April 13, 2015 at 12:09 am #9512
Today April 13, 1928 Duane L. Coker was born in Mandan, North Dakota to Irene Jeanette (Sundland) and Fred Ralph Coker. The city of Mandan is part of the Bismarck metro area. Duane had two older brothers: Douglas F. & Donald Charles, plus one younger brother: James “Jim.” Duane also had three older sisters: Jeanette Rachel, Harriett & Irene, plus one younger sister: Joan.
On January 22, 1939 Duane’s father Fred Ralph Coker died at age 55 in Mandan. Later in 1939 the Coker family moved to Salem, Oregon where Duane was raised. He never forgot his roots. Duane’s mother scrubbed floors to bring up her children, after Duane’s father died. The family picked weeds and planted gardens to make ends meet.
In 1951 Duane Coker entered the broadcasting field working at KWRL in Riverton, Wyoming. By December 1954 he had moved back to Oregon as Sports Director of KWIL in Albany. By December 1955 Duane had switched to KWIL Sales Promotions Manager.
On September 1, 1956 Duane had a daughter Renee Louise Coker. By January 1958 Duane had changed his first name to Whitey for his radio work. By August 1960 Whitey Coker was KNPT Newport, Publicity Manager. By October 1963 Whitey had joined the “Kay-Mac” air staff at KMCM in McMinnville where he worked as an account executive as well.
By December 1965 Whitey Coker had joined the “KISN Total Information News” team in Portland and became the first U.S. independent radio correspondent to cover the Vietnam War. Whitey left for Saigon, Da Nang, Pleiku and An Cu December 23, 1965 staying in Vietnam for over a month, covering this new expanding war, taping Oregon & Washington servicemen interviews in battle. Then bringing their voices and thoughts home.
Whitey flew on Army & Air Force combat missions, as well as following troops “up-front” during heavy fighting and traveling in the field with a Marine rifle company. He was also shot at with soldiers while picking up POWs. Traveling in the fields, the miles were long Whitey said, but even longer for the wounded he accompanied back from the front. KISN listeners heard all the stories of their loved ones, in the soldiers own voices.
By January 30, 1966 Coker had returned to Portland and was given the title KISN News Director. He was guest speaker at many organization meetings and clubs about his assignment in Vietnam. Kisn 91 sent Whitey to 15 other counties during his 12 years at KISN. At “The Mighty 91” Whitey was one of voices of KISN 20/20 News. Coker had a shotgun commanding voice. When he read a story, he had your immediate attention.
In April 1966 around 200 Russian fishing trollers were off the Oregon Coast during the cold war. Whitey raced out into the Pacific and actually talked to the Russians, exchanged cigarettes and got his story. “The vessels would stay as long as a year enjoying the rich catch” Coker said. On November 6, 1968 Whitey was at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City covering Richard Nixon’s victory speech. He even covered “Indianapolis 500” and interviewed the late son of Onassis.
In January 1969 Whitey Coker was named Star Stations, “National News Director” and was sent back to Vietnam & the Mideast for more war stories for KISN and sister stations KOIL Omaha & WIFE Indianapolis. In December 1969 Whitey began hosting KISN’s public service program “Community Action Forum” Sunday mornings at 9:30am. In 1973 Star Stations sent Coker to France to cover the Paris Peace Talks. Is it any wonder KISN issued “Whitey Coker Is Everywhere” stickers.
Needless to say with Whiteys’ foreign correspondent background, Coker had many offers to move to bigger markets but he turned them all down. “I have learned it’s the simple things that count. I know what I want, I know where I’m going, time is so important. Very few get to the top, if they don’t play the game.” Whitey wanted no part of that Game. The accomplishment Whitey was most proud of was being able, while in Vietnam, to interview Oregon soldiers so their families and friends could hear their voices and know they were well.
On December 3, 1978 Whitey’s brother Donald Charles “Don” Coker died at age 54 in Portland. On June 26, 1983 Whitey’s mother Irene Jeanette Coker died at age 83 in Salem. On July 14, 1996 Whitey’s brother Dougles F. Coker died at age 73 in Salem. On August 13, 1996 Whitey’s brother Charles Kenneth Coker died at age 66 in Portland.
On September 2, 2003 Whitey Coker passed away at age 75 in Portland. On September 11, 2003 a memorial service was held at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church, 6700 N.E. 29th Ave. at 5:00pm.
Special Thanks to Joel Miller who helped make this biography more complete.
References: The Bismarck Tribune, Broadcasting Yearbook, The Oregon Statesman, The Oregonian, Radio Annual.April 13, 2015 at 12:55 am #9514semoochieParticipant
A little confusion here: “Duane had two older brothers: Douglas F. & Donald Charles, plus one younger brother: James “Jim.”” and then this: “On August 13, 1996 Whitey’s brother Charles Kenneth Coker died at age 66 in Portland.” This was a younger brother, apparently born in 1930 but it could be a different name from the one mentioned or another brother altogether.April 14, 2015 at 1:19 am #9542
Thanks for spotting this. Yes, Charles Kenneth Coker was left out from the original listing. Donald Charles, was listed directly before Charles Kenneth and most likely the reason for the error. Should read:
“plus two younger brothers: Charles Kenneth & James “Jim.”December 10, 2015 at 12:51 pm #16170anncokerParticipant
Just wanted to say thank you for this beautiful article on my uncle whitey. My dad is the little brother Jim and I am sure he will appreciate this even more. Thank you – Ann CokerDecember 11, 2015 at 12:42 am #16192
Thank You, Ann. Whitey’s history was difficult to research. Some of the history was left out because I could not verify the information. Do you know what the “L.” stood for in his name, Duane L. Coker?December 19, 2015 at 8:05 pm #16446KQ4Participant
Craig, searched again and found that Whitey’s middle name was Leroy.
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