Oregon State UniversitySpecial Collections & Archives Research Center

Barney Keep Papers, 1918-2000

Biographical Note:

Byron William Keep was born on January 9, 1917 in Portland, Oregon, where he attended Washington High School, serving as president of its senior class and playing on its football team. He attended Oregon State College for six years from 1936-1942, participating his first year on the OSC freshman football team. Though a Forestry major, Keep discovered a love of radio through his involvement with the college station, KOAC, where he was a general announcer and contributor to the popular program "Foresters in Action."

Upon graduating, Keep returned to Portland where, as Barney Keep, he began a long career in broadcasting that would make him a local celebrity. Briefly employed by KXL Radio, Keep moved to KGW in 1943 and to KEX in 1945. Once arrived at KEX, Keep spent nearly ten years hosting a variety of shows including his first, "The Bugler X," and later iterations with names like "Keep Smiling" and "Keep-ing Up with Sports." In 1954 the show that built his reputation made its premiere: "Keep Time," airing on the station's powerful 50,000 watt signal every morning from 6:00-10:00 AM. Blessed with a quick wit, the personable Keep - who referred to himself as "Sweet Loveable Ol' Barn," or SLOB for short - rapidly established himself as the leading voice of Portland's morning commute. By the late 1950s Keep was among the highest-rated disc jockeys on the West Coast and by the mid-1970s he was thought to be worth $5,000 in monthly advertising billings for KEX.

Keep maintained his popularity in part through a vigorous promotional agenda which, over the course of his career, included numerous appearances as Santa Claus, competing in a hot air balloon race and cigar ash flicking contest, spending a night at the top of Mount Hood and attempting to wrestle a tiger. Keep also involved himself deeply in civic affairs, frequently serving as master of ceremonies at local events and participating in area theatre productions, bowling leagues and handball tournaments.

In 1939, while still a college student, Keep married Corvallis native Eleanor Cleveland and together the couple raised two children. Keep regularly incorporated stories about his wife - whom he referred to on air as "the Biscuit Burner" - into his show. Other staples of "Keep Time" included daily read-outs of the Portland Public Schools lunch menu - always preceded by the ringing of the "Goodie Gong" bell - and the "Today's Chuckle" feature from page one of the morning Oregonian. Additional show signatures included character skits such as regular appearances by "Four Yard Frank Ferguson," who would attempt to predict the scores of upcoming football games, Keep's own willfully bungled commercial live reads and, over time, a growing inclination to poke fun at local politicians and other powerful figures. In this, Keep was among the region's first true radio personalities capable of attracting an audience interested in what he himself had to say.

After thirty-five years at KEX, Keep's final show was broadcast on Valentine's Day 1979, before a full house assembled at the Portland Civic Theatre. The show included visits from former Oregon Governor Tom McCall and outgoing Portland Mayor Neil Goldschmidt, as well as phone calls from Governor Vic Atiyeh and U.S. Representative Bob Duncan. Keep passed away on July 22, 2000 in Gresham, Oregon, a victim of Alzheimer's Disease.

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