Radio, label, exec Ken Sparkes dies
Veteran Australian radio identity and Sparmac Records co-founder Ken Sparkes has passed, aged 76.
Sparkes started in regional radio at 16 at 2MG Mudgee in 1956. Three years later, he had become Sydney’s youngest radio announcer at 2GB.
He had such a natural radio voice that station bosses put him as host on a variety of shows, including the syndicated The All Australian Hit Parade (the country’s first charts show), Music Man that showcased Australian acts and The World of the Motor Car.
He then moved to Melbourne where he took over nights at the city’s highest rating station 3UZ. He was “discovered” by US radio consultant Ted Randall, and he was with KGBS Los Angeles for three years before returning to 3UZ in 1971.
In the late ‘60s, he set up Sparmac Records with Melbourne radio retailer John McDonald of The Disc Shop, combining their surnames for the label’s name.
Their first signing was Daddy Cool. The band’s first single Eagle Rock was a massive hit while the first album Daddy Who? Daddy Cool! broke sales records at the time for an Australian-based act with 250,000 units.
Within a space of three years, Sparmac had hits with Rick Springfield’s post-Zoot solo career with Speak To The Sky (another local chart topper which also reached #14 in the US), Healing Force’s Golden Miles, Robie Porter’s Gemini, Gerry & The Joy Band’s Ongo Bongo Man and Feelings by Frieze (Daryl Cotton and Beeb Birtles).
In the ‘70s, Sparkes worked on music TV (Bandstand, Kommotion), on radio in Adelaide and Sydney (including a long stint in 2UE), did voice-overs for TV networks, popped up on TV dramas, and was an investigative journalist with A Current Affair and Sixty Minutes.
More recently he hosted the retro Jukebox Saturday Night for Foxtel’s Aurora Channel. He was hosting a river cruise in France on the weekend with his daughter for the show when he suffered a fatal heart attack.