The Great Race of ’61: Don Sherwood vs. Jim Lange

The Great Race of ’61: Don Sherwood vs. Jim Lange

From YOUTUBE: “A video presentation — distilled from the original black-and-white “newsreel”-style film — of the famous footrace between KSFO’s Don Sherwood and Jim Lange, from Stinson Beach in Marin County to the Ferry Building in San Francisco.  Narrated by KSFO newsman Aaron Edwards and produced by Norm Howard Lehfeldt (later of KQED-FM), the film also includes cameos by Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons, with classic title art by Tom Nuzum.  Presented by the Bay Area Radio Museum, with special thanks to Norm Howard.”

Peter Anderson on Don Sherwood

Peter Anderson's headshot from his Marin IJ column during the '80s.

Professional writer Peter Rafael Anderson’s headshot from his Marin IJ column during the ’80s.

Don Sherwood was the King of Bay Area radio in the late 1950’s – early 1960’s.  Driving from Marin and up Waldo Grade into The City every day, you could pass cars and see that everyone was smiling and laughing at the same time — all tuned to Don Sherwood’s morning show on KSFO-AM radio.

Don Sherwood

Don Sherwood

For more modern Marinites, you are no doubt more familiar with his replacement, Terry McGovern, who had a strong following on KSFO but nothing like Sherwood’s.  Sherwood was made for the times.  The 50’s were so conventional, boring, predictable.  Sherwood loved to stir things up and tweak convention.  He was a thin, almost gaunt man with black-rimmed glasses and a striking profile.  Equipped with a great set of pipes and a novel way of viewing the world, he was something of an iconoclast and rebel.  He loved to pull stunts, loved making fun of pious people in positions of power.  His radio show was the gateway to The City for visiting celebrities from Hollywood.  He interviewed them all.  Terry McGovern once told me that Judy Garland was staying in a San Francisco apartment, and a visiting Sherwood came to interview her, said something fresh to her, and listeners were greeted by the sound of Garland hurling a toaster directly at Sherwood’s head.

There was a serious, good-citizen side to Don Sherwood, as well.  He was an early environmentalist before the word was even coined.  He led the battle to Save the Bay, a wonderfully successful effort that helped stem wanton development around the entirety of San Francisco Bay. Greedy developers were salivating at the thought of making the Bay a concrete foundation for cities, malls, and high rises.  Save the Bay intervened, and prevailed.  His efforts led to the establishment of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), which protects and enhances the bay for decades to come.

Greg Sherwood, Don Sherwood's son,

Greg Sherwood, Don Sherwood’s son, is a fixture on KQED and has served on the board of the Marin Country Day School.

You might be familiar with his son, Greg Sherwood, who hosts KQED’s fund raising efforts from time to time.  Greg is a more affable, less rancorous version of his father, but sometimes when I hear his voice, I swear I am having a 1950’s flashback to Don Sherwood.   I once considered writing a screenplay about Don Sherwood. It would have been a movie done in black and white as a perfect reflection of the times, and I thought actor Roy Scheider of “Jaws” fame would be the perfect choice to play Sherwood. Same angular facial structure, same lean and mean body type.

Once, while I was a guest at George Lucas‘s Skywalker Ranch interviewing the famous director for a book project of mine, I asked Lucas if he would ever consider reading my screenplay.  Lucas gave me a wry smile, did not respond, and continued on with our tour of the ranch.  Later, one of his aides told me it is a cardinal rule at the ranch that nobody ever approach George with a script idea.  Well, I said, maybe you should have told me to check my brain at the gate, and I wouldn’t have made such a terrible gaffe.  I still think Lucas could have made a great film about Sherwood, something along the lines of “American Graffiti.”  Alas, Roy Scheider is now deceased, and I have probably lost my Ranch pass.

Roy Scheider could have played Don Sherwood

Roy Scheider could have played Don Sherwood

If you have never heard of Don Sherwood, ask someone you know who has lived in Marin since the 1950’s, and you will probably get some fun memories and a few chuckles.  Nobody in Bay Area radio has ever come close to matching his gargantuan ratings numbers.  He was our version of Howard Stern — without the filth — before Howard Stern was in diapers, if you will forgive an absolutely horrible visual.  Sherwood was a fighter to the end.  About a week or so before his death, he took rides around his beloved San Francisco as a quiet way to say goodbye to The City By The Bay. I saw him during this sojourn one night at Enrico’s on Broadway, where he was sitting at an outside table, sipping a glass of his favored Pinot Noir, smoking a cigarette defiantly — all the while hooked up to his oxygen tank.  Nobody could tell Don Sherwood this was a foolish and dangerous way to say goodbye.

Peace always, Don Sherwood, and thanks for Saving Our Bay!

Did you attend The Great Race?  What do you remember about Don Sherwood and Jim Lange?

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