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Darwin "Don" Ekholm

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Obituary: Longtime DJ Donald K. Martin had many identities

  • Article by: PAUL WALSH
  • Star Tribune
  • October 12, 2012 - 8:26 AM

Darwin "Don" Ekholm made quite a name for himself in radio. Then another. And another.

And another.

Better known to morning radio listeners in the Twin Cities as Donald K. Martin, the longtime morning disc jockey unleashed a wacky cast of characters from his imagination on rock stations WDGY and KDWB for much of the 1960s and 1970s.

Martin, who raised a family and lived into retirement in Burnsville, died Sept. 24 of heart failure. The 2010 inductee into the Pavek Museum's Minnesota Broadcasting Hall of Fame was 74.

Martin built a corral of 15 personas while at WDGY, among them Harvey Wallbanger (he wandered around in pursuit of "beer and broads") and Dr. Frank N. Stein, the house doctor.

"It's a little bit more important to us to be more than a glorified jukebox," Martin said in a 1974 interview with the Minneapolis Star. "We want people to smile and be informed."

In a video tribute to Martin on the Pavek Museum website, radio executive Marc Kalman explained how Martin finagled his way onto the air at WDGY.

"Don very much wanted to be a sidekick of Scott Burton," Kalman began, so Martin "would sneak downstairs into the production room at WDGY, he would call Scott and do his many, many creative voices.

"Don would wander back into the newsroom, and Scott would say, 'Don, you've got to hear this guy that called.' And he would play back Don's voice to him."

Eventually, Martin 'fessed up, and that gave birth to one of the nation's earliest two-person teams in Top 40 morning radio.

Family laugh contests

Steven Ekholm recalled some of the perks and piques that came with being the son of a famous radio personality.

Anytime the family went to the State Fair, Ekholm recalled, "every 10 seconds somebody would stop him. And being the guy that he was, he'd stop and talk with them for 10 minutes, to the point it would be frustrating. I wanted to go to the taffy guy, and he'd know that guy, too. But that wasn't too bad, because we'd get extra taffy."

Ekholm said that he, his brother Michael and their father would "compete to get each other to laugh," with the sons rarely prevailing.

"He was good at being the center of attention," but not in an egotistical way, Steven Ekholm said. "If you were in a roomful of shy people, he'd get people talking. He was just real easy to talk to."

Like many DJs, Martin loved music and was involved beyond the radio studio. He was a member of one of Minnesota's first rock 'n' roll bands, the Delricos, in the 1950s and also managed other groups. Martin completed his education at Brown Institute in Minneapolis, studying radio broadcasting.

He took his first radio job at KRIB in Mason City, Iowa, playing Top 40. A year later, he moved to KDUZ in Hutchinson, Minn., which had a playlist of Top 40, polka and country.

Then it was a year at KCUE in Red Wing, Minn., before joining the KDWB newsroom in the Twin Cities, where he handled the news and later an all-night DJ shift from 1963 to 1967. While at KDWB, he interviewed the Beatles and persuaded Paul McCartney to give the station call letters on the air.

After a year as program director and on-air talent at WMIN in St. Paul, he moved to rock 'n' roll giant WDGY, where he worked from 1968 to 1977.

With WDGY's shift to country came Martin's departure from radio and into the real estate business.

Martin is preceded in death by his wife, Marilyn. Along with sons Michael and Steven, he is also survived by brothers Jack and Jim. Services have been held.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482

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