Today April 13, 1928 Whitey Coker was born in Mandan, North Dakota. His family moved to Salem, Oregon after 1930 where Duane L. "Whitey" Coker was raised. He never forgot his roots. Duane's mother Irene J. Coker scrubbed floors to bring up her 9 children, after Duane's father Fred R. Coker 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. 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 troups "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 September 2, 2003 Whitey Coker died at age 75 in Portland.
References: The Bismarck Tribune, Broadcasting Yearbook, Joel Miller, The Oregonian, Radio Annual.