In the late 1970s in Wichita, Kansas, Gene Rump personified show biz.
KAKEland was a place visited in the imagination where television viewers and radio listeners could see themselves or their neighbors in the community service-driven programming and connect with the on-air personalities who hosted it.
Gene Rump not only hired me for my first job in radio, decades later he was generous with his time in my research for Courtesy Boy: a True Story of Addiction, chronicling my young adult years. I wrote the book to help those still suffering – and their loved ones – connect the dots between destructive personality traits/behaviors and the potential for addiction.
Today I learned that after a short and sudden illness, Gene spiraled down, and his family is now with him in hospice. Because he was my first professional mentor, Gene was a crucial character in the book. Here are some excerpts from Courtesy Boy, that I hope sum up what he meant to me, his friends and colleagues, and his audience.
When Gene hired me as overnight deejay at KAKE Radio, I was already in the building, punching buttons and fading levers at Master Control for vintage movies which aired during the wee hours on KAKE-TV.
During his formal interview in Rump’s office, when it became clear he had the job, Matson expressed concern about leaving Dave Morris in the lurch. “Watch this.” Rump picked up the receiver, scanned the station directory, found Morris’ extension and punched three numbers. “Dave, Gene Rump here. I just extended Mike Matson an offer to be our overnight deejay. He’s accepted and I wonder if you’d mind letting him go now, so we can get him squared away down here?” Silence as Morris responded with words that made it clear he understood the pecking order. Rump looked at Mike, smiled and nodded. “Gosh, thanks, Dave. Really appreciate your flexibility.” Talent gets the glory. Technicians get taken for granted. Peace is kept in the KAKEland family. Rump hung up the phone, extended his right hand and said, “Take a couple days off, you can work alongside Jack for a night or two, then you’ll be on the air Monday night.”
Gene mastered the art of swinging both ways, succeeding on radio and TV.
If KAKE-TV was the soul of KAKEland, KAKE Radio was its heart.
On TV, after the movies shifted overnight to Ol’ Flick, Rump took over and turned around a moribund noon talk show. Kaleidoscope started as a local daily live variety/talk show from Towne East Mall but migrated to the KAKE-TV studios. Rump brought in Mogie Langston, a former Miss Wichita, as co-host and the show took off.
Every Labor Day, Rump would host the local cut-ins of the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon, and, like Jerry, loosen the bowtie of his tuxedo in about the 22nd hour, when they were bringing it home.
My air shift ended when Gene’s began, at 6 a.m. I had one job.
There were days, it seemed, that his most important role at KAKE Radio was to serve as Gene Rump’s alarm clock, to make certain the talent around which so much of KAKE’s success rode, made it to work on time.
“Gene, good morning, it’s 5 a.m.!”
“Great! See you soon!”
RumpInTheMorning was morning drive radio programming that worked. Adult contemporary music, happy voice, interaction with listeners, and a good sidekick. Longtime KAKE meteorologist Jim O’Donnell was the perfect straight man. Ed McMahon to Rump’s Carson.
As program director and Martin Umansky acolyte, Rump originated a St. Patrick’s Day city parade with the Irish O’Donnell as front man. Fourth of July fireworks shows at WSU’s Cessna Stadium, which came to be known as Concerts in the Sky, were also Rump’s brainchild.
Here’s a conversation with another mentor, who recognized Gene’s gifts and encouraged me to cultivate mine.
“Look at Gene, he’s arguably the most famous person in Wichita—and he’s well-liked. You think that’s by accident? There are other morning guys on other radio stations in Wichita. Who even knows their names?”
“Yeah, but it’s also because he’s on TV.” Matson’s salad was gone, garlic bread and ravioli half gone. “I would argue his radio gig just bolsters his TV gig.”
“Could not agree more,” Roxanne said, “because he knows his audience.”
She was right. Gene came across as modest and self-effacing—reflective of the Kansas culture—with an added layer of show biz that only enhanced his appeal.
Thank you Gene. Love and light to his family and friends.