Wednesday, September 7, 2016

R.I.P.: Topeka Radio Broadcaster Merle Blair

Merle Blair
Merle Blair, a fixture on Topeka radio for more than 60 years and former longtime president of the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce, died last weekend.

He was 80-years-of-age, according to The Capital-Journal.

Until his death, Blair produced a four-hour weekly radio show — “The Merle Blair Sunday Show” — that featured an eclectic mix of pop songs and standards from the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.

The show, which started in 1964, was a fixture on KTOP 1490 AM before moving to sister station KMAJ 1440 AM a few years ago.

Frank Chaffin, co-owner and general manager of Topeka’s oldies internet radio station,, said he began working with Blair in 1958, when they were both at KTOP.

Chaffin said Blair was on the air as a disc jockey when he started at KTOP in the late 1950s. Blair then became program director before moving to sales and, ultimately, to the general manager’s chair at the station.

“Merle was a great general manager,” Chaffin said. “He really kept that place going. He was not one to micromanage. He kind of let everyone do what they needed to do, but every once in a while would give it a gentle nudge to get it back where he thought it should be.”

After leaving the full-time radio business, Chaffin said, Blair recorded his “Sunday Show” in his basement. “For a long time, it was on reel-to-reel tapes. Then he went over to CDs, and that’s what he’d take over to the radio station each week when he finished his show.”

Chaffin said Blair got his start in radio at KIND-AM in Independence, Kan., and came to Topeka on a Washburn University basketball scholarship in the 1950s.

Blair started his radio career at KTOP in 1955, and in 1999 he received the Kansas Association of Broadcasters’ Distinguished Service Award.

Current KAB President Kent Cornish recalled working at WIBW-AM radio in the 1970s and calling Washburn University basketball games as Blair did the same for KTOP a few feet away.

“Even though we were competitors, he was always so helpful to me — so friendly,” Cornish said.

Though Blair was well known in the broadcasting community, Cornish said that represented “maybe half of his professional life.” The other half, he said, was his 18-year stint as president and CEO of the Topeka Chamber, from 1983 to 2001.

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