Brian Beirne, known as Mr. Rock ’n’ Roll, spent 29 years spinning oldies at KRTH-FM (101.1) before signing off in 2004.
His tenure was the second-longest at a single radio station in Los Angeles history, only two months behind Dick Whittinghill, who held court at KMPC-AM from 1950 to 1979.
Beirne arrived at K-Earth 101 in 1975, when the station was only 3 years old and the oldies format itself was just as new. Back then, the station’s “Nostalgia Rock” focused on hits from 1953 to 1963, and no one was sure about its future. But Beirne was optimistic. “You can't go wrong playing the hits," he said. "Long after we're gone, people will be digging out a Chuck Berry or an Elvis song. Ninety-five percent of the rest of it, people will never remember."
Beirne, an Elvis Presley aficionado, knew the King and was friendly with his family. He annually trekked to Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee, to broadcast from Presley’s home, to commemorate his passing. The DJ played Presley’s "Wear Your Ring Around My Neck" to open and close his KRTH career. He even took his nickname from an Elvis movie poster.
Listeners told Beirne he should come up with a moniker related to the rock trivia he frequently injected into his shows. Then one day, he was sitting in his living room among his collection of movie memorabilia and 40,000 records and spotted the half-sheet poster for “Love Me Tender.”
"I noticed in one corner it said, 'Mr. Rock 'n' Roll in the story he was born to play,' and that was about the only time Elvis was referred to as 'Mr. Rock 'n' Roll,' because the Colonel [Tom Parker, Presley's manager] quickly made him 'the King of Rock 'n' Roll' right after that,” Beirne said. “I thought, 'That's not bad,' so I tried it on the air and then registered the trademark."
Since leaving the station, Beirne has continued work he had been doing, producing and hosting concerts by vintage acts, such as the Surfaris, the Marcels and the Kingsmen.
Though members of the World War II generation today might complain about the scarcity of radio stations playing music of the big-band era, Beirne doesn't think baby boomers will have that problem anytime soon with their favorites from the '50s, '60s and '70s.
"Years from now, you're still going to be hearing '[You've Lost That] Lovin' Feeling' by the Righteous Brothers, Chuck Berry," Beirne said. "And any kid who picks up a guitar has got to go back and take a look at where this all came from, whether that's the Beatles or Elvis. That's the real roots of rock.... It's timeless music."