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Remembering KMET FM radio’s ‘The Burner’ Mary Turner

If you were a listener to KMET (now KTWV, 94.7 FM) during the station’s rise to dominance in the 1970s, you remember “The Burner” Mary Turner, one of the early female pioneers of progressive and album rock radio. On the KMET airwaves from 1972 to 1982, she in many ways represented exactly what KMET was to its listeners: intelligent, passionate and human.

Turner passed away on May 9. The news was announced by Turner’s KMET colleague Ace Young, who posted the news and a tribute on social media.

Speaking to LARadio.Com’s Don Barrett years ago regarding her career and the early days of progressive rock radio, Turner reflected on the times.”It was an exciting time back then because you didn’t operate under any rules. You could play anything you wanted, say anything you wanted and who cared? FM at that time was a joke, especially to Top 40 people. We were the hippies, and they were the stars.”

How did the fact that she was a woman in an industry dominated, especially back then, by men affect her career? Turner told Barrett, “I think being a woman helped more than anything else. The time was right for it, and I happened to be in the right place at the right time.”

Just a short time after her arrival at KMET, the station hired a female program director, Sam Bellamy, who also spoke with Barrett, saying “When I arrived at KMET in 1974, Mary was already there paving the way for women in radio. We became fast friends and partners in crime, based a lot on our shared sense of humor and intense desire to succeed.

“I learned very quickly that Mary would set the bar high for aspiring air personalities and radio executives alike, especially in the highly competitive L.A. market. Before Oprah and others started preaching it, Mary was living the purpose-driven life. Back in the early ’70s, Mary had set goals for herself and she kept building on, and reaching for, those goals – always mindful of inspiring and teaching others along the way.”

She produced short interview and music information segments for KMET that evolved into nationally syndicated special programs called Off the Record; these specials reached an estimated 25 million listeners and are highly respected to this day. She was among the first to ever interview a young Bruce Springsteen for her regular evening air shift.

After leaving KMET, she continued with Off the Record, did a daily show for Armed Forces Radio, did a stint for a Canadian broadcast group, and even worked on “Music in the Air,” an entertainment service used on the now defunct TWA Airlines. She returned to the local airwaves on KLSX (now KNX-FM, 97.1) for a time in 1993.

More recently she was the chairwoman of the Betty Ford Center at Eisenhower Hospital in Rancho Mirage … the first chair to not be a member of the Ford family since the Center’s inception. Her expertise in this area came from her own life and determination to overcome her problems – in the early 1990s, she fought back a substance abuse problem, went on to become a UCLA-certified drug and alcohol counselor, and then earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology.

Turner is preceded in death by her husband Norm Pattiz, who she met through her radio shows. Pattiz, founder and former chairman of Westwood One radio networks, passed away just this past December.

As if to prove the importance of Turner and her career, The Paley Center for Media in New York City includes in its collection recordings of her last show on KMET, dated August 6, 1982. The collection also includes a portion of Jim Ladd’s program that followed immediately after, which on this night became a tribute show to Turner’s career.

Hear Turner’s interview with Springsteen from July 4th of 1978 at bit.ly/TurnerSpringsteen. Find other airchecks by searching YouTube and others for Mary Turner KMET.

The passing of Turner affected many. As Ace Young said in his Facebook post, it hit him “like a ton of bricks

“Mary & I worked together for many years at KMET,” Young wrote. “In fact, our friendship dates back to San Francisco. We both came to the Mighty Met in the Spring of 1972. Mary was the best. So much can be said of her career; her success; her life with husband, and recently passed, Norm Pattiz. I’ll, for the moment, leave that for others.

“I am grief-stricken!” he concludes.

Richard Wagoner is a San Pedro freelance columnist covering radio in Southern California. Email rwagoner@socalradiowaves.com.

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