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The late Herb Jepko, shown in 1975, was one of Utah's most influential radio hosts.

Who was the most influential Utah radio host in the past century of the medium's history?

The answer may vary with whom you ask, but I'm firmly sticking with Herb Jepko, who used to host and produce the "Nitecaps" syndicated program, the nation's first nighttime network talk show. (He died in 1995.)

I'm reminded of Jepko's importance in the evolution of U.S. radio by the recently published book "Something in the Air: Radio, Rock, and the Revolution that Shaped a Generation," by Marc Fisher.

"The Nitecappers were truckers, little old ladies, night clerks and insomniacs who called Jepko's studio in Utah and chatted on about garden clubs, favorite recipes and recent illnesses for five minutes each, at which point a gentle ring would interrupt, and Jepko would say, 'I hear Tinker Bell' and it would be someone else's turn," Fisher writes.

He refers to "Nitecaps" as the early "C-Span of all-night radio," going from Feb. 1, 1964, into the early 1980s. In its heyday, the show had 10.5 million listeners nightly and was heard over 255 U.S. radio stations via the Mutual Broadcasting Network.

"Jepko, his voice an even, soothing Midwestern baritone — never judged, never criticized, never made fun. He didn't tell stories; he simply presided over a non-stop stream of verbal pittter-patter that sounded like a radio version of the quiet chuckles that passed for humor in the pages of Reader's Digest," Fisher writes.

The show even had its own anthem but allowed no discussion of politics or religion.

Why did the "Nitecaps" show end? I was fortunate enough to meet and interview Jepko in 1990, when he provided me with the following details: In 1975, Mutual wanted Jepko to develop a more controversial style. He refused and kept his own talk network going for five years. Mutual hired a man named Larry King, and the rest is history.

Jepko said he wasn't sorry that he didn't take the offer from Mutual, despite King's national presence on both radio and TV. Jepko said it just wasn't his style to be controversial, and he didn't want to relocate to Washington, D.C.

Jepko revived his "Nitecaps" show on KTKK in 1990 for a brief time. He also worked on KSL, KDYL KLUB, KCPX and KMGR during his 40-year broadcasting career.

Born in Prescott, Ariz., Jepko worked in radio sales before going into the Army, where he did numerous radio and TV shows. He started commercially on-air at KFI in California, and then came to KSL in 1962, where he did the popular "Crossroads" show.

Why did Jepko seek out nighttime shows?

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"I'm a night person," he told me proudly.

Jepko's name will likely not be remembered by future generations, but his influence on talk radio continues.

RADIO HAPPENINGS Bruce T. Reese, president/CEO of Bonneville International Corp., was named America's best broadcaster earlier this week by Radio Ink, a leading radio-industry trade magazine.

"Johnson and Johnson" of KUBL has always excelled at Valentine's Day weddings, and this year was no exception. On Feb. 14, they organized 12 couples into camouflage-themed weddings at Cabela's. The justice of the peace was even dressed in orange hunting attire.

KBZN (FM-97.9) gives away $100 three times each Friday, between 8 a.m.-3 p.m., in a weekend-cash contest. Winners have to be the seventh caller after an announcement is made.


E-mail: lynn@desnews.com