.

He enjoyed playing, in real life, a variety of character types. In the late 1960s and 1970s, he dressed as a hippie with shoulder-length hair, a beard and sunglasses. Then he switched to leisure suits and ascots and berets. During his horse racing days, he wore ice-cream suits and a panama hat. Then he adopted a business look, shaving off all whiskers and wearing pin-striped suits and striped ties. For a while after that, he wore bib overalls, a la Mr. Greenjeans of 1960s kids TV. He seemed to dress to fit whatever suited his interest/occupation at the moment.

Everybody acquainted with Kenyon knew his “characters,” but never really knew Michael Glover. He kept that secret.

According to Raley’s story, Michael Glover changed his name at the suggestion of his second wife, a former stripper whom he met on a Sonics road trip in a Baltimore bar  — or maybe it was a trip to the Indianapolis 500 — who thought “Glover” sounded boring.

In any case, the soon-to-be J Michael (no period after J because it didn’t quite fit into a one-column Post-Intelligencer byline) spotted a sign fort the Kenyon Printing Co. while driving State Route 99 and took the name.

Raley, who maintained communication with Kenyon over the years, reported that ex-scribe/radio gadfly died while sitting in a recliner with a bowl of chips on his lap. Another report said he died in his sleep. Perhaps he was asleep in his recliner.

In any case, one of the Northwest’s most colorful characters, media or otherwise, is survived by his wife, No. 5, or No. 6, Joan.

“He was married six or more times,” Raley said. “He e-mailed me many pearls of wisdom through the years, even recently. Not all of his ex-wives might feel this way, but I’m really going to miss this guy.”

One of those ex-wives, whom he married while wearing a Mariners uniform at the Ballard Locks, once tried to take him out with an ice pick on the observation deck of the Space Needle. She missed, another story J Michael loved to tell.

 


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YourThoughts

  • bevdog

    Great story!!! Brought back many memories and made me chuckle. Seattle sports history at its best. Well done!

    • art thiel

      My pal Steve did a fine job. The full job on Kenyon would take months, if not years.

  • bugzapper

    “Kenyon… grew up in Lake City, WA ”

    Y’all aint frum roun heah, ah yuh? Lake City is a neighborhood district in Seattle. Come visit some time.

    “In 1980, Kenyon became Seattle’s second sports radio talk show host, following KIRO’s Wayne Cody, on rival Seattle station KVI.”

    This oft-reported claim needs some fact-checking. Cody didn’t start on KIRO, he started on KTW in 1975. I’d have to pull up the old radio logs, but it’s likely there was someone else in that five year span doing sports talk before J Michael jumped in. Remember, KING-AM took a shot at it, too.

    Regardless, J Michael really was our own Hunter S. Thompson. Amazing mind, enough personality to fill a stadium. They just don’t make ’em like him anymore.

    • art thiel

      Well, J Michael would have chided us for the error, so we fixed it in his honor.

      Don’t recall an intervening sports broadcaster doing radio in the 70s. Ray McMackin?

      J Michael’s KVI gig was often only incidentally about sports. I recall him doing an entire radio show sitting in a vat of the then-wonder drug for inflammation, DMSO.

      Besides a good voice, he had two great virtues for radio — encyclopedic memory, and unpredictability.

      • bugzapper

        A lot of people thought McMackin was going to land the Mariners job. In those days he was a local fave, and nobody had ever heard of Niehaus. I’m also thinking KAYO took a short-lived stab at sports-talk.

  • Cliff McCrath

    One correction: J Michael passed in the wee hours of May 3, not April 26. As one J Foo called his “…best Pal…” I scratched out the following:

    J MICHAEL KENYON
    Aliases: J MICHAEL; J MICHAEL Mc FOO FOO; J FOO; OLD FOO; OLD FALL GUY; TISH the MISH and many others…

    I’m assuming you know by now but, this past Wednesday (May 3, 2017) – sitting in his recliner with a bowl of chips in his lap – J Michael breathed his last. His wife Joan had
    just returned from urgent care (pneumonia) and the Aid Car attendant wouldn’t let her go into the living room. He then came to her and reported that “…your husband has passed.”
    I have lost one of my best pals and the world has lost one of its wonders.
    There won’t be services of any kind but his ashes will be placed into multiple vials – and distributed to a number of us – to spread on golf courses, fields of conquests, wrestling mats and boxing rings, bodies of water – where hydroplanes have toppled or tipped – various bars, and other sites where his elbows or toes have touched down. His mind was muscular like a leopard’s and his ability to research the truth was frightening. If he wanted to know something about you he would know more about you than you know about you! His wealth of knowledge and – “facts” – and his massively electric “instant recall” was equally scary! He could be harsh – borderline uncaring – sometimes very aggravating but, in truth, when it came to his special friends, he was mostly a cream puff! His little chuckle was an elixir to laughter – and warm smiles – melting away any strong feelings or desires to protest.
    I miss him terribly.
    To borrow a phrase – “I’m at a loss right now!”

    My best,
    C. Cliff McCrath

    Alias: World B Nub – the moniker J Foo gave me when the team and I were all
    crowded into his smoke-filled KVI broadcast booth after we had won the 1978
    National Championship. I immediately responded with “Thank you, J Michael McFoo
    Foo!”…the beginning of a lifelong friendship!

    • art thiel

      Uncle Nubs, it’s great to hear from you. J Michael had one of the most fascinating minds I’ve encountered. His research, as you said, was astonishing. And he disarmed everyone he encountered, gently or harshly.

      If I were a third party in a conversation with you two, I would know enough to shut the hell up and revel.

      Those of us who knew him join you in feeling the loss.

      • Cliff McCrath

        Huge THANKS, Art. J Foo and I, teeing off at dawn – aided by a naked bulb shedding its amber light on what we believed was a golf ball – pined many times about having our own Laurel and Hardy talk show and always listed you as one of our “regulars”. I spanned the globe seeking soccer insights (and shared a few) but always returned to link up with Foo. We laughed a lot and examined everything for the sacred and the irreverent. We traded emails 4-5 times weekly and connected by phone biweekly. I miss him greatly.

        C. Cliff McCrath, Co-Founder/President

        Northwest Soccer Camp

        PMB 447

        6830 NE Bothell Way, Suite C

        Kenmore, WA 98028

        (c) 206-963-9047 (f) 888-471-1965

        http://www.nwsoccer.org
        [https://docs.google.com/uc?export=download&id=0B8Euy_OgJlzDMXhzZ3FKVVA2Zm8&revid=0B8Euy_OgJlzDZ3BLWDZEVk02NW85cTRTSlJkcllhZzRkMjIwPQ]

        • art thiel

          Everyone who knows the two of you would have paid large coin to listen. Every program manager would be too scared to hire you.

  • vandals1

    Thanks, Steve, for the great stories and background. Like you, I count myself blessed to have occasionally been caught in the eye of the hurricane that was J Michael. The man was often brilliant, occasionally nuts, but always fascinating. I can see him pounding away on a manual typewriter in heaven right about now …

  • Doug1947

    Great tribute to the incomparable J Michael. I loved his writing and his radio show.

    • art thiel

      Off the rails. In a good way.

  • Jimmy Freedman

    World B Nubb is still alive and kicking!!! Good to hear. We lost a good friend and a guy who taught me more about sports trivia and the triviality of sports than everyone else combined!

    • art thiel

      The mind of J Michael was where dragons feared to fly.

  • coug73

    Oh my, J Michael and Cliff McCrath in the same room, there would be no oxygen.

    • art thiel

      The oral version of riding a bicycle over railroad ties.

    • Jacquelinerarbogast

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  • Gregg Hersholt

    Great tribute, Dear!

  • Mike Zim

    Great piece! And some hilarious new stories to me. In 2013, when J Michael (alias JMK, McFooFoo, the Sage of Port Orford, et al) heard I was researching my dad’s pro wrestling career, he contacted me and offered to help. I was a leery, wondering what this Oregonian’s angle was, and why he should be interested in a minor, mid-carder wrestler. But I welcomed his help. In short order, he provided tons of info about dad, and we were off to the races, communicating almost daily, over the ensuing years. Kenyon was an American treasure, and I also miss him terribly.

    • art thiel

      So fill us in. Who was dad?

      • Mike Zim

        Dad had many aliases, or “gimmicks”, as they’re called in the wrestling business. (Or noms de grapple, -de resin, and -de mat, as Kenyon variously described them.) The commonest ones were Wild Bill Zim, Wild Man Zimovich, and Buffalo Bill Cody. (Plus many ballyhoo names, like The Shirley Temple of the Bone-Bending Business, Goldilocks, The Prussian Thunderbolt of Nova Scotia, the Wild Man of Borneo, the Man from Mars, and, one of Kenyon’s favorites, The Naughty Nicaraguan. (Due to his Central America adventures.))
        He wrestled from 1934 to 1956, across America. Ran away from home at 14 and joined the Army & Marines. Then Tarzan of the Elephants with Ringling, a carnival take-on-all-comers, a Muscle Beach (S Monica) weightlifter, movie stuntman. Notable for an ability to jump and walk the ropes, shoulder-length beach-blonde hair. An eccentric personality with a strong artistic nature. … I’m forever in J Michael Kenyon’s debt, for bringing his story alive.

  • seapilot69

    Great read and tribute to one of the best scribes of the old Seattle PI sports section. With writers like Plaschke, Thiel, Rudman and Moore, they could make even the most lifeless Mariner season worth the read. I was a faithful listener to his 7-11 sports show on the old KVI station and his wit, knowledge and insight were unparalleled. I learned more about professional bowling and wrestling than I could ever use in any conversation. I remember a J Michael story about when he was the official scorer for the Mariners and while rumored to be slightly enebriated, had a disagreement with then-owner George Argyros and knocked his drink out of his hand. That was the end of his official scorer gig. RIP J Michael. You were one of a kind and a Northwest legend.